Exploring the Social and Economic Dimensions of Mormon Zionic Culture
= This text by Alan Avans (RLDS) is part of our exploration of Neotraditional Economics.
"A couple of months ago Michel asked me to share a little bit of what is in my 'theological space' that is of some relevance to a P2P economy. I've dragged my feet a bit because this piece is sectarian and sermonizing. Which of course is nothing to be ashamed of because I was preaching at my fellow sectarians....and asking them to sectarianize a little more! I felt then, as I do now, that sometimes the old ways, the old radical ways, really are the good ways. This said, for those not interested in theology per se, the installments I am sending should be read from the perspective of populist social movement. I myself am nothing if not a populist. Historically members of the RLDS were engaged in populist social movements and the labor movement. Members of the RLDS Church are among the founders of the CIO, United Farmers of Canada and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.
Some of you will probably recognize that in this period I leaned on Bishop N.T. Wright as well as John Howard Yoder for a theological basis for the RLDS and Mormon concepts of a 'zionic society.'
The CenterPlace Regional Development Strategy: Exploring the Social and Economic Dimensions of Zionic Culture
"Zion" is an oft used word among us in the RLDS and "restorationist" fraternities. There are perhaps as many notions concerning Zion as there are saints in the various restoration-based churches, and we can generally divide them into several broad, though at times, overlapping categories. Many believe Zion to be our most central "restoration distinctive" and define it in terms of the Gathering, the Storehouse and the "financial" Law of Consecration and Stewardship. Others see Zion as an inspirational and useful symbol of hope which has some type of essence while its actual content changes to meet the needs of a changing world. Still others see Zion as a quaint 19th century Mormon notion with no significance to us beyond that of historical curiosity and sentimentality.
I fall predominantly into the first school thought mentioned above, and subdominantly into the second. Yes, Zion is a potently powerful and creative symbol, and more than that, Zion is rooted in a historical revelatory mandate to the Church to build the Kingdom of God here upon this Earth. Consequenty, I look to renewal of our Zion-building impulse and energy. And despite what many of the saints may characterize as a decades-long dry-spell brought on by apathy and dissension at best, or flirtation with the liberal protestant theologies or even outright apostasy at worst, still I see signs of the coming renewal of zionic endeavor both within the RLDS Church and within civil society at large.
The RLDS Church as an institution embraces peace and justice. "Communities of Joy" builds on relationships to foster community in the Church. New energy is going into community-based social and economic development due to the efforts of such people as Gary Logan (Kansas City Stake President), pastors such as Cathy Striley (St. Louis) and the impressive number of RLDS ministers associated with SCUPE. All of these provide wide avenues for zionic endeavor, and I believe tha both the RLDS Church and the larger society are ready and willing to hear again "the glad tidings of Zion."
Here in North America, people are searching for meaning, connectedness, and a wholeness that can't be found in consumer culture, globalization, and the politics of conservative vs. liberal, left vs. right. A cursory survey of books at your local Barnes and Noble bookstore will reveal such titles as "The Soul of Politics", "The Politics of Meaning", and even "the politics of meaning, life and love" and othe such terms not normally associated with electoral politics. It's not that somehow has discovered a new gimmick to get votes. That's been left to the cynical partisan machines tha are "fighting" for the "soul of America." No, a politics of the soul, a politics of meaning, is about a new kind of politics, a politics that transcends the false choices we are presented with betwixt left and right, transcending even the electoral process itself. It's a politics of civil society that is deeper and wider than mere electoral politics,a politics that dwells where people really live. It's about civil organizaiton and civil development as opposed to mere legislation and lobbying. It engages the electoral process occasionally, and on community social and economic development for the long-term.
The CenterPlace Regional Development Strategy builds on this type of politics. It seeks answers to the question of what type of systems and structures, organizations and operations, processes and "products" are needed to enable participation in and fulfillment of a Zionic Culture. It involves a project proposal tha climaxes in the CenterPlace Communty Village." The "village" is where we bring powerful and existing models together, such as that of the Mondragon Cooperatives, Italian Flexible Manufacturing Networks, Community Land Trusts and countervailing banking arrangements. The village is itself a process and a product of its participants. In other words, "we build the road as we travel."
