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I nternati onal Honors

Program/ Wol d Learni ng


comparati ve studi es around the worl d
Beyond Globalization
SUMMER
READINGS
2011
SUMMER READINGS
3
CoNtENtS
Introduction 5
EXPLORING THE QUESTIONS
Globalization: A Critical Introduction 9
Jan Aart Scholte. A review essay by Frank Lechner
Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse 13
Wendell Berry
Globalization As Wal-Martization 18
Simon Head, Lee Scott, Corby Kummer
Organic Agriculture: A Solution to Global Warming? 39
James Mcwilliams
Making Capitalism more Creative 42
Bill Gates
Conserving Communities 49
Wendell Berry
The Land Ethic 59
Aldo Leopold
Why the Bravest Position Is Biocentrism 74
David Suzuki
Small Is Beautiful. Size Cicles.
The Breakdown of Nations 82
Leopold Kohr
RETHINKING KNOWLEDGE
From Control to Participation. Quantum, Chaos, Complexity
and Creativity Have Taken Science to New Frontiers 93
Brian Goodwin
Concept, selection of texts:
Fatma Alloo
Gustavo Esteva
Oliver Froehling
Peter Horsley
Jennifer Jones
Savysaachi
Design, editing and layout
Sergio Beltrn
Gustavo Esteva
Guillermo Mendizabal
I nternati onal Honors
Program/ Wol d Learni ng
comparati ve studi es around the worl d
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INTRODUCTION
IN THE JOURNEY YOU WILL EMBARK upon this fall, you are part of a program that
itself has made a journey through various decades. Previously known as Global
Ecology, a program conceived to familiarize students with global environmen-
tal issues, it has been continuously reshaped by the people who are part of it:
administrators, country coordinators, faculty, different lecturers, nameless as-
sistants, homestay moms, street vendors, the people you meet all over, and of
course you, the students, current and previous. It is also a lively expression of
its changing times and environments.
With this in mind we have put together a reader as a way for you to be-
come familiar with the issues that are at the core of this program as it exists
today. Globalization as a continuation of development has become a permanent
issue. The environment is a central concern, and you will hear time and again
an argument for a naturecentric, biocentric or cosmocentric view, as a
substitute for the conventional anthropocentric view. But a serious concern for
the environment should not imply a distraction of our concern for the people
who live in it.
We are convinced that global issues only exist as local experiences, and
it is there where we fnd the inspiration to deal with our predicaments, both
of them: environmental and social. Thus a lot of time is spent thinking about
cultural difference, and the consequences for acting in a world in which there
are no universal standards.
This absence of universal standards might seem controversial, but one
central aspect of globalization is precisely the imposition of one universal stan-
dard on a plurality of ways of being. During your journey, you will discover
this plurality, a plurality that is often absent in the discussion of globalization,
since it cannot be seen on the metascale of the globe as a whole, when global is-
sues are discussed. To put it differently: TINA (There Is No Alternative) might
still be the queen of the global realm for many people, but TATA (There Are
Thousands of Alternatives) continues to be the mother goddess of the places
you will visit.
Towards an Ignorance-Based World View 100
Wes Jackson
THE OTHERNESS OF THE OTHER
Assembly Line 109
B. Traven
DWELLING 120
Ivan Illich
SOURCES OF HOPE
Hebenshausen Declaration on Soil 131
Sygmar Groeneveld, et al
Zapatista Encuentro. Opening Remarks 133
Comandanta Ana Mara
The Message of Bapus Hut 139
Ivan Illich
Reclaiming the Commons 143
Naomi Klein
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The readings convey this sense of optimism in the face of global disaster.
They are based on faith in people, the majorities so often shunned and dis-
criminated against by terms such as poor, marginalized, minorities, etc. It is
our hope that during your journey, beginning with this reader, you will be able
to see them for who they are without these attributes: people who are different,
who struggle to solve their own problems in their own places in their own way.
Many of them will welcome you with open arms and offer you their hospitality.
Some might be more distant, based on their particular experience with outsid-
ers. But they are all people, not representatives of a particular category.
In the reader you will fnd a diversity of view points, of distinct foci emerg-
ing from different places in different circumstances. There are contributions
analyzing issues on a global level in the scientifc tradition you are familiar
with. There are personal accounts, opinions and particular agendas. And there
are points of view embedded in distinctly different cultures. We hope that they
will give you a frst taste of the ways of thinking and different experiences you
will encounter during your journey.
Finally, this program, and this reader are also an invitation: An invitation
to refect upon the issues, upon the people you meet and struggles you witness,
and importantly, upon your place in them. They are an invitation to learn and
to share, to receive what you are given and to give what you are prepared to,
an invitation to suspend preconceived notions about difference and political
agendas of how to help others you dont know. They are also an invitation to
join, to become part of what we see as a growing movement that is carried by
people themselves in their respective places. In short, they are an invitation to
make friends.
EXPLORING
THE
QUESTIONS
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GLOBALIZATION: A CRITICAL INTRODUCTION
Jan Aart Scholte. A review essay by Frank Lechner
This is only to whet your appetite, to begin rethinking globalization and go
beyond... As you will frequently experience in your journey, you will fnd here
very precise answers which become open questions.
Jan Aart Scholte has very solid credentials to speak about globalization.
He is Professor of Politics and International Studies and Director of the Centre
for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR) at the University
of Warwick. He also holds a part-time appointment as Centennial Professor
at the London School of Economics. Before coming to Warwick in 1999, he
worked at the University of Sussex, Brighton and the Institute of Social Studies,
The Hague. Jan Aart has also held visiting positions at Cornell University, the
London School of Economics, the International Monetary Fund, the Moscow
State University and Gothenburg University.
Jan Aart has published a number of books and essays. He is coeditor of
The Encyclopaedia of Globalization (Routledge, 2006) and an editor of the
journal Global Governance. With the support of the Ford Foundation, he has
been coordinating a major international project on Building Global Democ-
racy. He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Globalization
Studies Network.
In reviewing his book Globalization: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave-
Macmillan, 2005 second edition), Frank Lechner highlights Scholtes main
contributions to the debate on globalization, some of them, as you will soon
discover, highly controversial.
TO SAY THAT GLOBALIZATION IS A MUCH-ABUSED popular buzzword has itself be-
come a clich. Academic sophisticates are honor bound to yawn or frown at
the mere mention of the term. What is a serious student of the subject to do?
Self-deprecation helps: Not another book on globalization!, Scholte begins.
So does a pragmatic attitude: Scholte argues that developing an allergy to this
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particular clich is premature, for scholars have hardly begun to defne global-
ization clearly and to study it systematically. Because the term captures pro-
found social changes, he suggests, careful study is fully justifed.
To clear his scholarly path, Scholte frst proposes a distinct defnition of
the notoriously fuzzy concept. Rejecting redundant notions such as interna-
tionalization and universalization, Scholte defnes globalization as deterritori-
alization. Global relations, he says with emphasis, are transborder exchanges
without distance (49). Such relations are becoming more signifcant as com-
munication and production increasingly occur without regard to geographic
constraints, transborder organizations of many kinds proliferate, and more
people become aware of the world as a single whole. Pushed by the structural
forces of capitalism and rationalism, propelled by actor initiatives such as
technological innovations or regulatory decisions, the transformation is cre-
ating a new world: Only since the 1960s has globality fgured continually,
comprehensively and centrally in the lives of a large proportion of humanity
(87).
After thus providing a framework for analysis, Scholte assesses how
new this world really is. His main thrust is to suggest that globalization adds
complexity. For example, capitalism becomes more strongly entrenched world-
wide, but also changes its organizational form. Deterritorialization does not
spell the end of the state, but governance does become more multilayered.
Globalization does challenge the position of the nation as the predominant
framework in world politics (162), but the result is a proliferation of com-
munities, territorial and nonterritorial. Global consciousness is still heavily ra-
tionalist, but new transworld relations also favor challenges to this dominant
worldview.
To some extent, Scholte continues in this on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-
hand style when he addresses the consequences of globalization for human
welfare. For example, he shows that globalization has mixed effects on secu-
rity. Yet here he also turns more deliberately critical. He argues that stratifed
access to global spaces, the decline of the redistributive state, and entrenched
global social hierarchies have produced serious inequities. He thinks that glo-
balization may actually undermine conventional liberal democracies without
making global life itself more democratic. However, the fault lies not in global-
ization as such, but rather in the particular, neoliberal way it has proceeded thus
far. To tame this beast, Scholte proposes many reforms, including abolition of
offshore fnance and devolution to local government, that should lead to social
democracy writ large.
As befts an introduction, Scholtes writing is admirably clear; his sche-
matic summaries are most helpful. Though the text as a whole represents an
original synthesis, few of its parts, starting with the main defnition, are really
new. In a longer book, Scholte might have taken time to support some puz-
zling claims he makes in passing, such as the point that Russias 1998 crisis
is substantially a consequence of global fnancial fows (216) or that under
the pressure of globalization governments have implemented the greatest cuts
in respect of sunk costs such as provisions for the elderly (141), who have
readily seen their interests systematically subordinated to those of people in
mid-life (235). Some topics that are important to the overall argument, such
as the rise of cosmopolitanism, Scholte treats only briefy. (In fact, the text
might have beneftted from one staple of introductions, namely more detailed
discussion of illustrative casesspecifc commodity chains, say, or particular
transnational organizations.) Notwithstanding such introductory features of the
book, the subtitle also betrays some false modesty, since Scholte has a strong
message for scholars: treating globalization as deterritorialization is the way to
clear up a lot of confusion, explain what is new in the world, describe the shape
of global relations, and ground a vision of future reform. He makes this case
very effectively, and his book therefore promises to become one benchmark in
scholarly discussion.
Scholte certainly has a point: globalizing social relations does involve the
overcoming of distance. But he makes this defnition a bit too exclusive. For
example, some of his own examples of global practices, such as consumer-
ism, resemble what others might have described as universalization or diffu-
sion. Many of the organizations he discusses, including the IMF and the like,
exemplify the internationalization or interdependence he rejects as defning
features of globalization. To say that they operate in deterritorialized fashion
may well go too far in any case. Focusing on the globalization as a question
of geography also leads Scholte to say that liberalization, for example in the
form of lowered tariffs, is a distinct question of regulation (50). At the same
time, however, he opposes neoliberalism, which obviously includes such liber-
alization, as a particular approach to or form of globalization. A slightly more
relaxed use of his defnition might entail some fuzziness but avoid artifcial
distinctions.
Scholtes historical argument is also plausible: the world works differ-
ently than before. In developing this point, he does not fully engage opposing
views. Prior to the nineteenth century, he asserts, globality had little existence
outside the mind (65). He recognizes, of course, that there has long been trans-
oceanic trade in certain commodities, but he suggests that such trade affected
only a minority of the worlds population and did not become a forerunner of
current transworld production and distribution.
Partly because Scholte acknowledges elsewhere that capitalism becomes
more entrenched due to globalization, it would have been helpful to examine
what was different about early global commodities, such as sugar, that have
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been studied extensively. Many neo-Marxist scholars regard sixteenth-centu-
ry commercial capitalism as a world system in its own right; why are they
wrong?
Perhaps more surprisingly, Scholte also does not take advantage of schol-
arship that supports his case. He rightly stresses the pervasive infuence of
rationalisma secular, anthropocentric, scientifc, instrumental worldview.
Neoinstitutionalist research has examined this rationalism from several angles,
showing how the individual has become a legitimate global actor, how states
institutionalize certain rational models of education, how even transnational
organizations become carriers of this culture, and so on. Examples from this
body of work would have enriched Scholtes book.
The good-but-thin discussion of rationalism points to a bigger problem,
namely the somewhat cursory treatment of culture. To be sure, Scholte shows,
drawing on Robertson, how the shifting consciousness of the world itself is
an integral part of globalization. He also is well aware of the ongoing clash of
contending worldviews. He directly addresses that contention in defending his
proposal for reform. Yes, he affrms, culture matters. But his heart isnt in it.
The culture chapter is one of the shortest in the book. As an introductory guide
to research on global religion, global media, or global antirationalist move-
ments the book leaves something to be desired.
Scholtes critique of neoliberalism is fairly precise. His clear standard of
justicethe absence of arbitrary privilege and exclusionprovides a useful
yardstick by which to judge the effects of globalization. But is it really reason-
able to regard any distribution based on transfers that occur at birth as unjust?
How does this view of justice compare with others that stress conditions for
fostering human capabilities or assuring that all transactions are free and fair?
Can any single conception of justice govern the diverse and multilayered world
Scholte describes? How can social democracy become plausible as a global
model?
Though he does not address such questions to refect critically on the glob-
al status of his own premises, Scholte senses that the discontents of neoliberal-
ism are becoming so clear that the world is moving in his direction, and he may
well be right. Of course, the success of that movement does not depend on its
ability to answer a reviewers philosophical questions. But disputes about the
grounds for global reform are bound to intensify. The direction of globalization
is up for grabs. In this moment of global choice, Scholtes kind of diagnosis
and prescription are gaining infuence beyond the circles of likeminded left-
leaning academics. The philosophical drawbacks of his views do not detract
from their sociological importance.
OUT OF YOUR CAR, OFF YOUR HORSE
Wendell Berry
Wherever we live, however we do so, we desperately need a prophet of respon-
sibility; and although the days of the prophets seem past to many of us, Berry
may be the closest to one we have. But, fortunately, he is also a poet of responsi-
bility. He makes one (us) believe that the good life may not only be harder than
were used to but sweeter as well. We can fully subscribe these words of Bill
McKibben, in The New York Review of Books, to welcome Wendell Berry, this
poet, philosopher and farmer. A prophet, said Ivan Illich once, is not someone
with a crystal ball, who can see the future; a prophet is someone who can see
deeply and carefully in the present and thus anticipate what may happen.
Wendell Berry is the author of more than forty books of fction, poetry and es-
says. An awarded and celebrated poet, he resigned from a cosmopolitan way of life
in New York or Paris to farm a hillside in his native Henry County, Kentucky, some-
thing he has dutifully done for almost forty years. His family has farmed in that same
county for fve generations. His farm is in fact about one mile from the house where
his mother was born and raised and about fve miles from his fathers home .
Since he published Unsettling in America, in 1977, he has continually un-
settled many well established views, as he does in this provocative essay, frst
published in February 1991 in Atlantic Monthly. He felt the need to react to
some of the angry responses, published in the journal a month later. He wrote,
about one of them, that no one will ever have enough knowledge of the planet
as to have responsible global thinking. Really? What do you think?
TwENTY-SEvEN PROPOSITIONS ABOUT GLOBAL
THINkING AND THE SUSTAINABILITY OF CITIES
I. PROPERLY SPEAKING, GLOBAL THINKING is not possible. Those who
have thought globally (and among them the most successful have been im-
perial governments and multinational corporations) have done so by means
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of simplifcations too extreme and oppressive to merit the name of thought.
Global thinkers have been, and will be, dangerous people. National thinkers
tend to be dangerous also; we now have national thinkers in the northeastern
United States who look upon Kentucky as a garbage dump.
II. Global thinking can only be statistical. Its shallowness is exposed by the
least intention to do something. Unless one is willing to be destructive on a
very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place.
Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce
it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken
from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. If you want to
see where you are, you will have to get out of your space vehicle, out of your
car, off your horse, and walk over the ground. On foot you will fnd that the
earth is still satisfyingly large, and full of beguiling nooks and crannies.
III. If we could think locally, we would do far better than we are doing now. The right
local questions and answers will be the right global ones. The Amish question What
will this do to our community? tends toward the right answer for the world.
IV. If we want to put local life in proper relation to the globe, we must do so by imagi-
nation, charity, and forbearance, and by making local life as independent and self-
suffcient as we can not by the presumptuous abstractions of global thought.
V. If we want to keep our thoughts and acts from destroying the globe, then we
must see to it that we do not ask to much of the globe or of any part of it. To
make sure that we do not ask too much we must learn to live at home, as inde-
pendently and self-suffciently as we can. That is the only way we can keep the
land we are using, and its ecological limits, always in sight.
VI. The only sustainable city - and this, to me is the indispensable ideal and
goal is a city in balance with its countryside: a city, that is, that would live
off the net ecological income of its supporting region, paying as it goes all its
ecological and human debts.
VII. The cities we now have are living off ecological principal, by economic
assumptions that seem certain to destroy them. They do not live at home. They
do not have their own supporting regions. They are out of balance with their
supports, wherever on the globe their supports are.
VIII. The balance between city and countryside is destroyed by industrial
machinery, cheap production in feld and forest, and cheap transporta-
tion. Rome destroyed the balance with slave labor; we have destroyed it with
cheap fossil fuel.
IX. Since the Civil War, perhaps, and certainly since the Second World War, the
norms of productivity have been set by the fossil-fuel industries.
X. Geographically, the sources of the fossil fuels are rural. Technically, howev-
er, the production of these fuels is industrial and urban. The facts and integrities
of local life, and the principle of community are considered as little as possible
for to consider that would not be quickly proftable. Fossil fuels have always
been produced at the expense of local eco-systems and of local human commu-
nities. The fossil fuel economy is the industrial economy par excellence, and it
assigns no value to local life, natural or human.
XI. When the industrial principles exemplifed in fossil-fuel production are
applied to feld and forest, the results are identical: local life, both natural and
human, is destroyed.
XII. Industrial procedures have been imposed on the countryside pretty much
to the extent that country people have been seduced or forced into dependence
on the money economy. By encouraging this dependence, corporations have
increased their ability to rob the people of their property and their labor. The
result is that a very small number of people now own all the usable property in
the country, and workers are increasingly the hostages of their employers.
XIII. Our present leaders the people of wealth and power do not know
what it means to take a place seriously: to think it worthy, for its own sake of
love and study and careful work. They cannot take any place seriously because
they must be ready at a moment, by the terms of power and wealth in the mod-
ern world, to destroy any place.
XIV. Ecological good sense will be opposed by all the most powerful economic
entities of our time, because ecological good sense requires the reduction or re-
placement of those entities. If ecological good sense is to prevail, it can do so
only through the world and the will of the people and of the local communities.
XV. For this task our currently prevailing assumptions about knowledge, infor-
mation, education, money, and political will are inadequate. All of our institu-
tions with which I am familiar have adopted the organizational patterns and the
quantitative measure of the industrial corporations. Both sides of the ecological
debate, perhaps as a consequence, are alarmingly abstract.
XVI. But abstraction, of course, is what is wrong. The evil of the industrial
economy (capitalist or communist) is the abstractness inherent in its proce-
dures its inability to distinguish one place or person or creature from another.
William Blake saw this two hundred years ago. Anyone can see it now in al-
most any of our common tools and weapons.
XVII. Abstraction is the economy wherever it is found. The abstractions of
sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial
economics. Local life may be as much endangered by saving the planet as by
conquering the world. Such a project calls for abstract purposes and central
powers that cannot know, and so will destroy, the integrity of local nature and
local economy.
XVIII. In order to make ecological good sense for the planet, you must make
ecological good sense locally. You cant act locally by thinking globally. If you
want to keep your local acts from destroying the globe, you must think locally.
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XIX. No one can make ecological good sense for the planet. Everyone can
make ecological good sense locally, if the affection, the scale, the knowledge,
the tools, and the skills are right.
XX. The right scale in work gives power to affection. When one works beyond
the reach of ones love for the place one is working in, and for the things and
creatures one is working with and among, then destruction inevitably results. An
adequate local culture, among other things, keeps work within the reach of love.
XXI. The question before us, then, is an extremely diffcult one: How do we
begin to remake, or to make, a local culture that will preserve our part of the
world while we use it? We are talking here not just about a kind of knowledge
that involves affection but also about a kind of knowledge that comes from or
with affection knowledge that is unavailable to the unaffectionate, and that
is unavailable to anyone as what is called information.
XXII. What, for a start, might be the economic result of local affection? We
dont know. Moreover, we are probably never going to know in any way that
would satisfy the average dean or corporate executive. The ways of love tend to
be secretive and, even to the lovers themselves, somewhat inscrutable.
XXIII. The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling,
and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too
many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or reward-
ed, too small to make anyone rich or famous.
XXIV. The great obstacle may be not greed but the modern hankering after
glamour. A lot of our smartest, most concerned people want to come up with
a big solution to a big problem. I dont think that planet-saving; if we take it
seriously, can furnish employment to many such people.
XXV. When I think of the kind of worker the job requires, I think of Dorothy
Day (if one can think of Dorothy Day herself, separate from the publicity that
came as a result of her rarity), a person willing to go down and down into the
daunting, humbling, almost hopeless local presence of the problem to face
the great problem one small life at a time.
XXVI. Some cities can never be sustainable, because they do not have a coun-
tryside around them, or near them, from which they can be sustained. New
York City cannot be made sustainable, nor can Phoenix. Some cities in Ken-
tucky or in the Midwest, on the other hand, might reasonably hope to become
sustainable.
XXVII. To make a sustainable city, one must begin somehow, and I think the
beginning must be small and economic. A be ginning could be made, for ex-
ample, by increasing the amount of food bought from farmers in the local coun-
tryside by consumers in the city. As the food economy became more local,
local farming would become more diverse; the farms would become smaller,
more complex in structure, more productive, and some city people would be
needed to work on the farms. Sooner or later, as a means of reducing expenses
both ways, organic wastes from the city would go out to fertilize the farms of
the supporting region; thus city people would have to assume an agricultural
responsibility, and would be properly motivated to do so both by the wish to
have a supply of excellent food and by the fear of contaminating that sup-
ply. The increase of economic intimacy between a city and its sources would
change minds (assuming, of course, that the minds in questions would stay put
long enough to be changed). It would improve minds. The locality, by becom-
ing partly sustainable, would produce the thought it would need to become
more sustainable.
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GloBAlIzAtIoN AS WAl-MARtIzAtIoN
Simon Head, Lee Scott, Corby Kummer
Wal-Mart is the biggest company on Earth, but even so it represents a minimal
proportion of the economic activity in the world. However, the truly global
nature of its operation and the fact that it can only operate in a global context
had been taken as model and as a trend: the idea of globalization seems to be
taken shape in reality as Wal-Martization.
In this section we selected three articles to illustrate the terms of this debate.
Inside the Leviathan is an essay by Simon Head published in The New
York Review of Books, in which he reviewed several books and reports on
Wal-Mart
1
.
A few months later, the President and CEO of Wal-Mart paid two pages in
the journal to publish an open letter to its readers
2
, in order to set the record
straight. He considered that Heads essay was so riddled with mistakes and
blinded by ideology that it offered a fundamentally erroneous view of the way
we do business and the contributions we make to thousands of communities.
1. Wal-Mart: Template for 21st Century Capitalism?, edited by Nelson Lichtenstein, Papers
presented at a conference on Wal-Mart held at the University of California, Santa Barbara,
April 12, 2004, New Press (forthcoming in 2005); US Productivity Growth, 1995-2000, Section
VI: Retail Trade, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, October 2001, at www.mckinsey.
com/knowledge/ingi/productivity; Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers
Rights at Wal-Mart, by Liza Featherstone, Basic Books; Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting
By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich; Owl; Betty Dukes, Patricia Surgeson, Cleo Page et al.,
Plaintiff vs. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Defendant: Declarations in Support of Plaintiffs, United
States District Court, Northern District of California, at www.walmartclass.com and Everyday
Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart, a report by the Democratic Staff of the
House Committee on Education and the Workforce, February 16, 2004, at cdworkforce.house.
gov/democrats/walmartreport.pdf.
2. An open letter to readers of The New York Review of Books, from Lee Scott, President and
CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., published as advertising in The New York Review of Books, Vol.
LII, Num.6, April 7, 2005.
The document, describing how Wal-Mart serves its stakeholders, 270 million
customers and its employees, can be seen as a Manifesto to ensure that capi-
talism creates a decent society and makes a distinctive contribution in eas-
ing living standards for ALL Americans. Given the very nature of Wal-Mart
and the global reach of its operation, the document is also a Manifesto for
economic globalization.
The controversial article of Corby Kummer suggests that perhaps it will
be Wal-Mart, not Whole Foods, that saves the small farm and makes America
healthy.
INSIDE THE LEvIATHAN
(December 16, 2004)
1.
THROUGHOUT THE RECENT HISTORY of American capitalism there has always been
one giant corporation whose size dwarfs that of all others, and whose power
conveys to the world the strength and confdence of American capitalism itself.
At mid-century General Motors was the undisputed occupant of this corporate
throne. But from the late 1970s onward GM shrank in the face of superior Japa-
nese competition and from having outsourced the manufacture of many car
components to independent suppliers. By the millennium GM was struggling
to maintain its lead over Ford, its longstanding rival.
With the technology boom of the 1990s, the business press began writ-
ing about Microsoft as if it were GMs rightful heir as the dominant American
corporation. But despite its worldwide monopoly as the provider of software
for personal computers, Microsoft has lacked the essential qualifcation of size.
In Fortunes 2004 listings of the largest US corporations, Microsoft ranks a
mere forty-sixth, behind such falling stars as AT&T and J.C. Penney. However,
Fortunes 2004 rankings also reveal the clear successor to GM, Wal-Mart. In
2003 Wal-Mart was also Fortunes most admired company.
1
Wal-Mart is an improbable candidate for corporate gorilla because it be-
longs to a sector, retail, that has never before produced Americas most power-
ful companies. But Wal-Mart has grown into a business whose dominance of
the corporate world rivals GMs in its heyday.
With 1.4 million employees worldwide, Wal-Marts workforce is now
larger than that of GM, Ford, GE, and IBM combined. At $258 billion in 2003,
1. The Fortune 500 Largest US Corporations, Fortune, April 5, 2004, p. B-1; see also Jer-
ry Useem, Americas Most Admired Companies: One Nation Under Wal-Mart, Fortune,
March 3, 2003.
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Wal-Marts annual revenues are 2 percent of US GDP, and eight times the size
of Microsofts. In fact, when ranked by its revenues, Wal-Mart is the worlds
largest corporation.
One sign of its rising status is an academic conference devoted entirely to
the subject of Wal-Mart that was held last April at the University of California,
Santa Barbara. The range of subjects covered in the conference papers to be
published early next year testifes to Wal-Marts impact both on the transfer of
goods from third-world sweatshops to suburban shopping malls in the US and
on local communities where its stores are located. At the conference the many
class-action lawsuits against Wal-Marts employment practices were discussed,
particularly its unfair treatment of women, whether by paying them extremely
low wages or denying them promotions. The conference organizer, the labor
historian Nelson Lichtenstein, asked Wal-Mart to send a representative, but
Wal-Mart declined. Within the corporate world Wal-Marts preeminence is not
simply a matter of size. In its analysis of the growth of US productivity, or out-
put per worker, between 1995 and 2000the years of the new economy and
the high-tech bubble on Wall Streetthe McKinsey Global Institute has found
that just over half that growth took place in two sectors, retail and wholesale,
where, directly or indirectly, Wal-Mart caused the bulk of the productivity ac-
celeration through ongoing managerial innovation that increased competition
intensity and drove the diffusion of best practice. This is management-speak
for Wal-Marts aggressive use of information technology and its skill in meet-
ing the needs of its customers.
In its own category of general merchandise, Wal-Mart has taken a
huge lead in productivity over its competitors, a lead of 44 percent in 1987,
48 percent in 1995, and still 41 percent in 1999, even as competitors began
to copy Wal-Marts strategy. Thanks to the companys superior productivity,
Wal-Marts share of total sales among all the sellers of general merchandise
rose from 9 percent in 1987 to 27 percent in 1995, and 30 percent in 1999, an
astonishing rate of growth which recalls the rise of the Ford Motor Company
nearly a century ago. McKinsey lists some of the leading causes of Wal-Marts
success. For example, its huge, ugly box-shaped buildings enable Wal-Mart to
carry a wider range of goods than competitors and to enjoy labor economies
of scale.
McKinsey mentions Wal-Marts effciency in logistics, which make it
possible for the company to buy in bulk directly from producers of everything
from toilet paper to refrigerators, allowing it to dispense with wholesalers.
McKinsey also makes much of the companys innovative use of information
technology, for example its early use of computers and scanners to track in-
ventory, and its use of satellite communications to link corporate headquar-
ters in Arkansas with the nationwide network of Wal-Mart stores. Setting up
and fne-tuning these tracking and distribution systems has been the special
achievement of founder Sam Waltons (the Wal of Wal-Mart) two successors
as CEO, David Glass and the incumbent Lee Scott.
Throughout its forty-year existence Wal-Mart has also shown consider-
able skill in defning its core customers and catering to their needs. One of Sam
Waltons wisest decisions was to locate many of his earliest stores in towns
with populations of fewer than fve thousand people, communities largely ig-
nored by his competitors. This strategy gave Wal-Mart a near monopoly in its
local markets and enabled the company to ride out the recessions of the 1970s
and 1980s more successfully than its then larger competitors such as K-Mart
and Sears.
2
Wal-Mart has also been skillful in providing products that appeal to
women with low incomes.
Although her book Selling Women Short is a powerful indictment of how
Wal-Mart has treated its female employees, Liza Featherstone nonetheless ac-
knowledges the lure of the Wal-Mart store for female shoppers, who delight in
spending as little as possible, all in one place. At a Wal-Mart supercenter
you can change a tire, buy groceries for dinner, and get a new pair
of shoes and some yard furniturea set of errands that once would
have required a long afternoon of visits to farfung merchants.
All these innovations contribute to Wal-Marts remarkable productivity record,
and this in turn has opened up another major source of competitive advantage
for the company, its policy of Every Day Low Prices (EDLP), which
makes it possible for it to undersell its competitors by an average of as much
as 14 percent.
3
Here the picture darkens because Wal-Marts ability to keep
prices low depends not just on its productivity but also on its ability to con-
tain, or even reduce, costs, above all labor costs. As Sam Walton wrote in his
memoirs:
You see: no matter how you slice it in the retail business, payroll is
one of the most important parts of overhead, and overhead is one
of the most crucial things you have to fght to maintain your proft
margin.
One of the ways to win this particular fght is to make sure that the growth
of labors productivity well exceeds the growth of its wages and benefts,
2. Sam Walton with John Huey, Made in America: My Story (Bantam, 1993), pp. 139141.
3. Steven Greenhouse, Wal-Mart, Driving Workers and Supermarkets Crazy, The New York
Times, October 19, 2003.
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which has in fact been the dominant pattern for US corporations during the
past decade.
From a corporate perspective, this is a rosy outcome. When the produc-
tivity of labor rises and its compensation stagnates, then, other things being
equal, the cost of labor per unit of output will fall and proft margins will rise.
Wal-Mart has carried this strategy to extremes. While its workforce has one of
the best productivity records of any US corporation, it has kept the compen-
sation of its rank-and-fle workers at or barely above the poverty line. As of
last spring, the average pay of a sales clerk at Wal-Mart was $8.50 an hour, or
about $14,000 a year, $1,000 below the governments defnition of the poverty
level for a family of three.
4
Despite the implied claims of Wal-Marts current
TV advertising campaign, fewer than halfbetween 41 and 46 percentof
Wal-Mart employees can afford even the least-expensive health care benefts
offered by the company. To keep the growth of productivity and real wages far
apart, Wal-Mart has reached back beyond the New Deal to the harsh, abrasive
capitalism of the 1920s.
At a retail business such as Wal-Mart the methods used to increase em-
ployee productivity differ from those used on the line at a manufacturing
plant producing automobiles or computers, where work can be rigorously de-
fned, and higher productivity can be achieved by simplifying tasks so that they
are performed more quickly. At Wal-Mart most employees are not engaged in
single, repetitive tasks. The location and timing of work at a Wal-Mart store is
determined by the fow of goods entering the store through the back entrance,
and the fow of customers entering the store through the front.
Neither of these fows is constant or entirely predictable, and workers may
have to be moved from one task to another as the fows change. An employee
may begin the day by unloading and unpacking goods at the receiving dock;
she may then transfer to shifting goods from the dock into the store; then to
stacking goods on shelves or in special displays; and then fnally to registering
the sale of goods at one of the many checkout counters and making change. (At
a Wal-Mart supercenter I recently visited in suburban Columbus, Ohio, there
were two rows of checkout counters, each row with eighteen cash registers.)
Since there is no assembly line at Wal-Mart its senior management uses
blunter methods to achieve higher levels of productivity from the workforce.
These methods are governed by a simple principle: when deciding how many
workers to employ, Wal-Mart management relies on a formula guaranteeing that
the growth of the labor budget will lag behind the growth in store sales, so that
every year there will be more work for each employee to do. In her paper The
Quality of Work at Wal-Mart, presented at the conference in Santa Barbara,
Ellen Rosen of the Womens Studies Research Center at Brandeis described
in detail how this squeeze on labor works. Each year Wal-Mart provides its
store managers with a preferred budget for employment, which would allow
managers to staff their stores at adequate levels. But the actual budget imposed
on the store managers always falls short of the preferred budget, so that most
Wal-Mart stores are permanently understaffed. The gap between the preferred
and actual budgets gives store managers an idea of how much extra work they
must try to extract from their workforce.
Jed Stone, a store manager at Wal-Mart between 1983 and 1991, explained
to Rosen the practical consequences of this understaffng:
With the meager staff he was allowed, it had always been a struggle
to keep the shelves stacked and the foors shiny, or to get hourly
workers to help customers.
To get the work done Stone had to break the company rules by having em-
ployees work more than ffty hours a weekan offense for which a manager
can be fred at Wal-Mart. Rosen also interviewed Katie Mitchell, a shop foor
employee who worked night shifts at the unloading dock. Her task was to move
goods from the dock to the store aisles where they could be stacked. She also
had to count the goods with her handheld computer: There was always too
much work to be done and no one to help her, and at the end of the shift the
supervisor was always at hand to issue a reprimand if the work had not been
done.
Sandra Stevenson was an overnight supervisor at a Wal-Mart store in
Gurnee, Illinois, whose job was to get the store ready for the next days busi-
ness. Stevenson was supposed to be assigned between fourteen and sixteen
employees to do the job properly; but she was usually understaffed and her re-
quests for additional workers were always turned down. Nevertheless, Steven-
son was severely reprimanded for the condition of the store in the mornings.
5

After a string of such incidents, Stevenson found that her spirit was broken
and she left the company. Many others have had similar experiences.
The pervasive understaffng at Wal-Mart gives rise to one of the most
common employee infractions at the company, time theft. With each em-
ployee having more work to do, managers assume that whenever they see an
employee not working, she must be shirking her duties, or stealing time from
the corporation, a punishable offense. When Barbara Ehrenreich worked at a
4. See Greenhouse, Wal-Mart, Driving Workers and Supermarkets Crazy.
5. United States District Court, Northern District of California: Betty Dukes, Patricia Surgeson,
Cleo Page, et al Plaintiff, v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Defendant. Declaration of Sandra Stevenson
in support of plaintiffs, pp. 23. Hereafter referred to as Dukes Case Declarations.
