The New Society

Part III: Toward a New Moral Equivalent of War

The proposal presented here must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. It is a serious proposal, true, but one that is simultaneously infused with “Sorelian myth.” ((See the Prefatory Note of Part I.))

In presenting a “picture” of a future society, and a scenario indicating how that society might be achieved, the intention is not to present a blueprint. Rather, that “picture” simply points in a certain direction. The goal is to convince the reader that societal system change is not only necessary but possible, doing the latter by presenting a (somewhat!) plausible sequence of events. By doing that, the possibility exists that the reader will take the possibility of societal system change seriously, and then begin to act on it. If not in the way proposed herein, then some other way.

No attempt is made here to present a detailed description of the “look” of a future society because doing so would overly direct (or bias, if you will) people’s thinking about the future. The advantage of a brief sketch is that it can help people believe that our society can be changed as the result of planned efforts; we don’t have to simply let “nature take its course.” Also, because a brief sketch has potential for “whetting their appetites,” they may then be inspired to develop their own ideas regarding the direction we should go, and how to get there.

The Structured Interaction Group (SIG) is an ideal vehicle for developing ideas about the future (and how to get there) because it can be used not only to implement the proposal below, but also used to develop other ideas: The SIG is not an institution that is related only to the proposal presented here; it can just as easily be used as an incubator for developing other ideas as to the “look” of the future and how to get there.

Not only can a SIG do that; participation in a SIG can benefit the participants in a variety of ways, as indicated in some of my previous essays on this site. Given that strong possibility, the SIG can be used not only as a vehicle for creating the New Society, but can be an integral part of that society once it is created. That is, there is good reason to retain the institution rather than abandon it, once the New Society has been created.

The Twin Oaks “intentional” community ((The founders of this community have attempted to cultivate a sense of continuity with earlier “experiments,” and have named their buildings after earlier communal societies. For example, one building is named “Harmony,” after the settlement established, in 1803, near Pittsburgh, by Johann Georg (“Father”) Rapp [1757-1847]. In 1814 the Harmonists bought land on the Wabash River in Indiana, moved from the Pittsburgh area, and established New Harmony. Then, in 1824 they purchased a parcel on the Ohio River north of Pittsburgh, and established Economy, selling New Harmony to famed “utopian” Robert Owen [1771-1858].)) near Louisa, Virginian, is a cooperative eco-community (CEC) that has been in existence since 1967. On their website is a button for “Policies,” and when one clicks on it, one is presented with a list with six categories of policy, one of which is “Property Code.” Below is offered a somewhat comparable listing of principles, that at the same time identifies some of the major steps (in order, so far as possible) that would need to be taken in planning a Cooperative Eco-Community (CEC).

These principles should be understood not at hard-and-fast rules but, rather, as “talking points”—i.e., ideas that could provide a basis for discussion by members of a group intent on planning, and building (or having built), a CEC for themselves (or, perhaps, for others). If the presentation that follows helps a group(s) accomplish their goal of planning a CEC in an efficient and productive way, its purpose will have been met.

Below both steps and principles are presented, with no effort being made to separate the two:

• The first step would be to decide on the ownership question, and a possibility here would be to have all of the community’s real property (i.e., land and structures) be owned by a corporation—so that, in a sense, the community’s residents would all be “renters” (or at least like renters).

• The group would next need to decide how to finance the community’s creation (i.e., how to pay for the land needed for the community, and how to pay for the construction of any structures that would need to be built).

• Money to meet those expenses could come from the intended residents and/or from individuals/organizations willing to present gifts to the corporation. Money from residents could take the form of outright gifts, the purchase of stock in the corporation, or both. Given that the amount of money available from the above sources might not be enough, solicitation of gifts from members of the Larger Society (individuals and/or organizations) might very well be necessary. Another possible source could be a loan(s), but obtaining a loan might be difficult; and even if some money could be borrowed, it might be advisable to keep this amount low.

• A question inseparable from the financial one is where to build the community, and for what population size—thinking here of the ultimate size, rather than the initial one. Depending on how these decisions are made, the amount of money needed for creating the community will be affected. In buying a parcel of land, it might be advisable to purchase at a location where additional adjacent land could be purchased at a later time—so that the initial cost of purchasing land could be minimized.

• Assuming that a corporation is formed which becomes the community’s owner, and that some of the corporation’s initial capital has been obtained by selling stocks, the rule might be established that stocks be sold only to prospective residents of the community. Second, it might be decided that all adult members of the community should have an equal voice in the community’s decision-making, regardless of how much of an investment one had in the community. The number of stocks owned would have relevance only if a need arose to liquidate the corporation, whereupon the proceeds of the community’s disposition would be allocated proportional to amount of stock ownership.

• Before an actual purchase of land occurs the intended residents should decide, for the community to be created, how self-sufficient they should try to make it, and what they should, and should not produce. I assume that the individuals involved would be committed to a “voluntary simplicity” existence, which fact would have implications for the decisions they made on these matters. Given impending changes due to global warming, serious thought should be given to developing skills in gathering and hunting—skills that our distant ancestors had.