The installment this weekend will be titled "Toward a Theology of Zion." Just as the RLDS Church was exploring liberal protestant theologies as old as that of the Niebuhr brothers, a revolution was brewing in biblical scholarship. "Biblical Realists" found that the central doctrine of the Reformation, "justification by fatih", was not actually central to the thinking of the Apostle Paul, upon whom the Reformation relied. What they found was that the "thrones, principalities, and powers" are central to the Paul's though, because they are the most important themes of his writing: Jesus' role as Creator(Collosians 1:15-17), Jesus' victory on the cross (Collosians 2:13-15) and the purpose of the Church (Ephesians 3:9-11). By seeing that the "powers" doctrine is central to Paul's thought we find that salvation by grace through faith, justification by fatih, reconciliation and other terms fall into place and that the terms used in Ephesians 2 and 3, "church", "fellowship" and "commonwealth" take on sharper and deeper meanings. It also ties, by way of Ephesians 3:9-11, the "powers" firmly to its Old Testament parallel, Micah 4, and thus to Zion. Zion is the doctrine tha the doctrine of the powers points to, and Zion is the doctrine of salvation, par excellence.
Part 1 Toward a Theology of Zion
For over 160 years the Saints have aspired to build "Zion" with varying levels of intensity from time to time. In additon to enabling some "zionic" projects, the RLDS Church has occasionally reaffirmed its commitment to zionic social and economic development with General Conference Resolutons ("GCRs") calling for research and development of zionic communities and defining the role of the Storehouse Treasury in the process.
Many of the Saints are dissatisfied with the level of progress that has been made and wonder why more resources have not been made available for zionic community development.
It could be that the reason greater momentum has not been experienced by Saints engaged in zionic development is due largely to a lack of knowledge concerning functioning models that could suggest concrete steps to take. Fundamental misunderstandings of the Law of Consecration and Stewardship have been an added impediment to progress.
Lack of resources has certainly not been the real problem. What if the RLDS Church in North America with its 200,000 or so members were a small nation of its own, like Luxembourg? How might "Statistics Zion" describe our country? GDP would exceed 5 Billion dollars. Our ZionLand economy would generate over 3 Billion dollars in wages this year . Net private capital (residences, plant and equipment) would be worth 10 Billion dollars or so. The value of securities held by the Saints (stocks, bonds, savings, CDs and so forth) would be worth 10 Billion dollars or so as well. This year, the Saints in ZionLand would invest over 900 Million dollars in new homes, new business ventures and business expansion.
We've been joined in our theological concerns by others, of course. President Frederick Madison Smith ("FMS") and other zionic stalwarts of his time explored both the vast field of social economy for models and theological explanation appropriate to the RLDS Church. FMS and Bishop DeLapp sensed that the answer to the question of what model to adopt or design was to be found in the Law of Consecration and Stewardship. While cooperatives had features that were quite laudable and went in the right direction, cooperatives, they felt, didn't go far enough. Socialism, or at least some schools of socialist thought, was unacceptable becasue of its perceived danger to freedom and property rights.
Nevertheless, lack of functioning models to draw from did not stop RLDS Church leaders from exploring their options and determining how to at least cross over that narrow way to Zion just as often as they could. Experimentation was permissable as well as encouraged. FMS led the 1925 General Conference to adopt GCR 851, a twelve point "Program for the Establishment of Zion" calling for the formation fo a "bureau of research and service" and for a "determination of the order of economic development." GCR 851 was reaffirmed in the General Conference of 1956.
GCR 977, adopted April 9, 1950 is concerned with the functions of the Storehouse Treasury and represents Bishop DeLapp's thinking on that particular subject. Expenses incurred by the Storehouse Treasury were to include the "costs for economic and community planning" for new communities as well as existing communities within stake jurisdictions, and for "development of business, industrial and agricultural stewardships" in the Center Place. A related GCR 1040 created a revolving fund for the development fo business and industrial enterprise.