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Minneapolis Wal-Mart as part of her research for her book on low-wage work,
Nickel and Dimed, she was told by her boss that time theft in the form of
associates standing around talking to one another was his pet peeve. Later
a fellow worker warned Ehrenreich that they could only talk about their work,
and that anything else counted as time theft and was forbidden. Ehrenreich
soon found that her boss and his fellow management spies were a constant
presence on the shop foor, looking out for time thieves.
2.
The harshness of the working conditions at Wal-Mart helps to account for the
exceptionally high employee turnover at the company. Some 50 percent of
Wal-Mart workers employed at the beginning of 2003 had left the company by
the end of the year. At the retailer Costco, where employees are better treated,
turnover in 2003 was just 24 percent.
6
But Wal-Marts harshness is not simply
a consequence of managements efforts to extract maximum productivity from
its workforce at minimum cost. There are also employees and groups of em-
ployees that management particularly mistrusts, and these have often been sub-
jected to relentless harassment. Hundreds of employees have testifed against
Wal-Mart in the many class-action lawsuits brought against the corporation,
and their sworn depositions provide a detailed account of what it is like to work
at Wal-Mart day by day, even hour by hour.
Perhaps the best evidence we have of this selective harassment is to be found
in the depositions of 115 women who have testifed against Wal-Mart in the Dukes
case, a class-action lawsuit brought in 2001 by six female employees and named
for one of the six, Betty Dukes, a Wal-Mart employee in Pittsburg, California. Most
of the witnesses in the case have since either left Wal-Mart or been fred, but Betty
Dukes herself continues to work as a greeter at the Pittsburg Wal-Mart. The suit,
which alleges systematic discrimination by Wal-Mart both in the pay and promo-
tion of women, is brought on behalf of 1.6 million female employees of Wal-Mart
past and present, the largest civil rights case of its kind in US history. On June 22,
2004, US District Judge Martin Jenkins of San Francisco held that the Dukes law-
suit could proceed to trial, although a date has not been set.
Sex discrimination at Wal-Mart has a long history. Bethany Moreton, a
doctoral candidate in history at Yale, has stressed the importance of Wal-Marts
origins in the rural, small-town culture of the Ozarks, where Wal-Marts corpo-
rate headquarters at Bentonville, Arkansas, is still located.
7
In the early years
many of the women who worked at Wal-Mart were the wives of local Ozark
farmers, and the womens earnings were a meager supplement to their hus-
bands. The women in the Dukes case say that some of their store managers
still often think of them as resembling those farmers wives. Ramona Scott, a
Dukes case petitioner who worked for Wal-Mart in the 1990s, was told by her
store manager that men are here to make a career and women arent. Retail is
for housewives who just need to earn extra money.
In her book on the Dukes case, Selling Women Short, Liza Featherstone
describes the women who have testifed against Wal-Mart and shows why they
have been willing to take on the corporation, often at the cost of their jobs.
What the Dukes case women share in common is competence (as revealed in
their work records), an ambition to move on to more responsible and better-
paying jobs, and a sense of indignation when they discover that their male
counterparts are paid signifcantly more than they are and are promoted ahead
of them. The group includes college graduates who have worked at Wal-Marts
Bentonville headquarters, as well as high school graduates and dropouts as-
signed to Wal-Marts checkout counters. For example, Stephanie Odle, an as-
sistant store manager at a Riverside, California, Wal-Mart, decided that she
would testify in the Dukes case when she found that a male assistant manager
was earning $10,000 a year more than she was.
The business economist and historian James Hoopes has described Wal-
Mart as one of the most highly disciplined frms in the history of business.
8
The independence of spirit shown by the women in the Dukes case has there-
fore challenged the strict obedience that Wal-Mart requires of its rank-and-fle
employees. Indeed, the corporation insists on an elaborate aptitude test for new
employees that is intended to weed out troublemakers. When Barbara Ehrenre-
ich took the test at the Minneapolis Wal-Mart, she was told that she had given
a wrong answer when she agreed strongly with the proposition that rules
have to be followed to the letter at all times. The only acceptable answer for
Wal-Mart was very strongly. Similarly, the only correct answer to the propo-
sition there is room in every corporation for a non-conformist was: totally
disagree.
For Wal-Mart the Dukes case women were therefore troublemakers who
had somehow managed to get past Wal-Marts digital gatekeeper and had end-
ed up where they didnt belong. Wal-Mart management has been prepared to
go to considerable lengths to discourage the women from making complaints,
6. Ann Zimmerman, Costcos Dilemma: Be Kind to Its Workers, or Wall Street? The Wall
Street Journal, March 26, 2004.
7. Bethany Moreton, It Came From Bentonville: The New South Origins of Wal-Marts Mana-
gerial Culture, UCSB conference paper, forthcoming in Wal-Mart: Template for 21st Century
Capitalism?, edited by Nelson Lichtenstein.
8. James Hoopes, Growth Through Knowledge: Wal-Mart, High Technology, and the Ever
Less Visible Hand of the Manager, forthcoming in Wal-Mart: Template for 21st Century Capi-
talism? And available at www.americaincorporatedweblog.com/index.php, p. 2.
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and to stop them from pursuing the Dukes case. The purpose of this manage-
ment offensive was not simply to maintain discipline at Wal-Mart, but also to
protect the corporations pattern of sex discrimination. Since lower wages and
salaries paid to female employees have added signifcantly to profts, the com-
panys proft margin was threatened by the Dukes womens demands for fair
promotion and for equal pay.
The Dukes case depositions show how ruthless and inventive Wal-Mart
managers can be in keeping troublesome women in their place. To discipline
the workforce, Wal-Mart managers can use a variety of formidable penalties and
punishments. There are written reprimands in the form of pink slips; spoken
reprimands in the form of coachings; decision making days when an em-
ployee must explain why he or she should not be fred; and, fnally, summary dis-
missal. Women who inquire about promotion are often told they must conform
to rules or qualifcations that are invented on the spur of the moment and have
never been required of male employees. Claudia Renati, a marketing specialist
at a Roseville, California, Wal-Mart, was told by her boss that she could not join
a management training course unless she could frst prove to him that she could
lift ffty-pound bags of dog food. When I told him I could not repeatedly lift 50
pounds, he told me that there was nothing he could do for me. Renati was also
told that she was not eligible for management training unless she was prepared to
sell her house in Roseville and move immediately to Alaska.
The women in the Dukes case were frequently punished or fred for trivial
or trumped-up offences. Melissa Howard, a manager at several Indiana Wal-
Marts, resigned from the company when a senior manager well known for his
belittling of women humiliated Howard in front of her subordinates. He be-
rated her for designating a certain type of plastic spoon as a nonreplenishable
item, even though a junior manager had told him that Howard had done the
right thing. Trudy Crom, an assistant manager at a Loveland, Colorado, Wal-
Mart, was told by her immediate boss, the store manager, to reprimand all the
shop foor employees who were working forty hours a week or more and were
therefore likely to earn higher overtime pay. This was a way of making it easier
for Wal-Mart to fre such potentially expensive employees if the corporation
needed to reduce its wage bill. Crom twice queried the order with her store
manager, and was told both times that it was company policy and she should
go ahead. But when some of the employees complained to senior management
about this treatment, the store manager denied ever have given the order to
Crom, and it was Crom who was reprimanded.
The productivity fgures at Wal-Mart wouldnt be as good as they are un-
less most employees were doing their jobs effciently most of the time. But it is
hard for Wal-Mart employees to take pride in their work or to have confdence
in themselves. Perhaps the most powerful insight that Barbara Ehrenreich took
away from her time at Wal-Mart was that the daily routines of the low-wage
world damage the self-esteem of employees:
If you are treated as an untrustworthy persona potential slacker,
drug addict or thiefyou may begin to feel less trustworthy yourself.
If you are constantly reminded of your lowly position in the social
hierarchy, whether by individual managers or by a plethora of im-
personal rulesyou begin to accept that unfortunate status.
With its deliberate understaffng, its obsession about time theft, its management
spies, and its arbitrary punishments, Wal-Mart is a workplace where managements
suspicion can affect the morale of even the best employees, creating a discrepancy
between their objective record of high productivity and how they come to regard
their performance on the job as a result of their day-to-day dealings with manage-
ment. This discrepancy helps keep wages and benefts low at Wal-Mart.
One of the most telling of all the criticisms of Wal-Mart is to be found in a
February 2004 report by the Democratic Staff of the House Education and Work-
force Committee. In analyzing Wal-Marts success in holding employee compen-
sation at low levels, the report assesses the costs to US taxpayers of employees
who are so badly paid that they qualify for government assistance even under
the less than generous rules of the federal welfare system. For a two-hundred-
employee Wal-Mart store, the government is spending $108,000 a year for chil-
drens health care; $125,000 a year in tax credits and deductions for lowincome
families; and $42,000 a year in housing assistance. The report estimates that a
two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year,
or about $2,103 per Wal-Mart employee. That translates into a total annual wel-
fare bill of $2.5 billion for WalMarts 1.2 million US employees.
Wal-Mart is also a burden on state governments. According to a study by
the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berke-
ley, in 2003 California taxpayers subsidized $20.5 million worth of medical
care for Wal-Mart employees. In Georgia ten thousand children of Wal-Mart
employees were enrolled in the states program for needy children in 2003,
with one in four Wal-Mart employees having a child in the program.
9
3.
In the introduction to her book Liza Featherstone argues convincingly that
Wal-Mart is a scandal, not a praiseworthy business model. Yet Wal-Mart
is Fortunes most admired corporation, the star of McKinseys productivity
9. See the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Everyday Low Wages, p. 9. See
also Featherstone, Selling Women Short, p. 148.
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study, and the subject, as recently as last April, of a hagiographic cover story in
The Economist, Wal-Mart: Learning to Love It.
10
Wal-Mart has also set off a particularly destructive form of competition
among corporations, which seek competitive advantage by pushing down the
wages and benefts of employees. A clear example of this has been the con-
fict provoked by Wal-Marts decision in 2002 to enter the southern California
grocery market with forty of its supercenterswhere the shopper can buy
everything from tomatoes to deck furniture and spare tires. Although Wal-Mart
has not yet opened any of these new stores, the response of California super-
markets, led by Safeway, has been to demand cuts in their employees wages
and benefts, with the cuts falling heavily on newly hired workers. This posed
a serious threat to the supermarket employees, 70,000 of whom are members
of the Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and have benefted
from its bargaining with employers. While a sales clerk at Wal-Mart earns only
$8.50 an hour, a worker holding a similar job at Safeway or Albertson could
earn $13 an hour along with full health care benefts.
11
For employees that
could make the difference between minimal fnancial security and a life spent
scraping by on the poverty line.
After the UFCW called a large-scale strike against the Safeway stores last
winter, two other retailers, Kroger and Albertsons, locked out their workforce
and replaced it with temporary employeesas a demonstration of support for
Safeway even though their workers were not on strike themselves. Taking full
advantage of their right to hire replacements for striking and nonstriking work-
ers, the supermarket owners beat the Safeway strike and forced the UFCW to
accept cuts in wages and benefts.
The failure of the California grocery strike, not to mention the history of
labor relations at Wal-Mart, points to the urgent need for reform of labor law
in the United States. Wal-Mart is a ferociously anti-union company, and the
UFCW has yet to organize a Wal-Mart store. Every store manager at Wal-Mart
is issued a Managers Toolbox to Remaining Union Free, which warns man-
agers to be on the lookout for signs of union activity, such as frequent meet-
ings at associates homes or associates who are never seen togethertalking
or associating with each other.
The Toolbox provides managers with a special hotline so that they can
get in touch with Wal-Marts Bentonville headquarters the moment they think
employees may be planning to organize a union. A highpowered union-busting
team will then be dispatched by corporate jet to the offending store, to be fol-
lowed by days of compulsory anti-union meetings for all employees. In the
only known case of union success at Wal-Mart, in 2000 workers at the meat-
cutting department of a Texas Wal-Mart somehow managed to circumvent this
corporate FBI, and voted to join the UFCW in an election certifed by the Na-
tional Labor Relations Board. A week later Wal-Mart closed down the meat-
cutting department and fred the offending employees, both illegal acts under
the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB ordered Wal-Mart to reopen the
department, reemploy the fred workers, and bargain with the union, but Wal-
Mart has appealed the NLRB decision and the litigation continues.
Unions are needed at Wal-Mart for much the same reasons that they were need-
ed at Ford and GM in the 1930sto prevent the mistreatment of employees, and
to obtain for them fair, living wages. Unions are also needed to curb the unedifying
race to the bottom among corporations. If Wal-Mart had been a union company
and its employees had the same wages and benefts as other California store employ-
ees, Safeway and Albertsons could not have used Wal-Marts planned entry into the
California market as an excuse to beat down employee wages and benefts.
As things stand now, the National Labor Relations Act, the toothless fed-
eral law governing the right to organize, allows union-busting corporations
like Wal-Mart to break the law with virtual impunity. Since 1995 the US gov-
ernment has issued sixty complaints against Wal-Mart at the National Labor
Relations Board, citing the illegal fring of pro-union employees, as well as the
unlawful surveillance and intimidation of employees. But under the present
law persistent violators of government rules such as Wal-Mart are responsible
only for restoring the lost pay of fred workersin most cases, not more than
a few thousand dollarsand these penalties do not increase with successive
violations. So long as US law makes it possible for Wal-Mart to crush efforts to
organize unions it will continue to treat its more than a million workers shab-
bily, while the company no doubt continues to be celebrated in the business
press as a a model of effcient modern management.
The exploitation of the working poor is now central to the business strat-
egy favored by Americas most powerful and, by some criteria, most success-
ful corporation. With the re-election of a president as enamored of corporate
power as George W. Bush, there is every prospect that this strategy and its
harsh practices will continue to spread throughout the economy.
wAL-MARTS IMPACT ON SOCIETY: A kEY
MOMENT IN TIME FOR AMERICAN CAPITALISM
The New York review of Books READERS recently exposed to a lengthy critique
of Wal-Mart that was so riddled with mistakes and blinded by ideology that
it offered a fundamentally erroneous view of the way we do business and the
10. April 1723, 2004.
11. See Greenhouse, Wal-Mart, Driving Workers and Supermarkets Crazy.
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contributions we make to thousands of communities. Its important to set the
record straight not only because the picture being painted of Wal-Mart is un-
true, but also because our critics seem to have a broader and more troubling
aim: to warp the vital debate the country needs in the years ahead about the
proper role of business and government in ensuring that capitalism creates a
decent society. We know these questions are important to you, and we want you
to know theyre important to us as well.
In this spirit, wed like to suggest that our critics are framing the debate in
ways that would actually harm the people whose interests they claim to repre-
sent. Indeed if you look at the facts with an open mind, we think youll agree
that Wal-Mart is very good for America.
FIRST SOME FACTS
Lets start with two fundamental truths about Wal-Mart. First, our success
comes from delivering quality merchandise at Every Day Low Prices in ways
that raise the standard of living for the 270 million Americans who shop in our
stores. Independent analysis says that nationally, we save consumers upwards
of $100 billion a year; in Southern California alone, it has been estimated that
well save the average family nearly $600 a year at the grocery checkout alone.
These savings are a lifeline for millions of middle- and lower-income families
who live from payday to payday. In effect, it gives them a raise every time they
shop with us.
Put another way, Wal-Mart acts as a bargaining agent for these families
achieving on their behalf a negotiating power they would never have on their
own. Wal-Mart harnesses the collective clout of ordinary Americans to make
their lives better.
The second important thing to know about Wal-Mart is that we are open
to fair criticism and are the frst to admit that we make mistakes. Indeed our
corporate culture of self-scrutiny of relentlessly examining every aspect of
our operations out of a conviction that we can always do better has been the
chief force behind our history of growth and innovation, factors that econo-
mists credit with helping spur productivity across the U.S. We take pride in this
spirit of continuous improvement, which shows up not only in the merchandise
customers see when they shop, but also in the way were improving, for ex-
ample how we address local concerns sometimes raised in such areas as traffc
and store design.
But when critics pervert the facts to serve their fnancial and political in-
terests, its our duty to speak up. Chief among these myths is that Wal-Marts
wages and benefts have some kind of negative impact on wages across the
board. Thats just plain wrong.
GOOD JOBS, GREAT OPPORTUNITY
Wal-Marts average national wage is around $10 an hour, nearly double the
federal minimum wage. These wages are competitive with comparable retail-
ers in each of the more than 3,500 communities we serve, with one exception
a handful of urban markets with unionized grocery workers. This is only
common sense. If Wal-Mart werent an attractive place to work, we wouldnt
fnd ourselves, as we typically do, with thousands of applications for the hun-
dreds of jobs we create when we open a new store. Nor would so many of our
associates urge their friends and relatives to join us.
In addition, the growth opportunities we offer our associates and suppli-
ers are unparalleled. Seventy-six percent of our store management team started
their careers with Wal-Mart in hourly positions; every year thousands of hourly
associates are promoted into management, and many of these jobs do not re-
quire a college degree. Countless suppliers have likewise grown with us over
the years, turning hundreds of small businesses into remarkable entrepreneurial
success stories.
Lets turn now to benefts. Few people realize that 74 percent of Wal-
Mart associates work full-time, compared to 20 to 40 percent at comparable
retailers. This means Wal-Mart spends more broadly on health benefts than
do most big retailers, whose part-timers typically are not offered health insur-
ance. Associate premiums begin at less than $40 a month for an individual and
less than $155 per month for a family, no matter how large. You also may not
be aware that we are one of the few retailers that offers health benefts to part-
timers. Associates also receive other benefts like a proft sharing 401(k) plan,
merchandise discounts, performance bonuses, paid vacation and life insurance.
More than half of our associates own company stock through our internal stock
purchase program.
THE ROLE OF THE RETAIL SECTOR
These facts prove that Wal-Mart is nothing remotely like the horror story out
of Dickens that critics are peddling. It is true, however, as fair minded observ-
ers point out, that retailing generally pays lower frontline wages than other
industries that require more specialized education or skills. It is important to
note that this relationship between retail wages and wages in other economic
sectors has held true in every advanced nation for decades. And it should not be
viewed in isolation. We agree that earnings of $10 an hour less than $20,000
a year might be a concern if our associates were their sole family breadwin-
ners. But in Wal-Marts case, only seven percent of our hourly associates are
trying to support a family with children on their single Wal-Mart income. The
vast majority of our associates are in other situations, either supplementing
other family income, working to stay active and earn extra cash as retirees or
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getting their frst taste of (and training in) the working world as students. Retail
work will never be right for everyone. But in Wal-Marts case, for 1.2 million
U.S. associates, Wal-Mart offers the right job at the right time in their lives.
Which brings us to our grocery union critics, particularly in some markets
where we are expanding. Independent analysis suggests that grocery prices
in these locations today are 20 to 40 percent above what they should be be-
cause certain union-based stores have operated with limited competition. It
may be that customers with higher incomes, including many Wal-Mart critics,
are happy to pay more than they have to for these basics, and thats their right.
But Daniel Weintraub, a Sacramento Bee columnist (who says he is not a
Wal-Mart shopper), looked at these facts and concluded that Wal-Mart is the
worlds most effcient consumer empowerment machine. California residents,
he wrote, stand to gain between $8 billion and $18 billion if Wal-Mart enters
the fray and drives down prices here as it has every place else the company
has been allowed to compete. Those savings would go disproportionately to
middle-class and low-income Californians.
Of Wal-Marts grocery union critics, Weintraub wrote:
So for the sake of 250,000 grocery store clerks and baggers and their
employers, the other 35 million people in this state are asked to agree
to pay billions of dollars more than they ought to for the necessities
of life and to deprive themselves of choices that could make their
lives better. You dont have to be a Wal-Mart shopper to see that this
is not a bargain that makes sense.
What do these economic facts mean? If we kept our low prices and raised our
average wages and benefts above todays market levels by a few dollars an
hour or so, we would sacrifce a hefty chunk of our profts, hurting sharehold-
ers whove entrusted us with their savings many of whom are associates
as well. If on the other hand we raised prices substantially to fund abovemarket
wages, as some critics urge, wed betray our commitment to tens of millions of
customers, many of whom struggle to make ends meet.
We believe that offering good jobs at fair wages and benefts with unparal-
leled opportunities for growth, while also delivering world-class savings to over
270 million customers, is the best way to do right by all our stakeholders.
Whatever others may say, we think its only fair to debate the trade-offs and
Wal-Marts choices honestly in these terms. For it is only when looked at through
this broad economic prism that the difference between what even a large business
can do and what society collectively through government can do becomes plain.
To be sure, by creating more than a million jobs (including 100,000 new
jobs this year alone in the U.S.) and paying billions in taxes, we contribute
mightily to our communities. We also gave back more than $170 million in
charitable donations last year, making us the largest corporate cash-giving
Foundation in the country. But some challenges go beyond the reach of these
good works to the broader question of how to make sure American-style capi-
talism creates a decent life for all of us.
Like others, for example, were troubled that 45 million of our neighbors
lack basic health coverage and that many fulltime workers who are breadwin-
ners (including a relative handful at Wal-Mart) dont earn enough to support
their families decently. Some advocates want people to believe that business
must bear the full costs of solving these problems.
But we believe that a 21st-century global economy calls for smarter, more
economically sound approaches. The next decade will witness an overdue de-
bate on these issues, in which a central question (from soaring healthcare costs
to wage supports and beyond) will be how business, government and individu-
als should best share the burden of fnancing a decent society.
Business can help lead a more sophisticated national conversation on these
questions, a dialogue that takes us beyond the usual cardboard pseudo-debates
that falsely pit free markets versus big government. We stand ready to join
others in shaping creative public-policy solutions that sustain Americas com-
mitment to decency in ways that also promote economic growth and in ways
that honor the distinctive contribution of businesses like ours in raising living
standards for ALL Americans.
To be honest, most of us at Wal-Mart have been so busy minding the store
that the way our critics have tried to turn us into a political symbol has taken
us by surprise. But one thing weve learned from our critics, even when theyre
off-base, is that Wal-Marts size and industry leadership mean that people ex-
pect more of us. Theyre right to, and when it comes to playing our part in these
emerging debates, we intend to deliver.
THE GREAT GROCERY SMACkDOwN
wILL wALMART, NOT wHOLE FOODS,
SAvE THE SMALL FARM AND MAkE
AMERICA HEALTHY?
BUY MY FOOD AT WALMART? No thanks. Until recently, I had been to exactly one
Walmart in my life, at the insistence of a friend I was visiting in Natchez, Mis-
sissippi, about 10 years ago. It was one of the sights, she said. Up and down the
aisles we went, properly impressed by the endless rows and endless abundance.
Not the produce section. I saw rows of prepackaged, plastic-trapped fruits and
vegetables. I would never think of shopping there.
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Not even if I could get environmentally correct food. Walmarts move into
organics was then getting under way, but it just seemed cynicala way to grab
market share while driving small stores and farmers out of business. Then, last
year, the market for organic milk started to go down along with the economy,
and dairy farmers in Vermont and other states, who had made big investments
in organic certifcation, began losing contracts and selling their farms. A guar-
anteed large buyer of organic milk began to look more attractive. And friends
started telling me I needed to look seriously at Walmarts efforts to sell sustain-
ably raised food.
Really? Wasnt this greenwashing? I called Charles Fishman, the author
of The Wal-Mart Effect, which entertainingly documents the market-changing
(and company-destroying) effects of Walmarts decisions. He reiterated that
whatever Walmart decides to do has large repercussionsand told me that
what it had decided to do since my Natchez foray was to compete with high-
end supermarkets. You wont recognize the grocery section of a supercenter,
he said. He ordered me to get in my car and fnd one.
He was right. In the grocery section of the Raynham supercenter, 45 min-
utes south of Boston, I had trouble believing I was in a Walmart. The very rea-
sonable-looking produce, most of it loose and nicely organized, was in black
plastic bins (as in British supermarkets, where the look is common; the idea
is to make the colors pop). The frst thing I saw, McIntosh apples, came from
the same local orchard whose apples Id just seen in the same bags at Whole
Foods. The bunched beets were from Muranaka Farm, whose beets I often
buy at other marketsbut these looked much fresher. The service people I
could fnd (it wasnt hard) were unfailingly enthusiastic, though I did wonder
whether they got let out at night.
During a few days of tasting, the results were mixed. Those beets hand-
ily beat (sorry) ones Id just bought at Whole Foods, and compared nicely
with beets Id recently bought at the farmers market. But packaged carrots and
celery, both organic, were favorless. Organic bananas and tree ripened Cali-
fornia peaches, already out of season, were better than the ones in most super-
markets, and most of the Walmart food was cheaperthough when I went to
my usual Whole Foods to compare prices for local produce, they were surpris-
ingly similar (dry goods and dairy products were considerably less expensive
at Walmart).
Walmart holding its own against Whole Foods? This called for a blind
tasting.
I conspired with my contrarian friend James McWilliams, an agricultural
historian at Texas State University at San Marcos and the author of the new
Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Respon-
sibly. He enlisted his friends at Fino, a restaurant in Austin that pays special
attention to where the food it serves comes from, as co-conspirators. I would
buy two complete sets of ingredients, one at Walmart and the other at Whole
Foods. The chef would prepare them as simply as possible, and serve two ver-
sions of each course, side by side on the same plate, to a group of local food
experts invited to judge.
I STARTED LOOKING into how and why Walmart could be plausibly competing
with Whole Foods, and found that its produce-buying had evolved beyond or-
ganics, to a virtually unknown programone that could do more to encour-
age small and medium-size American farms than any number of well-meaning
nonprofts, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with its new Know Your
Farmer, Know Your Food campaign. Not even Fishman, who has been closely
tracking Walmarts sustainability efforts, had heard of it. They do a lot of good
things they dont talk about, he offered.
The program, which Walmart calls Heritage Agriculture, will encourage
farms within a days drive of one of its warehouses to grow crops that now take
days to arrive in trucks from states like Florida and California. In many cases
the crops once fourished in the places where Walmart is encouraging their re-
vival, but vanished because of Big Agriculture competition.
Ron McCormick, the senior director of local and sustainable sourcing for
Walmart, told me that about three years ago he came upon pictures from the
1920s of thriving apple orchards in Rogers, Arkansas, eight miles from the
companys headquarters. Apples were once shipped from northwest Arkansas
by railroad to St. Louis and Chicago. After Washington state and California
took over the apple market, hardly any orchards remained. Cabbage, greens,
and melons were also once staples of the local farming economy. But for de-
cades, Arkansass cash crops have been tomatoes and grapes. A new initiative
could diversify crops and give consumers fresher produce.
As with most Walmart programs, the clear impetus is to claim a share of
consumer spending: frst for organics, now for locally grown food. But buying
local food is often harder than buying organic. The obstacles for both small
farm and big store are many: how much a relatively small farmer can grow and
how reliably, given short growing seasons; how to charge a competitive price
when the farmers expenses are so much higher than those of industrial farms;
and how to get produce from farm to warehouse.
Walmart knows all this, and knows that various nonproft agricultural and
university networks are trying to solve the same problems. In considering how
to build on existing programs (and investments), Walmart talked with the local
branch of the Environmental Defense Fund, which opened near the companys
Arkansas headquarters when Walmart started to look serious about green ef-
forts, and with the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas.
The center (of which the Walmart Foundation is a chief funder) is part of a
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national partnership called Agile Agriculture, which includes universities such
as Drake and the University of New Hampshire and nonprofts like the Ameri-
can Farmland Trust.
X
To get more locally grown produce into grocery stores
and restaurants, the partnership is centralizing and streamlining distribution for
farms with limited growing seasons, limited production, and limited transpor-
tation resources.
Walmart says it wants to revive local economies and communities that lost
out when agriculture became centralized in large states. (The heirloom variet-
ies beloved by foodies lost out at the same time, but so far theyre not a focus of
Walmarts program.) This would be something like bringing the once-fourish-
ing silk and wool trades back to my hometown of Rockville, Connecticut. Its
not something you expect from Walmart, which is better known for destroying
local economies than for rebuilding them.
As everyone who sells to or buys from (or, notoriously, works for) Wal-
mart knows, price is where every consideration begins and ends. Even if the
price Walmart pays for local produce is slightly higher than what it would pay
large growers, savings in transport and the ability to order smaller quantities
at a time can make up the difference. Contracting directly with farmers, which
Walmart intends to do in the future as much as possible, can help eliminate
middlemen, who sometimes misrepresent prices. Heritage produce currently
accounts for only 4 to 6 percent of Walmarts produce sales, McCormick told
me (already more than a chain might spend on produce in a year, as Fishman
would point out), adding that he hopes the fgure will get closer to 20 percent,
so the program will go from experimental to being really viable.
Michelle Harvey, who is in charge of working with Walmart on agricul-
ture programs at the local Environmental Defense Fund offce, summarized a
long conversation with me on the sustainability efforts she thinks the company
is serious about: Its getting harder and harder to hate Walmart.
WE SUPPORT LOCAL FARMERS, read a sign at an Austin Walmart. I didnt see any
farm names listed in the produce section, but I did fnd plastic tubs of organic
baby spinach and spring mix greens with modern labeling that looked like
it could be at Whole Foods. My list was simple to the point of stark, for a fair
fght. Some ingredients seemed identical to what Id fnd at Whole Foods. Or-
ganic, free-range brown eggs. Promised Land all-natural, hormone-free milk.
A bottle of Watkins Madagascar vanilla for panna cotta. I couldnt fnd much
in the way of the seasonal fruit the restaurant had told me the chef would serve
with dessert. But I did fnd, to my surprise, a huge bin of pomegranates, so I
bought those, and some Bosc pears. The sticking points were fresh goat cheese,
which fummoxed the nice sales people (we found some Alouette brand, hid-
den), and chicken breasts. I could fnd organic meat, but no breasts without up
to 12 percent natural chicken broth addedan attempt to inject favor and add
weight. I wasnt happy with the suppliers, either: Tyson predominated. I bought
Pilgrims Pride, but was suspicious. The bill was $126.02.
At the fagship Whole Foods, in downtown Austin, the produce was much
more varied, though the spinach and spring mix looked less vibrant. The chick-
en was properly dry, a fresh ivory colorand more than twice as expensive as
Walmarts. My total bill was $175.04; $20 of the extra $50 was for the meat.
Brian Stubbs, the tall, genial young manager of Fino, and Jason Donoho,
the chef, were intrigued as they helped me carry bag after bag into the restau-
rants kitchen. They carefully segregated the bags on two shelves of a walk-in
refrigerator. The younger cooks looked surprised by the Whole Foods kraft-pa-
per bags, and slightly horrifed by the fimsy white plastic ones from Walmart.
The next night 16 critics, bloggers, and general food lovers gathered
around a long, high table at the restaurant. Stubbs passed out scoring sheets
with bullets for grades of one (worst) to fve (best) for each of the four courses,
and lines for comments.
The frst course, bowls of almonds and pieces of fried goat cheese with
red-onion jam and honey, was a clear win for Walmart. The Walmart almonds
were described as aromatic, mellow, pure, and yummy, the Whole
Foods almonds as raw, though also more natural; they were in fact fresher,
though duller in favor. (Like the best of the food I saw at the Austin Walmart,
the packaging for the almonds had a homegrown Mexican look.) The second
course, mixed spring greens in a sherry vinaigrette, was another Walmart win:
only a few tasters preferred the Whole Foods greens, calling them fresher and
heartier-favored. And only one noticed the little brown age spots on a few
Walmart leaves, but she was a ringerCarol Ann Sayle, a local farmer famous
for her greens.
So far Walmart was ahead. But then came the chicken, served with a
poached egg on a bed of spinach and golden raisins. A woman whose taste
I already thought uncannyshe works as an aromatherapistcompared the
broth-infused meat to something out of a hospital cafeteria: Its like they in-
jected it with something to make it taste like fast food. I thought it was salty,
damp, and dismal. The spinach, though, was another story: even the most ar-
dent brothy-breast haters thought the Walmart spinach was fresher.
Dessert was the most puzzling. I had thought that Walmarts locally
sourced milk and exotic-looking vanilla would be the gold standard, but the
Whole Foods house brands slaughtered them (Kicks As ass, one taster wrote).
People couldnt fnd enough words to diss the Walmart panna cotta (artifcial,
thin) and praise the Whole Foods one (like a good Christmas). I wished Id
X. Correction: The article originally stated, incorrectly, that the Agile Agriculture partnership
included the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
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bought the identical Promised Land milk at Whole Foods, to see if there is in
fact a difference in the branded food products that suppliers give Walmart, as
there is in the case of other branded products. The pomegranate seeds, sadly,
were wan, with barely any favor, particularly compared with the garnet gems
from Whole Foods. But Walmart got points from the chef, and from me, for
carrying pomegranates at all.
As I had been in my own kitchen, the tasters were surprised when the re-
sults were unblinded at the end of the meal and they learned that in a number
of instances they had adamantly preferred Walmart produce. And they werent
entirely happy.
IN AN IDEAL WORLD, people would buy their food directly from the people who
grew or caught it, or grow and catch it themselves. But most people cant do
that. If there were a Walmart closer to where I live, I would probably shop
there.
Most important, the vast majority of Walmarts carry a large range of af-
fordable fresh fruits and vegetables. And Walmarts serve many food deserts,
in large cities and rural areasironically including farm areas. Im not sure Im
convinced that the worlds largest retailer is set on rebuilding local economies
it had a hand in destroying, if not literally, then in effect. But Im convinced
that if it wants to, a ruthlessly well-run mechanism can bring fruits and veg-
etables back to land where they once fourished, and deliver them to the people
who need them most.
oRGANIC AGRICUltURE:
A SolUtIoN to GloBAl WARMING?
James Mcwilliams
IN 2008, THE RODALE INSTITUTEan organization dedicated to the promotion
of organic agriculturepublished a widely noted report entitled Regenera-
tive Organic Farming: A Solution to Global Warming. The takeaway was that
organic agriculture, due to its reliance on biological rather than chemical meth-
ods, could substantially reduce carbon emissions generated by the agricultural
sector. Rodale predicted that if the worlds 3.5 billion acres of arable land were
placed under organic production, 40 percent of global carbon emissions would
be immediately sequestered.
It was an impressive projection and, as far as I can tell, an accurate one.
