Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy

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* Book: The Resilience Imperative. Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-state Economy. by Michael Lewis & Pat Conaty


"We find ourselves between a rock and a hot place compelled by the intertwining forces of peak oil and climate change to reinvent our economic life at a much more local and regional scale. The Resilience Imperative argues for a major SEE (Social, Ecological, Economic) Change as a prerequisite for replacing the paradigm of limitless economic growth with a more decentralized, cooperative, steady-state economy.

The authors present a comprehensive series of strategic questions within the broad areas of:

  • Energy sufficiency
  • Local food systems
  • Low-cost financing
  • Affordable housing and land reform
  • Democratic ownership and sustainability.

Each section is complemented by case studies of pioneering community initiatives rounded out by a discussion of transition factors and resilience reflections.

With a focus on securing and sustaining change, this provocative book challenges deeply embedded cultural assumptions. Profoundly hopeful and inspiring, The Resilience Imperative affirms the possibilities of positive change as it is shaped by individuals, communities and institutions learning to live within our ecological limits." (


1. Kevin Carson:

"This book starts with a macroscopic analysis of where the existing corporate capitalist economy goes wrong — the pathological effects of debt-based currency, a GDP that counts waste as “growth,” etc. — and proceeds to outline a detailed blueprint for a resilient alternative. This latter blueprint, in a series of detailed chapters, examines the authors’ proposals for a sustainable successor society.

Most of the proposals are things readers in the green, decentralist and alternative economics communities are probably familiar with: basic guaranteed incomes, barter currencies, taxation of land value and extraction, community land trusts, employee ownership and self-management as the standard business model, etc. Each of them, by itself, involves the kind of fundamental structural change you could spend days imagining the effects of. Taken together, their cumulative effect is the a model of society that makes a “petty bourgeois socialist” like me salivate, and would make P.J. Proudhon and Henry George jump up out of their graves and shout “Hallelujah.”

In the course of each chapter, the authors examine the pathological effects of a particular structural privilege or monopoly — and in particular, it’s contribution to the cost of living. At the end of the chapter, they present the savings from the average family’s expenditures that would result from their proposed reform, along with a running total of the cumulative savings from previous proposals in the book. By the end of the book, that amounts to a huge portion of average household expenditures.

I have a few quibbles; I’m an anarchist, after all. Although the guaranteed basic income coupled with Pigouvian taxation would be a vast improvement on the present system, my preference is for

1) letting the full deflationary effect of technological progress and the abolition of monopoly run their course (with a much bigger likely reduction in GDP and prices than even Lewis and Conaty envision);

2) distribute the hours of necessary labor as widely as possible through a drastically reduced work week; and

3) support the elderly and incapacitated, and those whose productive activity is difficult to monetize, through cost- and risk-pooling mechanisms like communal primary social units (cohousing projects, extended family compounds, urban communes, intentional communities, squatter communities, and the like).

Second — a quite minor quibble — I’m skeptical about the authors’ claim that an end to the subsidized corporate food system would significantly raise household food costs. For one thing, I think a lot of food production would be shifted out of the cash nexus altogether, and into the informal and household economy. And even if it takes more labor to grow a tomato in a raised bed than on a mechanized plantation, I still think the total labor involved in growing it via soil-intensive cultivation at the actual site of consumption is probably less than that required to earn the money to pay the price of agribusiness produce (including all the embedded costs of long-distance distribution, high-pressure marketing, batch and queue processing, etc.). Ralph Borsodi’s analysis of the economics of home production is still valid, eighty years later.

Third — much more important in my opinion — is their treatment of the idea of “free markets.” For example, here’s their take on the neoliberal policies of recent decades: “When government got out of the way and the free market was unleashed, once again the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.”