It was during this period (roughly mid-twenties to early 50s) of zionic exhortation and Zion-related GCR proliferation that a young Zion-oriented intelligentsia formed. Many of the these young educated Saints were compadres at the University of Chicago, our very own "Chicago school" if you will. Among them was Raymond Zinser.
Dr. Raymond Zinser set his thoughts on the "Zionic Process" down on paper in the early 1960s. His thoughts would reemerge and influence the Saints later froma wholly unexpected angle. He focused on Zion as a process involving a communitarian orientation, a setting for revelation, a settin in which to actually demonstrate the wisdom and presence of God and His Kingdom here upon this Earth. Undergirding the Zionic Process is a sacramental conception of the universe, and the sanctification of our utilitarian, aestetic and interpersonal lives as individuals and communities of believers.
Dr. Zinser was preaching the Zionic Process to the Saints (often accompanied by Arthur Oakman), particularly to his students at Graceland College during a time when the RLDS Church was tentatively exploring liberal protestant theologies. A key player in that theological exploration was Dr. Paul Jones, who at the time was a United Methodist theologian at St. Paul's Theological School, hired by the RLDS Church to consult on the Church curricula. Jones became fascinated by the RLDS heritage and tradition, particularly with the doctrine of Zion and in 1980 he expressed to the Joint Council his desire the heritage and tradition be retained in its more-or-less sectarian purity.
Dr. Jones, (now Father Jones, he was ordained to the priesthood fo the Roman Catholic Church some years ago), has spoken to gatherings of Saints since then, encouraging us to look at the doctrine of Zion with new eyes. It is remarkable how closely Jone's presentations parallel both Dr.Zinser's "Zionic Process" and his doctoral thesis which prescribed "resectarianizing" the RLDS Church in order to renew its Zion-building capacity.
Dr. Jones speaks of "reimaging" where Zinser talks of resectarianizing. Both are critical of the "demythologizing" tendencies of liberal protestantism. To Jones and Zinser both, Zion is mulitifaceted, it is the Kingdom, it is a model and there is a zionic process for bringing it about that is communitarian in nature. Like Zinser, Jones emphasizes the RLDS functional theology and ministry, as well as continued revelation. Like Zinser, Jones emphasizes the sacramental nature of the zionic process in Tillich-like terms:"The goal is a culture3 where everything is symbolic for the ground of being." The Storehouse function and stewardship hold meaningful places in Jones' outlook as they do in Zinser's.
The only substantial difference between Jones' and Zinser's presentations has to do with "reimaging" as opposed to "resectarianizing." Jones invites us to conceive of Zion not so much as a distinctive of the "one true church" so much as a concept that is being restored to the Christian Church as a whole.
The work of Zinser and Jones both point to the theological task to be done. They both tie the Church, Creation and Salvation quite tightly around the concept of Zion, and while I'm not going to engage in this theogical work with anything near the comprehensiveness that it deserves, I do want to try to point the direction into which the theological effort could go.
Since theology is the "knowledge of God" I feel it appropriate to expand upon the mission of Jesus Christ ("King Jesus"). It is a truism, often heard or implied the Church shares in the mission of King Jesus. I'm going to continue in that vein.
God made covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that through their seed all the people of the world would be blessed. God made these covenants in order to deal with the sin and alienation introduced into the Creation at the Fall. Israel was to obey God and attract the nations to Zion with her obedience. God promised to vindicate Israel for the suffering she would icurr in the process. A survey of the Old Testament will reveal that by and large Israel was hardly obedient. There in fact was only on Israelite that fulfilled all the terms of the Covenant, and that was King Jesus. His obedience and sacrifice has given Israel a new lease on life, especially in relation to King Jesus himself, through the new body politic that King Jesus organized upon this Earth, the Church, or "Body of Christ."