Organic farmings use of cover crops and composted manure is a remarkably
effective way to sequester carbon dioxide. The Rodale report continues to gar-
ner widespread attention. As recently as a month ago, Peter Melchett, Policy
Director of the U.K.s Soil Association, championed the assertion that organic
agriculture reduces global warming. He spoke as if the claim was conventional
wisdomwhich, in a way, it is.
But this bit of conventional wisdom is not as simple as it seems. Yes,
organic methods sequester more carbon dioxide than conventional ones. But
the ultimate culprit behind agriculture-driven climate change isnt carbon diox-
ide. Instead, its methane and nitrous oxidetwo gasses conspicuously absent
from the Rodale study. Agricultural production in the U.S. accounts for only 7
percent of overall carbon dioxide emissions. By contrast, it accounts for 19-25
percent of methane emissions and 70-75 percent of nitrous oxide emissions.
Methane, according to the EPA, is 23 times more potent a GHG than carbon
dioxide. Nitrous oxide is 310 times as potent.
So the key question, as far as GHG emissions and agriculture goes, is
not how much carbon dioxide organic agriculture sequesters. Instead, its how
much methane and nitrous oxide it sequesters. And this question, like any
controversial topic in agriculture, is riddled with caveats and qualifcations.
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A recent conference in France dedicated to organic agriculture and climate
change found that, in some cases, organic systems sometimes had higher GHG
emissions and that, in other cases, conventional systems had higher levels of
output. The data, it judiciously observed, are very variable according to the
situation and the production system.
Not all assessments of the issue have been so moderate. The most ag-
gressive (and, at the same time, legitimate) answer I could fnd came from Dr.
Steve Savage, a plant pathologist and agricultural consultant based in Califor-
nia. Savage, who dutifully expresses deep admiration for organic production,
nonetheless came to the stark conclusion that, regarding GHG emissions and
organic agriculture, gain in soil carbon on an organic farm comes at the sub-
stantial carbon cost of methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
Savage works from two defning premises. The frst is that the methods
typically used by organic growers to fertilize row cropsnamely planting cover
crops and applying manure or compostcan, under certain circumstances, cre-
ate substantial levels of nitrous oxide and methane emissions. How substan-
tial? That brings us to Savages other critical premise: 83 percent of the U.S.s
agricultural production today is in row crops (corn, wheat, hay, and soy) grown
on a large scale. It is on the basis of these premises that Savage calculates what
would happen to GHG emissions if all these staples were produced organically.
His answer, which he claims to have checked out with hundreds of scientists, is
eye-opening to the extreme: organic methods lead to a carbon footprint thats
fourteen times higher than if conventional methods were employed.
The reasons for this vast disparitywhich is, of course, just a projec-
tioncan be found at the intersection of monoculture and organic fertilizer.
Composted manurea common fertilizer for organic growersmight not re-
quire fossil fuel to manufacture, but it must be stored, shipped and distributed
in order to keep pace with the demands of large-scale monocultural crop pro-
duction. Putting aside for the moment the fact that the vast majority of manure
used on big organic farms comes from CAFOs (or concentrated animal feeding
operations; Ill address this issue in a future post), its important to note that 2.7
percent of the carbon in composted manure is emitted as methane before the
stuff is even spread. Given that it takes around 4-7 tons of composted manure
per acre to grow row crops, the impact of many tons of fermenting manure
quickly adds up.
When compost hits the feld, it not only continues to release methane,
but nitrous oxide as well. When oxygen levels in the soil are lowwhen the
soil is wet or compactedabout 1-2 percent of the nitrogen in the manure is
released in the form of nitrous oxide. Even if the soil is frozen, nitrous oxide
is releasedeven more so than with conventional methods (as a 2009 study
revealed). Finally, when organic growers till cover crops (such as nitrogenous
legumes) back into the soil in the spring, a brief explosion of nitrous oxide
(remember, its 310 times worse than carbon dioxide) occurs. According to
Savage (and others), conventional farmers are better able to prevent this gas
blast by practicing no-till methods. It is the tillage factor that, in part, led an
international conference on climate change and organic agriculture to note that,
when calculated per kg of product, in the case of substantially lower yields,
organic farming can result in a higher global warming potential.
What are we to make of the suggestion that organic methods may not be
the global warming panacea theyve been promoted to be?
Criticizing organic agriculture often suggests antipathy for organic ag-
riculture. This shouldnt be the case. As mentioned, organic agriculture has
clear advantages. Most notably, its the only codifed approach to agriculture
that places top priority on soil health. The fact that methane and nitrous oxide
emissions complicate the claim that organic agriculture reduces climate change
is no reason to dismiss organic agriculture as a whole. Instead, it provides an
opportunity to do something that the intensely polarized agricultural world
rarely does: think beyond the organic vs. conventional divide.
Doing so uncovers a world of hidden potential. What would happen, for
example, if farmers anaerobically digested methane from fermenting manure
and used the energy to produce high grade synthetic fertilizer? What would
happen if organic farmers adopted GM crops that led to higher yields and
greater nitrogen uptake effciency? What if conventional growers mixed row
crops with specialty cropscrops grown to be fed to people rather than to farm
animals or biofuel plants? What if farmers viewed sustainable farming as an
agricultural balancing act, one that drew on the widest variety of possible in-
puts to achieve the highest yielding and most environmentally sound outputs?
These questions only scratch the surface, but they all demand a perspective that
transcends the organic/conventional divide.
We can debate the comparative merits and demerits of organic and con-
ventional systems until the cows come home. But until we start substituting
pragmatic realism for ideological purism were destined to do little more than
reap the bitter fruits of a harvest sown with righteousness and extremism.
This article was published in The New York Times, on June 2, 2010. References and comments
are at: http://freakonoics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/o6/02/organic-agriculture-a-solution-to-
global-warming/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Freak
onomicsBlog+(Ferakonomics+Blog)
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MAkING CAPITALISM MORE CREATIvE
Bill Gates
Since 2001, writes Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, Davos and Porto
Alegre have been the twin cities of globalization: Davos, the exclusive Swiss
resort where the global elite of managers, statesmen and media personalities
meets for the World Economic Forum under heavy police protection, trying to
convince us (and themselves) that globalization is its own best remedy; Porto
Alegre, the subtropical Brazilian city where the counter-elite of the anti-global-
ization movement meets, trying to convince us (and themselves) that capitalist
globalization is not our inevitable fate that, as the offcial slogan puts it, an-
other world is possible. It seems, however, that the Porto Alegre reunions have
somehow lost their impetus we have heard less and less about them over the
past couple of years. Where did the bright stars of Porto Alegre go?
Some of them, at least, moved to Davos. The tone of the Davos meetings
is now predominantly set by the group of entrepreneurs who ironically refer to
themselves as liberal communists and who no longer accept the opposition
between Davos and Porto Alegre: their claim is that we can have the global
capitalist cake (thrive as entrepreneurs) and eat it (endorse the anti-capitalist
causes of social responsibility, ecological concern, etc.). There is no need for
Porto Alegre: instead, Davos can become Porto Davos.
So who are these liberal communists? The usual suspects: Bill Gates and
George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as court-philoso-
phers like Thomas Friedman. The true conservatives today, they argue, are not
only the old right, with its ridiculous belief in authority, order and parochial
patriotism, but also the old left, with its war against capitalism: both fght their
shadow-theatre battles in disregard of the new realities. The signifer of this
new reality in the liberal communist Newspeak is smart. Being smart means
being dynamic and nomadic, and against centralised bureaucracy; believing in
dialogue and co-operation instead of central authority; in fexibility instead of
routine; culture and knowledge instead of industrial production; in spontane-
ous interaction and autopoiesis instead of fxed hierarchy.
Bill Gates is the icon of what he has called frictionless capitalism, the
post-industrial society and the end of labour. Software is winning over hard-
ware and the young nerd over the old manager in his black suit. In the new
company headquarters, there is little external discipline; former hackers domi-
nate the scene, working long hours, enjoying free drinks in green surroundings.
The underlying notion here is that Gates is a subversive marginal hooligan, an
ex-hacker, who has taken over and dressed himself up as a respectable chair-
man. (London Review of Books, 20 April 2006)
Olivier Malnuit recently drew up the liberal communists ten command-
ments in the French magazine Technikart:
1. You shall give everything away free (free access, no copyright);
just charge for the additional services, which will make you rich.
2. You shall change the world, not just sell things.
3. You shall be sharing, aware of social responsibility.
4. You shall be creative: focus on design, new technologies and sci-
ence.
5. You shall tell all: have no secrets, endorse and practice the cult of
transparency and the free fow of information; all humanity should
collaborate and interact.
6. You shall not work: have no fxed 9 to 5 job, but engage in smart,
dynamic, fexible communication.
7. You shall return to school: engage in permanent education.
8. You shall act as an enzyme: work not only for the market, but trig-
ger new forms of social collaboration.
9. You shall die poor: return your wealth to those who need it, since
you have more than you can ever spend.
You shall be the state: companies should be in partnership with the
state.
And here Bill Gates invites you, all of us, to join him in his global campaign
for creative capitalism to create a different kind of world. Are you ready to
accept his invitation?
CAPITALISM HAS IMPROVED THE LIVES of billions of people something thats
easy to forget at a time of great economic uncertainty. But it has left out bil-
lions more. They have great needs, but they cant express those needs in ways
that matter to markets. So they are stuck in poverty, suffer from preventable
diseases and never have a chance to make the most of their lives. Govern-
ments and nonproft groups have an irreplaceable role in helping them, but
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it will take too long if they try to do it alone. It is mainly corporations that
have the skills to make technological innovations work for the poor. To make
the most of those skills, we need a more creative capitalism: an attempt to
stretch the reach of market forces so that more companies can beneft from
doing work that makes more people better off. We need new ways to bring
far more people into the system capitalism that has done so much good
in the world.
Theres much still to be done, but the good news is that creative capitalism
is already with us. Some corporations have identifed brand-new markets among
the poor for life-changing technologies like cell phones. Others sometimes
with a nudge from activists have seen how they can do good and do well at
the same time. To take a real-world example, a few years ago I was sitting in
a bar with Bono, and frankly, I thought he was a little nuts. It was late, wed
had a few drinks, and Bono was all fred up over a scheme to get companies to
help tackle global poverty and disease. He kept dialing the private numbers of
top executives and thrusting his cell phone at me to hear their sleepy yet enthu-
siastic replies. As crazy as it seemed that night, Bonos persistence soon gave
birth to the (RED) campaign. Today companies like Gap, Hallmark and Dell
sell (RED)-branded products and donate a portion of their profts to fght AIDS.
(Microsoft recently signed up too.) Its a great thing: the companies make a dif-
ference while adding to their bottom line, consumers get to show their support
for a good cause, and most important lives are saved. In the past year and a
half, (RED) has generated $100 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tu-
berculosis and Malaria, helping put nearly 80,000 people in million get tested
for HIV. Thats creative capitalism at work.
Creative capitalism isnt some big new economic theory. And it isnt a
knock on capitalism itself. It is a way to answer a vital question: How can we
most effectively spread the benefts of capitalism and the huge improvements
in quality of life it can provide to people who have been left out?
THE wORLD IS GETTING BETTER
It might seem strange to talk about creative capitalism when were paying more
than $4 for a gallon of gas and people are having trouble paying their mort-
gages. Theres no doubt that todays economic troubles are real; people feel
them deeply, and they deserve immediate attention. Creative capitalism isnt
an answer to the relatively short-term ups and downs of the economic cycle.
Its a response to the longer-term fact that too many people are missing out on
a historic, century-long improvement in the quality of life. In many nations, life
expectancy has grown dramatically in the past 100 years. More people vote in
elections, express their views and enjoy economic freedom than ever before.
Even with all the problems we face today, we are at a high point of human well-
being. The world is getting a lot better.
The problem is, its not getting better fast enough, and its not getting better
for everyone. One billion people live on less than a dollar a day. They dont have
enough nutritious food, clean water or electricity. The amazing innovations that
have made many lives so much better like vaccines and microchips have
largely passed them by. This is where governments and nonprofts come in. As I
see it, there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest and caring for oth-
ers. Capitalism harnesses self-interest in a helpful and sustainable way but only
on behalf of those who can pay. Government aid and philanthropy channel our
caring for those who cant pay. And the world will make lasting progress on the
big inequities that remain problems like AIDS, poverty and education only
if governments and nonprofts do their part by giving more aid and more effective
aid. But the improvements will happen faster and last longer if we can channel
market forces, including innovation thats tailored to the needs of the poorest, to
complement what governments and nonprofts do. We need a system that draws
in innovators and businesses in a far better way than we do today.
Naturally, if companies are going to get more involved, they need to earn
some kind of return. This is the heart of creative capitalism. Its not just about
doing more corporate philanthropy or asking companies to be more virtuous.
Its about giving them a real incentive to apply their expertise in new ways,
making it possible to earn a return while serving the people who have been left
out. This can happen in two ways: companies can fnd these opportunities on
their own, or governments and nonprofts can help create such opportunities
where they presently dont exist.
wHATS BEEN MISSED
As C.K. Prahalad shows in his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid,
there are markets all over the world that businesses have missed. One study
found that the poorest two-thirds of the worlds population has some $5 trillion
in purchasing power. A key reason market forces are slow to make an impact
in developing countries is that we dont spend enough time studying the needs
of those markets. I should know: I saw it happen at Microsoft. For many years,
Microsoft has used corporate philanthropy to bring technology to people who
cant get it otherwise, donating more than $3 billion in cash and software to try
to bridge the digital divide. But our real expertise is in writing software that
solves problems, and recently weve realized that we werent bringing enough
of that expertise to problems in the developing world. So now were looking at
inequity as a business problem as well as something to be addressed through
philanthropy.
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Were working on projects like a visual interface that will enable illiter-
ate or semiliterate people to use a PC instantly, with minimal training. Another
project of ours lets an entire classroom full of students use a single computer;
weve developed software that lets each student use her own mouse to control
a specially colored cursor so that as many as 50 kids can use one computer at
the same time. This is a big advance for schools where there arent enough
computers to go around, and it serves a market we hadnt examined before.
Cell phones are another example. Theyre now a booming market in the
developing world, but historically, companies vastly underestimated their po-
tential. In 2000, when Vodafone bought a large stake in a Kenyan cell-phone
company, it fgured that the market in Kenya would max out at 400,000 users.
Today that company, Safaricom, has more than 10 million. The company has
done it by fnding creative ways to serve low-income Kenyans. Its customers
are charged by the second rather than by the minute, for example, which keeps
down the cost. Safaricom is making a proft, and its making a difference. Farm-
ers use their cell phones to fnd the best prices in nearby markets. A number of
innovative uses for cell phones are emerging. Already many Kenyans use them
to store cash (via a kind of electronic money) and transfer funds. If you have to
carry money over long distances say, from the market back to your home
this kind of innovation makes a huge difference. Youre less tempting to rob if
youre not holding any cash.
This is how people can beneft when businesses fnd opportunities that
have been missed. But since I started talking about creative capitalism earlier
this year, Ive heard from some skeptics who doubt that there are any new
markets. They say, If these opportunities really existed, someone would have
found them by now. I disagree. Their argument assumes that businesses have
already studied every possible market for their products. Their attitude reminds
me of the old joke about an economist whos walking down the street with
a friend. The economist steps over a $10 bill thats lying on the ground. His
friend asks him why he didnt take the money. It couldnt possibly be there,
he explains. If it were, somebody wouldve picked it up! Some companies
make the same mistake. They think all the $10 bills have already been picked
up. It would be a shame if we missed such opportunities, and it would make a
huge difference if, instead, researchers and strategists at corporations met regu-
larly with experts on the needs of the poor and talked about new applications
for their best ideas.
Beyond fnding new markets and developing new products, companies
sometimes can beneft by providing the poor with heavily discounted access to
products. Industries like software and pharmaceuticals, for example, have very
low production costs, so you can come out ahead by selling your product for
a bigger proft in rich markets and for a smaller proft, or at cost, in poor ones.
Businesses in other industries cant do this tiered pricing, but they can beneft
from the public recognition and enhanced reputation that come from serving
those who cant pay. The companies involved in the (RED) campaign draw in
new customers who want to be associated with a good cause. That might be the
tipping point that leads people to pick one product over another.
Theres another crucial beneft that accrues to businesses that do good
work. They will fnd it easier to recruit and retain great employees. Young
people todayall over the world want to work for organizations that they
can feel good about. Show them that a company is applying its expertise to help
the poorest, and they will repay that commitment with their own dedication.
CREATING NEw INCENTIvES
Even so, no matter how hard businesses look or how creatively they think,
there are some problems in the world that arent amenable to solution by exist-
ing market incentives. Malaria is a great example: the people who most need
new drugs or a vaccine are the least able to pay, so the drugs and vaccines never
get made. In these cases, governments and nonprofts can create the incentives.
This is the second way in which creative capitalism can take wing. Incentives
can be as straightforward as giving public praise to the companies that are do-
ing work that serves the poor. This summer, a Dutch nonproft called the Ac-
cess to Medicine Foundation started publishing a report card that shows which
pharmaceutical companies are doing the most to make sure that medicines are
made forand reach people in developing countries. When I talk to execu-
tives from pharmaceutical companies, they tell me that they want to do more
for neglected diseases but they at least need to get credit for it. This report
card does exactly that.
Publicity is very valuable, but sometimes its still not enough to persuade
companies to get involved. Even the best P.R. May not pay the bill for 10 years
of research into a new drug. Thats why its so important for governments to
create more fnancial incentives. Under a U.S. law enacted last year, for exam-
ple, any drug company that develops a new treatment for a neglected disease
like malaria can get a priority review from the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) for another product it has made. If you develop a new drug for malaria,
your proftable cholesterol drug could go on the market as much as a year ear-
lier. Such a priority review could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Its
a fantastic way for governments to go beyond the aid they already give and
channel market forces so they improve even more lives.
Of course, governments in developing countries have to do a lot to foster
capitalism themselves. They must pass laws and make regulations that let mar-
kets fourish, bringing the benefts of economic growth to more people. In fact,
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thats another argument Ive heard against creative capitalism: We dont need
to make capitalism more creative. We just need governments to stop interfering
with it. There is something to this. Many countries could spark more business
investment both within their borders and from the outside if they did more
to guarantee property rights, cut red tape and so on. But these changes come
slowly. In the meantime, we cant wait. As a businessman, Ive seen that com-
panies can tap new markets right now, even if conditions arent ideal. And as a
philanthropist, Ive found that our caring for others compels us to help people
right now. The longer we wait, the more people suffer needlessly.
THE NEXT STEP
In June, I moved out of my day-to-day role at Microsoft to spend more time on
the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Ill be talking with politi-
cal leaders about how their governments can increase aid for the poor, make
it more effective and bring in new partners through creative capitalism. Ill
also talk with CEOs about what their companies can do. One idea is to dedi-
cate a percentage of their top innovators time to issues that affect the people
who have been left behind. This kind of contribution takes the brainpower that
makes life better for the richest and dedicates some of it to improving the lives
of everyone else. Some pharmaceutical companies, like Merck and GlaxoS-
mithKline, are already doing this. The Japanese company Sumitomo Chemical
shared some of its technology with a Tanzanian textile company, helping it pro-
duce millions of bed nets, which are crucial tools in the fght to eradicate ma-
laria. Other companies are doing the same in food, cell phones and banking.
In other words, creative capitalism is already under way. But we can do
much more. Governments can create more incentives like the FDA voucher. We
can expand the report-card idea beyond the pharmaceutical industry and make
sure the rankings get publicity so companies get credit for doing good work.
Consumers can reward companies that do their part by buying their products.
Employees can ask how their employers are contributing. If more companies
follow the lead of the most creative organizations in their industry, they will
make a huge impact on some of the worlds worst problems.
More than 30 years ago, Paul Allen and I started Microsoft because we
wanted to be part of a movement to put a computer on every desk and in every
home. Ten years ago, Melinda and I started our foundation because we want to be
part of a different movement this time, to help create a world where no one has
to live on a dollar a day or die from a disease we know how to prevent. Creative
capitalism can help make it happen. I hope more people will join the cause.
CONSERvING COMMUNITIES
Wendell Berry
Yes, Berry again. We cannot escape from him if we want to rethink globaliza-
tion and particularly if we want to go beyonde.
In this essay, included in Another Turn of the Crank (Washington: Coun-
terpoint, 2005), Berry discusses why and how we must take care of communi-
ties, not the planet.
We all need food. Some people somewhere should grow the food for every-
one of us. And growing food implies two questions: How do you preserve the
land in use? And how do you preserve the people who use the land? These are
two fundamental questions that Berry asks himself all the time and that we all
need to ask ourselves. For him:
...the answers will not come as the inevitable by-products of the aims,
policies, and procedures of international trade, free or unfree. They
cannot be legislated or imposed by international or national state
agencies. They can only be supplied locally, by skilled and highly
motivated local farmers meeting as directly as possible the needs of
informed local consumers.
This is not a peculiar point of view of an isolated poet-farmer, ruminating his
ideas in the hills of Kentucky. His essays, he observes, belong to a conver-
sation that is current, vigorous, and growing. There are now hundreds of or-
ganizations actively at work all over the country (we would say: all over the
world, you will see many of them) on behalf of local health, conservation, and
economy.
And here Berry uses two words that you will hear time and again. What is
the difference between preserving the land and the people and conserving land,
forests, water, communities?
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In october 1993, The New York Times announced that the United States Census
Bureau would no longer count the number of Americans who live on farms.
In explaining the decision, the Times some fgures as troubling as they were
unsurprising. Between 1910 and 1920, we had 32 million farmers living on
farms about one-third of our population. By 1950, the number had declined,
but our farm population was still 23 million. By 1991, the number was only
4.6 million, less than 2 percent of the national population. That is, our farm
population had declined by an average of almost a half-million people a year
for forty-one years. In addition, by 1991, 32 percent of our farm managers and
86 percent of our farm workers did not live on the land they farmed.
These fgures describe a catastrophe that is now virtually complete. They
announce that we no longer have an agricultural class that is or that can require
itself to be recognized by the government; we no longer have a farm vote that
is going to be of much concern to politicians. U.S. farmers, who over the years
have wondered whether or not they counted, may now put their minds at rest:
They do not count. They have become statistically insignifcant.
We must not hesitate to recognize and to say that this statistical insignif-
cance of farmers is the successful outcome of a national purpose and a national
program. It is the result of great effort and of principles vigorously applied.
It has been achieved with the help of expensive advice from university and
government experts, by the tireless agitation and exertion of the agribusiness
corporations, and by the renowned advantages of competition among our
farmers themselves and with farmers of other countries. As a result, millions
of country people have been liberated from farming, land ownership, self-em-
ployment, and the other alleged idiocies of rural life.
The disintegration of our agricultural communities is not exceptional any
more than it is accidental. This is simply the way a large, exploitative, absentee
economy works. For another example, here is a New York Times news ser-
vice report on rape and run logging in Montana: Throughout the 1980s the
Champion International Corp. went on a tree-cutting binge in Montana, level-
ing entire forests at a rate that had not been seen since the cut-and-run logging
days of the last century. Now the hangover has arrived, After liquidating much
of its valuable timber in the Big Sky country, Champion is quitting Montana,
leaving behind hundreds of unemployed mill workers, towns staggered by de-
spair and more than 1,000 square miles of heavily logged land.
The article goes on to speak of the revival of a century-old complaint
about large, distant corporations exploiting Montana for its natural resources
and then leaving after the land is exhausted. It quotes a Champion spokesper-
son, Tucker Hill, who said, We are very sympathetic to those people and very
sad. But I dont think you can hold a companys feet to the fre for everything
they did over the last twenty years.
If you doubt that exhaustion is the calculated result of such economic
enterprise, you might consider the example of the mountain counties of east-
ern Kentucky from which, over the last three-quarters of a century enormous
wealth has been extracted by coal companies that have left the land wrecked
and the people poor.
The same kind of thing is now happening in banking. In the county next to
mine an independent local bank was recently taken over by a large out-of-state
bank. Suddenly some of the local farmers and the small business people, who
had been borrowing money from that bank for twenty years and whose credit
records were good, were refused credit because they did not meet the require-
ments of a computer in a distant city. Old and valued customers now fnd that
they are known by category rather than character. The directors and offcers of
the large bank clearly have reduced their economic thinking to one very simple
question: Would we rather make one big loan or many small ones? Or to put
it only a little differently: Would we rather support one large enterprise or
many small ones? And they have chosen the large over the small.
This economic prejudice against the small has, of course, done immense
damage for a long time to small or family-sized businesses in city and coun-
try alike. But that prejudice has often overlapped with an industrial prejudice
against anything rural and against the land itself, and this prejudice has resulted
in damages that are not only extensive but also long-lasting or permanent.
As we all know, we have much to answer for in our use of this continent
from the beginning, but in the last half-century we have added to our desecra-
tions of nature a virtually deliberate destruction of our rural communities. The
statistics I cited at the beginning are incontrovertible evidence of this; but so
is the condition of our farms and forests and rural towns. If you have eyes to
see, you can see that there is a limit beyond which machines and chemicals
cannot replace people; there is a limit beyond which mechanical or economic
effciency cannot replace care.
What I have been describing is not, I repeat, exceptional or anomalous. I
am talking about the common experience, the common fate, of rural communi-
ties in our country for a long time. It has also been, and it will increasingly be,
the common fate of rural communities in other countries. The message is plain
enough, and we have ignored it for too long: The great, centralized economic
entities of our time do not come into rural places in order to improve them
by creating jobs. They come to take as much of value as they can take, as
cheaply and as quickly as they can take it. They are interested in job creation
only so long as the jobs can be done more cheaply by humans than machines.
They are not interested in the good health economic, natural, or human of
any place on this earth. If you should undertake to appeal or complain to one
of these great corporations on behalf of your community, you would discover
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something most remarkable: These organizations are organized expressly for
the evasion of responsibility. They are structures in which, as my brother says,
the buck never stops. The buck is processed up the hierarchy until fnally it is
passed to the shareholders, who characteristically are too widely dispersed,
too poorly informed, and too unconcerned to be responsible for anything. The
ideal of the modern corporation is to be anywhere (in terms of its own advan-
tage) and nowhere (in terms of local accountability). The message to country
people, in other words, is, dont expect favors from your enemies.
That message has a corollary that is just as plain and just as much ignored:
The governmental and educational institutions, from which rural people should
by right have received help, have not helped. Rather than striving to preserve
the rural communities and economies and an adequate rural population, these
institutions have consistently aided, abetted, and justifed the destruction of
every part of rural life. They have eagerly served the superstition that all tech-
nological innovation is good. They have said repeatedly that the failure of farm
families, rural businesses, and rural communities is merely the result of prog-
ress, and such effciency is good for everybody.
We now obviously face a world that supranational corporations and the
governments and educational systems that serve them may well control en-
tirely for their own convenience and, inescapably, for the inconvenience
of all the rest of us. This world will be a world in which the cultures that
preserve nature and rural life will be simply disallowed. It will be, as our ex-
perience already suggests, a postagricultural world. But as we now begin to
see, you cannot have a postagricultural world that is not also postdemocratic,
postreligious, and postnatural in other words it will be post-human, con-
trary to the best that we have meant by humanity. In their dealings with the
countryside and its people, the promoters of the so-called global economy are
following a set of principles that can be stated as follows. They believe that a
farm or a forest is or ought to be the same as a factory; that care is only mini-
mally involved in the use of the land; that affection is not involved at all; that
for all practical purposes a machine is as good as (or better than) a human;
that the industrial standards of production, effciency, and proftability are the
only standards that are necessary; that the topsoil is lifeless and inert; that soil
biology is safely replaceable by soil chemistry; that the nature of the ecology
of any given place is irrelevant to the use of it; that there is no value in human
community or neighborhood; and that technological innovation will produce
only benign results.
These people see nothing odd or diffcult in the idea of unlimited eco-
nomic growth or unlimited consumption in a limited world. They believe that
knowledge is and ought to be property and power. They believe that education
is job-training. They think that the summit of human achievement is a high-
paying job that involves no work. Their public claim is that they are making a
society in which everybody will be a winner, but their private aim has been to
reduce radically the number of people who, by the measure of our historical
ideals, might be thought successful: the self-employed, the owners of small
businesses or small usable properties, those who work at home.
The argument for joining the new international trade agreements has been
that there is going to be a one-world economy, and we must participate or be
left behind though, obviously, the existence of a one-world economy de-
pends on the willingness of all the world to join. The theory is that under the
rule of international, supposedly free trade, products will naturally fow from
the places where they can be best produced to the places where they are most
needed. This theory assumes the long-term safety and sustainability of massive
international transport, for which there are no guarantees just as there are no
guarantees that products will be produced in the best way or to the advantage
of the workers who produce them or that they will reach or can be afforded by
the people who need them.
There are other unanswered questions about the global economy, two of
which are paramount: (1) How can any nation or region justify the destruction
of a local productive capacity for the sake of foreign trade? (2) How can people
who have demonstrated their inability to run national economies without infa-
tion, usury, unemployment, and ecological devastation now claim that they can
do a better job in running a global economy? U.S. agriculture has demonstrated
by its own ruination that we cannot solve economic problems just by increasing
scale, moreover, that increasing scale is almost certain to cause other problems
ecological, social, and cultural.
We cant go too much further, maybe, without considering the likelihood
that humans are not intelligent enough to work on the scale that our technologi-
cal abilities tempt us to. Some such recognition is undoubtedly implicit in U.S.
Conservatives long-standing objection to a big central government; so it has
been odd to see many of these same conservatives pushing for the establishment
of a supranational economy that would inevitably function as a government far
bigger and more centralized than any dreamed of before. Long experience has
made it clear as we might say to the liberals that to be free we must limit
the size of government and we must have some sort of home rule. But it is just
as clear as we might say to the conservatives that it is foolish to complain
about big government if we do not do everything we can to support strong local
communities and strong community economies.
But in helping us to confront, understand, and oppose the principles of
the global economy, the old political alignments have become virtually use-
less. Communists and capitalists are alike in their contempt for country people,
country life, and country places. They have exploited the countryside with
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equal greed and disregard. They are alike even in their plea that damaging the
present environment is justifed in order to make a better future.
The dialogue of Democrats and Republicans or of liberals and conserva-
tives is likewise useless to us. Neither party is interested in farmers or farming,
in the good care of the land, or in the quality of food. Nor are they interested in
taking the best care of our forests. Leaders of both parties are equally subservi-
ent to the supranational corporations. NAFTA and the new GATT revisions are
the proof.
Moreover, the old opposition of country and city, which was never useful,
is now more useless than ever. It is, in fact, damaging to everybody involved,
as is the opposition of producers and consumers. These are not differences but
divisions that ought not to exist because they are to a considerable extent artif-
cial. The so-called urban economy has been just as hard on urban communities
as it has been on rural ones. All these conventional affliations are now mean-
ingless, useful only to the time the connections between those in a position to
proft from public bewilderment. A new political scheme of opposed parties,
however, is beginning to take form. This is essentially a two-party system,
and it divides over the fundamental issue of community. One of these parties
holds that community has no value; the farmers, ranchers, and other holds that
it does. One is the party of the global economy; the other I would call simply
the party of local community. The global party is large, though not populous,
immensely powerful and wealthy, selfaware, purposeful, and tightly organized.
The community party is becoming aware of itself; it is widely scattered, highly
diverse, small though potentially numerous, weak though latently powerful,
and poor though by no means without resources.
We know pretty well the makeup of the party of the global economy, but
who are the members of the party of local community? They are people who take
a generous and neighborly view of self-preservation; they do not believe that they
can survive and fourish by the rule of dog-eat-dog; they do not believe that they
can succeed by defeating or destroying or selling or using up everything but them-
selves. They want to preserve the precious things of nature and of human culture
and pass them on to their children. They want the worlds felds and forests to be
productive; they do not want them to be destroyed for the sake of production. They
know you cannot be a democrat (small d) or a conservationist and at the same time
a proponent of the supranational corporate economy. They know from their expe-
rience that the neighborhood, the local community, is the proper place and frame
of reference for responsible work. They see no commonwealth or community of
interest can be defned by greed. They know that things connect that farming, for
example, is connected to nature, and food to farming, and health to food and they
want to preserve the connections. They know that a healthy local community can-
not be replaced by a market or an information highway. They know that, contrary
to all the unmeaning and unmeant political talk about job creation, work ought
not to be merely a bone thrown to the otherwise unemployed. They know that work
ought to be necessary; it ought to be good; it ought to be satisfying and dignifying
to the people who do it and genuinely useful and pleasing to those for whom it is
done.
The party of local community, then, is a real party with a real platform and
an agenda of real and doable work. It has, I might add, a respectable history in
the hundreds of efforts, over several decades, to preserve local nature and local
health or to sell local products to local consumers. Such efforts now appear to
be coming into their own, attracting interest and energy in a way they have not
done before. People are seeing more clearly all the time the connections be-
tween conservation and economics. They are seeing that a communitys health
is largely determined by the way it makes its living.
The natural membership of the community party consists of small farmers,
ranchers, and market gardeners; worried consumers; owners and employees of
small businesses; self-employed people; religious people; and conservation-
ists. The aims of this party really are only two: the preservation of ecological
diversity and integrity and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological prin-
ciples, of local economies and local communities.
So now we must ask how a sustainable local community (which is to say a
sustainable local economy) might function. I am going to suggest a set of rules
that I think such a community would have to follow. I do not consider these
rules to be predictions; I am not interested in foretelling the future. If these
rules have any validity, that is because they apply now.
If the members of a local community wanted their community to cohere,
to fourish, and to last, these are some of the things they would do:
1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this
do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?
2. Always include local nature -the land, the water, the air, the native
creatures within the membership of the community.
3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources,
including the mutual help of neighbors.
4. Always supply local needs frst (and only then think of exporting
products frst to nearby cities, then to others).
5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of
labor saving if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind
of pollution or contamination.
6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products
to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of the
national or global economy.
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7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local
farm and/or forest economy.
8. Strive to produce as much of the communitys own energy as pos-
sible.
9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the commu-
nity for as long as possible before they are paid out.
10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates
within the community and decrease expenditures outside the com-
munity.
11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its
properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place),
caring for its old people, and teaching its children.
12. See that the old and the young take care of one another. The
Young must learn from the old, not necessarily and not always in
school. There must be no institutionalized childcare and no homes
for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the as-
sociation of old and young.
13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalized.
Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.
14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded
loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.
15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our
time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighbor-
hood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.
16. A rural community should always be acquainted and intercon-
nected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers
loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy
that will always be more cooperative that competitive.
These rules are derived from Western political and religious traditions, from the
prompting of ecologists and certain agriculturalists, and from common sense.