No. Neoliberalism involved simply weakening some secondary restrictions on the state’s primary grants of privilege to big business and the plutocracy. These primary grants of privilege — the most fundamental structural feature of our economy — were left in place and strengthened. Without all the government-enforced or -provided subsidies, regulatory cartels, artificial property rights and artificial scarcities that now exist — subsidies to extractive industries, the state-enforced banking monopoly, absentee titles to vacant and unimproved land, and “intellectual property” [sic] among them — Fortune 500 corporations and the entire billionaire class would melt like garden slugs with salt on their backs.

One thing I especially appreciate is they grok the concept of resilience in its essence, not just some accidental features of it. Their seven principles of resilience on pp. 19-20 include things like redundancy, modularity, and tight feedback loops that should be familiar to readers of John Robb or John Boyd.

If you’re the kind of person who’s review in the first place, it’s a safe bet this is the kind of book you’d enjoy. I know I did." (

2. Yvon Poirier:

"The two authors ... have achieved the masterpiece of analysing the current socio-economic situation and demonstrating from existing alternative practice that we have all we need to switch to a more respectful community-based human society, one that also respects the planet.

On the basis of existing case studies, they clearly demonstrate that the current growth-based development model is not so much the fruit of the capitalist model per se, but rather the result of the use of almost-free energy based on oil. As they illustrate in an allegory, it is as though we had found a hidden treasure buried in the basement of our house. At least in the case of part of the world’s population, we help ourselves to it, and spend recklessly. We have therefore used up the planet’s resources at breakneck speed; this is true for the natural resources, water, the oceans, as well as land and all the ecosystems. In less than 2 or 3 generations the impact has been greater than all human activity combined since the start of life as we know it. The capitalist system as it exists today, particularly in its neo-liberal form, accentuates this frenetic race of consumption and dilapidation of resources and is taking us to the brink. Yet scientific studies have undeniably proven that not only is this not a viable model, but the very future of life itself will be considerably disrupted by factors including climate change, - something that is now almost inevitable – unless we make rapid major changes. In this respect, we like a quotation by Kenneth Boulding, taken from the book. Having explained that we are living in a world of finite and not infinite resources, he declares “Anyone who believes that economic growth can go on forever is either madman or an economist!”. We apologise to the “real” economists who obviously know that this is dogmatic, and based on ideology and that it has no scientific basis.

Alternatives exist

The authors explain that there is nothing new about the awareness that we need to adopt a lifestyle that is more respectful of humankind and life. In the 18th and 19th centuries many actors proposed different visions, often qualified as Utopian or idealistic, but that often led to genuine alternatives. Robert Owen, for example is said to have inspired the first cooperative in Rochdale in 1844.

With the economic crises, the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the unemployment of the last 30 or 40 years, people have become aware that it was necessary to create organisations that respect human values and sustainable development. The authors present many success stories to illustrate this, such as:

The Seikatsu Club Cooperative Union in Japan. Founded in 1968 by women, it now brings together 32 cooperatives with 350,000 members who buy basic food supplies direct from producers.

Community Land Trusts in the United States and the United Kingdom that remove land from property speculation, make housing accessible to “ordinary folks”. The one in Champlain, Vermont, in the United States is a pioneer in this regard. It has enabled the creation of 2,200 affordable homes.

Italian solidarity cooperatives provide social services to communities including disadvantaged people in their salaried workforce.

The Mondragon group of cooperatives in Spanish Basque country belongs to its 70,000 workers. Over and above the industrial production the group includes a credit union, schools as well as research and development activities.

Various financial cooperatives and credit unions that have not, generally speaking been affected by the 2008 crisis, or at least not very much. The authors mention the network of 220 community credit unions savings banks in the United States that are active in the disadvantaged communities around the country. Mortgages were healthy and they have lost little in spite of the increase in unemployment within these communities.

The authors illustrate their ideas with many other examples. Nevertheless the examples mentioned above allow us to understand that by fighting against the forces that are perpetuating the dominant model, how it is possible to live differently. These activities, as the title indicates, are more resilient, as they are based on the involvement of people and communities. They are also more resilient for the planet, as they show how it is possible to live in a more balanced world that does not depend on the unreasonable exploitation of the planet’s resources." (


Chapter 1 at