King Jesus was a Jew born to a Jewish mother in a Jewish homeland which was unhappily associated with the Roman Empire. Many Jews sought a deliverer, a Messiah, to rescue them from their Roman and Herodian oppressors. An angel revealed to the mother of King Jesus that she, a virgin would give birth that expected deliverer. She responds to the angel's message as a Jew expecting national liberation. Mary's joyful response is known as the "Magnificat" and is found in Luke 1:46-55. Mary expects justice and liberation to result from her son's rule and reign. Biblical scholarship suggests that her response to the angel's message was what could be expected of one voicing a Maccabean sentiment because her response seems to be formulaic, in fact it is a key feature of many Christian liturgies to this day.
So King Jesus is born and moves through infancy to young adulthood. One day he does an extraordinary thing, recorded in Luke 4:16-21. King Jesus has been prepared for his ministry for 30 years and just now returned to his home town of Nazareth after a Galilean tour on the heels of a personal 'in-your-face' confrontation with the Devil. "And He came to Nazareth, whre he had been brought up: and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the Prophet Esaias. And when he had opend the book he found the place where was written [Isaiah 61:1-2] 'the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anoined me to preach the gospel to the poor:he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverence to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord...and he began to say to them 'this day is ths scripture fulfilled in your ears.' This "acceptable year of the Lord" of which King Jesus spoke is knwon as the "jubilee." The jubilee is a time mandated by Mosaic Law to take place from time to time in which slaves are freed, debts forgiven and land redistributed equitably among the Israelites. To contemplate such an event put yourself in the place of his hearers in the synagogue. King Jesus is proposing to release their slaves, to redistribute their landholdings, and write-off the debts owned to them as creditors. It is a bold proclamation, with enough political overtones to attract the wrath of political, economic and religious elites. The immediate reaction to the King Jesus' proclamation of the Jubilee was to attempt to stone him and throw him down a hillside.
You know the rest of the story. King Jesus goes on challenging the powers-the-be, Pharisees, Caiaphas, Herod, the Romans, you name it. The climax of this challenge was the very crucifixion of King Jesus, a crucifixion that the Apostle Paul tells us is in fact King Jesus' victory over the very powers that crucified him (Collosians 2).
Pay attention to Paul's talk concerning "thrones, principalities and powers." The thrones, principalities and powers are central to Paul's worldview and he weaves the mission of King Jesus and the Church around it. The powers, Paul tells us, were created by King Jesus (Collosians 1:15-17) and that they "systematize" through King Jesus. Thus they are a part of the good creation. In other passages we find those powers to oppressing us. In Collosians 2, as mentioned above, King Jesus defeats the powers, the social, economic and political interests that cruficied him, and so we find that while the powers are a good creation, they are now fallen.
Ephesians 3:9-11 introduces the powers to us again, this time in the context of the purpose of the Church, which Paul says is to demonstrate the wisdom of God on the basis of the Church's fellowship.
Thus we find that the purpose of the Church associated with the redemption of the powers. Paul, ever a good Jew commenting upon Judaism as a messianic Jew and therefore offering a critique of Judaism from within, i shere saying something that ties it to its parallel passage, Micah 4, where the nations flow to Zion to learn of her ways, to learn war no more. Presumably because Zion and the Church are modeling redemtive power, and a war, poverty and racism ridden world can't help turning to those who have overcome these social, political and economic perversions.
So the powers talk ties us to Micah's Zion after all, and it joins three key themes of Paul's writings, that is, the Creation, the victory of King Jesus on the Cross, and the purpose of the Church. Paul further observes that the Church is Israel's "successor organization" as it were (see chapte 2 of Ephesians). His teaching shows us that the powers are good, they are fallen and they can be redeemed, and that redemption comes through the demonstration by the Church.