They may seem radical, but only because the modern national and global econo-
mies have been formed in almost perfect disregard of community and ecological
interests. A community economy is not an economy in which well-placed per-
sons can make a killing. It is an economy whose aim is generosity and a well-
distributed and safeguarded abundance. If it seems unusual to work for such an
economy, then we must remember that putting the community ahead of proft is
hardly unprecedented among community business people and local banks.
How might we begin to build a decentralized system of durable local econ-
omies? Gradually, I hope. We have had enough of violent or sudden changes
imposed by predatory external interests. In many places, the obvious way to
begin the work I am talking about is with the development of a local food econ-
omy. Such a start is attractive because it does not have to be big or costly; it
requires nobodys permission; and it can ultimately involve everybody. It does
not require us to beg for mercy from our exploiters or to look for help where
consistently we have failed to fnd it. By local food economy I mean simply an
economy in which local consumers buy as much of their food as possible from
local producers and in which local producers produce as much as they can for
the local market.
Several conditions now favor the growth of local food economies. On the
one hand, the costs associated with our present highly centralized food system
are going to increase. Growers in central California, for example, can no longer
depend on an unlimited supply of cheap water for irrigation. Transportation
costs can only go up. Biotechnology, variety patenting, and other agribusiness
innovations, intended to extend corporate control of the food economy, will
increase the cost of food, both economically and ecologically.
On the other hand, consumers are increasingly worried about the quality
and purity of their food, and so they would like to buy from responsible grow-
ers close to home. They would like to know where their food comes from and
how it is produced. They are increasingly aware that the larger and more cen-
tralized the food economy becomes, the more vulnerable it will be to natural
or economic catastrophe, to political or military disruption, and to bad agricul-
tural practices.
For all these reasons and others, we need urgently to develop local food
economies wherever they are possible. Local food economies would improve
the quality of the food. They would increase consumer infuence over produc-
tion and allow consumers to become participatory members in their own food
economy. They would help to ensure a sustainable, dependable supply of food.
By reducing some of the costs associated with long supply lines and large cor-
porate suppliers (packaging, transportation, advertising, and so on), local food
economies would reduce the cost of food at the same time that they would in-
crease income to growers. They would tend to improve farming practices and
increase employment in agriculture.
Of course, no food economy can or ought to be only . But the orientation
of agriculture to local needs, local possibilities, and local limits is simply indis-
pensable to the health of both land and people and undoubtedly to the health of
democratic liberties as well.
For many of the same reasons, we need also to develop local forest econo-
mies, of which the aim would be the survival and enduring good health of both
our forests and their independent local communities. We need to preserve the
native diversity of our forests as we use them. As in agriculture, we need local,
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small scale, nonpolluting industries to add value to local forest products. We
also need local supporting industries (saw mills, woodworking shops, and so
on) for the local forest economy.
As a support for sustainable agriculture should come most logically from
consumers who consciously wish to keep eating, so support for sustainable for-
estry might logically come from loggers, mill workers, and other employees of
the forest economy who consciously wish to keep working. But many people
have a direct interest in the good use of our forests: farmers and ranchers with
woodlots; all who depend for pure water on the good health of forested water-
sheds; the makers of wood products; conservationists; and so on.
What we have before us, if we want our communities to survive, is the
building of an adversary internal economy to protect against the would-be
global economy. To do this, we must somehow learn to reverse the fow of
the siphon that has for so long drawn resources, money, talent, and people
out of our countryside, often with a return only of pollution, impoverishment,
and ruin. We must fgure out new ways to affordably fund the development of
healthy local economies. We must fnd ways to suggest economically -for no
other suggestion will be ultimately effective that the work, the talents, and
the interest of our young people are needed at home.
Our whole society has much to gain from the development of local land-
based economies. They would carry us far toward the ecological and cultural
ideal of local adaptation. They would encourage the formation of adequate lo-
cal cultures (and this would be authentic multiculturalism). They would intro-
duce into agriculture and forestry a spontaneous and natural quality control, for
neither consumers nor workers would want to see the local economy destroy
itself by abusing or exhausting its resources. And they would complete at last
the task of freedom from colonial economics begun by our ancestors more than
two hundred years ago.
THE LAND ETHIC
Aldo Leopold
WHEN GOD-LIKE ODYSSEUS returned from the wars in Troy, he exhanged all on
one rope a dozen slave-girls of his household whom he suspected of misbehav-
ior during his absence.
This hanging involved no question of propriety. The girls were property. The
disposal of property was then, as now, a matter of expediency, not of right and
wrong. Concepts of right and wrong were not lacking from Odysseus Greece: wit-
ness the fdelity of his wife through the long years before at last his black-prowed
galleys clove the winedark seas for home. The ethical structure of that day covered
wives, but had not yet been extended to human chattels. During the three thousand
years which have since elapsed, ethical criteria have been extended to many felds
of conduct, with corresponding shrinkages in those judged by expediency only.
THE ETHICAL SEQUENCE
This extension of ethics, so far studied only by philosophers, is actually a pro-
cess in ecological evolution. Its sequences may be described in ecological as
well as well as in philosophical terms. An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on
freedom of action in the struggle for existence. An ethic, philosophically, is a
differentiation of social from anti-social conduct. These are two defnitions of
one thing. The thing has its origin in the tendency of interdependent individu-
als or groups to evolve modes of co-op eration. The ecologist calls these sym-
bioses. Politics and economics are advanced symbioses in which the original
free-for-all competition has been replaced, in part, by co-operative mechanisms
with an ethical content.
The complexity of co-operative mechanisms has increased with popula-
tion density, and with the effciency of tools. It was simpler, for example, to
defne the anti-social uses of sticks and stones in the days of the mastodons than
of bullets and billboards in the age of motors.
The frst ethics dealt with the relation between individuals; the Mosaic
Decalogue is an example. Later accretions dealt with the relation between the
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individual and society. The Golden Rule tries to integrate the individual to so-
ciety; democracy to integrate social organization to the individual.
There is as yet no ethic dealing with mans relation to land and to the ani-
mals and plants which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus slave-girls, is still
property. The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but
not obligations.
The extension of ethics to this third element in human environment is, if
I read the evidence correctly, an evolutionary possibility and an ecological ne-
cessity. It is the third step in a sequence. The frst two have already been taken.
Individual thinkers since the days of Ezekiel and Isaiah have asserted that the
despoliation of land is not only inexpedient but wrong. Society, however, has
not yet affrmed their belief. I regard the present conservation movement as the
embryo of such an affrmation.
An ethic may be regarded as a mode of guidance for meeting ecological
situations so new or intricate, or involving such deferred reactions, that the
path of social expediency is not discernible to the average individual. Animal
instincts are modes of guidance for the individual in meeting such situations.
Ethics are possibly a kind of community instinct in-the-making.
THE COMMUNITY CONCEPT
All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a
member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to
compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-
operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to in-
clude soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.
This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to
the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom
do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down
river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to
turn turbines, foat barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of
which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly
not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and
most beautiful species.
A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use
of these resources, but it does affrm their right to continued existence, and, at
least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.
In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of
the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his
fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.
In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is even-
tually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the con-
queror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just
what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It
always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually
defeat themselves.
In the biotic community, a parallel situation exists. Abraham knew exactly
what the land was for: it was to drip milk and honey into Abrahams mouth.
At the present moment, the assurance with which we regard this assumption is
inverse to the degree of our education.
The ordinary citizen today assumes that science knows what makes the
community clock tick; the scientist is equally sure that he does not. He knows
that the biotic mechanism is so complex that its workings may never be fully
understood.
That man is, in fact, only a member of a biotic team is shown by an eco-
logical interpretation of history. Many historical events, hitherto explained
solely in terms of human enterprise, were actually biotic, interactions between
people and land. The characteristics of the land determined the facts quite as
potently as the characteristics of the men who lived on it.
Consider, for example, the settlement of the Mississippi valley. In the years
following the Revolution, three groups were contending for its control: the na-
tive Indian, the French and English traders, and the American settlers. Histori-
ans wonder what would have happened if the English at Detroit had thrown a
little more weight into the Indian side of those tipsy scales which decided the
outcome of the colonial migration into the cane-lands of Kentucky. It is time
now to ponder the fact that the cane-lands, when subjected to the particular
mixture of forces represented by the cow, plow, fre, and axe of the pioneer,
became bluegrass. What if the plant succession inherent in this dark and bloody
ground had, under the impact of these forces, given us some worthless sedge,
shrub, or weed? Would Boone and Kenton have held out? Would there have
been any overfow into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri? Any Louisiana
Purchase? Any transcontinental union of new states? Any Civil War?
Kentucky was one sentence in the drama of history. We are commonly
told what the human actors in this drama tried to do, but we are seldom told
that their success, or the lack of it, hung in large degree on the reaction of par-
ticular soils to the impact of the particular forces exerted by their occupancy.
In the case of Kentucky, we do not even know where the bluegrass came from
whether it is a native species, or a stowaway from Europe.
Contrast the cane-lands with what hindsight tells us about the Southwest,
where the pioneers were equally brave, resourceful, and persevering. The impact
of occupancy here brought no bluegrass, or other plant ftted to withstand the
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bumps and buffetings of hard use. This region, when grazed by livestock, re-
verted through a series of more and more worthless grasses, shrubs, and weeds to
a condition of unstable equilibrium. Each recession of plant types bred erosion;
each increment to erosion bred a further recession of plants. The result today is a
progressive and mutual deterioration, not only of plants and soils, but of the ani-
mal community subsisting thereon. The early settlers did not expect this: on the
cinegas of New Mexico some even cut ditches to hasten it. So subtle has been
its progress that few residents of the region are aware of it. It is quite invisible to
the tourist who fnds this wrecked landscape colorful and charming (as indeed it
is, but it bears scant resemblance to what it was in 1848).
This same landscape was developed once before, but with quite differ-
ent results. The Pueblo Indians settled the Southwest in pre-Columbian times,
but they happened not to be equipped with range livestock. Their civilization
expired, but not because their land expired.
In India, regions devoid of any sod-forming grass have been settled, ap-
parently without wrecking the land, by the simple expedient of carrying the
grass to the cow, rather than vice versa. (Was this the result of some deep wis-
dom, or was it just good luck? I do not know.)
In short, the plant succession steered the course of history; the pioneer
simply demonstrated, for good or ill, what successions inhered in the land. Is
history taught in this spirit? It will be, once the concept of land as a community
really penetrates our intellectual life.
THE ECOLOGICAL CONSCIENCE
Conservation is a state of harmony between man and land. Despite nearly a
century of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snails pace; progress
still consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory. On the back
forty we still slip two steps backward for each forward stride.
The usual answer to this dilemma is more conservation education. No
one will debate this, but is it certain that only the volume of education needs
stepping up? Is something lacking in the content as well?
It is diffcult to give a fair summary of its content in brief form, but, as
I understand it, the content is substantially this: obey the law, vote right, join
some organizations, and practice what conservation is proftable on your own
land; the government will do the rest.
Is not this formula too easy to accomplish anything worthwhile? It de-
fnes no right or wrong, assigns no obligation, calls for no sacrifce, implies no
change in the current philosophy of values. In respect of land use, it urges only
enlightened self-interest. Just how far will such education take us? An example
will perhaps yield a partial answer.
By 1930 it had become clear to all except the ecologically blind that south-
western Wisconsins topsoil was slipping seaward. In 1933 the farmers were
told that if they would adopt certain remedial practices for fve years, the public
would donate CCC labor to install them, plus the necessary machinery and ma-
terials. The offer was widely accepted, but the practices were widely forgotten
when the fve-year contract period was up. The farmers continued only those
practices that yielded an immediate and visible economic gain for themselves.
This led to the idea that maybe farmers would learn more quickly if they
themselves wrote the rules. Accordingly the Wisconsin Legislature in 1937
passed the Soil Conservation District Law. This said to farmers, in effect: We,
the public, will furnish you free technical service and loan you specialized ma-
chines, if you will write your own rules for land-use. Each county may write
its own rules, and these will have the force of law. Nearly all the counties
promptly organized to accept the proffered help, but after a decade of opera-
tion, no county has yet written a single rule. There has been visible progress
in such practices as strip-cropping, pasture renovation, and soil liming, but
none in fencing woodlots against grazing, and none in excluding plow and cow
from steep slopes. The farmers, in short, have selected those remedial practices
which were proftable anyhow, and ignored those which were proftable to the
community, but not clearly proftable to themselves.
When one asks why no rules have been written, one is told that the com-
munity is not yet ready to support them; education must precede rules. But the
education actually in progress makes no mention of obligations to land over
and above those dictated by self-interest. The net result is that we have more
education but less soil, fewer healthy woods, and as many foods as in 1937.
The puzzling aspect of such situations is that the existence of obligations
over and above self-interest is taken for granted in such rural community enter-
prises as the betterment of roads, schools, churches, and baseball teams. Their
existence is not taken for granted, nor as yet seriously discussed, in bettering
the behavior of the water that falls on the land, or in the preserving of the beau-
ty or diversity of the farm landscape. Land use ethics are still governed wholly
by economic self-interest, just as social ethics were a century ago.
To sum up: we asked the farmer to do what he conveniently could to save
his soil, and he has done just that, and only that. The farmer who clears the
woods off a 75 per cent slope, turns his cows into the clearing, and dumps its
rainfall, rocks, and soil into the community creek, is still (if otherwise decent)
a respected member of society. If he puts lime on his felds and plants his crops
on contour, he is still entitled to all the privileges and emoluments of his Soil
Conservation District. The District is a beautiful piece of social machinery, but
it is coughing along on two cylinders because we have been too timid, and too
anxious for quick success, to tell the farmer the true magnitude of his obliga-
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tions. Obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we
face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land.
No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal
change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions. The
proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in
the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it. In our attempt to
make conservation easy, we have made it trivial.
SUBSTITUTES FOR A LAND ETHIC
When the logic of history hungers for bread and we hand out a stone, we are at
pains to explain how much the stone resembles bread. I now describe some of
the stones which serve in lieu of a land ethic.
One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic
motives is that most members of the land community have no economic val-
ue. Wildfowers and songbirds are examples. Of the 22,000 higher plants and
animals native to Wisconsin, it is doubtful whether more than 5 per cent can
be sold, fed, eaten, or otherwise put to economic use. Yet these creatures are
members of the biotic community, and if (as I believe) its stability depends on
its integrity, they are entitled to continuance.
When one of these non-economic categories is threatened, and if we hap-
pen to love it, we invent subterfuges to give it economic importance. At the be-
ginning of the century songbirds were supposed to be disappearing. Ornitholo-
gists jumped to the rescue with some distinctly shaky evidence to the effect that
insects would eat us up if birds failed to control them. The evidence had to be
economic in order to be valid.
It is painful to read these circumlocutions today. We have no land ethic
yet, but we have at least drawn nearer the point of admitting that birds should
continue as a matter of biotic right, regardless of the presence or absence of
economic advantage to us.
A parallel situation exists in respect of predatory mammals, raptoral birds,
and fsh-eating birds. Time was when biologists somewhat overworked the evi-
dence that these creatures preserve the health of game by killing weaklings, or
that they control rodents for the farmer, or that they prey only on worthless
species. Here again, the evidence had to be economic in order to be valid. It is
only in recent years that we hear the more honest argument that predators are
members of the community, and that no special interest has the right to exter-
minate them for the sake of a beneft, real or fancied, to itself. Unfortunately
this enlightened view is still in the talk stage. In the feld the extermination of
predators goes merrily on: witness the impending erasure of the timber wolf by
fat of Congress, the Conservation Bureaus, and many state legislatures.
Some species of trees have been read out of the party by economics-minded
foresters because they grow too slowly, or have too low a sale value to pay as
timber crops: white cedar, tamarack, cypress, beech, and hemlock are examples.
In Europe, where forestry is ecologically more advanced, the non-commercial tree
species are recognized as members of the native forest community, to be preserved
as such, within reason. Moreover some (like beech) have been found to have a
valuable function in building up soil fertility. The interdependence of the forest and
its constituent tree species, ground fora, and fauna is taken for granted.
Lack of economic value is sometimes a character not only of species or
groups, but of entire biotic communities: marshes, bogs, dunes, and deserts
are examples. Our formula in such cases is to relegate their conservation to
government as refuges, monuments, or parks. The diffculty is that these com-
munities are usually interspersed with more valuable private lands; the govern-
ment cannot possibly own or control such scattered parcels The net effect is
that we have relegated some of them to ultimate extinction over large areas. If
the private owner were ecologically minded, he would be proud to be the cus-
todian of a reasonable proportion of such areas, which add diversity and beauty
to his farm and to his community.
In some instances, the assumed lack of proft in these waste areas has
proved to be wrong, but only after most of them had been done away with. The
present scramble to refood muskrat marshes is a case in point.
There is a clear tendency in American conservation to relegate to govern-
ment all necessary jobs that private landowners fail to perform. Government
ownership, operation, subsidy, or regulation is now widely prevalent in forest-
ry, range management, soil and watershed management, park and wilderness
conservation, fsheries management, and migratory bird management, with
more to come. Most of this growth in governmental conservation is proper and
logical, some of it is inevitable. That I imply no disapproval of it is implicit in
the fact that I have spent most of my life working for it. Nevertheless the ques-
tion arises: What is the ultimate magnitude of the enterprise? Will the tax base
carry its eventual ramifcations? At what point will governmental conservation,
like the mastodon, become handicapped by its own dimensions? The answer,
if there is any, seems to be in a land ethic, or some other force which assigns
more obligation to the private landowner.
Industrial landowners and users, especially lumbermen and stockmen, are
inclined to wail long and loudly about the extension of government ownership
and regulation to land, but (with notable exceptions) they show little disposi-
tion to develop the only visible alternative: the voluntary practice of conserva-
tion on their own lands.
When the private landowner is asked to perform some unproftable act for
the good of the community, he today assents only with outstretched palm. If the
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act costs him cash this is fair and proper, but when it costs only forethought,
openmindedness, or time, the issue is at least debatable. The overwhelming
growth of land-use subsidies in recent years must be ascribed, in large part, to
the governments own agencies for conservation education: the land bureaus,
the agricultural colleges, and the extension services. As far as I can detect, no
ethical obligation toward land is taught in these institutions.
To sum up: a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest
is hopelessly lopsided. It tends to ignore, and thus eventually to eliminate, many
elements in the land community that lack commercial value, but that are (as far as
we know) essential to its healthy functioning. It assumes, falsely, I think, that the
economic parts of the biotic clock will function without the uneconomic parts. It
tends to relegate to government many functions eventually too large, too complex,
or too widely dispersed to be performed by government. An ethical obligation on
the part of the private owner is the only visible remedy for these situations.
THE LAND PYRAMID
An ethic to supplement and guide the economic relation to land presupposes
the existence of some mental image of land as a biotic mechanism. We can be
ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or oth-
erwise have faith in.
The image commonly employed in conservation education is the balance
of nature. For reasons too lengthy to detail here, this fgure of speech fails to
describe accurately what little we know about the land mechanism. A much
truer image is the one employed in ecology: the biotic pyramid. I shall frst
sketch the pyramid as a symbol of land, and later develop some of its implica-
tions in terms of land-use.
Plants absorb energy from the sun. This energy fows through a circuit
called the biota, which may be represented by a pyramid consisting of layers.
The bottom layer is the soil. A plant layer rests on the soil, an insect layer on
the plants, a bird and rodent layer on the insects, and so on up through various
animal groups to the apex layer, which consists of the large carnivores.
The species of a layer are alike not in where they came from, or in what
they look like, but rather in what they eat. Each successive layer depends on
those below it for food and often for other services, and each in turn furnishes
food and services to those above. Proceeding upward, each successive layer de-
creases in numerical abundance. Thus, for every carnivore there are hundreds
of his prey, thousands of their prey, millions of insects, uncountable plants. The
pyramidal form of the system refects this numerical progression from apex to
base. Man shares an intermediate layer with the bears, raccoons, and squirrels
which eat both meat and vegetables.
The lines of dependency for food and other services are called food chains.
Thus soil-oak-deer- Indian is a chain that has now been largely converted to
soil-corn-cow-farmer. Each species, including ourselves, is a link in many
chains. The deer eats a hundred plants other than oak, and the cow a hundred
plants other than corn. Both, then, are links in a hundred chains. The pyramid
is a tangle of chains so complex as to seem disorderly, yet the stability of the
system proves it to be a highly organized structure. Its functioning depends on
the co-operation and competition of its diverse parts.
In the beginning, the pyramid of life was low and squat; the food chains
short and simple. Evolution has added layer after layer, link after link. Man is
one of thousands of accretions to the height and complexity of the pyramid.
Science has given us many doubts, but it has given us at least one certainty: the
trend of evolution is to elaborate and diversify the biota.
Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy fowing through a
circuit of soils, plants, and animals. Food chains are the living channels which
conduct energy upward; death and decay return it to the soil. The circuit is not
closed; some energy is dissipated in decay, some is added by absorption from
the air, some is stored in soils, peats, and long-lived forests; but it is a sustained
circuit, like a slowly augmented revolving fund of life. There is always a net
loss by downhill wash, but this is normally small and offset by the decay of
rocks. It is deposited in the ocean and, in the course of geological time, raised
to form new lands and new pyramids.
The velocity and character of the upward fow of energy depend on the
complex structure of the plant and animal community, much as the upward fow
of sap in a tree depends on its complex cellular organization. Without this com-
plexity, normal circulation would presumably not occur. Structure means the
characteristic numbers, as well as the characteristic kinds and functions, of the
component species. This interdependence between the complex structure of the
land and its smooth functioning as an energy unit is one of its basic attributes.
When a change occurs in one part of the circuit, many other parts must ad-
just themselves to it. Change does not necessarily obstruct or divert the fow of
energy; evolution is a long series of self-induced changes, the net result of which
has been to elaborate the fow mechanism and to lengthen the circuit. Evolution-
ary changes, however, are usually slow and local. Man s invention of tools has
enabled him to make changes of unprecedented violence, rapidity, and scope.
One change is in the composition of foras and faunas. The larger preda-
tors are lopped off the apex of the pyramid; food chains, for the frst time in
history, become shorter rather than longer. Domesticated species from other
lands are substituted for wild ones, and wild ones are moved to new habitats.
In this world-wide pooling of faunas and foras, some species get out of bounds
as pests and diseases, others are extinguished. Such effects are seldom intended
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or foreseen; they represent unpredicted and often untraceable readjustments in
the structure. Agricultural science is largely a race between the emergence of
new pests and the emergence of new techniques for their control.
Another change touches the fow of energy through plants and animals and
its return to the soil. Fertility is the ability of soil to receive, store, and release
energy. Agriculture, by overdrafts on the soil, or by too radical a substitution of
domestic for native species in the superstructure, may derange the channels of
fow or deplete storage. Soils depleted of their storage, or of the organic matter
which anchors it, wash away faster than they form. This is erosion.
Waters, like soil, are part of the energy circuit. Industry, by polluting wa-
ters or obstructing them with dams, may exclude the plants and animals neces-
sary to keep energy in circulation. Transportation brings about another basic
change: the plants or animals grown in one region are now consumed and re-
turned to the soil in another.
Transportation taps the energy stored in rocks, and in the air, and uses
it elsewhere; thus we fertilize the garden with nitrogen gleaned by the guano
birds from the fshes of seas on the other side of the Equator. Thus the formerly
localized and self-contained circuits are pooled on a world-wide scale.
The process of altering the pyramid for human occupation releases stored
energy, and this often gives rise, during the pioneering period, to a deceptive
exuberance of plant and animal life, both wild and tame. These releases of bi-
otic capital tend to becloud or postpone the penalties of violence.
This thumbnail sketch of land as an energy circuit conveys three basic ideas:
(1) That land is not merely soil.
(2) That the native plants and animals kept the energy circuit open;
others may or may not.
(3) That man-made changes are of a different order than evolution-
ary changes, and have effects more comprehensive than is intended
or foreseen.
These ideas, collectively, raise two basic issues: Can the land adjust itself to the
new order? Can the desired alterations be accomplished with less violence?
Biotas seem to differ in their capacity to sustain violent conversion. West-
ern Europe, for example, carries a far different pyramid than Caesar found
there. Some large animals are lost; swampy forests have become meadows or
plowland; many new plants and animals are introduced, some of which escape
as pests; the remaining natives are greatly changed in distribution and abun-
dance. Yet the soil is still there and, with the help of imported nutrients, still
fertile; the waters fow normally; the new structure seems to function and to
persist. There is no visible stoppage or derangement of the circuit.
Western Europe, then, has a resistant biota. Its inner processes are tough,
elastic, resistant to strain. No matter how violent the alterations, the pyramid,
so far, has developed some new modus vivendi which preserves its habitability
for man, and for most of the other natives.
Japan seems to present another instance of radical conversion without
disorganization. Most other civilized regions, and some as yet barely touched
by civilization, display various stages of disorganization, varying from initial
symptoms to advanced wastage. In Asia Minor and North Africa diagnosis is
confused by climatic changes, which may have been either the cause or the
effect of advanced wastage. In the United States the degree of disorganization
varies locally; it is worst in the Southwest, the Ozarks, and parts of the South,
and least in New England and the Northwest. Better land-uses may still arrest it
in the less advanced regions. In parts of Mexico, South America, South Africa,
and Australia a violent and accelerating wastage is in progress, but I cannot
assess the prospects.
This almost world-wide display of disorganization in the land seems to be
similar to disease in an animal, except that it never culminates in complete disor-
ganization or death. The land recovers, but at some reduced level of complexity,
and with a reduced carrying capacity for people, plants, and animals. Many bio-
tas currently regarded as lands of opportunity are in fact already subsisting on
exploitative agriculture, i.e., they have already exceeded their sustained carrying
capacity. Most of South America is overpopulated in this sense.
In and regions we attempt to offset the process of wastage by reclamation,
but it is only too evident that the prospective longevity of reclamation projects
is often short. In our own West, the best of them may not last a century.
The combined evidence of history and ecology seems to support one gen-
eral deduction: the less violent the man-made changes, the greater the prob-
ability of successful readjustment in the pyramid. Violence, in turn, varies with
human population density; a dense population requires a more violent conver-
sion. In this respect, North America has a better chance for permanence than
Europe, if she can contrive to limit her density.
This deduction runs counter to our current philosophy, which assumes
that because a small increase in density enriched human life, that an indefnite
increase will enrich it indefnitely. Ecology knows of no density relationship
that holds for indefnitely wide limits. All gains from density are subject to a
law of diminishing returns.
Whatever may be the equation for men and land, it is improbable that we
as yet know all its terms. Recent discoveries in mineral and vitamin nutrition
reveal unsuspected dependencies in the up-circuit: incredibly minute quantities
of certain substances determine the value of soils to plants, of plants to animals.
What of the down-circuit? What of the vanishing species, the preservation of
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which we now regard as an esthetic luxury? They helped build the soil; in what
unsuspected ways may they be essential to its maintenance? Professor Weaver
proposes that we use prairie fowers to refocculate the wasting soils of the dust
bowl; who knows for what purpose cranes and condors, otters and grizzlies
may some day be used?
LAND HEALTH AND THE A-B CLEAvAGE
A land ethic, then, refects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in
turn refects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land.
Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to
understand and preserve this capacity.
Conservationists are notorious for their dissensions. Superfcially these
seem to add up to mere confusion, but a more careful scrutiny reveals a single
plane of cleavage common to many specialized felds. In each feld one group
(A) regards the land as soil, and its function as commodity-production; another
group (B) regards the land as a biota, and its function as something broader.
How much broader is admittedly in a state of doubt and confusion.
In my own feld, forestry, group A is quite content to grow trees like cab-
bages, with cellulose as the basic forest commodity. It feels no inhibition against
violence; its ideology is agronomic. Group B. on the other hand, sees forestry
as fundamentally different from agronomy because it employs natural species,
and manages a natural environment rather than creating an artifcial one. Group
B prefers natural reproduction on principle. It worries on biotic as well as eco-
nomic grounds about the loss of species like chestnut, and the threatened loss
of the white pines. It worries about whole series of secondary forest functions:
wildlife, recreation, watersheds, wilderness areas. To my mind, Group B feels
the stirrings of an ecological conscience.
In the wildlife feld, a parallel cleavage exists. For Group A the basic com-
modities are sport and meat; the yardstick of production are ciphers of take in
pheasants and trout. Artifcial propagation is acceptable as a permanent as well
as a temporary recourse if its unit costs permit. Group B on the other hand,
worries about a whole series of biotic side-issues. What is the cost in preda-
tors of producing a game crop? Should we have further recourse to exotics?
How can management restore the shrinking species, like prairie grouse, already
hopeless as shootable game? How can management restore the threatened rari-
ties, like trumpeter swan and whooping crane? Can management principles be
extended to wildfowers? Here again it is clear to me that we have the same
A-B cleavage as in forestry.
In the larger feld of agriculture I am less competent to speak, but there
seem to be somewhat parallel cleavages. Scientifc agriculture was actively
developing before ecology was born, hence a slower penetration of ecological
concepts might be expected. Moreover the farmer, by the very nature of his
techniques, must modify the biota more radically than the forester o the wild-
life manager. Nevertheless, there are many discontents in agriculture which
seem to add up to a new vision of biotic farming.
Perhaps the most important of these is the new evidence that poundage
or tonnage is no measure of the food-value of farm crops; the products of fer-
tile soil may be qualitatively as well as quantitatively superior. We can bolster
poundage from depleted soils by pouring on imported fertility, but we are not
necessarily bolstering food-value. The possible ultimate ramifcations of this
idea are so immense that I must leave their exposition to abler pens.
The discontent that labels itself organic farming, while bearing some of
the earmarks of a cult, is nevertheless biotic in its direction, particularly in its
insistence on the importance of soil fora and fauna.
The ecological fundamentals of agriculture are just as poorly known to the
public as in other felds of land-use. For example, few educated people realize
that the marvelous advances in technique made during recent decades are im-
provements in the pump, rather than the well. Acre for acre, they have barely
suffced to offset the sinking level of fertility.
In all of these cleavages, we see repeated the same basic paradoxes: man
the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword
versus science the search-light on his universe; land the slave and servant ver-
sus land the collective organism. Robinsons injunction to Tristram may well
be applied, at this juncture, to Homo sapiens as species in geological time:
Whether you will or not
You are a King, Tristram, for you are one
Of the time-tested few that leave the world,
When they are gone, not the same place it was.
Mark what you leave.
THE OUTLOOk
It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love,
respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, of
course, I mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value
in the philosophical sense.
Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is
the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather
than toward, an intense consciousness of land. Your true modern is separated
from the land by many middlemen, and by innumerable physical gadgets. He
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has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops
grow. Turn him loose for a day on the land, and if the spot does not happen to
be a golf links or a scenic area, he is bored stiff. If crops could be raised by hy-
droponics instead of farming, it would suit him very well. Synthetic substitutes
for wood, leather, wool, and other natural land products suit him better than the
originals. In short, land is something he has outgrown.
Almost equally serious as an obstacle to a land ethic is the attitude of the
farmer for whom the land is still an adversary, or a taskmaster that keeps him
in slavery. Theoretically, the mechanization of farming ought to cut the farmer
s chains, but whether it really does is debatable. One of the requisites for an
ecological comprehension of land is an understanding of ecology, and this is
by no means co-extensive with education; in fact, much higher education
seems deliberately to avoid ecological concepts. An understanding of ecology
does not necessarily originate in courses bearing ecological labels; it is quite as
likely to be labeled geography, botany, agronomy, history, or economics. This
is as it should be, but whatever the label, ecological training is scarce.
The case for a land ethic would appear hopeless but for the minority which
is in obvious revolt against these modern trends. The key-log which must be
moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking
about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in
terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically
expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and
beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
It of course goes without saying that economic feasibility limits the tether
of what can or cannot be done for land. It always has and it always will. The
fallacy the economic determinists have tied around our collective neck, and
which we now need to cast off, is the belief that economics determines all land
use. This is simply not true. An innumerable host of actions and attitudes, com-
prising perhaps the bulk of all land relations, is determined by the land-users
tastes and predilections, rather than by his purse. The bulk of all land relations
hinges on investments of time, forethought, skill, and faith rather than on in-
vestments of cash. As a land-user thinketh, so is he.
I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution
because nothing so important as an ethic is ever written. Only the most super-
fcial student of history supposes that Moses wrote the Decalogue; it evolved
in the minds of a thinking community, and Moses wrote a tentative summary of
it for a seminar. I say tentative because evolution never stops.
The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional pro-
cess. Conservation is paved with good intentions which prove to be futile,
or even dangerous, because they are devoid of critical understanding either
of the land, or of economic land-use. I think it is a truism that as the ethical
frontier advances from the individual to the community, its intellectual con-
tent increases.
The mechanism of operation is the same for any ethic: social approba-
tion for right actions: social disapproval for wrong actions.
By and large, our present problem is one of attitudes and implements.
We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steamshovel, and we are proud of
our yardage. We shall hardly relinquish the shovel, which after all has many
good points, but we are in need of gentler and more objective criteria for its
successful use.
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wHY THE BRAvEST
POSITION IS BIOCENTRISM
David Suzuki
Globalization is having profound impacts on the diversity of life, including cul-
tural diversity, around the world. In these short essays, David Suzuki challeng-
es us with a fundamental question: What is our place in the natural world?
Incorporating philosophy, aesthetics, and practicality, he examines the
role of economic, social, and political structures in shaping the relationships
of humans with other elements of nature. The writings here evoke some of the
controversial themes at the core of the Beyond Globalization program: food
and farming systems, conceptions of wild nature, science and technology,
consumption and consumerism, speciesism, and more. While the essays are
only a brief glimpse into these issues, they have been selected to stoke our
passion and curiosity as we prepare for our IHP journey. Suzuki encourages
readers to ask themselves, in light of the current situation: Do we need a more
intimate connection with nature a new environmental ethic and if so, how
do we create it?
David Suzuki in an international activist, author, geneticist, and broad-
caster from Vancouver, Canada. The writings presented here are drawn from
The David Suzuki Reader: A Lifetime of Ideas from a Leading Activist and
Thinker.
WE LEARN TO SEE THE WORLD THROUGH THE LENSES of the individual beliefs and
values that we have acquired from personal experience, family, and society.
People often share a commonal ity of truths and values that are so widely ac-
cepted that they are seldom questioned.
