17 Rules for a sustainable local community

By Wendell Berry

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farmers’ markets & local produce — mainstay of local economies

Series: The importance of economic literacy — IV


Since the structure and function of our economic systems at local, regional and global scales are among the key determinants of how many people behave and what kind of behaviour is incentivised in our societies and cultures, it is of utmost important that we all become more economically literate. We need to learn what works and what doesn’t and how to take an active part in re-designing our economic systems in ways that work for people and planet.

Gaia Education’s online course Design for Sustainability offers an opportunity to learn how to make a difference in your community and region. The Economic Design dimension of the course starts on 19 March 2018 and there are still places left, so sign up now!

This ‘economic literacy’ series highlights some classic articles by thought leaders in the field of creating an economics for people and planet. They are all taken from ‘Gaian Economics — Living well within planetary limits’, one of the 4 Keys text book series that accompanies the learning material we present in our face-to-face EDE programme and our online GEDS programme. Enjoy!

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How can a sustainable local community (which is to say a sustainable local economy) function? I am going to suggest a set of rules that I think such a community would have to follow. I hasten to say that I do not understand these rules as predictions; I am not interested in foretelling the future. If these rules have any validity, it is because they apply now.

Supposing that the members of a local community wanted their community to cohere, to flourish, and to last, they would:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.

2. Always include local nature — the land, the water, the air, the native creatures — within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbours.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products — first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

This article was originally published at sustainabletraditions.com

This article features in Gaian Economics: Living Well within Planetary Limits, the second volume of Gaia Education’s ‘Four Keys to Sustainable Communities’ series. Its is available for purchase here:

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Gaia Education is a leading-edge provider of sustainability education that promotes thriving communities within planetary boundaries.

Want to know what you can do? The Economic Design dimension of the course starts on 19 March 2018 and there are still places left, so sign up now!

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Leading provider of sustainability education that promotes thriving communities within planetary boundaries.

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