The powers theme also helps us place some sharper definitions on many of Paul's terms. First of all, the terms "Church", "Fellowship" and "Commonwealth" are drawn from the vocabulary of Greek politics, especially idealized Greek political notions. The ideal generally centered around the concept of the "polis" which is often mistranslated "city-state." The idealized polis was based on the participation of the "ecclesia" or mass assembly. The work of the mass assembly or ecclesia was carried out through 'fellowship' or "koinonia", and the koinonia (konoi in the plural) were organized to carry on ritual festivals, keep the collective memory of some central myth alive, and to carry out policy. It was a poitics not of empire, but of face to face participation, the politics of the assembly, not the "consul" or "senate", the politics of citi-zenship and common-wealth rather than that of "constituency", the politics of fellowship rather than bureaucracy, the politics of covenant rather than the politics of mere tribalism.
Knowing this, we can now consider the actual content of the words Paul consistently uses to talk of the salvation process that the Church is centrally involved with. A formula emerges, where justification=saved=reconciled=making peace=breaking down the wall of partition--that is, setting relationships right, setting them in order, orienting them, "justifying" them. Not just our relationship with God, but with one another, for it is predominantly through the Church that we participate in communion with the Trinity, and only incidentally as individuals.
To summarize what I've spent so many words telling you so far, the Church is (ideally) the emerging Christian social order. One can assume that this social order develops according to a different pattern than the fallen thrones, principalities and powers. Salvation, as we learned from Ephesians chapter 2 and 3 is a social event and process having to do with being reconciled and justified for a right relationship in the context of communion with God. The Church confronts the fallen powers with radically different patterns. The fallen powers have designed and maintain fallen structures of social and economic development that led to inequities that God isn't willing to tolerate forever. By way of anecdote, God once had the Northern Kingdom of Israel exiled to Assyria when His Jubilee law was mocked once time too many. Like the Devil, fallen powers presume possession and title to the Earth. The Church forecasts that the meek shall inherit the Earth.
Signs of the Times
You are likely aware of a process called 'globalization' and the 'third wave.' The gist of globalization is that the nation-state is becoming less important as a player on the world stage, and that the emerging global order will be based upon the acts of city regions which are increasingly unfettered by national borders.
To explain the forces actually driving city economies is to explain the decentralization taking place in North America and Europe. It is to explain the unmistakeable emergence of city regions as the key actors in the emerging global order.
Zion had been conceived of in part (through revelation) as an exercise in development of a city-region according to zionic patterns of development. This is important, because if the RLDS Church intends to build a Christian social order with its own patterns of social and economic development, the local communities, the city regions, are the only plausible platforms on which to build its operating systems and structures. It would be strange indeed for the Church to start any other way. Seen in this way, basing zionic development in part on the development of a city-region according to inspired and creative patterns should seem strange to no one.
Not only must the Church consider city-regions and local communities as key to its stragegy, it must set a proper framework for three key elements in any economy:social structures of accumulation, innovation and land stewardship.
To get some idea of what I mean when I refer to these social structures, it must be understood that there is a dynamic relationship between these structures of accumulation, innovation and land stewardship. For example, concentrated land ownership and land speculation may take away from the development of an industrial sector. Land use patterns effect our quality of life. Land use patterns also determine wha type of transportation systems we must develop and pay for, whether we must commute to work, school and shopping centers, and it determines the cost of urban infrastructures in general.
Economic organizations at micro and macro levels are manifestations of underlying "structures of accumulation" which determine access to capital as well as the pattern and mix of development and economic growth.
One model that will be explored in part of this paper is that of the Mondragon Cooperatives in northern Spain. Mondragon's 150 plus employee-owned businesses ("EOBs") are organized as a federation with a contract of association with their bank, the Caja Laboral Popular. The relationship these firms and the employee-owners have with the Caja (organized under Spanish law as a credit cooperative) suggests how we may recast the Storehouse Treasury conceptually.
As outlined by Bishop DeLapp in GCR 977, consecrations to the Storehouse Treasury are outright conveyances of ownership to the Church, that is, it's a transfer of ownership from the person making the consecration to the Storehouse Treasury. I find such an arrangement constraining on both the steward and the Storehouse Treasury, given the the Storehouse Treasury objectives of funding commercial, agricultural, residential and industrial development. To fund the Storehouse's economic development operations wwith such a narrow category of funds that outright conveyances are is to take the Storehouse Treasury out of the loop that contains pools of capital found in banks, insurance and pension reserves, and venture capital, among others.