We cant help seeing our surroundings through the perceptual flters of our
preconceptions, yet the media continue to hold out an ideal of journalism that
is objective and balanced. But any journalists personal values are bound
to infuence the facts selected and the way they are juxtaposed and arranged
to create a story. The best way to strive for balance is to have many journalists
presenting a wide array of worldviews. Understandably, people in the media
are preoccupied with human affairswars, budget defcits, sports, and entertain-
ment. Even environmental stories are usually built around the human costs and
benefts for health, esthetics, jobs, or the economy.
When wilderness habitats are invaded and species threatened with extinc-
tion, their preservation is often justifed by their potential utility for human
beings. Thus, it is pointed out that perhaps a quarter of the active ingredients
of all medicines are natural compounds extracted from living organisms. When
species disappear, a vast repertoire of potentially useful materials is also lost.
It is also argued that wilderness may generate revenues through ecotourism or
provide spiritual solace.
Everything we use in our homes and workplace electricity, metal, wood,
plastic, food comes from the Earth. Our economic system is based on our
need for them and their scarcity or abundance. Consequently, the future of old-
growth forests, coral reefs, or watersheds often rests on the merits of economic
returns from protection or exploitation.
An anthropocentric ecological ethic recognizes that environmental
protection is ultimately in our self-interest because, as biological beings, we
depend on the integrity of our surroundings for our survival. There is an alter-
native perspective called biocentrism, which Bill Devall, co-author of Deep
Ecology, defnes as a worldview emphasizing that Nature has intrinsic value,
that is, value for itself rather than only aesthetic, commodity or recreational
value for humans; that humans have the capacity for broader identifcation with
Nature as part of our ecological self; and that compassionate understanding is
the basis for communication with Nature as well as with other human beings.
This is the central belief that underlies deep ecology.
Critics often accuse deep ecologists of being misanthropes, caring more
for other species than for our own fellow human beings. Ive heard it said
derisively, They want to protect trees and the spotted owl and dont care if
people are thrown out of work. To such criticism, the U.S. poet Gary Snyder
responds, A properly radical environmentalist position is in no way antihu-
man. We grasp the pain of the human condition in its full complexity, and add
the awareness of how desperately endangered certain key species and habi-
tats have become. ... The critical argument now within environmental circles
is between those who operate from a human centered resource management
mentality and those whose value an awareness of the integrity of the whole
of nature. The latter position that, of deep ecology, is politically livelier, more
courageous, more convivial, riskier, and more scientifc.
When we acknowledge our dependence on the same biophysical factors
that support all other life-forms, the responsibility for managing all of it be-
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comes a terrible burden. In fact, it is an impossible task because, in spite of
the impressive sophistication and progress in science and technology, we have
nowhere near enough information to understand, let alone predict and control,
the behavior of complex systems like watersheds, forests, oceans, or the atmo-
sphere.
Amid the barrage of information from the print and electronic media, we
must recognize the inherent biases that often fow from our anthropocentrism.
For example, in all of the discussion about the catastrophic loss of northern cod
or the fate of the old-growth forest of Clayoquot Sound, all of the stakehold-
ers in the fshing, logging, tourism, and Native communities seem to accept
that the underlying economic and political institutions are beyond question or
change, even though they may well be the very cause of the crisis. By look-
ing at the world through biocentric lenses, we may recognize the roots of our
destructive path. The landscape may be uncomfortable and strange, but we
cant afford to dismiss the problems viewed from this perspective as a lack of
balance or simple bias.
THE SYSTEM AND THE ECOSYSTEM
If the future is unknowable, the best strategy for our young people is fexibility
and a broadly based education. Most of all, they should have an intimate con-
nection with nature.
Any child who knows that a dragonfy can fy off before it can be grabbed,
observes that a seed will germinate and send roots down and leaves up, watches
a squirrel leap deftly from branch to branch, has envied birds soaring effort-
lessly, and has followed a caterpillar through metamorphosis into a butterfy
understands that no human technology can ever come close to matching living
creatures. Our current technological achievements are impressive by human
standards, but measured against the scale of lifes complexity, they must be
seen as crude and superfcial. This perspective has to generate some humility.
A child with a love of nature also recognizes that we share this planet and
that we derive our sustenance from other life forms. If we forget that packaged
eggs or hamburger came from animals, a cotton shirt from a plant, a wooden
chair from a tree, then we have lost that connection with nature. In November
1985, I watched a performance that brought that reality back into focus.
I was in a meeting in London on the subject of toxic wastes. After my
rather ponderous talk, Jack Vallentyne, an ecologist from the centre for Inland
Waters in Burlington, Ontario, got up. Jack wanders the planet carrying a large
globe of the Earth resting atop a backpack. It looks ... well ... unusual. He
performs for children around the world by assuming the character of Johnny
Biosphere. Like Johnny Appleseed, Vallentyne plants the seeds of ideas in the
fertile soil of childrens minds. He put on quite a show, transforming an audi-
ence of some 700 selfconscious and skeptical adults into wide-eyed children
who shouted answers back to his questions.
The most effective part of Jacks show was the way he demonstrated how
much we are a part of the ecosystem. He asked all of us to hold our breath for a
few seconds and then informed us that we had held gas molecules in our lungs
that had been in the lungs of everyone else in the room. Initially, it made us
want to stop breathing, but it brought home with a jolt the reality that we share
the air with everyone else. Then Jack told us that we all have molecules in our
bodies that had once been a part of every single human being who had ever
lived in the past three thousand years! (And he didnt even mention animals
and plants.) From Jesus Christ to Marie Curie to Britney Spears, we are all
linked by shared molecules in the air, water, and soil.
Jack then went on to tell us a story about a Native canoeing on Lake Su-
perior fve hundred years ago. It was a hot summer day and he was sweating,
so he decided to go for a swim. And as that Native swam in the lake, the sweat
washed from his body and was diluted in the lake. Sodium and chloride ions in
the sweat diffused through the lake and today, fve hundred years later, when
we take a drink of water in Toronto, we drink sodium and chloride from that
aboriginal mans body long ago.
This is a modern description of a spiritual vision of our relationship with
all life on Earth. It is ftting that Vallentynes target is children. The difference
between his approach and mine is worth noting. I tend to emphasize the de-
structiveness of a value system that sees humans outside the ecosystem and all
of nature as a potential resource. I believe we must recognize that the limited
vision of science and technology does not give us control, so then we may try
to change directions. My operating faith is in the power of reason to overcome
cultural values that are generations old. But its a bleak picture. Vallentyne uses
a radically different approach his message is just as dark, but its delivered
to children who have not yet accepted all our cultural values. He can revel in
the unity of all life in the biosphere in a spiritual way that is both uplifting and
wonderful. And I think hes on to something.
ONE FARMER REALLY CLOSE TO THE SOIL
Our relationship with food, like our need for clean air and water, should be a
constant reminder that we are biological beings. But today, air is often fltered,
warmed, cooled, or humidifed in our, homes, offces, and vehicles, and we
consume far more liquid in various kinds of drinks than as just plain water.
Every bit of our nutrition is plant or animal, yet people today have little appre-
ciation of the biological nature of their food.
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The meals we consume today seem disconnected from the Earth where
they originate. The farmer and writer Wendell Berry once told me that in North
America, on average, food is consumed 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles) from
where it is produced.
But because air, water, soil, and biodiversity are economic externalities,
the ecological consequences of global trade are not refected in the cost of food.
When I inquired why New Zealand grown rather than Ontario lamb was fea-
tured on the menu of a fancy restaurant north of Toronto, the answer was Its
cheaper. The true ecological cost of fresh fruit and vegetables in winter in a
northern country like Canada is never revealed in their price.
For most of history, food was ingested close to where it grew. We ate
locally and seasonally Our severance from an immediate and intimate rela-
tionship with nutrition is a direct result of the disconnection from land that
characterizes modern urban society. Food is one of the best ways to reassess
the way we live.
In the farm community of Sakurai City in Nara prefecture, I encountered ff-
ty-two-year-old Yoshikazu Kawaguchi, who practices a radically different kind of
agriculture called natural farming. Kawaguchi begins with the understanding that
nature is a complex community of living things that humans do not understand.
Consequently, one or a few species of plants or insects cant be defned as good
or bad when we know so little about their roles in the entire ecosystem.
Kawaguchi doesnt use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and whats more,
unlike organic farmers, he does not till the soil. He lets the weeds that are
competing with his crops grow, or when he does their tops on the earth.
Within the plant cover, onion shoots were poking through, and potatoes
inserted into slits were sprouting roots. Wheat seeds are cast over the paddies
and harvested in early June. Then rice is planted and harvested in November.
Kawaguchis soil is sticky, black, and pungent with decaying vegetation, in-
contrast to his neighbors neat, plowed, and weedless furrows of gray dirt.
For twenty years, Kawaguchi was a typical farmer using chemical pesti-
cides and fertilizers. Then, about twenty years ago, his family began to get sick
repeatedly and he developed a life-threatening liver disorder. He happened to
read a series of newspaper articles on complex pollution, which made him real-
ize that his familys health problems might be caused by the chemicals he was
using. He then read The One Straw Revolution, a seminal work by Masanobu
Fukuoka on natural farming, which prescribes sowing seeds onto unplowed
ground. By following Fukuokas methods, Kawaguchi lost his entire rice crop
in the frst two seasons. But with tenacity and observation, he succeeded the
third year. I realized that natural farming methods are not fxed. The natural
farmer should be constantly fexible and must learn intimately about soil, in-
sects, and natural conditions of the area.
Once he had changed methods, Kawaguchi looked at the world through
different eyes: It was only after I started natural farming that I felt happy to
be a farmer. Before, I felt as if I was standing in a deadly world. My rice and
vegetables were growing, but I watched insects dying in agony and my felds
became silent places devoid of any other forms of life.
Kawaguchi believes the increased wealth created by farming with ma-
chines and chemicals is an illusion. After paying for machinery, fuels, and the
ever-increasing amount and variety of fertilizers and pesticides, much of the
beneft of large-scale agriculture vanishes. Furthermore, the yields may be
high, but Kawaguchi calls the food tasteless and devoid of adequate nutrition.
And his most pointed criticism is that modern farming breaks apart the web of
life and threatens peoples health.
For Kawaguchi, his farming methods have become a spiritual way of life.
He has tried meditation and other forms of spiritual discipline, but he ultimate-
ly realized that farming is his vocation and that nature is his teacher. He told
me, We have been seeing other life-forms as our enemies. But if we see them
as friends, it changes how we act. The more we learn about whats happening
in soil, the more we learn about life.
Thats what is distinctive about natural farming. Instead of trying to im-
pose a human agenda on nature, natural farmers know there is much that they
still have to learn, so they try to let nature guide them. He says, The land lets
you live, the seasons give you the food from the land. Kawaguchi recognizes
that humans are no longer hunter-gatherers living by the dictates of nature. The
very acts of collecting seeds and planting them, whether by mimicking nature
and casting them on the ground or by using large machines and chemicals, are
deliberate. I cut plants competing too much with my crops, he says without
apology. I select seeds too. I am a farmer, not a gatherer. But he begins from
an understanding that categories such as weed, pest, good, or bad are
human defnitions, not meaningful biological classifcations.
We dont know all of the constituents of soil, air, or water; nor do we under-
stand how they interact or maintain the Earths productivity and resilience. Thus,
one must begin with respect for the 3.5 billion years during which life evolved
without human intervention. Protection of the integrity of the soil ecosystem and
the air and water that nourish it is uppermost in the priorities of a natural farmer
because as long as they are maintained, so is human life. We have to go along
with nature, never try to impose our formula, says Kawaguchi.
But farming in Japan, as in North America, has changed. Enjoying nature
is not part of mainstream farming. It has become an enterprise designed only
to make a lot of money. Farmers are removed from the philosophy of raising
life. Its become totally scientifc. So they are surrounded by nature, but they
are also removed from it at the same time.
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For Kawaguchi, science has been a major cause of this change:
Scientifc western thinking puts man and nature in confict. It says na-
ture cant do it properly without man. In natural farming, humans are
seen to be a part of nature. The yield is smaller with natural farming,
but the food is real; it has more life. Its not artifcially pumped up.
You need less of it to live. The ideal situation is that you grow what
you eat, [and] that you eat what is grown in your area.
Human knowledge is so limited. So real human knowledge must
achieve a kind of sattori [enlightenment]. What science can fnd is
part of something, but just a part. ... Each organism has a wide range
of activities, so you cant just pull out one function; there are many
more organisms than science knows, and each one is complete in its
existence and part of a totality. So to fnd just one wonderful func-
tion of one organism and bring it into the feld is just disrupting the
harmony of the feld.
Kawaguchi pointed out that most approaches to farming focus on one
or two elements of numerous possibilities. Thus organic farming emphasizes
natural fertilizers and no chemical pesticides, permaculture focuses on culti-
vating native species, and an approach called effective microorganisms uses
soil microbes to counter oxidation, which breaks things down. But ultimately
we have to pay attention to the whole complex of soil, air, and water and the
balance of life within it. As Kawaguchi stresses, The basic thing is to trust life
and let it live in the natural world.
He also predicts:
The scientifc and technological society has been developed, but life
is worsening. Yet the mainstream is still blind and rushing along. Its
certain this civilization has to collapse. Within this troubled world,
a new civilization is already beginning. The new civilization that is
sprouting is based on the value of life and chooses to live in harmony
with the Earth.
We have to get rid of our obsession with death. We must let nature
do its work and trust the body. When a crisis happens, we have to
respond. We take a narrow view, but we have to be calm. We must
accept our mortality, but do not give in to death by disease. By ac-
cepting death, this is the only way to accept life. If we try to escape
death we are actually denying life. That state works against all life.
By accepting death, then you can live. So when we are ill with dis-
ease, we must accept that but not give in.
We would do well to study the philosophy of natural farming. Most of
us live in cities away from the primary production of food. But Kawaguchis
refections about farming inform us of a different way of seeing our place in
nature, a way that might guide us into a balance with the things that make all
life possible.
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SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL. SIZE CICLES.
THE BREAkDOwN OF NATIONS
Leopold Kohr
Leopold Kohr, a friend and a teacher from
whom I have learned more that from anyone else
E. F. Schumacher.
Time and again, in the course of your journey, you will hear about local, small
solutions to our current predicaments. Time and again you will hear that they
are the only solutions. But this is clearly counterintuitive. How can a local,
beautiful organic farm or a bike-machine be a solution to climate change or
global poverty? How can small actions deal with problems which by their very
nature have a global scale and can only have so runs the argument, pure
common sense global solutions?
In order to begin an exploration of this kind of apparently contradictory
thinking, something we can fairly describe as using oxymoron instead of think-
ing, we include here two little of course two little pieces of the inventor of
social morphology, the pioneer of smallness.
Everyone knows today the expression small is beautiful, popularized by
Schumacher, but very few know even the name of the guy whose insights were
a fundamental inspiration for Schumacher and many of the greatest thinkers
of the second part of the twentieth century. In 1994, in Yale University, New
Haven, Connecticut, Ivan Illich pronounced the introductory address in the
Fourteenth Annual E.F. Schumacher Lectures. He wrote:
This years annual Schumacher Lectures have been organized to
honor Leopold Kohr. During his lifetime, this teasing leprechaun was
recognized by very few a man ahead of his time. Even today, few
have caught up with him; there is still no school of thought that car-
ries on his social morphology.
Kohrs day will dawn when people awaken from their economic
slumbers, when the age of faith in homo economicus gives way to a
penetrating skepticism, when social theorists carefully read this mod-
est but important thinker. In the meantime, the Schumacher Society
is a ftting place to keep Kohrs memory alive until such time as he is
recognized as a major pioneer in social thought.
In this lecture, written as homage to his master, Illich adds:
I see Kohr as the one social thinker who picks up the biological mor-
phology of DArcy Thompson and J.B.S. Haldane as the starting
point of a social morphology. These scientists studied the proportion
between form and size in living creatures. Mice appear only within
rather narrow parameters of size. One intuitively grasps mousiness
that familiar form of a small, compact body with a tail that scur-
ries across the foor on four swift and delicate legs. Haldane demon-
strated that the form of mousy proportions cannot exist outside this
lower or upper limit. Since the weight increases with the cube of its
size, legs able to move a larger rodent would have to thicken beyond
mousy proportions. Kohrs discusses society in analogy to the way
plants and animals are shaped by their size and sized by their shape.
He is uninterested in the timeless and weightless critters fabricated
by social scientists. As a friend remarks, these abstractions appear to
come out of social thought about mice on the moon.
Kohrs thought resist reduction to any scenario of the future. Nor is
it oriented towards progress; rather, he inquires into the form that fts
the size Kohr never attempted to seduce people into utopia, which
is always a misplaced concreteness. He fostered a vision that could
be realized because it fell within limits, it remained within reach.
Kohr stood for renunciation of a ranging gaze that sought chimeras
beyond the shared horizon.
Starting from the idea that there is only one primary cause behind all forms of
social misery bigness Kohr believes that the idea and ideal of littleness is
the only antidote to the cancerous disease of excessive size, and therefore urges
the restoration of a healthy system of small and easily manageable regional
and city states such as existed in former times.
An American citizen, Kohr taught at Rutgers University, Swansea, Cam-
bridge, Mexico City and Salzburg. He was Professor Emeritus in the University
of Puerto Rico. He is the author of Development without Aid, The Over-devel-
oped Nations, Freedom from Government, Is Wales viable? and The Revolt of
the Individual. In 1958 he contributed Size Cycles to El Mundo de San Juan.
It is a recognized jewel, published time and again everywhere. After reading
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this piece, previous IHP students commented: Not long enough to do justice
to the ideas, which made it somewhat out of place and confusing for me and
Perhaps some other work from Kohr might have been included in order to
elucidate the idea that small is beautiful. We are now following their advice.
We are also including a fragment of the preface to the 1986 paperback edition
of The Breakdown of Nations by far his most famous book and the intro-
duction to that splendid piece of wisdom.
THE BREAkDOwN OF NATIONS
Preface to the 1986 paperback edition (Excerpts)
Some of you perhaps will think that I am jesting
Socrates at his trial
THERE WAS A TIME WHEN SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL was a catchphrase for cranks,
wrote The Guardian an editorial of March 3, 1977. With remarkable speed it
has become a key-note of policy in a whole range of areas, from education to
industrial organization. The belief that bigness is best that dominated the 1950s
and 1960s has faded.
Having urged smallness as a solution to the problems of bigness for four
and a half decades, I was considered a crank as far back as the early 1940s. Not
that I was ever disturbed by this. As E. F. Schumacher said of his similar ex-
perience in the 1970s before public opinion became a little bit more favorably
disposed towards the idea: Some people call me a crank. I dont mind at all. A
crank is a low-cost, low-capital tool. It can be used on a moderate small scale.
It is non-violent. And it makes revolutions.
Moreover, being considered a crank by the rationalizers of bigness hardly
did me any professional damage. It did not interfere with my academic career at
a time when it was thought that the best way to advancement for an economist
was to subscribe to one of the two varieties of received doctrine, which meant
being a controlled marketeer with the younger generation or a free marketeer
with the receding older one. Nor did it interfere with my pleasures, which have
generally been directly proportionate to the opposition I encountered. Indeed,
had my ideas been embraced in the 1940s, I might have felt like William Buck-
ley, who, when asked during his mayoral campaign in New York what he would
do if he won the election, answered: Demand a recount.
The pleasure of fnding myself in opposition sometimes conveyed that I
never took the idea of smallness seriously myself and that because of this lack
of seriousness, and despite my numerous articles, lectures, and books on the
subject, the idea did not take root until the mid-1970s, when it was presented
by E. F. Schumacher with greater religious fervor in a best-selling book bearing
the fetching title, Small is Beautiful.
However, there has never been a question of my not taking seriously the
idea that smallness offers the only solution to the problems of bigness. What I
often did was to present my serious proposal in a not-so-serious manner, with
the result that on more than one occasion a speaker would express an audi-
ences appreciation by thanking me, not for having enlightened them but for
having greatly entertained them. They did not always realize that, by starting
to laugh, not about what I took seriously but what they took seriously, they
often admitted a frst doubt as to whether they did not view bigness from the
wrong angle themselves.
INTRODUCTION
1
As the physicists of our time have tried to elaborate an integrated single theory,
capable of explaining not only some but all phenomena of the physical uni-
verse, so I have tried on a different plane to develop a single theory through
which not only some but all phenomena of the social universe can be reduced
to a common denominator. The result is a new and unifed political philosophy
centering in the theory of size. It suggests that there seems only one cause be-
hind all forms of social misery: bigness.
Oversimplifed as this may seem, we shall fnd the idea more easily ac-
ceptable if we consider that bigness, or oversize, is really much more than just
a social problem. It appears to be the one and only problem permeating all
creation. Wherever something is wrong, something is too big. If the stars in the
sky or the atoms of uranium disintegrate in spontaneous explosion, it is not be-
cause their substance has lost its balance. It is because matter has attempted to
expand beyond the impassable barriers set to every accumulation. Their mass
has become too big. If the human body becomes diseased, it is, as in cancer,
because a cell, or a group of cells, has begun to outgrow its allotted narrow
limits. And if the body of a people becomes diseased with the fever of aggres-
sion, brutality, collectivism, or massive idiocy, it is not because it has fallen
victim to bad leadership or mental derangement. It is because human beings, so
charming as individuals or in small aggregations, have been welded into over-
concentrated social units such as mobs, unions, cartels, or great powers. That is
when they begin to slide into uncontrollable catastrophe. For social problems,
to paraphrase the population doctrine of Thomas Malthus, have the unfortunate
tendency to grow at a geometric ratio with the growth of the organism of which
they are part, while the ability of man to cope with them, if it can be extended
at all, grows only at an arithmetic ratio. Which means that, if a society grows
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beyond its optimum size, its problems must eventually outrun the growth of
those human faculties which are necessary for dealing with them.
Hence it is always bigness, and only bigness, which is the problem of
existence, social as well as physical, and all I have done in fusing apparently
disjointed and unrelated bits of evidence into an integrated theory of size is to
demonstrate frst that what applies everywhere applies also in the feld of social
relations; and secondly that, if moral, physical, or political misery is nothing
but a function of size, if the only problem is one of bigness, the only solution
must lie in the cutting down of the substances and organisms which have out-
grown their natural limits. The problem is not to grow but to stop growing; the
answer: not union but division.
This would seem platitudinous if it were submitted to a surgeon, a ma-
son, an engineer, or an editor. Their entire lifework consists of nothing but
the cutting of what is too big, and the reassembling of the smaller units into
new forms and healthier structures. But it is different with social technicians.
Though quite sensible at lower levels, at the more exalted levels of politics and
economics they seem for ever out to create still bigger entities. To them, the
suggestion of cutting what has become too large is not platitude but sacrilege.
Viewing the problem of size upside-down, they think it is one of smallness, not
of bigness. So they demand union where every law of logic seems to demand
division. Only on rare occasions do they see right side up, as when after years
of trouble in the overcrowded Korean prison camps it began to dawn on them
that the cause of diffculty was not the incorrigible nature of the communists
but the size of the compounds containing them. Once this was recognized, they
were quickly able to restore bearable conditions not by appealing to the good
will of the prisoners but by cutting their groups into smaller and more manage-
able units.
However, what is true of men living in overcrowded prison camps is also
true of men living in the overgrown compounds of those modern nations whose
unmanageable size has become the principal cause of our present diffculties.
Hence, just as in the case of Korean camps, the solution of the problems con-
fronting the world as a whole does not seem to lie in the creation of still bigger
social units and still vaster governments whose formation is now attempted
with such unimaginative fanaticism by our statesmen. It seems to lie in the
elimination of those overgrown organisms that go by the name of great powers,
and in the restoration of a healthy system of small and easily manageable states
such as characterized earlier ages.
This is the proposal advanced in this book, and I have no doubt that
many will call it contrary to all our concepts of progress. Which is quite true,
of course. All I can do is to answer with Professor Frank Tannenbaum of Co-
lumbia University: Let them, let the other people have the slogans. Let them
progress themselves off the face of the earth and then theyll have infnite
progress.
2
In referring to the ideas developed in this book I have used the term new. This
is only partially correct in so far as I have tried to make the theory of size
the basis of an integrated system of philosophy, applicable to all problems of
creation with equal facility. But as a special theory applying to special felds,
it has been proposed many times before, though even as a special theory it
has never been given the central position which it deserves. This is particu-
larly true of its use in the explanation of social phenomena. But even here,
the concept of the small cell is the foundation of every healthy structure is
neither original nor new. It has been beautifully expressed many centuries
ago by men such as Aristotle or St. Augustine. It has been advanced by Henry
IV of France in one of historys more famous peace plans, the Great Design.
And in our own time, with the. road of bigness approaching its atomic termi-
nus, it has become so pressing that it seems to condense out of a pregnant air
almost by itself. Whenever a new attempt is made to bring about international
union, we are flled less with hope than with despair. A creeping presentiment
seems to tell us that we are pushing into the wrong direction; that, the more
united we become, the closer we get to the critical mass and density at which,
as in a uranium bomb, our very compactness will lead to the explosion we
try to avert.
This is why in the past few years an increasing number of authors have begun
to reverse the direction of their search and to look for solutions to our social
problems in small rather than large organizations, and in harmony rather than
unity. Arnold Toynbee, linking the downfall of civilizations not to the fght
amongst nations but the rise of universal states, suggests in the place of ma-
cropolitical solutions a return to a form of Homonoia, the Greek ideal of a
self-regulatory balance of small. Kathleen Freeman has shown in a study of
Greek city-states that nearly all Western culture is the product of the disunit-
ed small states of ancient Greece, and that the same states produced almost
nothing after they had become united under the wings of Rome. In the feld
of economics, Justice Brandeis devoted a lifetime to exposing the curse of
bigness by showing that, beyond relatively narrow limits, additional growth
of plant or organizational size no longer adds to, but detracts from, the ef-
fciency and productivity of frms. In Sociology, Frank Tannenbaum, who
challengingly calls himself a parochialist, has come out in defense of small
labor unions rather than their giant offspring. For only small unions seem still
able to give the worker what modern vast-scale development has taken away
from him: a sense of belonging and individuality. In the political feld, Henry
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Simons has pursued the idea that the obstacles to world peace do not lie in the
alleged anachronism of little states but in the great powers, those monsters
of nationalism and mercantilism, in whose dismantlement he sees the only
chance of survival. Finally, Andr Gide, to end this sketchy list with a poet,
has expressed a similar thought when he wrote as possibly his last words: I
believe in the virtue of small nations. I believe in the virtue of small numbers.
The world will be saved by the few.
All this indicates that the idea and ideal of littleness as the only antidote
to the cancerous disease of oversize in which the bulk of contemporary theo-
rists still insist in seeing not as a deadly malady but a perverse hope of salva-
tion seems at last ripe for new recognition and comprehensive formulation.
If my own speculations do not carry weight in this respect, perhaps Aristotles
or St. Augustines will. Though I have used neither them nor the other authors
just quoted in developing my theories, I fnd it naturally highly pleasing to fnd
myself in so respectable a company. But I shall not hide behind their testimony
or the authority of their names in an effort to obtain immunity from criticism on
the part of those who think that all our time needs in order to solve its problems
is to submerge itself in an allembracing world community. The analysis as well
as the conclusions are strictly my own.
SIZE CYCLES
The reason why the post-war recessions of the Western world have been fore-
seen by so few, aside from the Russians, who predicted them for the wrong
reasons, is that a new type of cyclical fuctuation has made its appearance of
which economic theory has not yet taken proper notice.
In the 19th century and up to the second decade of the 20th, fuctuations
were mainly in the nature of old-fashioned business cycles. They were the
price that had to be paid for the enjoyment of an uncontrolled free enterprise
system. Only the setting up of government controls could avert their increas-
ingly painful effects. Under the guiding infuence of John Maynard Keynes,
such controls have since been accepted in most capitalist countries, dimin-
ishing their freedoms but saving them from the mounting severity of their
depressions.
Yet, after 25 years of experimentation with government controls, reces-
sions began to reappear and, as previously, to grow in intensity with repetition.
Keynes himself may have anticipated this when he wrote in the 1930s that by
1955 most Treasuries of the world would have adopted his policies; but by
then they would be not only obsolete but dangerous. Since policies based on
his theories have failed to prevent the more recent recessions, both his foresight
and his gloom seem to have been borne out.
GOING ROUND IN CIRCLES
The reason for this lies in a delayed secondary effect of government control
which, though predictable, has never really been examined. The impact ef-
fect was invariably the seeming elimination of cycles seeming because
the cyclical forces pressing downward were not abolished but merely held in
check by compensatory government action each time they threatened to assert
themselves. In other words, visible cycles were turned into hidden cycles. This
would have been good enough had not the government-induced absence of
downswings caused such unprecedented economic growth that it actually mag-
nifed along with the forces pushing up also those pressing down. Ultimately,
a point had to be reached as a result of the disproportionately increasing scale
of economic activities, at which no measure of added control could cope with
a situation that had begun to outgrow all human control.
For effective control requires either perfect visibility or a safety margin
wide enough to be able to absorb the consequences of human error and mis-
calculation without distorting the anticipated result. But neither is possible in
economies whose scale has become excessively large. The frst, because what
is too large cannot be perfectly visible. The second, because mass production,
over-expansion, and the pressure of giant economic forces so reduce the all-
determining margin between proft and cost that the minutest miscalculation
may not only produce results diametrically opposite to those to which plans
have been adjusted; as in the case of shots to Mars, it may push them so far in
either direction that even mid-course correction by powerful government inter-
vention may become useless. For what applies to the multiplier that magnifed
miscalculations disproportionaly on the part of business, applies even more to
miscalculations affecting the massive government-inspired measures designed
to correct them. This is why the tight money policy instituted prior to the fa-
mously unpredicted 1957 recession in the United States in order to prevent the
economy from taking off too high into space, was, in retrospect, considered by
many economists as one of the very causes which subsequently pushed it too
close to the ground. Instead of ending a crisis, controlled intervention merely
produced a different sort of crisis which in this particular instance was given
the ingenious name of disinfation.
NEw DEvELOPMENT
The reason for the increasing failure of the governmental control mechanism is
that from the end of the Second World War onwards a previously unobserved
new phenomenon has made its appearance, suggesting that the most recent
fuctuations are no longer caused by the system but by the scale which modern
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economic activities have assumed. Capitalism no longer fgures. Like waves
in the ocean, these giant swells are caused by the chain-reacting instability
inherent in everything that has grown too large, be it the mass of a heavy atom,
a building, a market, or a state. They are no longer business, but what may be
called scale or size cycles which take their amplitude not from any particular
economic system but from the size of the body politic through which they pass.
Unlike the old-fashioned business cycles, size cycles are therefore not dimin-
ished, but magnifed by the economic integration, growth, and expansion effect
produced by government controls.
This is why, to the puzzlement of communist and capitalist observers
alike, they have made their appearance even in such a tightly controlled but
equally overgrown economy as that of the Soviet Union which, being socialist,
should according to Marxist theory not have been subject to economic fuc-
tuations such as characterize uncontrolled free-enterprise systems in the frst
place. Yet it was.
Now if the true problem of our age lies in size rather than in business
cycles, it follows that what must be done is not to increase government controls
until they match the devastating scale of the new type of economic fuctuations;
what must be done is to reduce the size of the body politic which gives them
their devastating scale, until they become once again a match for the limited
talent available to the ordinary mortals of which even the most majestic gov-
ernments are composed.
In other words, instead of centralization or unifcation, let us have eco-
nomic cantonization. Let us replace the oceanic dimensions of integrated big
powers and common markets by a dyke system of inter-connected but highly
self-suffcient local markets and small states in which economic fuctuations
can be controlled not because our leaders have Oxford or Yale degrees, but be-
cause the ripples of a pond, however animated, can never assume the scale of
the huge swells passing through the united water masses of the open seas.
REtHINKING
KNoWlEDGE
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FROM CONTROL TO PARTICIPATION.
QUANTUM, CHAOS, COMPLEXITY
AND CREATIvITY HAvE TAkEN SCIENCE
TO NEw FRONTIERS
Brian Goodwin
Western science has been phenomenally successful in its goal of unlocking
natures secrets. However, it has now reached certain boundaries and its lim-
itations are themselves causing diffculties because science is being applied
to problems for which it is unsuited. Can science be expanded in ways that do
not alter its essential properties, but transform it so as to make it more appro-
priate for engaging with the issues that have become so crucial to our lives:
living responsibly with nature, achieving health and a good quality of life in
creative communities and organizations, reorganizing economic principles
and priorities, among many others? There have been a number of develop-
ments during the past quarter-century that have taken science to a startling
new frontier. From there it is possible to suggest how this remarkable cre-
ation of our culture can be extended to embrace more fully the realities of
our lives.
THE SCIENCE OF QUANTITIES
WHEN GALILEO STARTED THE GREAT adventure of modern science with his sys-
tematic study of the motion of the pendulum, falling bodies, cylinders rolling
down inclined planes, and the moons of Jupiter, he was guided by a deep in-
sight: natural phenomena can be described by mathematics.
Of course, he wasnt the frst to explore this ordering principle of nature.
Egyptian, Greek and Arab natural philosophers had all contributed substan-
tially to the realization that processes involving the operation of levers, musical
intervals and harmony, and particularly the movements of the heavenly bodies,
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are governed by number, ratio and geometry, so that there is a distinctly ratio-
nal aspect to natural processes.
What Galileo did was to defne the methodology of science in terms of
the study of number and measure. Those properties of the natural world that
can be measured and expressed in terms of mathematical relationships defne
the domain of Western scientifc enquiry. Other qualitative experiences that we
may have, such as the perfume and texture of a fruit or a fower, our experience
of their colour, or the joy that we may feel at the beauty of a landscape or a
sunset, are outside the legitimate domain of scientifc enquiry except insofar as
we can extract quantitative data and derive mathematical descriptions of these
phenomena.
As a strategy for exploring an aspect of reality the quantifable and the
mathematizable the restriction of modern science to quantities is perfectly
reasonable. It has also turned out to be remarkably successful. The diversity of
aspects of the natural world that fall under the spell of number and mathemat-
ics is astonishing, ranging from light and magnetism and chemical reactions
to the laws of biological inheritance. But who would have believed that math-
ematics could lead us well beyond the common sense behaviour of clocks
and magnets and chemical processes to the strange but self-consistent world of
quantum mechanics?
Whereas we can readily grasp the causal relationships between the move-
ment of a pendulum and the rotation of the hands of a clock via cogs and le-
vers, and imagine molecules colliding with one another and reacting according
to their energetic structure, this type of reasoning fails us when we come to
the quantum realm. Here causality functions differently and relationships are
holistic rather than reducible to the behaviour of independent particles. The
quantum realm is governed by principles of intimate entanglement and co-
ordination between its components, giving rise to coherent order that extends
over any distance.
