Lean Society

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= concept proposed by David Fleming in his book Lean Logic


Mark Garavan:

"Many books and writings on sustainability offer detailed criticisms of the contemporary market-based growth economy and society. Often however, they can be less successful in delineating a clear alternative. Fleming, by contrast, presents quite a detailed picture of a new, post-crash, community-based society. As noted above, this is grounded fundamentally on a shared, living culture. As Chamberlin outlines, it will have the following features:

1. Carnival – literally a recovery and affirmation of communal festival and collective play. As in the pre-modern world these social events serve to forge social bonds, radically break from the mundane, conventional mode of life, elide social hierarchies, lead people to take themselves less seriously, allow our wilder ‘second nature’ to be manifested, and permit representations of symbolic sacrifice and succession thereby ensuring the continuity of the culture.

2. Slack employment – inefficient technology will be freely chosen to spare nature. Hhuman work becomes merely part of the daily task of life. Efficiency and economic ‘tautness’ will no longer be considered objectives in a future lean economy.

3. Eroticism – the full range of human emotion and desire will be acknowledged as important drivers of human creativity.

4. Needs and Wants – these will very much remain. ‘In the Lean Economy, effective signals of identity, of good faith, of availability, will be needed – goods will have to work hard again; to say something’ (Surviving the Future: 89). Material processes will reflect culture, place, community – it will ‘be robustly materialist’.

5. Small Scale – the problems with larger scale are loss of elegance, judgement and presence and, what Fleming designates as, the ‘sorting’ problem (the question of the distribution of goods). A small-scale economy will be more effective. For example, the Lean Economy ‘learns, by scale management, to minimise the intermediate economy – the regrettable necessities’ (Surviving the Future: 100).

6. Intentional Waste – there will be a deliberate destruction of goods or a deliberate production of goods of no practical value. Fleming has in mind here ‘growth capital’ – goods which give rise to economic growth for its own sake. Resilient societies will limit growth capital by i) preventing its growth ii) destroying it following growth iii) ensuring its output does not lead to further growth capital.

7. Religion – this is affirmed by Fleming as part of the social, cultural bond forging community. ‘Religion is the community speaking. It is culture in the service of the community’ (Surviving the Future: 112). ‘A coherent social order in the future will need a religion; a religion will need a rich cultural inheritance’ (Surviving the Future: 115).

8. Utopia – can all of this be dismissed as merely utopian? Fleming is no sentimentalist and recognises that the future is open to various possibilities. He is clear however that the Lean Economy is not a Utopia. ‘The turbulent decline of the market economy could stir these ingredients into action’ (Surviving the Future: 119). ‘The Lean Economy is set at a time when the potential for the extremes of disorder and tyranny is increasing’ (Surviving the Future: 124). ‘Local lean economies are unique expressions of particular places, and lean thinking says that the people who live there are best able to work out what to do, if given the chance’ (Surviving the Future: 124)." (http://www.feasta.org/2017/01/14/lean-logic-and-surviving-the-future-reviews-by-mark-garavan/)

What is the path to the lean society

Mark Garavan:

"Presenting lucid and achievable pathways from our present dysfunctional system to a new resilient society is also a serious challenge. Chamberlin presents Fleming’s thoughts on this as follows:

1. Growth – the pathology of endless growth is well understood. Ending growth is an imperative. However, not every method to achieve this is equally viable. For example, an ‘unlean’ alternative to growth would be authoritarianism. In addition, appeals to voluntary simplicity (a la Schumacher) won’t suffice. ‘The task we face, therefore, is not the generality of “de-growth”, but the detail of “deintensification”’ (Surviving the Future: 143) – smaller-scale, localised community. We need ‘A rebuilding of the diverse informal economy of communal self-reliance’ (Surviving the Future: 144). Fleming argues that the climacteric will force this anyway. The new system will not be a revision but ‘a complete rewrite’ (Surviving the Future: 146).

2. Population and Food – food supply is not secure – there are multiple threats to land, water, soil, energy, food poverty, climate, hybridisation, industrialisation and specialisation, depleted oceans. ‘Local resilience and scientific intelligence are going to need each other’ (Surviving the Future: 157). ‘The Lean Economy is designed not only to prevent or mitigate a reduction in population, but to provide the basis for a stabilised society far into the future, whether such a population collapse occurs at the start of the period or not’ (Surviving the Future: 159).

3. The Wheel of Life – Fleming relies on systems thinking to demonstrate that our system is inevitably crashing anyway. A new system is coming. ‘The more flexible its sub-systems, the longer the expected life of the system as a whole’ (Surviving the Future: 168). Sub-systems need independence and self-reliance, diversity, slack and feedback. As noted above, large-scale problems require small-scale solutions within this large-scale framework.

4. Transition – he cites the Transition Movement is an example of de-concentration. ‘Localisation stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative’ (Surviving the Future: 173).

5. Ethics and Ecology – Ethics will be a guiding feature but will be developed locally in response to each community’s circumstances. ‘A key property of the Lean Economy is resilience, and a key property of resilience is diversity, with all that it implies in terms of different solutions to the problems of opportunities faced by people and communities in different places’ (Surviving the Future: 175).

6. Lean Thinking – In an interesting comment Fleming states that in a time of crisis the quality of our thinking really matters. We are now at a time of a radical break, a paradigm shift, a fundamental rupture from old ideas. A shift to lean thinking is therefore essential. The rules of lean thinking include intention, lean means, flow, pull and feedback. The Lean approach ‘is about listening acutely to what a system needs and responding accurately’ (Surviving the Future: 214)." (http://www.feasta.org/2017/01/14/lean-logic-and-surviving-the-future-reviews-by-mark-garavan/)