The most dynamic feature of Mondragon's bank is that it is a pool of finance capital democratically controlled by depositors and employee-owners of Mondragon's many enterprises. "Surplus" is accounted for at the level of the firm, each firm holding "collective" and "individual" internal capital accounts at their bank. As you may recall, according to the Doctrine and Covenants the Storehouse Treasury is a pool of capital controlled by "the voice of the order". If finance capital is held by an intermediary acting in a fiduciary capacity and democratically controlled, there is no need to deny individual ownership of a capital contribution held as an account.
I recommend then that we conceive of the Storehouse Treasury as a "fund manager" managing a number of categories of funds, including a bank. Owing to the expense of starting a bank, I suggest that we draw upon the experience of community activists in Vermont. In 1989 activists explored starting a bank to serve community needs for affordable housing, community land trusts, employee-owned businesses, family and organic farms, community supported agriculture ("CSAs") and businesses innovative in ecological, educational and social spheres. It costs 7 to 10 million dollars to even think about making that loan and taking that first deposit.
As an alternative the community activists approached Vermont National Bank and suggested that the bankset up a segregated banking operation. They called it the "Socially Responsible Banking Fund" ("SRB Fund") and it operates according to the criteria, priorities and guidelines set by the community group and fund depositors. Vermont National Bank depositors may designate their checking, savings and CD accounts as being part of the SRB Fund, maintaining FDIC insurance throughout. It's like having a credit union at the bank, except the crushing constraints that credit unions operate under in USAmerica do not exist.
As mentioned above, there are over 150 Mondragon cooperative enterprises. Each employee-owner has one share (membership) and one vote. The federation and the enterpises are governed as parliamentary democracies. Checks and balances exist with four branches of government. Workers hire and fire their managers.
Mongdragon's 30,000 plus employee-owners are considered by the Basque Autonomous Regional Goverment to be Basque Country's engine of economic growth and development. And it is no wonder that they consider it so. Mondragon's EOBs are not the result of acquisitions and buy-outs. They have developed over a 45 year period, incubated by its "secondary cooperatives" which provide every conceivable service a business, especially a start-up venture might need. During Mondragon's history, only 3 businesses were lost due to insolvency. Mondragon has thrived and expanded through Spain's deep and chronic recessions dating back to the mid-70s. While Spain has experienced unemployment as high as 27 percent, Mondragon had a brief experience with redundancy of 0.6 percent of its workforce in 1984. Mondragon's employee-owners are the best paid in Spain, and their firms are the most consistently profitable in Spain.
Mondragon's cooperatives are in fact considered by regional economic development experts to be the textbook example of grassroots regional economic development. It's origin owes much to Catholic Social Doctrine, which has significant parallels to zionic doctrine.
The Spanish dictator Franco terrorized the Basque people during the Spanish Civil War and imprisoned thousands of Basques for several years. He got around to releasing them well into World War II. One of the prisoners released was a young Catholic priest, Don Jose Maria Arrizmendiarietta ("Arrizmendi"). Upon his release he was assigned to a parish in the village of Mondragon (Assarate). Upon his arrival he was invited to teach Catholicism to the apprentices at a metal work firm. He noticed that the apprenticeship at that firm was the only educational opportunity in Mondragon beyond eighth grade, and that the program was available only to the sons of employees and 12 other youths. He attempted to persuade the employer to take more students but was declined. Father Arrizmendi then organized his parishioners to go bar-hopping throughout the region, drinking a little wine, nibbling a little goat cheese, and talking up a storm about the technical school they wanted to start with the help of the community. In 1943 the technical school opened its doors and taught its first courses in electricity and metal work. The priest, as religion teacher of course, emphasized Catholic Social Doctrine to his students and taught them about cooperatives, particularly the Rochdale retail cooperatives in Britain. He wondered outloud to his class how industrial cooperatives could be operated according to the same principles that governed Rochdale retail co-ops. Six students in his first graduating class started a stove manufacturing operation (now Spain's largest household appliance manufacturer) in 1956, operating according to the Rochdale principles. Between 1956 and 1959 several other employee-owned businesses formed and began to collaborate together.