Again, who would have anticipated that mathematics would give an in-
sight into the curious logic of the weather unpredictable but intelligible? It
used to be believed that prediction of weather patterns depended on how good
our model of atmospheric processes is and how detailed the data on current
weather patterns to feed into the model for prediction. However, it turns out
that neither of these will allow accurate long-term predictions of the weather
because of the intrinsic properties of this type of natural process, which has
been given the paradoxical name of deterministic chaos.
The metaphor that describes one of its essential features, called sensitivity
to initial conditions, is the butterfy fapping its wings in the Amazon and caus-
ing a typhoon in Indonesia. The weather is forever unpredictable, and for good
mathematical reasons!
Deterministic chaos, or similar unpredictable behaviour, is now turning
out to be an aspect of the physiological activities of our bodies and brains, eco-
logical and evolutionary processes, and economies. As we always knew, life
is chaotic; but now we can understand why this is a necessary property of the
natural world, where it comes from, and how it contributes to the health and
creativity of the complex systems on which our lives depend, including our
bodies and minds.
THE CREATIvITY OF NATURE
There is another source of uncertainty about natural processes. It has been called
the science of complexity. Here the problem is to understand how unexpected
properties arise from the interactions of the component elements of a complex
system, which can be physical, chemical, biological or social. These are called
emergent properties, because the system as a whole displays behaviour that is
unpredictable from an observation of the interactions of its component parts.
For instance, colonies of social insects such as bees, wasps, termites and
ants achieve remarkable feats of organization and co-ordinated action that go
so far beyond the capacities of the individuals that the colony is often described
as a superorganism, an emergent whole with properties of its own. Termites
construct their beautifully intricate colonial dwellings through processes that
look anything but organized. Yet out of the activities of termite construction
gangs that form and disperse in apparently chaotic patterns, there emerge co-
herently structured apartments, complete with air conditioning, that accommo-
date thousands of inhabitants.
Nature is full of creative surprises. The science of complexity explores,
by means of observation, mathematical modeling and computer simulation,
how this creativity of natural process can be understood even if it cannot be
predicted or controlled. However, there is an important feature of emergent
properties: they are always consistent with the properties of the components of
the system. Nature doesnt suddenly produce something out of nothing.
Western science has now arrived at a dramatic turning point. Scientifc
knowledge was intended to reveal the laws of nature which we could then use
for prediction and control of natural processes. This knowledge has given us a
remarkable range of very useful technologies, and this process will continue.
But what has been revealed by science itself is that much, probably most, of
nature cannot be predicted and controlled. Nature is full of deterministic chaos
and emergent properties.
Quantum mechanics, which studies the coming-into-being of elementary
forms (particles) in nature, is itself undergoing reinterpretation in terms of de-
terministic chaos and emergence. Together these give us a picture of nature
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living on the edge of chaos, which is where creativity arises. We have reached
the limits on the use of scientifc knowledge for the control of nature through
predictive technology. What has been revealed is why the complex systems on
which the quality of our lives depends, such as the weather, ecological systems,
communities, economies and health, are out of our control except in very lim-
ited ways. Furthermore, attempts to manipulate them for our advantage result
in problems: pollution, erosion, environmental disease, stress and ill-health in
individuals, communities and organizations, economic instability and insecu-
rity.
We have reached the limits of a science of quantities, prediction and con-
trol. How can we restore qualities to our lives? And what is the appropriate
relationship to nature now that we can understand why we can have only very
limited control over complex natural processes?
A SCIENCE OF QUALITIES
Within the tradition of Western science there was a remarkable individual
whose work provides a basis for the development of a holistic science of quali-
ties. This was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: poet, statesman and scientist. His
scientifc work is best remembered within biology, for it was Goethe who in-
troduced the term morphology as the systematic study of the structure of organ-
isms. His work on plant form is particularly recognized for the insight that the
visible parts of a fowering plant leaves, sepals, petals, nectaries, stamens
and carpels are all transformations of one another. This insight is typical of
Goethes dynamic approach to morphology, which he saw as essentially the
result of the continuous transformation of the growing, developing organism
from the seed to the adult form. He understood this process to be a coherent
unfolding of the intrinsic dynamic order, the inner necessity and truth that
is revealed in our experience of the distinct properties of a species: a lily or a
delphinium or a rose.
This experience includes qualities: the feel of the leaves and the petals, the
taste of the sap, the perfume and colour of the fower. These, together with de-
tailed examination of quantities and form such as number, shape and arrange-
ment of leaves, sepals and petals, give us an intuitive insight into the nature of
the whole organism.
Wholes have emergent properties. They are expressed in terms of quali-
ties as well as quantities. Health, for example, is an emergent property of living
organisms that cannot be defned in terms of a set of quantities such as blood
pressure, temperature, counts of different types of blood cell, etc. It is expressed
in a variety of properties such as posture, quality of complexion, tone of skin
and muscle, feeling good, alertness, and so on. Different traditions of therapy
use different criteria of health, but all holistic practitioners speak of ways of
reading the whole from examination of parts by assessment of quality as well
as quantity. The process of diagnosis and decisions on appropriate treatments
are often described in all of these traditions as an art as well as a science.
However, conventional scientists tend to balk at these diagnostic proce-
dures and question their legitimacy as real science. But is there any intrinsic
reason why there should not be a scientifc methodology that addresses aspects
of the world that are connected with qualities? Is there any reason why qualities
should not be reliable indicators of objective states?
Here is an example that indicates how we can proceed with this diff-
cult question such that the essential features of scientifc method are preserved
while extending the enquiry to a study of qualities. This comes from the work
of Franoise Wemelsfelder and her research colleagues at the Scottish Agri-
cultural College in Edinburgh. Her primary concern is with animal welfare,
particularly in the agricultural context. Her basic proposition is that humans
can accurately evaluate the quality of life experienced by an animal simply
by observing its behaviour. That is to say, an animals subjective experience is
transparent and can be reliably assessed by observation.
This is an assumption that most of us make intuitively, and on the whole
our experience bears this out. However, science has put such evaluations under
suspicion, claiming that qualities are subjective (i.e., not objectively real) states
which are projected onto animals, and that different individuals project differ-
ent feelings according to their own personal histories and experiences in life.
Hence qualitative evaluations are intrinsically unreliable and unscientifc. This
was Galileos view, and it is shared by most scientists. Wemelsfelder and her
team have shown how to examine this issue systematically, and have presented
evidence suggesting that it is wrong.
The group worked with pigs. Eighteen people with no particular experi-
ence of farm animals were shown videos of twenty different pigs interacting
with a person under standard conditions (a pen with straw and Wemelsfelder
present for them to interact with). Each person independently evaluated each
pigs behaviour, using any descriptors they felt expressed the quality of be-
haviour observed. Words used included sociable, inquisitive, interested,
playful, agitated, relaxed, and so on. This data was then used to see if
there was consensus between individuals in evaluating the qualitative condi-
tion revealed by the pigs through their behaviour.
The procedure, called Free Choice Profling, is routinely used in as-
sessing the quality of food or drink. In the pig study there was a high degree
of consistency in the evaluations of different individuals, though there were
also some individuals who did not comply with the general consensus in their
evaluations. This procedure preserves an essential aspect of scientifc method-
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ology: reliable knowledge depends upon consensus between individuals who
practice an agreed procedure of investigation. There are no authorities in sci-
ence. Every individual has the right to disagree with the consensus, and they
can change it by convincing others that their evaluation is more consistent with
the evidence available.
The pig study shows that peoples judgement on the qualities of subjective
experience in animals is reliable. They indicate that what we do all the time in
our lives in evaluating qualities is not arbitrary and idiosyncratic but is basi-
cally reliable. This ability is something that could be systematically cultivated
in science, balancing the emphasis on quantities and analysis. We thus arrive at
a science that includes qualities as well as quantities.
PARTICIPATION
Now that we have learned just how subtle nature is in its principles of creative
emergence, a reasonable strategy is to learn to be equally subtle in our engage-
ment with natural process. This implies that we cultivate not just our analyti-
cal intellects in understanding the intelligible aspects of nature, but also our
intuitions as the vehicles of understanding and participating in the emergent
creativity of natural processes, which includes our own creativity. Cultivating
the intuition means deliberately practicing methods of investigation that pay
attention to the feelings and images that arise in the course of systematic en-
counters with natural processes, as well as detailed examination of quantifable
characteristics, leading to an experience of wholes and their qualities.
The whole may be an organism whose distinctive properties we want to
understand so as to relate to it appropriately. As in the above example, a con-
sistent diagnosis emerges from a set of symptoms, from whose qualities arises
insight into appropriate treatment. By paying attention to feelings and intu-
ition, cultivating them as part of our way of acquiring reliable knowledge of
the world, we can learn to put sensitive participation in place of control and
manipulation.
The implications of a participatory world-view are profound. The control
paradigm of science arises from a separation of the controller from the con-
trolled, of subject from object, of human being from nature. This developed
out of the Cartesian separation of mind from matter. However, the restoration
of qualities as objectively-observable aspects of the world requires that we re-
think our defnition of matter.
We and other living beings have emerged through an evolutionary pro-
cess, which is generally considered to have started with dead matter. But then
where do qualities and experiences come from? If they are indeed emergent
properties of complex living beings, then there must be the potential in matter
for their emergence. Consistency requires that matter have some basic aspect
of feeling as part of its nature; otherwise we have the miracle of getting some-
thing from nothing. This will be a very diffcult lesson for science to come to
terms with, but it is necessary for some such revolution in our thinking to occur
if the Cartesian knot is to be unsnarled. At the same time it will be possible to
join together again the arts and the sciences in our educational systems, since
the cultivation of sensitivity to qualities for participatory living is not served
by their separation.
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TOwARDS AN IGNORANCE-BASED
wORLD vIEw
Wes Jackson
Yes, there is no mistake in the title. Wes Jackson, the well-known director of
the Land Institute, discusses here the conference the Institute organized with
the above title. They are clearly advocating for such an approach and openly
criticizing a scientifc view they consider superstitious.
Wes Jackson quotes our beloved Wendell Berry, who inspired the con-
ference. Berry defned the purpose in very clear terms: To worry about the
predominance of the supposition in a time of great technological power that
humans either know enough already or can learn enough soon enough to fore-
see and forestall any bad consequences. He said this supposition is typifed
by Selfsh Gene author Richard Dawkins assertion in an open letter to Prince
Charles: Our brains are big enough to see into the future and plot long-term
consequences. Wendell said, When we consider how often and how recently
our most advanced experts have been wrong about the future and how often the
future has shown up sooner than expected with bad news about our past, Mr.
Dawkins assessment of our ability to know is revealed as a superstition of the
most primitive sort.
Richard Dawkins is no doubt one of the most serious and recognized sci-
entists of our time. He has made important contributions to our collective stock
of knowledge. Can we disqualify his position as mere superstition, one of the
most primitive sort?. You will discuss in the course of your journey very dif-
ferent ways of knowing. Hopefully, you will learn to appreciate them. What is
what you need to keep in your own backpack? What kind of science, knowl-
edgeor ignorance?
AT THE LAND INSTITUTE SEVERAL OF US get a great deal of joy from looking for the
relatedness of the seemingly unrelated. Here is an example: In 1859 Charles
Darwins Origin of Species was published. The same year Colonel Drake drilled
the frst oil well in Pennsylvania. And John Brown was hanged at Harpers
Ferry. Now lets connect the dots.
Darwins idea of evolution through natural selection was sponsored by
coal. If it hadnt been for coal and the infrastructure that gave slack to this
country gentleman, the idea would have had to wait. Its refnement was spon-
sored further by coal, and by oil and natural gas. The important ideas in ecol-
ogy really took off after 1859.
What about John Brown? Coal again. The industrial North could afford
to be pretty selfrighteous about opposing slavery in the much more sun-pow-
ered plantation South. Before the fossil carbon era, slavery of some form or
another was widespread. The slack from energy-rich carbon pools is what has
made civilization possible. First it was agriculture and soil carbon, later the
cutting of forests. The king of Tyre struck a deal with Solomon for the cedars
of Lebanon to build the temple. The Greeks had already done in thousands of
acres of their trees.
By the time of Charlemagne the onslaught against Europes forests was
well under way. Carbon pools exploited. So it went, and so it goes today. Our
fossil fuel epoch some 250 years old is dependent on highly dense and
vast pools of coal, oil and natural gas. We tend to think that the ideas of human-
ity arise rather intrinsically. We seldom pay attention to their sponsorship, to
the slack made available by our species skating from one energy rich carbon
pool to another.
Why is this a prologue to what I have to say about ignorance? Simply this:
Before agriculture, long before the industrial revolution, we could afford to be
very ignorant about what supported us. We didnt need to know about nutrient
cycling and energy fow within the ecosystems of the ecosphere. We didnt
need to know that the earth goes around the sun and still dont.
Do we really need to know Einsteins equations? How much do we really
need Newtons calculus? A harder question. As creatures of the upper Paleo-
lithic we certainly didnt need Newtons calculus back then. We dont need to
know about plate tectonics now, though Im glad to know about plate tectonics.
In fact, Im glad to know whats come in from the Hubble telescope.
But as a consequence of scientifc and technological tampering, we have
created ignorance of things we now do need to know. This is part of what led to
a conference we held in 2004 called Toward an Ignorance-based Worldview.
The inspiration started with a letter Wendell Berry wrote to me in 1982. Here
are parts of it.
I want to try to complete the thought about randomness that I was work-
ing on when we talked the other day. The Hans Jenny paragraph that started me
off is the last on page 21 of The Soil Resource:
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Raindrops that pass in random fashion through an imaginary plain
above the forest canopy are intercepted by leaves and twigs and chan-
neled into distinctive vert space patterns of through-drip, crown-drip
and stem fow. The soil surface, as receiver, transmits the rain mes-
sage downward, but as the subsoils lack a power source to mold a
fow design, the water tends to leave the ecosystem as it entered it, in
randomized fashion.
My question is: Does random in this (or any) context describe a verifable
condition or a limit of perception?
My answer is: It describes a limit of perception. This is, of course, not a
scientists answer, but it may be that anybodys answer would be unscientifc.
My answer is based on the belief that pattern is verifable by limited informa-
tion, whereas the information required to verify randomness is unlimited. As
I think you said when we talked, what is perceived as random within a given
limit may be seen as a part of a pattern within a wider limit.
If this is so, then Dr. Jenny, for accuracys sake, should have said that rain-
water moves from mystery through pattern back into mystery.
To call the unknown random is to plant the fag by which to colonize
and exploit the known. (A result that our friend Dr. Jenny, of course, did not
propose and would not condone.)
To call the unknown by its right name, mystery, is to suggest that we
had better respect the possibility of a larger, unseen pattern that can be dam-
aged or destroyed and, with it, the smaller patterns. This respecting of mystery
obviously has something or other to do with religion, and we moderns have
defended ourselves against it by turning it over to religion specialists, who take
advantage of our indifference by claiming to know a lot about it.
What impresses me about it, however, is the insistent practicality implicit
in it. If we are up against mystery, then we dare act only on the most mod-
est assumptions. The modern scientifc program has held that we must act on
the basis of knowledge, which, because its effects are so manifestly large, we
have assumed to be ample. But if we are up against mystery, then knowledge
is relatively small, and the ancient program is the right one: Act on the basis
of ignorance. Acting on the basis of ignorance, paradoxically, requires one to
know things, remember things for instance, that failure is possible, that error
is possible, that second chances are desirable (so dont risk everything on the
frst chance), and so on.
What I think you and I and a few others are working on is a defnition of
agriculture as up against mystery and ignorance-based. I think we think that
this is its necessary defnition, just as I think we think that several kinds of ruin
are the necessary result of an agriculture defned as knowledge-based and up
against randomness. Such an agriculture conforms exactly to what the ancient
program, or programs, understood as evil or hubris. Both the Greeks and the
Hebrews told us to watch out for humans who assume that they make all the
patterns.
Howd you like to receive a letter like that? It took 22 years to digest it and
to fnally put together a conference. As you can imagine, when we announced
Toward an Ignorance-based Worldview, it was a source of great mirth.
To get ready for this conference, I sent out sort of an invitation. Heres
what it said: Imagine an ignorance-based science and technology in which
practitioners would be ever conscious that we are billions of times more igno-
rant than knowledgeable and always will be.
Now, if you know that knowledge is not adequate to run the world, what do
you do? What do you do if you recognize that you are up against ignorance?
You ask before launching a scientifc or technological venture: How many
people will be involved? At what level of culture? Will we be able to back
out? Scientists, technologists and policy-makers would be assiduous students
of exits.
I have spent a fair amount of my life studying exits, starting with class-
rooms. How are we going to get out of here in case something goes wrong?
Such students of exits would want to know not only how to exit, but also how
to not leave irrevocable damage.
Knowledge seeking would not stop, but would, as Wendell Berry has said,
force us to remember things, cause us to hope for second chances and provide
an incentive to keep the scale small. Acknowledging ignorance might be the
secular minds only way to humility.
Harvards Dick Levins, a sort of a mathematical modeler ecologist, wrote,
Structured ignorance is a prerequisite for knowledge. Also, Ignorance is not
passive. It requires energy to sustain it.
By embracing an ignorance-based worldview, at least we go with our long
suit. Knowledge and insight accumulate fastest in the minds of those who hold
an ignorance-based worldview.
Having studied the exits, their imaginations are less narrow. Darting eyes
have the potential to see more.
At the conference, Wendell said, Our purpose here is to worry about the
predominance of the supposition in a time of great technological power that
humans either know enough already or can learn enough soon enough to fore-
see and forestall any bad consequences. He said this supposition is typifed
by Selfsh Gene author Richard Dawkins assertion in an open letter to Prince
Charles: Our brains are big enough to see into the future and plot long-term
consequences.
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Wendell said, When we consider how often and how recently our most
advanced experts have been wrong about the future and how often the future
has shown up sooner than expected with bad news about our past, Mr. Dawk-
ins assessment of our ability to know is revealed as a superstition of the most
primitive sort.
Several people brought to the conference something Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld said at a news briefng: There are known knowns. There
are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That
is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also
unknown unknowns, the ones we dont know we dont know.
Believe it or not, some thought Mr. Rumsfeld was really right on.
Mario Rizzo, an author of The Economics of Time and Ignorance, said
Rumsfelds distinctions are important: I know that I do not know Rums-
felds home telephone number. On the other hand, I may arrive in a for-
eign country and be completely unaware that there are books or directories
available that will tell me where to find other English speakers. So as a
result of this uncertainty the poor tourist doesnt know where to search
for those English speakers or how long its worthwhile to keep searching.
You can see that soon hell be wondering how to find the restroom and
studying exits.
The conference then took up a Harvard Business Review piece called
Wanted: A Chief Ignorance Offcer. It said that ignorance management is
arguably a more important skill than knowledge management.
What interests me the most about ignorance is the kind that The Land In-
stitute is willing to embrace as we think about building an agriculture based on
the way a natural ecosystem works.
I think I can help you understand by reading from an Aldo Leopold essay
called The Last Stand. It describes a forest in the Alps that had produced
quality timber since the 1600s by selective harvesting. A contiguous forest of
the same kind of timber was clear-cut in the 1600s and never recovered, despite
intensive care. Heres what Leopold says:
Despite this rigid protection, the old slashing now produces only me-
diocre pine, while the unslashed portion grows the fnest cabinet oak
in the world; one of those oaks fetches a higher price than a whole
acre of the old slashings. On the old slashings the litter accumulates
without rotting, stumps and limbs disappear slowly, natural repro-
duction is slow. On the unslashed portion litter disappears as it falls,
stumps and limbs rot at once, natural reproduction is automatic.
Foresters attribute the inferior performance of the old slashing to its
depleted microfora, meaning that underground community of bacte-
ria, molds, fungi, insects and burrowing mammals which constitute
half the environment of a tree.
The existence of the term microfora implies, to the layman, that science knows
all the citizens of the underground community, and is able to push them around
at will. As a matter of fact, science knows little more than that the community
exists, and that it is important. In a few simple communities like alfalfa, science
knows how to add certain bacteria to make the plants grow. In a complex forest,
science knows only that it is best to let well enough alone.
What we are acknowledging here is the integration of natures life forms
over a long evolutionary history, and that the entropy law has forced the ef-
fciencies inherent to those natural integrities. We cant keep track of this. We
have not even named most of the fungi or bacteria. To plow this information-
rich world and simplify it and then treat it as though theres only phosphorus,
potassium, manganese, iron, calcium and so on, and then presume you can just
keep on, is acting as though knowledge is adequate to run that world.
We live in a very exciting time, but we need a different way of thinking.
That means we need a kind of house arrest on the destructively dominating
thoughts from the architects of the Enlightenment and beyond, to the Greek
and Hebrew dualists. For example, in the early 17th century Rene Descartes
Meditations on the First Philosophy said that we can remake the world in the
interests of humanity with no discussion of negative consequences. Imagine if
in the 21st century we could see the end of the idea that knowledge is adequate
to run the world. This would cause us to feature questions that go beyond the
available answers. We would learn patience, and we would enjoy a kind of
yeastiness for thought. I think this also would do the absolutely necessary job
of driving knowledge out of its categories.
I have an example. Several years ago in the New York Review of Books,
Harvard zoologist Dick Lewinton told about how he and Carl Sagan visited a
church related college to take the evolutionist view in debate with a creationist.
The creationist had a doctorate in zoology from the University of Texas not
a creationist department, but he was teaching in the church school. Afterward
they asked for a show of hands, and found that the creationist won overwhelm-
ingly. Lewinton wrote that in the cab going back to the airport, Sagan said this
was obviously a problem of education. Lewinton said it was about cultural and
regional history. Then he told how Sagan spent his life trying to change things
through education.
Ive been around a fair number of universities, and Ive witnessed friends
and the children of friends from creationist homes go to college and graduate,
some of them cum laude, and theyre still creationists. Cultural and regional
history overrode education.
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I give this example because here is a question that goes beyond the avail-
able answers: Why? If cultural and regional history overrides educational pow-
er, what do we do? If education isnt good enough, what do educators do?
Well, maybe its time to start with a certain amount of humility and say
were fundamentally ignorant about the way minds change. Acknowledging
that we are fundamentally ignorant, we now can ask a question that goes be-
yond the available answers, and thats going to force knowledge out of its cat-
egories.
We would be fundamentally respectful of our original relationship with
the universe. There might even be a more joyful participation in our engage-
ment with the world.
THE OTHERNESS
OF THE OTHER
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ASSEMBLY LINE
B. Traven
B. Traven is the pseudonym of a writer whose origins and true identity was a
mystery during his life, and has remained so after his death. He was a secretive
character, never interested in publicity and reticent to reveal anything about
his origins and story. Many hypotheses have been formulated about him: that
he was born in Germany and was forced to leave the country after an anarchist
revolt, that he played an important role in the Soviet Socialist Revolution, that
he was an archeologist in the Maya region, that he was related to the presi-
dential family of MexicoOne of the very few things known for certain is that
he lived in Mexico since 1923 until his death in 1969 and that most of what he
wrote takes place in Mexico.
His efforts of maintaining his identity unveiled were part of his mystery.
However, he could not keep his novels and stories from revealing something about
him: these emerge with no doubts from a deep, personal and intense experience
of the places, ambience, corners and soils of Mexico, the Mexicans and their way
of feeling and living. He was thus a person who learned how to feel Mexico, and
fell in love with it, regardless of his origins or personal story.
In his stories, Traven is not only an observer; while describing the contexts
and situations of the stories he takes sides. He overtly takes the side of the Mx-
ico Profundo, of deep Mexico, the Mexico of the social majorities sharing with
the Indigenous people a non-western eye. He is perhaps more popular outside
Mexico than in the country to which he devoted most of his life and writings.
Paradoxically, instead of the foreign (Western) view of many outstanding
Mexican writers, Traven, an outsider, seems to write from within, from the depth
of the cultures which captured his attention and creative talent. Assembly Line
takes place in a small village in Oaxaca. Filled with humor and irony, it tells the
story of the encounter between an American tourist and an Indian peasant who
weaves little baskets and sells them in the local market. This encounter is a satire
of the belief in the American/Western duty to share their blessings (imposing the
correct way of doing things) with all the poor, underdeveloped of the world.
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This amazing short story illustrates here the often forgotten cultural dif-
ferences and contradictions emerging in the real world under the big emblems
of development and globalization.
MR. E. L. WINTHROP OF NEW YORK was on vacation in the Republic of Mexico.
It wasnt long before he realized that this strange and really wild country had
not yet been fully and satisfactorily explored by Rotarians and Lions, who are
forever conscious of their glorious mission on earth. Therefore, he considered it
his duty as a good American citizen to do his part in correcting this oversight.
In search for opportunities to indulge in his new avocation, he left the
beaten track and ventured into regions not especially mentioned, and hence
not recommended, by travel agents to foreign tourists. So it happened that one
day he found himself in a little, quaint Indian village somewhere in the State
of Oaxaca.
Walking along the dusty main street of this pueblecito, which knew noth-
ing of pavements, drainage, plumbing, or of any means of artifcial light save
candles or pine splinters, he met with an Indian squatting on the earthen-foor
front porch of a palm hut, a so-called jacalito. The Indian was busy making
little baskets from bast and from all kinds of fbers gathered by him in the im-
mense tropical bush which surrounded the village on all sides. The material
used had not only been well prepared for its purpose but was also richly colored
with dyes that the basketmaker himself extracted from various native plants,
barks, roots and from certain insects by a process known only to him and the
members of his family.
His principal business, however, was not producing baskets. He was a
peasant who lived on what the small property he possessed less than ffteen
acres of not too fertile soil would yield, after much sweat and labor and after
constantly worrying over the most wanted and best suited distribution of rain,
sunshine, and wind and the changing balance of birds and insects benefcial
or harmful to his crops. Baskets he made when there was nothing else for him
to do in the felds, because he was unable to dawdle. After all, the sale of his
baskets, though to a rather limited degree only, added to the small income he
received from his little farm.
In spite of being by profession just a plain peasant, it was clearly seen
from the small baskets he made that at heart he was an artist, a true and accom-
plished artist. Each basket looked as if covered all over with the most beautiful
sometimes fantastic ornaments, fowers, butterfies, birds, squirrels, antelope,
tigers, and a score of other animals of the wilds. Yet, the most amazing thing
was that these decorations, all of them symphonies of color, were not painted
on the baskets but were instead actually part of the baskets themselves. Bast
and fbers dyed in dozens of different colors were so cleverly one must actu-
ally say intrinsically interwoven that those attractive designs appeared on
the inner part of the basket as well as on the outside. Not by painting but by
weaving were those highly artistic effects achieved. This performance he ac-
complished without ever looking at any sketch or pattern. While working on a
basket these designs came to light as if by magic, and as long as a basket was
not entirely fnished one could perceive what in this case or that the decoration
would be like.
People in the market town who bought these baskets would use them for
sewing baskets or to decorate tables with or window sills, or to hold little things
to keep them from lying around. Women put their jewelry in them or fowers or
little dolls. There were in fact a hundred and two ways they might serve certain
purposes in a household or in a ladys own room.
Whenever the Indian had fnished about twenty of the baskets he took
them to town on market day. Sometimes he would already be on his way short-
ly after midnight because he owned only a burro to ride on, and if the burro had
gone astray the day before, as happened frequently, he would have to walk the
whole way to town and back again. At the market he had to pay twenty centa-
vos in taxes to sell his wares. Each basket cost him between twenty and thirty
hours of constant work, not counting the time spent gathering bast and fbers,
preparing them, making dyes and coloring the bast. All this meant extra time
and work. The price he asked for each basket was ffty centavos, the equivalent
of about four cents. It seldom happened, however, that a buyer paid outright
the full ffty centavos asked or four reales as the Indian called that money.
The prospective buyer started bargaining, telling the Indian that he ought to be
ashamed to ask such a sinful price. Why, the whole dirty thing is nothing but
ordinary petate straw which you fnd in heaps wherever you may look for it; the
jungle is packed full of it, the buyer would argue. Such a little basket, whats
it good for anyhow? If I paid you, you thief, ten centavitos for it you should be
grateful and kiss my hand. Well, its your lucky day, Ill be generous this time,
Ill pay you twenty, yet not one green centavo more. Take it or run along. So
he sold fnally for twenty-fve centavos, but then the buyer would say, Now,
what do you think of that? Ive got only twenty centavos change on me. What
can we do about that? If you can change me a twenty-peso bill, all right, you
shall have your twenty-fve ferros. Of course, the Indian could not change a
twenty-peso bill and so the basket went for twenty centavos.
He had little if any knowledge of the outside world or he would have
known that what happened to him was happening every hour of every day to
every artist all over the world. That knowledge would perhaps have made him
very proud, because he would have realized that he belonged to the little army
which is the salt of the earth and which keeps culture, urbanity and beauty for
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their own sake from passing away. Often it was not possible for him to sell all
the baskets he had brought to market, for people here as elsewhere in the world
preferred things made by the millions and each so much like the other that you
were unable, even with the help of a magnifying glass, to tell which was which
and where was the difference between two of the same kind.
Yet he, this craftsman, had in his life made several hundreds of those ex-
quisite baskets, but so far no two of them had he ever turned out alike in design.
Each was an individual piece of art and as different from the other as was a
Murillo from a Velsquez.
Naturally he did not want to take those baskets which he could not sell at
the market place home with him again if he could help it. In such a case he went
peddling his products from door to door where he was treated partly as a beggar
and partly as a vagrant apparently looking for an opportunity to steal, and he
frequently had to swallow all sorts of insults and nasty remarks.
Then, after a long run, perhaps a woman would fnally stop him, take
one of the baskets and offer him ten centavos, which price through talks and
talks would perhaps go up to ffteen or even to twenty. Nevertheless, in many
instances he would actually get no more than just ten centavos, and the buyer,
usually a woman, would grasp that little marvel and right before his eyes throw
it carelessly upon the nearest table as if to say, Well, I take that piece of non-
sense only for charitys sake. I know my money is wasted. But then, after all,
Im a Christian and I cant see a poor Indian die of hunger since he has come
such a long way from his village. This would remind her of something bet-
ter and she would hold him and say, Where are you at home anyway, Indito?
Whats your pueblo? So, from Huehuetonoc? Now, listen here, Indito, cant
you bring me next Saturday two or three turkeys from Huehuetonoc? But they
must be heavy and fat and very, very cheap or I wont even touch them. If I
wish to pay the regular price I dont need you to bring them. Understand? Hop
along, now, Indito. The Indian squatted on the earthen foor in the prtico of
his hut, attended to his work and showed no special interest in the curiosity of
Mr. Winthrop watching him. He acted almost as if he ignored the presence of
the American altogether. How much for that little basket, friend? Mr. Win-
throp asked when he felt that he at least had to say something as not to appear
idiotic. Fifty centavitos, patroncito, my good little lordy, four reales, the In-
dian answered politely. All right, sold, Mr. Winthrop blurted out in a tone
and with a wide gesture as if he had bought a whole railroad. And examining
his buy he added, I know already who Ill give that pretty little thing to. Shell
kiss me for it, sure. Wonder what shell use it for? He had expected to hear a
price of three or even four pesos. The moment he realized that he had judged
the value six times too high, he saw right away what great business possibili-
ties this miserable Indian village might offer to a dynamic promoter as himself.
Without further delay he started exploring those possibilities. Suppose, my
good friend, I buy ten of these little baskets of yours which, as I might as well
admit right here and now, have practically no real use whatsoever. Well, as I
was saying, if I buy ten, how much would you then charge me a piece? The
Indian hesitated for a few seconds as if making calculations. Finally he said,
If you buy ten I can let you have them for forty-fve centavos each, gentle-
man. All right, amigo. And now, lets suppose I buy from you straight away
one hundred of these absolutely useless baskets, how much will cost me each?
The Indian, never fully looking up to the American standing before him and
hardly taking his eyes off his work, said politely and without the slightest trace
of enthusiasm in his voice, In such a case I might not be quite unwilling to sell
each for forty centavitos. Mr. Winthrop bought sixteen baskets, which was all
the Indian had in stock.
After three weeks stay in the Republic, Mr. Winthrop was convinced that
he knew this country perfectly, that he had seen everything and knew all about
the inhabitants, their character and their way of life, and that there was nothing
left for him to explore. So he returned to good old Nooyorg and felt happy to be
once more in a civilised country, as he expressed it to himself. One day going
out for lunch he passed a confectioners and, looking at the display in the win-
dow, he suddenly remembered the little baskets he had bought in that faraway
Indian village. He hurried home and took all the baskets he still had left to one
of the best-known candy-makers in the city.
I can offer you here, Mr. Winthrop said to the confectioner, one of the
most artistic and at the same time the most original of boxes, if you wish to
call them that. These little baskets would be just right for the most expensive
chocolates meant for elegant and high-priced gifts. Just have a good look at
them, Sir, and let me listen. The confectioner examined the baskets and found
them extraordinarily well suited for a certain fne in his business. Never before
had there been anything like them for originality, prettiness and good taste. He,
however, avoided most carefully showing any sign of enthusiasm, for which
there would be time enough once he knew the price and whether he could get
a whole load exclusively.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, Well, I dont know. If you asked me
Id say it isnt quite what Im after. However, we might give it a try. It depends,
of course, on the price. In our business the package mustnt cost more than
whats in it. Do I hear an offer? Mr. Winthrop asked.
Why dont you tell me in round fgures how much you want for them?
Im not good in guessing. Well, Ill tell you, Mr. Kemple: since Im the smart
guy who discovered these baskets and since Im the only Jack who knows
where to lay his hands on more, Im selling to the highest bidder, on an exclu-
sive basis, of course. Im positive you can see it my way, Mr. Kemple. Quite
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so, and may the best man win, the confectioner said. Ill talk the matter over
with my partners. See me tomorrow same time, please, and Ill let you know
how far we might be willing to go. Next day when both gentlemen met again
Mr. Kemple said: Now, to be frank with you, I know art on seeing it, no get-
ting around that. And these baskets are little works of art, they surely are. How-
ever, we are no art dealers, you realize that of course. Weve no other use for
these pretty little things except as fancy packing for our French pralines made
by us. We cant pay for them what we might pay considering them pieces of art.
After all to us theyre only wrappings.
