Resource Democracy

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Self-Reliance through Self-Governance

James Quilligan:

The world is self-ordering through natural evolution, which means that people co-evolve with nature. Unlike the self-regulating cycles in the human body and the natural world, however, the economic formula of supply and demand is mistaken for a self-evolving principle. Little wonder the world seems so disjointed. Our 'self-organizing' free market is a crude approximation of a dynamically balanced ecosystem because supply does not account for the planetary limits of non-renewable resources and demand does not represent real human needs. The old story, ‘supply creates its own demand’, which favors the market value of resources over the basic needs of our population, has driven humanity to deplete Earth's natural resources and generate massive social and ecological debt. Our next story, ‘need measured is need met’, must focus on how effectively the resources available within an ecosystem are distributed to those who need them, creating resource self-reliance (or self-sufficiency) within every eco-region on the planet.

Because human beings co-evolve with the natural world, our communities must be self-governing. Self-governance applies at all levels of human life, from family, neighborhood and community to district, nation and planet. We are focusing on a unit of self-reliance which underlies and links all of these: the bioregion, where natural regeneration and restoration occur. This requires a belief system that is based on the necessity of sustaining life on the planet. Within every bioregional unit, this new socio-economic, ecological and cultural planning must be based on carrying capacity and distributed value. (Carrying capacity is the potential level of resources which an ecology can sustain to meet the needs of its population. Distributed value is the actual percentage of the population in a region whose needs are effectively met by the goods produced and distributed there.)

Democracy is the only form of government that can create ecological sustainability because it is based on a succession of power across generations of elected leaders, making political cooperation sustainable through agreement. In modern democracies, however, a top-down system of authority has resisted human co-evolution with nature and ignored the possibilities of self-sufficiency through social cooperation. This is why we must work with elected officials who control our access and use of resources. If we don't do this, these politicians will continue to expand the market consumption and waste of necessities like food, water and energy. We must show our leaders why it is not necessary to exploit the natural resources of others outside our region when we can sustain our population through community management of the resources in the place where we live.

In this era of climate emergency, pandemic and recession, self-governance means prioritizing human life and well-being through agreements to conserve our non-renewable resources and generate more renewable resources. This is why representative democracy is not enough: participatory democracy is also part of our social responsibility. We must influence our elected representatives to shift decision-making power from corporate managers and shareholders to community stakeholders, including workers, customers, suppliers, neighbors and the public. Local groups must take an active role in decisions to pool their resources through a mutual system of public services, modeling the planning and policies of their political districts after the ecosystems in which they are situated.

This decentralized approach requires a collective change of heart and mind. It also requires a structural change in the financial value that is added at each stage of our economic process through the extraction, production, distribution, consumption, waste and recycling of our resources. By taxing the value that we take from an ecosystem — rather than the value added — society will create a self-ordering, self-reliant economy through its own self-governance. How? First, our common resources must be owned and managed by community or regional trusts that are directly accountable to the public. Second, political decisions on the sustainability and provisioning of each resource will be made by these trusts, which have the authority to lease some of the rights for these commons to small businesses. Third, each business profits from the production of the resource and pays a tax to government, which is recirculated to citizens as credits, dividends or subsistence income. Finally, the trust spends its leasing income on the maintenance of sustainable commons and the replenishment of depleted commons.

Changing our economies from value-added to value-replenished will generate self-sufficiency for the people in every bioregion. Each ecodistrict will take a constant inventory of its resources and production and match these assets with the distribution required to meet the basic needs of its population. Yet this strategic cooperation for self-sufficiency becomes sustainable only when this practice extends across time and into the future. Thus, the goal of democratic self-governance for our commons is to meet the needs of all people in the present while making Earth habitable for future generations. A plan for self-sufficiency today is the next step in honoring the rights of citizens tomorrow.”


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Sustainable Economics