Hamlet Economy

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Concept from Jeff Vail, as summarized by Kevin Carson:

"Jeff Vail's "Hamlet Economy." This is a system of networked villages based on an idealized version of the historical "lattice network of Tuscan hill towns" numbering in the hundreds (which became the basis of a modern regional economy based largely on networked production). The individual communities in Vail's network must be large enough to achieve self-sufficiency by leveraging division of labor, as well as providing sufficient redundancy to absorb systemic shock.

When larger-scale division of labor is required to support some industry, Vail writes, this is not to be achieved through hierarchy, with larger regional towns becoming centers of large industry. Rather, it is to be achieved by towns of roughly similar size specializing in producing specialized surplus goods for exchange, via fairs and other horizontal exchange relationships.

The Hamlet relies on a “design imperative,” in an age of Peak Oil, for extracting the maximum quality of life from reduced energy inputs. The Tuscan hill towns Vail points to as a model are decentralized, open source and vernacular.

How is the Tuscan village decentralized? Production is localized. Admittedly, everything isn’t local. Not by a long shot. But compared to American suburbia, a great percentage of food and building materials are produced and consumed in a highly local network. A high percentage of people garden and shop at local farmer’s markets.

How is the Tuscan village open source? Tuscan culture historically taps into a shared community pool of technics in recognition that a sustainable society is a non-zero-sum game. Most farming communities are this way—advice, knowledge, and innovation is shared, not guarded. Beyond a certain threshold of size and centralization, the motivation to protect and exploit intellectual property seems to take over (another argument for decentralization). There is no reason why we cannot share innovation in technics globally, while acting locally—in fact, the internet now truly makes this possible, leveraging our opportunity to use technics to improve quality of life.

How is the Tuscan village vernacular? You don’t see many “Colonial-Style” houses in Tuscany. Yet strangely, in Denver I’m surrounded by them. Why? They make no more sense in Denver than in Tuscany. The difference is that the Tuscans recognize (mostly) that locally-appropriate, locally-sourced architecture improves quality of life. The architecture is suited to their climate and culture, and the materials are available locally. Same thing with their food—they celebrate what is available locally, and what is in season. Nearly every Tuscan with the space has a vegetable garden. And finally (though the pressures of globalization are challenging this), their culture is vernacular. They celebrate local festivals, local harvests, and don’t rely on manufactured, mass-marketed, and global trends for their culture nearly as much as disassociated suburbanites—their strong sense of community gives prominence to whatever “their” celebration is over what the global economy tells them it should be." (http://c4ss.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/C4SS-Resilient-Communities-and-Local-Economies.pdf)