Fine wrappings, perhaps, but nevertheless wrappings. Youll see it our
way I hope, Mr. oh yes, Mr. Winthrop. So, here is our offer, take it or leave it: a
dollar and a quarter a piece and not one cent more. Mr. Winthrop made a ges-
ture as if he had been struck over the head. The confectioner, misunderstanding
this involuntary gesture of Mr. Winthrop, added quickly, All right, all right,
no reason to get excited, no reason at all. Perhaps we can do a trife better. Lets
say one-ffty. Make it one-seventy-fve, Mr. Winthrop snapped, swallowing
his breath while wiping his forehead.
Sold. One-seventy-fve a piece free at port of New York. We pay the
customs and you pay the shipping. Right? Sold, Mr. Winthrop said also
and the deal was closed. There is, of course, one condition, the confectioner
explained just when Mr. Winthrop was to leave. One or two hundred wont
do for us. It wouldnt pay the trouble and the advertising. I wont consider less
than ten thousand, or one thousand dozens if that sounds better in your ears.
And they must come in no less than twelve different patterns well assorted.
How about that? I can make it sixty different patterns or designs. So much
the better. And youre sure you can deliver ten thousand lets say early Octo-
ber? Absolutely, Mr. Winthrop avowed and signed the contract.
Practically all the way back to Mexico, Mr. Winthrop had a notebook in
his left hand and a pencil in his right and he was writing fgures, long rows of
them, to fnd out exactly how much richer he would be when this business had
been put through.
Now, lets sum up the whole goddamn thing, he muttered to himself.
Damn it, where is that cursed pencil again? I had it right between my fngers.
Ah, there it is. Ten thousand he ordered. Well, well, there we got a clean-cut
proft of ffteen thousand four hundred and forty genuine dollars. Sweet smack-
ers. Fifteen grand right into papas pocket. Come to think of it, that Repub-
lic isnt so backward after all. Buenas tardes, mi amigo, how are you? he
greeted the Indian whom he found squatting in the porch of his jacalito as if
he had never moved from his place since Mr. Winthrop had left for New York.
The Indian rose, took off his hat, bowed politely and said in his soft voice,
Be welcome, patroncito. Thank you, I feel fne, thank you. Muy buenas tar-
des. This house and all I have is at your kind disposal. He bowed once more,
moved his right hand in a gesture of greeting and sat down again. But he ex-
cused himself for doing so by saying, Perdoneme, patroncito, I have to take
advantage of the daylight, soon it will be night. Ive got big business for you,
my friend, Mr. Winthrop began.
Good to hear that, seor. Mr. Winthrop said to himself, Now, hell
jump up and go wild when he learns what Ive got for him. And aloud he said:
Do you think you can make me one thousand of these little baskets? Why
not, patroncito? If I can make sixteen, I can make one thousand also. Thats
right, my good man. Can you also make fve thousand? Of course, seor. I
can make fve thousand if I can make one thousand. Good. Now, if I should
ask you to make me ten thousand, what would you say? And what would be
the price of each? You can make ten thousand, cant you? Of course, I can,
seor. I can make as many as you wish. You see, I am an expert in this sort
of work. No one else in the whole state can make them the way I do. Thats
what I thought and thats exactly why I came to you. Thank you for the
honor, patroncito. Suppose I order you to make me ten thousand of these
baskets, how much time do you think you would need to deliver them? The
Indian, without interrupting his work, cocked his head to one side and then to
the other as if he were counting the days or weeks it would cost him to make
all these baskets.
After a few minutes he said in a slow voice, It will take a good long time
to make so many baskets, patroncito. You see, the bast and the fbers must
be very dry before they can be used properly. Then all during the time they
are slowly drying, they must be worked and handled in a very special way so
that while drying they wont lose their softness and their fexibility and their
natural brilliance. Even when dry they must look fresh. They must never lose
their natural properties or they will look just as lifeless and dull as straw. Then
while they are drying up I got to get the plants and roots and barks and insects
from which I brew the dyes. That takes much time also, believe me. The plants
must be gathered when the moon is just right or they wont give the right color.
The insects I pick from the plants must also be gathered at the right time and
under the right conditions or else they produce no rich colors and are just like
dust. But, of course, jefecito, I can make as many of these canastitas as you
wish, even as many as three dozens if you want them. Only give me time.
Three dozens? Three dozens? Mr. Winthrop yelled, and threw up both arms
in desperation. Three dozens! he repeated as if he had to say it many times
in his own voice so as to understand the real meaning of it, because for a while
he thought that he was dreaming. He had expected the Indian to go crazy on
hearing that he was to sell ten thousand of his baskets without having to peddle
them from door to door and be treated like a dog with a skin disease.
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So the American took up the question of price again, by which he hoped
to activate the Indians ambition. You told me that if I take one hundred
baskets you will let me have them for forty centavos a piece. Is that right,
my friend? Quite right, jefecito. Now, Mr. Winthrop took a deep breath,
now, then, if I ask you to make me one thousand, that is, ten times one hun-
dred baskets, how much will they cost me, each basket? That fgure was
too high for the Indian to grasp. He became slightly confused and for the
frst time since Mr. Winthrop had arrived he interrupted his work and tried
to think it out. Several times he shook his head and looked vaguely around
as if for help. Finally he said, Excuse me, jefecito, little chief, that is by far
too much for me to count. Tomorrow, if you will do me the honor, come and
see me again and I think I shall have my answer ready for you, patroncito.
When on the next morning Mr. Winthrop came to the hut he found the Indian
as usual squatting on the foor under the overhanging palm roof working at
his baskets.
Have you got the price for ten thousand? he asked the Indian the very
moment he saw him, without taking the trouble to say Good Morning! S
patroncito, I have the price ready. You may believe me when I say it has cost
me much labor and worry to fnd out the exact price, because, you see, I do not
wish to cheat you out of your honest money. Skip that, amigo. Come out with
the salad. Whats the, price? Mr. Winthrop asked nervously. The price is well
calculated now without any mistake on my side. If I got to make one thousand
canastitas each will be three pesos. If I must make fve thousand, each will
cost nine pesos. And if I have to make ten thousand, in such a case I cant make
them for less than ffteen pesos each. Immediately he returned to his work as
if he were afraid of losing too much time with such idle talk.
Mr. Winthrop thought that perhaps it was his faulty knowledge of this
foreign language that had played a trick on him. Did I hear you say ffteen
pesos if I eventually would buy ten thousand? Thats exactly and without
any mistake what Ive said, patroncito, the Indian answered in his soft courte-
ous voice. But now, see here, my good man, you cant do this to me. Im your
friend and I want to help you get on your feet. Yes, patroncito, I know this
and I dont doubt any of your words. Now, lets be patient and talk this over
quietly as man to man. Didnt you tell me that if I would buy one hundred you
would sell each for forty centavos? Si, jefecito, thats what I said. If you buy
one hundred you can have them for forty centavos piece, provided that I have
one hundred, which I dont. Yes, yes, I see that. Mr. Winthrop felt as if he
would go insane any minute now. Yes, so you said. Only what I cant compre-
hend is why you cannot sell at the same price if you make me ten thousand. I
certainly dont wish to chisel on the price. I am not that kind. Only, well, lets
see now, if you can sell for forty centavos all, be it for twenty or ffty or a hun-
dred, I cant quite get the idea why the price has to jump that high if I buy more
than a hundred. Bueno, patroncito, what is there so diffcult to understand?
Its all very simple. One thousand canastitas me a hundred times more work
than a dozen. Ten thousand cost me so much time and labor that I could never
fnish them, not even in a hundred years. For a thousand canastitas need more
bast than for a hundred, and I need more little red beetles and more plants and
roots and bark for the dyes. It isnt that you just can walk into the bush and
pick all the things you need at your hearts desire. One root with the true violet
blue may cost me four or fve days until I can fnd one in the jungle. And have
you thought how much time it costs and how much hard work to prepare the
bast and fbers? What is more, if I must make so many baskets, who then will
look after my corn and my beans and my goats and chase for me occasionally
a rabbit for meat on Sunday? If I have no corn, then I have no tortillas eat, and
if I grow no beans, where do I get my frijoles? But since youll get so much
money from me for your baskets you can buy all the corn and beans in the
world and more than you need. Thats what you think, seorito, little lordy.
But you see, it is only the corn I grow myself that I am sure of. Of the corn
which others may or not grow, I cannot be sure to feast upon. Havent you
got some relatives here in this village who might help you to make baskets for
me? Mr. Winthrop asked hopefully.
Practically the whole village is related to me somehow or other. Fact is,
I got lots of close relatives here in this place. Why then cant they cultivate
your felds and look after your goats while you make baskets for me? Not only
this, they might gather for you the fbers and the colors in the bush and lend you
a hand here and there in preparing the material you need for the baskets.
They might, patroncito, yes, they might. Possible. But then you see who
would take care of their felds and cattle if they work for me? And if they help
me with the baskets it turns out the same. No one would any longer work his
felds properly. In such a case corn and beans would get up so high in price
that none of us could buy any and we all would starve to death. Besides, as
the price of everything would rise and rise higher still how could I make
baskets at forty centavos a piece? A pinch of salt or one green chili would set
me back more than Id collect for one single basket. Now youll understand,
highly estimated caballero and jefecito, why I cant make the baskets any
cheaper than ffteen pesos each if I got to make that many. Mr. Winthrop
was hard-boiled, no wonder considering the city he came from. He refused to
give up the more than ffteen thousand dollars which at that moment seemed
to slip through his fngers like nothing. Being really desperate now, he talk-
ed and bargained with the Indian for almost two full hours, trying to make
him understand how rich he, the Indian, would become if he would take this
greatest opportunity of his life.
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The Indian never ceased working on his baskets while he explained his
points of view. You know, my good man, Mr. Winthrop said, such a won-
derful chance might never again knock on your door, do you realize that? Let
me explain to you in ice-cold fgures what fortune you might miss if you leave
me fat on this deal. He tore out leaf after leaf from his notebook, covered
each with fgures and still more fgures, and while doing so told the peasant he
would be the richest man in the whole district.
The Indian without answering watched with a genuine expression of awe
as Mr. Winthrop wrote down these long fgures, executing complicated multi-
plications and divisions and subtractions so rapidly that it seemed to him the
greatest miracle he had ever seen.
The American, noting this growing interest in the Indian, misjudged the
real signifcance of it There you are, my friend, he said. Thats exactly how
rich youre going to be. Youll have a bankroll of exactly four thousand pesos.
And to show you that Im a real friend of yours, Ill throw in a bonus. Ill make
it a round fve thousand pesos, and all in silver. The Indian, however, had not
for one moment thought of four thousand pesos. Such an amount of money had
no meaning to him. He had been interested solely in Mr. Winthrops ability to
write fgures so rapidly.
So, what do you say now? Is it a deal or is it? Say yes and youll get your
advance this very minute. As I have explained before, patroncito, the price
is ffteen pesos each. But, my good man, Mr. Winthrop shouted at the poor
Indian in utter despair, where have you been all this time? On the moon or
where? You are still at the same price as before. Yes, I know that, jefecito, my
little chief, the Indian answered, entirely unconcerned. It must be the same
price because I cannot make any other one. Besides, seor, theres still another
thing which perhaps you dont know. You see, my good lordy and caballero,
Ive to make these canastitas my own way and with my song in them and with
bits of my soul woven into them. If I were to make them in great numbers there
would no longer be my soul in each, or my songs. Each would look like the
other with no difference whatever and such a thing would slowly eat up my
heart. Each has to be another song which I hear in the morning when the sun
rises and when the birds begin to chirp and the butterfies come and sit down on
my baskets so that I may see a new beauty, because, you see, the butterfies like
my baskets and the pretty colors on them, thats why they come and sit down,
and I can make my canastitas after them. And now, seor jefecito, if you will
kindly excuse me, I have wasted much time already, although it was a pleasure
and a great honor to hear the talk of such a distinguished caballero like you.
But Im afraid Ive to attend to my work now, for day after tomorrow is market
day in town and I got to take my baskets there. Thank you, seor, for your visit.
Adios. And in this way it happened that American garbage cans escaped the
fate of being turned into receptacles for empty, torn, and crumpled little mul-
ticolored canastitas into which an Indian of Mexico had woven dreams of his
soul, throbs of his heart: his unsung poems.
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DwELLING
Ivan Illich
Ivan Illich, who died in 2002, was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th
century. Perhaps the most radical. And the main source of inspiration for many
people born in the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s
There is no important library, in the whole world, without books by Ivan
Illich. But they are usually classifed in the wrong place. He is fled as one
prominent member of a specifc school of thinking in felds of knowledge that he
explicitly challenged and boycotted. Reclaimed by several professional bodies,
he could not ft in any. He was himself.
Forty years ago his books scandalized the world. To argue, for example,
like he did in the frst sentence of Medical Nemesis, The medical establish-
ment has become a major threat to health, was perceived in the early 1970s
as a crazy statement. What he did in that book was only to interpret in his
own way, with his peculiar genius, information that since then has become
overwhelming. Today the sentence is almost common place.
The scandal made it diffcult to perceive his central thesis, which very
few dared to see. His radical critique of all modern institutions, reveal-
ing their counterproductivity: the fact that they produce the opposite of
what they are supposed to do, became unbearable for those deriving from
them dignity and income and for those raised within them, educated in the
conviction that they represent progress and civilization, as well as an ad-
vanced, superior way of life. It is still very diffcult to fully share his ideas
and even more diffcult to derive from them the pertinent lessons and live
accordingly. It is not easy to accept that education produces ignorance,
that the pursuit of health is a major pathogen or that quick transportation
paralyzes. These statements sound counterintuitive for people educated in
the opposite conviction. But even if those statements are acknowledged, be-
fore overwhelming evidence, what to do with them? How to escape educa-
tion and health? How to challenge the professional control in every aspect
of our lives?
No one has been able to refute his arguments, but they are usually
rejected as exaggerated and impractical. Before his criticisms, both schol-
ars and ordinary people prefer to attach themselves to the illusion that all
those institutions should be reformed, in order to address the deficiencies
he revealed with impressive clarity. As he often warned, however, reforms
only increase and aggravate the counterproductivity of all those institu-
tions.
In the introduction to one of his books, Alternativas, Erich Fromm
pertinently described his attitude: radicalism, he wrote, am not mainly
alluding to a certain set of ideas, but rather to an attitude, a way of see-
ing Everything should be doubted, particularly those ideological con-
structs shared by everyone which have become unquestionable axioms of
common sense To doubt radically is to begin to be aware that the Em-
peror has no clothes and his magnificent outfit is nothing but the product
of our fantasyThe importance of his thinking lies in the fact that it has a
liberating impact on the mind, because it reveals entirely new possibilities;
it breathes new life to the reader because it opens the door which leads
out of the prison of ideas that has become routine, sterile, preconceived.
Through the creative impact they communicate, his writing may stimulate
the energy and hope for a new beginning.
Illich writings lucidly and creatively articulate the attitudes of mil-
lions of people, around the world, currently reacting against the insti-
tutions he exposed to radical criticism. He shares with Wendell Berry a
prophetic capacity: the ability to explore the present and observe in it
trends that anticipate the future. 40 years ago he took for granted certain
technological evolutions that today are common and in that time were not
even conceived as theoretical possibilities.
In the same way that Gandhis practices and ideas are not so much
among his professional followers as in the millions that perhaps ignore his
name or only know what the film revealed for them, Illichs ideas are now
incarnated in millions of ordinary people who have never read his books.
Someone, perhaps, shared his ideas with them. Or perhaps more probable,
he could foresee what the discontents would do when the real character of
modern institutions became entirely evident and, one by one, started to fall
apart. In the time of the crisis, when some of the most sacred cows adored
in the modern setting are exposed to ridicule and recognized for what they
really are, it is good time to read Illich again, to bring him to the current
debate.
After questioning most revered institutions education, medicine,
transportation, economic structure and employment- he argued that man,
to live creatively, must reassert his autonomy. With stunning clarity, he
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urged modern man to re-think the basic tenets of his moral and ethical
existence. Illich is thus a good guide to begin rethinking globalization
among other things, and then go beyond.
Dwelling is an address to the Royal Institute of British Architects,
pronounced in York, U.K. in July 1984. It opens a debate about two radi-
cally different activities: housing and dwelling.
TO DWELL IS HUMAN. beast have nests, cattle have stables, carriages ft into sheds,
and there are garages for automobiles. Only humans can dwell. To dwell is an
art, every spider is born with a compulsion to weave a web particular to its
kind. Spiders, like all animals, are programmed by their genes. The human is
the only animal who is an artist, and the art of dwelling is part of the art of liv-
ing. A house is neither nest nor garage.
Most languages use living in the sense of dwelling. To put the question,
where do you live? is to ask for the place where your daily existence gives
shape to the world. Just tell me how you dwell and I will tell you who you are.
This equation of dwelling and living goes back to times when the world was
still habitable and humans were in-habitants. To dwell then meant to inhabit
ones own traces, to let daily life write the webs and knots of ones biography
into the landscape. This writing could be etched into stone by successive gen-
erations or sketched anew for each rainy season with a few reeds and leaves.
Mans habitable traces were as ephemeral as their inhabitants. Dwellings were
never completed before occupancy, in contrast to the contemporary commod-
ity, which decays from the day it is ready to use. A tent had to be mended daily,
it had to be put up, stretched, pulled down. A homestead waxes and wanes with
the state of its members: you can often discern from a distant slope whether the
children are married, whether the old ones have already died. Building goes on
from lifetime to lifetime; rituals mark its prominent stages: generations might
have passed since the laying of the cornerstone until the cutting of the rafters.
Nor is the quarter of a town ever completed; right into the eighteenth century
the residents of popular quarters defended their own art of dwelling by rioting
against the improvements that architects tried to foist on them. Dwelling is part
of that moral economy which E.P. Thompson has so well described. It suc-
cumbed to the kings avenues, which in the name of order, cleanliness, security
and decorum tore up the neighborhoods. It succumbed to the police which in
the nineteenth century named streets and numbered houses. It succumbed to the
professionals who introduced sewers and controls. It was almost extinguished
by welfare, which exalted the right of each citizen to his own garage and TV.
Dwelling is an activity that lies beyond the reach of the architect not only
because it is a popular art; not only because it goes on and on in waves that
escape his control; not only because it is of a tender complexity outside of the
horizon of mere biologists and system analysts; but above all because no two
communities dwell alike. Habit and habitat say almost the same. Each vernacu-
lar architecture (to use the anthropologists term) is as unique as vernacular
speech. The art of living in its entirety that is, the art of loving and dreaming,
of suffering and dying makes each lifestyle unique. And therefore this art is
much too complex to be taught by the methods of a Comenius or Pestalozzi, by
a schoolmaster or by TV. It is an art which can only be picked up. Each person
becomes a vernacular builder and a vernacular speaker by growing up, by mov-
ing from one initiation to the next in becoming either a male or a female in-
habitant. Therefore the Cartesian, three-dimensional, homogeneous space into
which the architect builds, and the vernacular space which dwelling brings into
existence, constitutes different classes of space. Architects can do nothing but
build. Vernacular dwellers generate the axioms of the spaces they inhabit.
The contemporary consumer of residence space lives topologically in an-
other world. The coordinates of residential space within which he locates him-
self are the only world of which he has had experience. He fnds it impossible
to believe that the cattle-herding Peul and the cliff-hanging Dogon and the
fshing Songhai and the tilling Bobo live in heterogeneous spaces that ft into
the very same landscape, as seen by most ecologists. For the modern resident
a mile is a mile, and after each mile comes another, because the world has no
center. For the dweller the center of the world is the place where he lives, and
ten miles up the river might be much closer than one mile into the desert. Ac-
cording to many anthropologists, the dwellers culture distorts his vision. In
fact, it determines the characteristics of the space he inhabits.
The resident has lost much of his power to dwell. The necessity to sleep
under a roof for him has been transmogrifed into a culturally defned need. The
liberty to dwell has become insignifcant for him. He needs the right to claim
a certain number of square feet in built-up space. He treasures entitlements to
deliveries and the skills to use them. The art of living for him is forfeited: he
has no need for the art of dwelling because he needs an apartment; just as he
has no need for the art of suffering because he counts on medical assistance and
has probably never thought about the art of dying.
The resident lives in a world that has been made. He can no more beat
his path on the highway than he can make a hole in a wall. He goes through
life without leaving a trace. The marks he leaves are considered dents wear
and tear. What he does leave behind him will be removed as garbage. From
commons for dwelling the environment has been redefned as a resource for
the production of garages for people, commodities and cars. Housing provides
cubicles in which residents are housed. Such housing is planned, built and
equipped for them. To be allowed to dwell minimally in ones own housing
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constitutes a special privilege: only the rich may move a door or drive a nail
into a wall. Thus the vernacular space of dwelling is replaced by the homog-
enous space of the garage. Settlements look the same from Taiwan to Ohio and
from Lima to Peking... Everywhere you fnd the same garage for the human
shelves to store the workforce overnight, handy for the means of its transpor-
tation. Inhabitants dwelling in spaces they fashion have been replaced by resi-
dents sheltered in buildings produced for them, duly registered as consumers of
housing protected by the Tenants or the Credit Receivers Act.
To be put up in most societies is a sign of misery: the orphan is taken in,
the pilgrim put up, the condemned man imprisoned, the slave locked up over-
night and the soldier but only since the eighteenth century billeted in bar-
racks. Before that even the army had to provide its own dwelling by camping.
Industrial society is the only one which attempts to make every citizen into a
resident who must be sheltered and thus is absolved from the duty of that social
and communitary activity that I call dwelling. Those who insist now on their
liberty to dwell on their own are either very well off or treated as deviants.
This is true both for those whom so-called development has not yet untaught
the desire to dwell and for the unpluggers who seek new forms of dwelling
that would make the industrial landscape inhabitable at least in its cracks and
weak spots.
Both the non-modernized and the post-modern oppose societys ban on
spatial self-assertion, and will have to reckon with the police intervening against
the nuisance they create. They will be branded as intruders, illegal occupants,
anarchists and nuisances, depending on the circumstance under which they as-
sert their liberty to dwell: as Indians who break in and settle on fallow land in
Lima; as favellados in Rio de Janeiro, who return to squat on the hillside horn
which they have just been driven after 40 years occupancy by the police; as
students who dare to convert ruins in Berlins Kreuzberg into their dwelling;
as Puerto Ricans who force their way back into the walled-up and burnt build-
ings of the South Bronx. They will all be removed, not so much because of the
damage they do to the owner of the site, or because they threaten the health or
peace of their neighbors, but because of the challenge to the social axiom that
defnes a citizen as a unit in need of a standard garage.
Both the Indian tribe that moves down from the Andes into the suburbs
of Lima and the Chicago neighborhood council that unplugs itself from the
city housing authority challenge the now-prevalent model of the citizen as
homo castrensis, billeted man. But with their challenges, the newcomer and
the breakaway provoke opposite reactions. The Indios can be treated like pa-
gans who must be educated into an appreciation of the states maternal care
for their shelter. The unplugger is much more dangerous: he gives testimony
to the castrating effects of the citys maternal embrace. Unlike the pagan, this
kind of heretic challenges the axiom of civic religion which underlies all cur-
rent ideologies which on the surface are in opposition. According to this axiom,
the citizen as homo castrensis needs the commodity called shelter; his right
to shelter is written into the law. This right the unplugger does not oppose, but
he does object to the concrete conditions under which the right to shelter is
in confict with the liberty to dwell. And for the unplugger this liberty, when
in confict, is presumed to be of greater value than the commodity of shelter,
which by defnition is scarce.
The confict between vernacular and economic values is, however, not
limited to the space on the inside of the threshold. It would be a mistake to limit
the effects of dwelling to the shaping of the interiors; what lies outside ones
front door is as much shaped by dwelling, albeit in a different way. Inhabited
land lies on both sides of the threshold; the threshold is like the pivot of the
space that dwelling creates. On this side lies home, and on the other lies the
commons: the space that households inhabit is common. It shelters the com-
munity as the house shelters its members. Just as no two communities have the
same style of dwelling, none can have the same commons. Custom rules who
may and who must use the commons, and how and when and where. Just as the
home refects in its shape the rhythm and extent of family life, so the commons
are the trace of the commonality. There can be no dwelling without its com-
mons. It takes time for the immigrant to recognize that highways are neither
streets nor paths but resources reserved for transportation. I have seen many
Puerto Ricans who arrived in New York and needed years to discover that
sidewalks were not part of a plaza. All over Europe, to the despair of German
bureaucrats, Turks pull their chairs into the street for a chat, for a bet, for some
business, to be served coffee and to put up a stall. It takes time to forego the
commons, to recognize that traffc is as lethal to business as to gossip outside
the doorway. The distinction between private and public space for the modern
shelter consumer does not replace but destroys the traditional distinction be-
tween the home and the commons articulated by the threshold. However, what
housing as a commodity has done to the environment has so far not been recog-
nized by our ecologists. Ecology still acts as a subsidiary or twin to economics.
Political ecology will become radical and effective only as it recognizes that
the destruction of the commons by their transformation in economic resources
is the environmental factor which paralyzes the art of dwelling.
One demonstration of the destruction of commons is the degree to which
our world has become uninhabitable. As the number of people increases, para-
doxically we render the environment uninhabitable. Just as more people need to
dwell, the war against vernacular dwelling has entered its last stage and people
are forced to seek housing which is scarce. A generation ago Jane Jacobs effec-
tively argued that in traditional cities the art of dwelling and the aliveness of the
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commons increase both as cities expand and also as people move closer together.
And yet during the last thirty years almost everywhere in the world, powerful
means have been employed to rape the local communitys art of dwelling and
thereby create an increasingly acute sense of scarce living space.
This housing rape of the commons is no less brutal than the poisoning of
water. The invasion of the last enclaves of dwelling space by housing programs is
no less obnoxious than the creation of smog. The ever-repeated juristic prejudice
in favor of the right to housing, whenever this claim conficts with the liberty to
explore new ways of dwelling, is as repressive as the laws which enforce the life-
style of the productive human couple. However, it needs to be proclaimed. Air,
water and alternative ways of cohabitation have found their protectors. Curricula
offer them training, and bureaucracies offer them jobs. The liberty to dwell and
the protection of a habitable environment for the moment remain the concern of
minority citizens movements; and even these movements are all too often cor-
rupted by architects who misinterpret their aims.
Build-it-yourself is thought of as a mere hobby or as a consolation for
shanty-towns. The return to rural life is dubbed romanticism. Inner-city fshponds
and chickencoops are regarded as mere games. Neighborhoods that work are
fooded by highly paid sociologists until they fail. House-squatting is regarded as
civil disobedience, restorative squatting as an outcry far better and more housing.
But in the feld of housing, as much as in the felds of education, medicine, trans-
portation or burial, those who unplug themselves are no purists. I know a family
that herds a few goats in the Appalachians and in the evening plays with a battery
powered computer. I know an illegal occupant who has broken into a walled-up
Harlem tenement and sends his daughters to a private school.
Yet neither ridicule nor psychiatric diagnosis will make the unpluggers
go away. They have lost the conscience of the Calvinist hippies and grow their
own brand of sarcasm and political skill. Their own experience tells them that
they enjoy the art of living which they recover by dwelling more than they en-
joyed the comfort they left. And increasingly they become more capable of put-
ting into pithy gestures their rejection of the axioms about Homo castrensis on
which industrial society partly rests. And there are other considerations which
make the recovery of dwelling space seem reasonable today. Modern methods,
materials and machines make build-it-yourself ever so much simpler and less
tiresome than it was before. Growing unemployment takes the stigma of being
asocial away from those who short-circuit the building unions. Increasingly,
trained construction workers have to relearn completely their trade to ply it in
a form of unemployment which is useful to them and their community. The
gross ineffciency of buildings put up in the seventies makes previously un-
thinkable transformations seem less odious, and even reasonable, to neighbors
who would have protested a few years ago. The experience of the Third World
converges with the experience in the South Bronx. The president of Mexico,
while campaigning for election, stated without ambiguity: the Mexican econo-
my cannot now nor in the future provide housing units for most of its citizens.
The only way in which all Mexicans will be agreeably housed will be via pro-
vision in laws and of materials that enable each Mexican community to house
itself better than ever before.
What is here proposed is enormous: the unplugging of a nation from the
worldwide market in housing units. I do not believe that a Third World country
can do this. As long as a country considers itself underdeveloped, it takes its
models from the North, be this the capitalist or the socialist cheek. I cannot
believe that such a country could really unplug itself, as a nation. Too much
power accrues to any government from the ideology of man billeted by na-
ture. The utopia of nation building and housing construction are closely linked
in the thinking of all elites I know, especially in the Third World. I believe that
liberty to dwell, and the provision of the instruments legal and materialto
make this choice feasible, must be recognized frst in the countries that are
developed. Here the unplugger can argue with much more conviction and
precision why he places this liberty above the entitlement to a garage. Let him
then look to Mexico to learn what adobe can do.
And the arguments that place the recovery of vernacular power to dwell
over the impotent claims to personal storage are on the increase. As we have
seen, they are consistent with the direction the ecological movement takes when
it does get out from under the wings of the economy, the science of scarce val-
ues. They are consistent with a new radical analysis of technology that opposes
the enrolment of people as volunteers in the building industry and modern tools
adopted by people to remedy their defective ability to dwell. But more impor-
tant than these is the argument that has not yet been properly formulated, but
that I read into many of the concrete initiatives that I have observed.
Space ft to bear the marks of life is as basic for survival as clean water
and fresh air. Human beings simply do not ft into garages, no matter how
splendidly furnished with showers and energy-saving devices. Homes and ga-
rages are just not the same sort of space. Homes are neither the human nests to
which sociobiologists would reduce them, nor shelves on which people cannot
survive regardless of how well they are cushioned. Garages are storage spaces
for objects that circulate through the homogeneous space of commodities; nests
are shaped and occupied by animals whose instincts tie them to their territory.
Humans dwell. They have inhabited the Earth in a thousand different ways and
copied from each other the forms of their dwellings.
What had determined for millennia the changing character of the dwelling
space was not instinct and genes but culture, experience and thought. Both ter-
ritory and dwelling space are, admittedly, three-dimensional in character, but
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as to their meaning, they are not spaces of the same kind no more than dwell-
ing space and garages. None of the sciences that we now have can properly
grasp this variety of topologies neither sociology, nor anthropology, nor can
history as now mostly undertaken abandon the central perspective in which the
differences that count disappear. I do believe that the disciplined opposition of
human experience under the reign of vernacular values, and under the regime
of scarcity, is a frst step toward clarifying this difference which counts. And
without the recovery of a language in which this difference can be stated, the
refusal to identify with the model of billeted man and the search for new ver-
nacular dwelling space cannot become politically effective.
And so, when the act of dwelling becomes a subject of politics, it comes
inevitably to a parting of the ways. On the one side there will be concern for the
housing package how to entitle everyone to get their share of built cubage
well situated and well equipped. On this side the packaging of the poor with
their housing unit will become a growth sector for social workers when there is
no more money left for the architects. On the other side there will be concern
for the right of a community to form and accommodate itself according to its
ability and art. In the pursuit of this goal it will appear to many in the North
that the fragmenting of the habitat and the loss of traditions has caused the
right to a dwellable habitat to be forfeited. Young people who insist on housing
themselves will look with envy Southwards, where space and tradition are still
alive.
This budding envy of the underdeveloped must be cured with courage and
refection. But in the Third World survival itself depends on the correct balance
between a right to build-ityourself and the right to possess a piece of land and
some things such as ones own roof rafters.
SOURCES
OF HOPE
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HEBENSHAUSEN DECLARATION ON SOIL
Sygmar Groeneveld, Lee Hoinacki,
Ivan Illich and friends
After several days of open and rigorous conversation in Hebenshausen,
Germany, with a clear sense of urgency, a group of friends of Ivan Illich
prepared a joint statement on December 6, 1990. Immediately translated
into a dozen languages, it soon became a source of perplexity and inspi-
ration. Radically challenging some of the conventional tenets of environ-
mentalists, it urges us to reclaim soil and virtue lost for the current gen-
erations. This is not easy reading. Every word, every sentence, should be
carefully pondered and ruminated. Like a time bomb, it will fnally explode
with liberating effect.
THE ECOLOGICAL DISCOURSE ABOUT planet earth, global hunger, threats to life,
urges us to look down at the soil, humbly, as philosophers. We stand on soil, not
on earth. From soil we come, and to the soil we bequeath our excrements and
remains. And soil its cultivation and our bondage to it is remarkably absent
from those things clarifed by philosophy in our western tradition.
As philosophers, we search below our feet because our generation has lost its
grounding in both soil and virtue. By virtue, we mean that shape, order and direc-
tion of action informed by tradition, bounded by place, and qualifed by choices
made within the habitual reach of the actor; we mean practice mutually recognized
as being good within a shared local culture that enhances the memories of a place.
We note that such virtue is traditionally found in labor, craft, dwelling and
suffering supported, not by an abstract earth, environment or energy system,
but by the particular soil these very actions have enriched with their traces.
Yet, in spite of this ultimate bond between soil and being, soil and the good,
philosophy has not brought forth the concepts that would allow us to relate
virtue to common soil, something vastly different from managing behavior on
a shared planet.
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We were torn from the bonds to soil the connections that limited action,
making practical virtue possible when modernization insulated us from plain
dirt, from toil, fesh, soil and grave. The economy into which we have been
absorbed some, willy-nilly, some at great cost transforms people into inter-
changeable morsels of population, ruled by the laws of scarcity.
Commons and homes are barely imaginable to persons hooked on public
utilities and garaged in furnished cubicles. Bread is a mere foodstuff, if not
calories or roughage. To speak of friendship, religion and joint suffering as a
style of conviviality after the soil has been poisoned and cemented over ap-
pears like academic dreaming to people randomly scattered in vehicles, offces,
prisons and hotels.
As philosophers, we emphasize the duty to speak about soil. For Plato,
Aristotle and Galen it could be taken for granted; not so today. Soil on which
culture can grow and corn be cultivated is lost from view when it is defned
as a complex subsystem, sector, resource, problem or farm as agricultural
science tends to do.
As philosophers, we offer resistance to those ecological experts who
preach respect for science, but foster neglect for historical tradition, local fair
and the earthy virtue, self-limitation.
Sadly, but without nostalgia, we acknowledge the pastness of the past.
With diffdence, then, we attempt to share what we see: some results of the
earths having lost its soil. And we are irked by the neglect for soil in the dis-
course carried on among boardroom ecologists. But we are also critical of many
among well-meaning romantics, Luddites and mystics who exalt soil, making
it the matrix, not of virtue, but of life. Therefore, we issue a call for a philoso-
phy of soil: a clear, disciplined analysis of that experience and memory of soil
without which neither virtue nor some new kind of subsistence can be.