In the course of their collaboration they discussed common challenges and opportunities. For example, because they were employee-owned businesses the employee-owners were considered by the Spanish government to be self-employed, and so excluded from the Spanish social security system. Because they were employee-owned businesses and hired and fired management, the role of management had to be fit to a new corporate culture. Because their businesses were employee-owned, banks didn't understand their needs.
The period between 1959 and 1967 was spent answering the tough questions they asked in 1959. They organized a credit union in the parish basement that year and organized a number of supporting services they called "secondary coperatives" among them being an R&D laboratory, R&D arrangements, documentation and control sytems, "intervention" procedures, their own social security arrangements in the form of insurance and pensions, etc. The bank built the capability to guide prospective ventures from prefeasibility study to break-even point and beyond. The technical school became a secondary cooperative, where students were acclimatized to Mondragon's cooperative and entrepreneural culture, and supplying Mondragon with its technical support, engineers and managers.
The CenterPlace Regional Development Strategy is symbolized by a vision: the "Village Concept" or "CenterPlace Community Village". The village design itself can be thought of loosely as a zoning and land-use concept that brings urban life into conformity with the insights of "systems" theory, and most particularly "permaculture." Permaculture is the "...conscious design and maintenance of productive ecosystems with the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems." (Bill Mollison). It results in the harmonious unity of landscape and people, providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and nonmaterial needs in a sustainable way. "Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms"(Bill Mollison).
But most importantly, the CenterPlace Community "Village Concept" is meant to build both a "visible" physical environment, delightful to the senses, and an "invisible" working environment that serves as the symbolic ground for human community.
Permaculturalists feel that 'bio-regions' are the proper subject of their design discipline. I feel that a similar systematic approach to economic development would be overlaid with templates derived from the ecological metaphors of permaculture design because the proper scope and scale of economic development is that of city-regions and their localities. I choose to refer to the product of such an ecologically-based overlay as the "CenterPlace Regional Development Strategy."
We cannot compartmentalize our social and political economies form the ecosystem and expect to rise to whatever challenges both. The destruction of our farms, forrests, and rivers makes manifest the "fallenness" of our social order. As long as the social order is ill, destructive and unbalanced, the biosphere will continue to be destroyed. Consequently wars and poverty will not cease. When designing any system we must take the economic development patterns and the biosphere both into account, and as we do, we will be better able to develop awareness, patterns of thought and learning, as well as applications that will help us to generate innovations in our regional social political economy.
Centralized, bureaucratic organizations reliant upon 'econonmies of scale' are too rigid a platform upon whch to build social and political economies that are engaging, inclusive and broadbased. Corporations and national governments have long relied upon the force of resource intensive strategic planning ("extensive development"), seeking to control events and organizations according to rigid linear and hierarchical patterns, as well as through brute force.
Communities seeking to control their own destinies must replace such heavy-handed means for an approach that is responsive, collaborative and adaptive to change.
Why a Regional Development Strategy?
A region is served by a city. It is the city in which are found leading economic systems and structures undergirding a region's economic platform. It is the city that generates a region's employment, markets and innovations. We have all heard of "globalization" and the "third wave". The gist of the process these terms describe is that the centralized nation-state is becoming less of a player on the world-stage and consequently the emerging global order will be based on the acts of city-regions increasingly unfettered by national boundaries and norms.
Nowhere is this more graphically illustrated than in Europe, which has seen the revival of several ancient city-regions, often cutting across national borders and fast attaining political and economic importance in the European Union tha trivals that of most European nation-states.