ZAPATISTA ENCUENTRO. OPENING REMARkS
Comandanta Ana Mara in The First Intercontinental
Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism,
Summer 1996
AT midNighT oN 1sT JANuArY 1994, NAfTA the North American Free Trade Agree-
ment between Mexico, the US and Canada came into force. Barely two hours
later, thousands of Indians armed with machetes, clubs and a few guns oc-
cupied seven of the main towns in Chiapas, a province on Mexicos southern
border with Guatemala, and declared war on the Mexican government.
The rebels soon revealed that they were Indians of different ethnic groups
calling themselves Ejrcito Zapatista de Liberacin Nacional (EZLN). They ap-
pealed for an end to 500 years of oppression and 40 years of development,
expressing the hope that they will be able to reclaim their commons and to re-
generate their own forms of governance and the art of living and dying. It was
time to say Basta! Enough!.
Twelve days later, after the uprising of the civil society, when people by
the millions occupied the streets to stop the violence and tell the Zapatistas
that they were not alone, the government was forced to call a ceasefre. The
Zapatistas have dutifully respected the call. Since then, they have not used their
weapons and have become the champions of non violence in Mexico.
Zapatismo is today, 17 years later, the most radical, and perhaps the most
important, political initiative in the world. No contemporary political or so-
cial movement has attracted public attention as Zapatismo has. The Zapatista
rebellion, wrote the great scholar Immanuel Wallerstein, has been the most
important social movement in the world, the barometer or alarm clock for other
anti-systemic movements around the world. All the anti-systemic movements,
in fact, since Seattle, acknowledge the role of the Zapatistas in their waking
up, in provoking a new awareness and nourishing a new hope. Noam Chomsky,
Pablo Gonzlez Casanova, John Berger, Naomi Klein, Jos Saramagoall of
them recognize the role of the Zapatistas in the current wave of social move-
ments around the world.
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Your journey around the world may end near Zapatista territory. It is thus
time to begin an exploration of the Zapatista world. The words of an amazing
woman, Comandanta Ana Mara, pronounced to greet people from all over the
world attending the Intercontinental Encounter convened by the Zapatistas,
constitute a good point of departure. Three months before this Encounter, a
group of IHPers attended the American Encounter, also in the Lacandona Jun-
gle, organized in preparation for this one. They participated in the very intense
debates held in at least 12 languages with the Zapatistas.
In 1996, at the closure of the Encounter, 12 years before the fnancial
meltdown, the now famous Subcomandante Marcos observed:
The world of moneygoverns from the stock exchanges. Today,
speculation is the principal source of enrichment and, at the same
time, the best demonstration of the atrophy of human beings capac-
ity to work. Work is no longer necessary in order to produce wealth;
now all that is needed is speculation. Crimes and war are carried out
so that the global stock exchanges may be pillaged by one or the
other. Meanwhile, millions of women, millions of youths, millions
of indigenous, millions of homosexuals, millions of human beings
of all races and colors participate in the fnancial markets only as a
devalued currency, always worth less and less, the currency of their
blood turning a proft. The globalization of markets erases borders
for speculation and crime and multiplies them for human beings.
Neoliberalism doesnt turn many countries into one country, it turns
each country into many countriesIn the world, the Power global-
izes to overcome the obstacles to its war of conquest.
AGUASCALIENTES II, oveNTik, sAN ANdrs sAcAmchN of the Poor, Chiapas, Mexico.
Brothers and Sisters of Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe and America:
Welcome to the mountains of Southeastern Mexico.
Let us introduce ourselves. We are the Zapatista National Liberation
Army.
For ten years, we lived in these mountains, preparing to fght a war.
In these mountains, we built an army.
Below, in the cities and plantations, we did not exist.
Our lives were worth less than machines and animals.
We were like stones, like weeds in the road.
We were silenced.
We were faceless.
We were nameless.
We had no future.
We did not exist.
To the powers that be, today known internationally by the word neoliber-
alism, we did not count, we did not produce, we did not buy, we did not sell.
We were a useless fgure in the accounts of big capital.
Then we went to the mountains to fnd ourselves and see if we could al-
leviate our pain in being forgotten stones and weeds.
Here, in the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, our dead live on. Our
dead that live in the mountains know many things.
They speak to us of their death, and we hear them.
Coffns speak and tell us another story that comes from yesterday and
points toward tomorrow.
The mountains spoke to us, the Macehualob, we common and ordinary
people.
We are simple people, like the powerful tell us.
Every day and the following night, the powerful want us to dance the X-tol
and repeat their brutal conquest.
The Kaz-Dzul, the false man, rules our lands and has giant war machines
that, like the Boob, which is half puma and half horse, spread pain and death
among us.
The trickster government sends us the Aluxob, the liars who fool our peo-
ple and make them forgetful.
This is why we became soldiers.
This is why we remain soldiers.
Because we want no more death and trickery for our people, because we
want no more forgetting.
The mountain told us to take up arms so we would have a voice.
It told us to cover our faces so we would have a face.
It told us to forget our names so we could be named.
It told us to protect our past so we would have a future.
In the mountains, the dead live: our dead.
With them live the Votn and the Ikzal, the light and the darkness, the wet
and the dry, the earth and the wind, the rain and the fre.
The mountain is the home of the Halach Uinic, the real human, the big
chief.
Here we learned and remembered that we are what we are, the real men
and women.
So, with our voice arming our hands, with our face reborn, with our names
renamed, our yesterday at the center of the four points of Chan Santa Cruz in
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Balam N, the star was born that defnes humanity and recalls that there are fve
parts that make up the world.
In the season when the Chaacob ride, distributing the rain, we came down
once more to speak with our own and prepare the storm that will signal the
harvest.
We brought forth the war in the year zero, and we began to walk this path
that has brought us to your hearts and today brings you to ours.
This is what we are.
The Zapatista National Liberation Army.
The voice that arms itself to be heard.
The face that hides itself to be seen.
The name that hides itself to be named.
The red star that calls out to humanity and the world to be heard, to be
seen, to be named.
The tomorrow that is harvested in the past.
Behind our black mask.
Behind our armed voice.
Behind our unnamable name.
Behind what you see of us.
Behind this, we are you.
Behind this, we are the same simple and ordinary men and women that
are repeated in all races, painted in all colors, speak in all languages and live
in all places.
The same forgotten men and women.
The same excluded.
The same untolerated.
The same persecuted.
The same as you.
Behind this, we are you.
Behind our masks is the face of all excluded women.
Of all the forgotten native people.
Of all the persecuted homosexuals.
Of all the despised youth.
Of all the beaten migrants.
Of all those imprisoned for their words and thoughts.
Of all the humiliated workers.
Of all those dead from neglect.
Of all the simple and ordinary men and women who dont count, who
arent seen, who are nameless, who have no tomorrow.
Brothers and Sisters:
We have invited you to this meeting to seek and fnd yourselves and us.
You have all touched our heart, and can see we are not special.
You can see we are simple and ordinary men and women.
You can see we are the rebellious mirror that wants to be a pane of glass
and break.
You can see we are what we are so we can stop being what we are and
become the you that we are.
We are the Zapatistas.
We invited you for all of us to hear ourselves and speak to ourselves.
To see all that we are.
Brothers and Sisters:
In these mountains, the talking coffns spoke to us and told us ancient
stories that recall our pains and our rebellions.
Our dreams will not end as long as we live.
We will not give up our banner.
Our death will live on forever.
So say the mountains that speak to us.
So says the star that shines in Chan Santa Cruz.
It tells us that the Cruzob, the rebels, will not be defeated and will con-
tinue on their road along with all those in the human constellation.
The red star that will help the world be free tells us that the red people, the
Chachac-Mac, will always come.
The star that is the mountains tells us.
That a people is fve peoples.
That a people who are a star are all people.
That the people who are humanity are all the worlds people.
They will come to aid the worlds that become people in their struggle.
So the real man and woman live without pain and the hearts of stone are
melted.
You are all the Chachac-Mac, the people who come to help the man of
fve parts throughout the world, among all peoples, in all nations.
You are all the red star that mirrors us.
We can continue on the right path if we, the you who are us, walk to-
gether.
Brothers and Sisters:
Among our peoples, the oldest sages have put a cross that is a star where
the water, the giver of life, is born.
This marks the beginning of life in the mountains with a star.
Thus are born the arroyos that come down from the mountain and raise
the voice of the speaking star of our Chan Santa Cruz.
The voice of the mountain has spoken, saying that the real men and wom-
en will live free when they are those who commit to the fve-pointed star.
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When the fve peoples make themselves one in the star.
When the fve parts of humanity which are the world fnd themselves and
fnd the other.
When all the fve fnd their place and the place of the other.
Today, thousands of different roads that come from the fve continents
meet here, in the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, to join their steps.
Today, thousands of words from the fve continents are silent here, in the
mountains of Southeastern Mexico, to hear each other and hear themselves.
Today, thousands of struggles from the fve continents struggle here, in the
mountains of Southeastern Mexico, for life and against death.
Today, thousands of colors from the fve continents are painted here, in
the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, to announce a future of inclusion and
tolerance.
Today, thousands of hearts from the fve continents are alive here, in the
mountains of Southeastern Mexico, for humanity and against neoliberalism.
Today, thousands of human beings from the fve continents shout enough
here, in the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, enough of conformism, of do-
ing nothing, of cynicism, of egoism, the modern god.
Today, thousands of small worlds from the fve continents are attempting
a beginning here, in the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, the beginning of
the construction of a new and good world, that is, a world which admits all
these worlds.
Today, thousands of men and women of the fve continents begin here, in
the mountains of Southeastern Mexico, the First Intercontinental Meeting for
Humanity and Against Neoliberalism.
Brothers and Sisters of the entire world:
Welcome to the mountains of Southeastern Mexico.
Welcome to this corner of the world where we are all the same because
we are different.
Welcome to the search for life and the struggle against death.
Welcome to this First Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against
Neoliberalism.
Democracy!
Freedom!
Justice!
From the mountains of Southeastern Mexico.
The Indigenous Clandestine Revolutionary Committee-General Command of
the Zapatista National Liberation Army.
Planet Earth, July, 1996.
THE MESSAGE OF BAPUS HUT
Ivan Illich
And he was there.
For some Gandhians, Ivan Illich is a kind of incarnation of Gandhi: he
carries around his same spirit. And so, they gave him the very special privilege
of spending a night in Gandhis hut.
The next morning, still in Sevagram, Ivan recollected his thoughts to pre-
pare his Inaugural Speech for a conference on Techniques for the Poor. It is a
kind of manifesto, a celebration of the dignity of the common man.
THIS MORNING, WHILE I WAS SITTING in this hut where Mahatma Gandhi lived,
I was trying to absorb the spirit of its concept and imbibe in me its message.
There are two things about the hut which have impressed me greatly. One is its
spiritual aspect and the other is the aspect of its amenities. I was trying to un-
derstand Gandhis point of view in regard to making the hut. I very much likes
its simplicity, beauty and neatness. The hut proclaims the principle of love and
equality with everybody. Since the house which has been provided for me in
Mexico is in many ways like this hut, I could understand its spirit. Here I found
that the hut has seven kinds of place. As you enter, there is a place where you
put down your shoes and prepare yourself physically and mentally to go into
the hut. Then comes the central room which is big enough to accommodate a
large family. Today, at four in the morning, when I was sitting there for prayer,
four people sat along with me, by supporting themselves on one wall, and on
the other side there was also enough room for as many people again, if they sat
close together. This room is where everybody can go and join others. The third
space is where Gandhi himself sat and worked. There are two more rooms one
for the guests and the other for the sick. There is an open verandah and also a
commodious bathroom. All of these places have a very organic relationship.
I feel that if rich people come to this hut, they might be making fun of it.
But from the point of view of a simple Indian, I do not see why there should be
a house bigger than this. This house is made of wood and mud. In its making, it
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is not the machine, but the hands of man which have worked. I call it a hut, but
it is really a home. There is a difference between a house and a home. A house
is where man keeps his luggage and furniture. It is meant more for the security
and convenience of the furniture than of the man himself. In Delhi, where I had
been put up, is a house where there are many conveniences. The building is
constructed from the point of view of these conveniences. It is made of cement
and bricks and is like a box where the furniture and other conveniences can ft
in well. We must understand that all furniture and other articles that we go on
collecting in our lives will never give us inner strength. These are, so to say,
the crutches of a cripple. The more of such conveniences we have, the more
our dependence on them increases and our life gets restricted. On the contrary,
the kind of furniture I fnd in Gandhis hut is of a different order, and there
is very little cause for being dependent on it. A house ftted with all kinds of
conveniences shows that we have become weak. The more we lose the power
to live, the greater we depend upon the goods we acquire. It is like our depend-
ing upon hospitals for the health of people and upon schools for the education
of our children. Unfortunately, both hospitals and schools are not an index of
the health or the intelligence of a nation. Actually, the number of hospitals is
indicative of the ill health of people and schools of their ignorance. Similarly,
the multiplicity of facilities in living minimizes the expression of creativity in
human life.
Unfortunately, the paradox of the situation is that those who have more
such conveniences are regarded as superior. Is it not an immoral society where
illness is accorded high status and ignorance more consideration? While sitting
in Gandhis hut I was grieved to ponder over this perversity. I have come to
the conclusion that it is wrong to think of industrial civilization as a road lead-
ing toward the development of man. It has been proved that for our economic
development, greater and bigger machines of production and larger and larger
numbers of engineers, doctors and professors are literally supernumery.
Those who would want to have a place bigger than this hut where Gandhi
lived are poor in mind, body and life style. I pity them. They have surrendered
themselves and their animate selves to an inanimate structure. In the process
they have lost the elasticity of their body and the vitality of their life. They have
little relationship with nature and closeness with their fellowmen.
When I ask the planners of the day why they do not understand the simple
approach Gandhi taught us, they say that Gandhis way is very diffcult, and
that people will not be able to follow it. But the reality of the situation is that
since Gandhis principles do not tolerate the presence of any middleman or that
of a centralized system, the planners and managers and politicians feel left out.
How is it that such a simple principle of truth and non-violence is not being un-
derstood? Is it because people feel that untruth and violence will take them to
the desired objective? No. This is not so. The common man fully understands
that right means will take him to the right end. It is only the people who have
some vested interest who refuse to understand it. The rich do not want to un-
derstand. By rich I mean those who have conveniences of life which are not
available to everybody in common. There are the rich in living, eating, and
getting about; and their modes of consumption are such that they have been
blinded to truth. It is to the blind that Gandhi becomes a diffcult proposition
to understand and assimilate. They are the ones to whom simplicity does not
make any sense. Their circumstances unfortunately do not allow them to see
the truth. Their lives have become too complicated to enable them to get out of
the trap they are in. Fortunately, for the largest number of people, there is nei-
ther so much of wealth that they become immune to the truth of simplicity, nor
are they in such penury that they lack the capacity to understand. Even if the
rich see the truth they refuse to abide by it. It is because they have lost contact
with the soul of this country.
It should be very clear that the dignity of man is possible only in a self-
suffcient society and that it suffers as one moves toward progressive indus-
trialization. This hut connotes the pleasures that are possible through being at
par with society. Here, self-suffciency is the keynote. We must understand that
the unnecessary articles and goods which a man possesses reduce his power
to imbibe happiness from the surroundings. Therefore, Gandhi repeatedly said
that productivity should be kept within the limits of wants. Todays mode of
production is such that it fnds no limit and goes on increasing, uninhibited. All
these we have been tolerating so far, but the time has come when man must
understand that by depending more and more on machines he is moving toward
his own destruction. The civilized world, whether it is China or America, has
begun to understand that if we want to progress, this is not the way. Man should
realize that for the good of the individual as well as society, it is best that people
keep for themselves only as much as is suffcient for their immediate needs.
We have to fnd a method by which this thinking fnds expression in changing
the values of todays world. This change cannot be brought about by the pres-
sure of governments or through centralized institutions. A climate of public
opinion has to be created to make people understand that which constitutes the
basic society. Today the man with a motor car thinks himself superior to the
man with a bicycle, though when we look at it from the point of view of the
common norm, it is the bicycle which is the vehicle of the masses. The cycle,
therefore, must be given the prime importance and all the planning in roads
and transport should be done on the basis of the bicycle, whereas the motor car
should get secondary place. The situation, however, is the reverse and all plans
are made for the beneft of the motor car giving second place to the bicycle.
Common mans requirements are thus disregarded in comparison with those of
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the higher-ups. This hut of Gandhis demonstrates to the world how the dignity
of the common man can be brought up. It is also a symbol of the happiness that
we can derive from practicing the principles of simplicity, service and truthful-
ness. I hope that in the conference that you are going to hold on Techniques for
the Third World Poor, you will try to keep this message before you.
RECLAIMING THE COMMONS
Naomi Klein
The recent launch of the emblem of globalization seduced millions of people,
who associated it with a new promised land of peace, justice and unlimited
prosperity. It also produced intense resistance and opposition.
The Zapatista uprising, on January 1st 1994 was perhaps the frst open
and radical challenge to the project. Most globaphobics mention now the
Zapatistas both as a precedent and as a source of inspiration, a candle in
the darkness, that suddenly created massive awareness with their Basta ya!
Enough!
But is there an anti-globalization movement? This is the question Nao-
mi Klein attempts to answer in this article, which is a transcript of a talk given
at the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History, in the University of
California Los Angeles, in April 2001.
Naomi Klein became pretty famous after the publication of her book No
Logo (2000), a radical critique of the corporations ruling the world (as David
S. Korten would say), where she was taking aim at the brand bullies. Her
sharp, very critical articles are now published everywhere.
Her new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
(2007) is also a great success. You can see a magnifcent presentation of it on
youtube.com.
WHAT IS THE ANTI-GLOBALIZATION MOVEMENT? put the phrase in quote-marks
because I immediately have two doubts about it. Is it really a movement? If
it is a movement, is it anti-globalization? Let me start with the frst issue. We
can easily convince ourselves it is a movement by talking it into existence at a
forum like this I spend far too much time at them acting as if we can see it,
hold it in our hands. Of course, we have seen it and we know its come back
in Quebec, and on the US-Mexican border during the Summit of the Americas
and the discussion for a hemispheric Free Trade Area. But then we leave rooms
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like this, go home, watch some TV, do a little shopping and any sense that it
exists disappears, and we feel like maybe were going nuts. Seattle was that
a movement or a collective hallucination? To most of us here, Seattle meant
a kind of coming-out party for a global resistance movement, or the global-
ization of hope, as someone described it during the World Social Forum at
Porto Alegre. But to everyone else Seattle still means limitless frothy coffee,
Asian fusion cuisine, e-commerce billionaires and sappy Meg Ryan movies.
Or perhaps it is both, and one Seattle bred the other Seattle and now they
awkwardly coexist.
This movement we sometimes conjure into being goes by many names:
anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, anti-free-trade, antiimperialist. Many say that it
started in Seattle. Others maintain it began fve hundred years ago when co-
lonialists frst told indigenous peoples that they were going to have to do things
differently if they were to develop or be eligible for trade. Others again say
it began on 1 January 1994 when the Zapatistas launched their uprising with
the words Ya Basta! on the night NAFTA became law in Mexico. It all depends
on whom you ask. But I think it is more accurate to picture a movement of
many movements coalitions of coalitions. Thousands of groups today are
all working against forces whose common thread is what might broadly be
described as the privatization of every aspect of life, and the transformation
of every activity and value into a commodity. We often speak of the privatiza-
tion of education, of healthcare, of natural resources. But the process is much
vaster. It includes the way powerful ideas are turned into advertising slogans
and public streets into shopping malls; new generations being target-marketed
at birth; schools being invaded by ads; basic human necessities like water being
sold as commodities; basic labour rights being rolled back; genes are patented
and designer babies loom; seeds are genetically altered and bought; politicians
are bought and altered.
At the same time there are oppositional threads, taking form in many dif-
ferent campaigns and movements. The spirit they share is a radical reclaiming
of the commons. As our communal spaces town squares, streets, schools,
farms, plants are displaced by the ballooning market-place, a spirit of resis-
tance is taking hold around the world. People are reclaiming bits of nature and
of culture, and saying this is going to be public space. American students are
kicking ads out of the class-rooms. European environmentalists and ravers are
throwing parties at busy intersections. Landless Thai peasants are planting or-
ganic vegetables on over-irrigated golf courses. Bolivian workers are reversing
the privatization of their water supply. Outfts like Napster have been creating
a kind of commons on the internet where kids can swap music with each other,
rather than buying it from multinational record companies. Billboards have
been liberated and independent media networks set up. Protests are multiply-
ing. In Porto Alegre, during the World Social Forum, Jos Bov, often carica-
tured as only a hammer of McDonalds, traveled with local activists from the
Movimento Sem Terra to a nearby Monsanto test site, where they destroyed
three hectares of genetically modifed soy beans. But the protest did not stop
there. The MST has occupied the land and members are now planting their own
organic crops on it, vowing to turn the farm into a model of sustainable agri-
culture. In short, activists arent waiting for the revolution, they are acting right
now, where they live, where they study, where they work, where they farm.
But some formal proposals are also emerging whose aim is to turn such
radical reclamations of the commons into law. When NAFTA and the like were
cooked up, there was much talk of adding on side agreements to the free-trade
agenda, that were supposed to encompass the environment, labour and human
rights. Now the fght-back is about taking them out. Jos Bov along with
the Via Campesina, a global association of small farmers has launched a
campaign to remove food safety and agricultural products from all trade agree-
ments, under the slogan The World is Not for Sale. They want to draw a line
around the commons. Maude Barlow, director of the Council of Canadians,
which has more members than most political parties in Canada, has argued that
water isnt a private good and shouldnt be in any trade agreement. There is a
lot of support for this idea, especially in Europe since the recent food scares.
Typically these anti-privatization campaigns get under way on their own. But
they also periodically converge thats what happened in Seattle, Prague,
Washington, Davos, Porto Alegre and Quebec.
What this means is that the discourse has shifted. During the battles
against NAFTA, there emerged the frst signs of a coalition between organized
labour, environmentalists, farmers and consumer groups within the countries
concerned. In Canada, most of us felt we were fghting to keep something dis-
tinctive about our nation from Americanization. In the United States, the
talk was very protectionist: workers were worried that Mexicans would steal
away our jobs and drive down our environmental standards. All the while,
the voices of Mexicans opposed to the deal were virtually off the public radar
yet these were the strongest voices of all. But only a few years later, the de-
bate over trade has been transformed. The fght against globalization has mor-
phed into a struggle against corporatization and, for some, against capitalism
itself. It has also become a fght for democracy. Maude Barlow spearheaded the
campaign against NAFTA in Canada twelve years ago. Since NAFTA became
law, shes been working with organizers and activists from other countries, and
anarchists suspicious of the state in her own country. She was once seen as very
much the face of a Canadian nationalism. Today, she has moved away from that
discourse. Ive changed, she says, I used to see this fght as saving a nation.
Now I see it as saving democracy. This is a cause that transcends nationality
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and state borders. The real news out of Seattle is that organizers around the
world are beginning to see their local and national struggles for better funded
public schools, against union busting and casualization, for family farms, and
against the widening gap between rich and poor through a global lens. That
is the most signifcant shift we have seen in years.
How did this happen? Who or what convened this new international peo-
ples movement? Who sent out the memos? Who built these complex coali-
tions? It is tempting to pretend that someone did dream up a master plan for
mobilization at Seattle. But I think it was much more a matter of large-scale
coincidence. A lot of smaller groups organized to get themselves there and then
found to their surprise just how broad and diverse a coalition they had become
part of. Still, if there is one force we can thank for bringing this front into be-
ing, it is the multi-national corporations. As one of the organizers of Reclaim
the Streets has remarked, we should be grateful to the CEOs for helping us see
the problems more quickly. Thanks to the sheer imperialist ambition of the
corporate project at this moment in history the boundless drive for proft,
liberated by trade deregulation, and the wave of mergers and buy-outs, liber-
ated by weakened anti-trust laws multinationals have grown so blindingly
rich, so vast in their holdings, so global in their reach, that they have created
our coalitions for us.
Around the world, activists are piggy-backing on the readymade infra-
structures supplied by global corporations. This can mean cross-border union-
ization, but also cross-sector organizing among workers, environmentalists,
consumers, even prisoners, who may all have different relationships to one
multinational. So you can build a single campaign or coalition around a single
brand like General Electric. Thanks to Monsanto, farmers in India are work-
ing with environmentalists and consumers around the world to develop direct-
action strategies that cut off genetically modifed foods in the felds and in
the supermarkets. Thanks to Shell Oil and Chevron, human rights activists in
Nigeria, democrats in Europe, environmentalists in North America have united
in a fght against the unsustainability of the oil industry. Thanks to the cater-
ing giant Sodexho-Marriotts decision to invest in Corrections Corporation of
America, university students are able to protest against the exploding US for-
proft prison industry simply by boycotting the food in their campus cafeteria.
Other targets include pharmaceutical companies who are trying to inhibit the
production and distribution of low-cost AIDS drugs, and fast-food chains. Re-
cently, students and farm workers in Florida have joined forces around Taco
Bell. In the St. Petersburg area, feld hands many of them immigrants from
Mexico are paid an average $7,500 a year to pick tomatoes and onions. Due
to a loophole in the law, they have no bargaining power: the farm bosses refuse
even to talk with them about wages. When they started to look into who bought
what they pick, they found that Taco Bell was the largest purchaser of the local
tomatoes. So they launched the campaign Yo No Quiero Taco Bell together with
students, to boycott Taco Bell on university campuses. It is Nike, of course, that
has most helped to pioneer this new brand of activist synergy. Students facing a
corporate takeover of their campuses by the Nike swoosh have linked up with
workers making its branded campus apparel, as well as with parents concerned
at the commercialization of youth, and church groups campaigning against
child labour all united by their different relationships to a common global
enemy. Exposing the underbelly of high-gloss consumer brands has provided
the early narratives of this movement, a sort of call-and-response to the very
different narratives these companies tell every day about themselves through
advertising and public relations. Citigroup offers another prime target, as North
Americas largest fnancial institution, with innumerable holdings, which deals
with some of the worst corporate malefactors around. The campaign against it
handily knits together dozens of issues from clear-cut logging in California
to oil-and-pipe-line schemes in Chad and Cameroon. These projects are only a
start. But they are creating a new sort of activist: Nike is a gateway drug, in
the words of Oregon student activist Sarah Jacobson.
By focusing on corporations, organizers can demonstrate graphically how
so many issues of social, ecological and economic justice are inter-connected.
No activist Ive met believes that the world economy can be changed one cor-
poration at a time, but the campaigns have opened a door into the arcane world
of international trade and fnance. Where they are leading is to the central insti-
tutions that write the rules of global commerce: the WTO, the IMF, the FTAA,
and for some the market itself. Here too the unifying threat is privatization
the loss of the commons. The next round of WTO negotiations is designed to
extend the reach of commodifcation still further. Through side agreements like
GATS (General Agreement on Trade and Services) and TRIPS (Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), the aim is to get still tougher protec-
tion of property rights on seeds and drug patents, and to marketize services like
healthcare, education and water-supply.
The biggest challenge facing us is to distill all of this into a message that
is widely accessible. Many campaigners understand the connections binding
together the various issues almost intuitively much as Subcomandante Mar-
cos says, Zapatismo isnt an ideology, its an intuition. But to outsiders, the
mere scope of modern protests can be a bit mystifying. If you eavesdrop on the
movement from the outside, which is what most people do, you are liable to
hear what seems to be a cacophony of disjointed slogans, a jumbled laundry
list of disparate grievances without clear goals. At the Democratic National
Convention in Los Angeles last year, I remember being outside the Staples
Centre during the Rage Against the Machine concert, just before I almost got
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shot, and thinking there were slogans for everything everywhere, to the point
of absurdity.
This kind of impression is reinforced by the decentralized, nonhierarchical
structure of the movement, which always disconcerts the traditional media.
Well-organized press conferences are rare, there is no charismatic leadership,
protests tend to pile on top of each other. Rather than forming a pyramid, as
most movements do, with leaders up on top and followers down below, it
looks more like an elaborate web. In part, this web-like structure is the result
of internet-based organizing. But it is also a response to the very political
realities that sparked the protests in the frst place: the utter failure of tradi-
tional party politics. All over the world, citizens have worked to elect social
democratic and workers parties, only to watch them plead impotence in the
face of market forces and IMF dictates. In these conditions, modern activists
are not so naive as to believe change will come from electoral politics. Thats
why they are more interested in challenging the structures that make democ-
racy toothless, like the IMFs structural adjustment policies, the WTOs abil-
ity to override national sovereignty, corrupt campaign fnancing, and so on.
This is not just making a virtue of necessity. It responds at the ideological
level to an understanding that globalization is in essence a crisis in represen-
tative democracy. What has caused this crisis? One of the basic reasons for
it is the way power and decision-making have been handed along to points
ever further away from citizens: from local to provincial, from provincial to
national, from national to international institutions, that lack all transparency
or accountability. What is the solution? to articulate an alternative, participa-
tory democracy.
If you think about the nature of the complaints raised against the World
Trade Organization, it is that governments around the world have embraced
an economic model that involves much more than opening borders to goods
and services. This is why it is not useful to use the language of anti-global-
ization. Most people do not really know what globalization is, and the term
makes the movement extremely vulnerable to stock dismissals like: If you are
against trade and globalization, why do you drink coffee? Whereas in reality
the movement is a rejection of what is being bundled along with trade and so-
called globalization against the set of transformative political policies that
every country in the world has been told they must accept in order to make
themselves hospitable to investment. I call this package McGovernment. This
happy meal of cutting taxes, privatizing services, liberalizing regulations, bust-
ing unions what is this diet in aid of? To remove anything standing in the
way of the market. Let the free market roll, and every other problem will ap-
parently be solved in the trickle down. This isnt about trade. Its about using
trade to enforce the McGovemment recipe.
So the question we are asking today, in the run-up to the FTAA, is not: are
you for or against trade? The question is: do we have the right to negotiate the
terms of our relationship to foreign capital and investment? Can we decide
how we want to protect ourselves from the dangers inherent in deregulated
markets or do we have to contract out those decisions? These problems will
become much more acute once we are in a recession, because during the eco-
nomic boom so much has been destroyed of what was left of our social-safety
net. During a period of low unemployment, people did not worry much about
that. They are likely to be much more concerned in the very near future. The
most controversial issues facing the WTO are these questions about selfdeter-
mination. For example, does Canada have the right to ban a harmful gasoline
additive without being sued by a foreign chemi cal company? Not according
to the WTOs ruling in favor of the Ethyl Corporation. Does Mexico have the
right to deny a permit for a hazardous toxic-waste disposal site? Not according
to Metalclad, the US company now suing the Mexican government for $16.7
million damages under NAFTA. Does France have the right to ban hormone-
treated beef from entering the country? Not according to the United States,
which retaliated by banning French imports like Roquefort cheeseprompting
a cheese-maker called Bov to dismantle a McDonalds; Americans thought he
just didnt like hamburgers.
Does Argentina have to cut its public sector to qualify for foreign loans?
Yes, according to the IMF sparking general strikes against the social conse-
quences. Its the same issue everywhere: trading away democracy in exchange
for foreign capital.
On smaller scales, the same struggles for self-determination and sustain-
ability are being waged against World Bank dams, clear-cut logging, cash-
crop factory farming, and resource extraction on contested indigenous lands.
Most people in these movements are not against trade or industrial develop-
ment. What they are fghting for is the right of local communities to have a
say in how their resources are used, to make sure that the people who live
on the land beneft directly from its development. These campaigns are a re-
sponse not to trade but to a trade-off that is now fve hundred years old: the
sacrifce of democratic control and self-determination to foreign investment
and the panacea of economic growth. The challenge they now face is to shift
a discourse around the vague notion of globalization into a specifc debate
about democracy. In a period of unprecedented prosperity, people were told
they had no choice but to slash public spending, revoke labour laws, rescind
environmental protections deemed illegal trade barriers defund schools,
not build affordable housing. All this was necessary to make us trade-ready,
investment-friendly, world-competitive. Imagine what joys await us during
a recession.
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We need to be able to show that globalization this version of globaliza-
tion has been built on the back of local human welfare. Too often, these
connections between global and local are not made. Instead, we sometimes
seem to have two activist soli tudes. On the one hand, there are the internation-
al anti-globalization activists who may be enjoying a triumphant mood, but
seem to be fghting faraway issues, unconnected to peoples day-today strug-
gles. They are often seen as elitists: white middle-class kids with dreadlocks.
On the other hand, there are community activists fghting daily struggles for
survival, or for the preservation of the most elementary public services, who
are often feeling burnt-out and demoralized. They are saying: what in the
hell are you guys so excited about? The only clear way forward is for these
two forces to merge. What is now the anti-globalization movement must turn
into thousands of local movements, fghting the way neoliberal politics are
playing out on the ground: homelessness, wage stagnation, rent escalation,
police violence, prison explosion, criminalization of migrant workers, and on
and on. These are also struggles about all kinds of prosaic issues: the right to
decide where the local garbage goes, to have good public schools, to be sup-
plied with clean water. At the same time, the local movements fghting priva-
tization and deregulation on the ground need to link their campaigns into
one large global movement, which can show where their particular issues ft
into an international economic agenda being enforced around the world. If
that connection isnt made, people will continue to be demoralized. What we
need is to formulate a political framework that can both take on corporate
power and control, and empower local organizing and self-determination.
That has to be a framework that encourages, celebrates and fercely protects
the right to diversity: cultural diversity, ecological diversity, agricultural di-
versity and yes, political diversity as well: different ways of doing politics.
Communities must have the right to plan and manage their schools, their
services, their natural settings, according to their own lights. Of course, this
is only possible within a framework of national and international standards
of public education, fossil-fuel emissions, and so on. But the goal should
not be better far-away rules and rulers, it should be close-up democracy on
the ground.
The Zapatistas have a phrase for this. They call it one world with many
worlds in it. Some have criticized this as a New Age non-answer. They want
a plan. We know what the market wants to do with those spaces, what do you
to do? Wheres your scheme? I think we shouldnt be afraid to say: Thats
not up to us. We need to have some trust in peoples ability to rule them-
selves, to make the decisions that are best for them. We need to show some
humility where now there is so much arrogance and paternalism. To believe
in human diversity and local democracy is anything but wishy-washy. Ev-
erything in McGovernment conspires against them. Neoliberal economics is
biased at every level towards centralization, consolidation, homogenization.
It is a war waged on diversity. Against it, we need a movement of radical
change, committed to a single world with many worlds in it, that stands for
the one no and the many yesses.
I nternati onal Honors
Program/ Wol d Learni ng
comparati ve studi es around the worl d