Jane Jacobs, in her acclaimed book "Cities and the Wealth of Nations" describes the phenomena that lead to the creation of city-regions, the city-regions that are now and always have been, subverted the rigid and heavy-handed hegemony of nation-states. Economic development and growth, according to Jacobs, are the result of processes taking place in cities. Cities can be thought of as the true organisms of economic development and growth. Cities provide a framework and mechanisms for the organization and assimilation of capital, labor, R&D, etc. "Economies develop by grace of innovation and grow by force of import replacement."
Cities and Market Economies
Cities innovate when there is a social structure of innovation present that can develop new technologies, new processes and new products. Industries cluster in cities where universities and firms with large R&D budgets are found. At the same time, "cities are where real markets are and where real work gets done."
City economies grow when they can assimilate the new developments in technology, processes and products that have been developed elsewhere. This assimilation takes place whe there is labor/skill competencies enough and capital enough to replace a city's imports with its own production.
Cities replace imports they can afford to buy with their own production and export that production most feasibly to cities occupying similar places on the "ladder of economic development" and become new competitors to cities that developed the innovations initially.
Cities are therefore in one of two phases of the development cycle: a development/export phase and an import/import replacement phase. Cities in different phases of their economic development now exist in the same centralized nation-states with the same uniform tax, banking, industrial policy and monetary schemes enforced indiscriminantly on all cities within the nation-state regardless of what particular phase a city may be in. This "goofy" hegemony exercised by nation-states creates faulty feedback to cities because the feedback generated is aggregated and undifferentiated, another example of a signal processing disaster.
Currencies are the gatekeepers that regulate an economy's flow of exports and imports. Jacobs suggests that since city-regions are where the real and meaningful economic processes take place, city-regions ought to have their own currencies.
Regional Capital Formation
Jacob's suggestion that city-regions adopt their own currencies provide much of the basis for the CRDS approach to regional capital formation. When contemplating the possbility of a regional currency the immediate question comes to mind of hwo to back a new currency. One can back a currency with commodities, renewable resources, solar electricity, etc. The possibilities are nearly endless.
I believe initial backing of a regional currency with the existing national currency offers some opportunities that ought not be passed up. We are in USAmerica, so the CenterPlace Region wold initially back its regional currency with the US Dollar. The immediate benefit of such backing is that US Dollars are captured in reserve as the regional currency is placed into circulation.
In addition, the CRDS calls for the creation of a segregated banking operation modeled on that of the Vermont National Bank's Socially Responsible Banking Fund. Deposits are lent out by Vermont National Bank according to the criteria, priorities and guidelines set by a community group in Vermont.
It is within our segregated banking operation, the "Storehouse Banking Fund" ("SBF") that we would place the US Dollar reserves, placing into circulation the regional currency and insuring that the US Dollar reserve backing the regional currency will be deployed according to CRDS criteria, priorities and guideline drawn from zionic and permacultural patterns.
Once capital is captured in the form of US Dollar reserve, a boundary is placed around the regional market. To some degree then, the regional market is also captured, or more accurately, liberated, from the logic of unaccountable corporations and centralized bureaucratic government.
Social Structures of Innovation, Accumulation and Land Stewardship
Every social and economic system is characterized by specific social structures of innovation, wealth accumulation, and land stewardship. These structures have a dynamic relationship one with the other. For example, social structures of accumulation determine who has access to capital, control of capital, who benefits from the use of capital and furthermore it also determines the structure and organization of enterprise, where the norms of a given social structure are enforced and most deeply felt and seen.
In turn, a social structure of land stewardship goes right to the ethical root of how we see our relationship to this Earth and one to another. Because land is a finite resource upon which we make increasing demands, a social structure of land stewardship will determine the allocation of wealth due to productivity of labor and capital. For example, when land is traded as a marketable commodity like sugar, lumber or pork bellies, speculation and concentrated patterns of land ownership will result. As an economy expands and makes further investments in plant, equipment and office space, a greater portion of investment is overtaken up in overhead related to the expense of land use.....