• In choosing a location for a community, consideration should be given to the strong possibility—probability, actually—of global warming; thus, sites near coasts should be avoided, along with areas projected by climate scientists to suffer severe drought conditions. James Lovelock—writing from an Englishman’s perspective—has stated, relative to this: “The northern regions of Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia, where not inundated by the rising ocean, will remain habitable, and so will oases on the continents, mostly in mountain regions where rain or snow still fall.” ((The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning. New York: Basic Books, 2009, p. 17.)) Residents of the United States will need to look to other sources for ideas on this matter.

• The group would need to decide how to meet their housing needs. For example, should one dormitory-like building be created, buildings with several apartments each, or a structure for each family? What materials should be used, and how should structures be designed? Should earth sheltering be employed, if the site chosen permits this? How much housing space should be allotted to each individual? Who should do the construction? Energy efficiency would presumably be a major consideration in making some of these decisions; more broadly, ecological considerations would play an important role.

• Also prior to “taking the leap” the intended residents should agree that there would be certain necessary tasks to perform; and that although those tasks could not be identified with any precision beforehand, they agreed that all adults would spend an equal number of hours per week in performing those tasks. Exceptions might be made for special cases, but a sharing of the necessary work would be mandatory.

• The group should agree beforehand that specific work “assignments” would be developed once the community had been created. The fact that individuals had different skills and interests would be recognized; but also, an effort would be made to rotate the adult members of the community through the community’s necessary tasks—for concerns other than efficiency should be given primary attention. An attempt would be made to reach a consensus regarding who did what, and when.

• As an individual could spend more than the required number of hours working during a week, this fact would be recognized by recording, for each individual, the number of hours worked during any given week. Despite the fact that some tasks might be more “important” than others, an hour of work doing one task would be regarded as an hour of work doing any other task.

• Although various required tasks would provide employment to residents, some of them might be hired out to “outsiders.” Also, if a resident desires to have his/her own private business, that desire should be honored—so long as that business is small. And, because it might be necessary for some residents to have “outside” jobs, that necessity should be recognized. Having such a job should not, however, excuse one from performing one’s “necessary” community tasks (or otherwise “covering” for them). Given that allowing such possibilities has the potential of reducing the solidarity of the group, residents of a community should be sensitive to that possibility, and make employment decisions with that possibility in mind..

• Presumably, the community would not only produce for the needs of community members (trying to be as self-sufficient as possible), but would also produce some excess—but as the result of efficient production, rather than excessively long hours of work. Initially, this excess would be sold to those on the “outside”; but over time the community would attempt to reduce its dependence on the “outside” (not only in terms of selling, but also buying “inputs” and finished goods). This would be done by contacting nearby CECs, and making arrangements with them for inter-CEC trade. Contacts need not be restricted to nearby CECs, though; for example, if there are Amish families nearby, an effort should be made to develop harmonious relationships with them because of shared communal living values.

• As this occurred, different CECs would be able to develop different specializations, although all would attempt to maintain a certain degree of self-sufficiency and a “voluntary simplicity” way of life.

• To enable such a development to occur, once a CEC had become established it should work for a proliferation of CECs near its own location, providing whatever financial and technical support it was able to provide.

• A some point in development some CECs might be able to specialize in providing at least basic medical and dental services, but in the initial stages of development there would be a need for a CEC to provide medical and dental insurance for its residents. Presumably, members would make an effort to eat healthily, get sufficient exercise, and otherwise be interested in their health, so that the need for such services would be reduced. But as one ages, one reaches a point where such care is needed. (I’m rapidly getting there myself!)

• Meals might be prepared in a community kitchen, and served in a community hall. This would not only enable the serving of nutritious meals, but enable the realization of efficiencies in food preparation. An attempt would be made to have some variety for each meal, and the special dietary needs of some members would be considered.

• During free time residents would be permitted to engage in whatever (legal) activities they wanted, consistent with the mores established by the community, although cultural activities (forming musical groups, theater groups, etc.) would be encouraged. (As a former French horn player, and lover of classical music, cultural activities are highly important to me.)

• Given that residents (many of them, at any rate) would have a deep interest in ecological issues, they would recognize that world population growth was a problem, ((Currently the world’s population is nearly 7 billion; however, an optimistic estimate for 2100 CE is about 2 billion—meaning that a severe culling of the world’s population is likely between now and 2100. Thus, even if family size is not reduced voluntarily, a huge reduction in the world’s population is likely in the next 90 years.)) and therefore would agree that a two-child family was preferable—and that adoption was a preferred method for achieving that goal. They would rightly regard eugenics measures as abhorrent, however.

• Residents of a CEC should recognize that small size has many positive correlates—as Kirkpatrick Sale has pointed out in his massive (!) book on the virtues of smallness: Human Scale ((New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980.)) —and keep in mind that the ultimate size of their community should be no more than about 500 inhabitants. Insofar as a given community serves as a temporary refuge for “climate refugees,” this limit might be passed temporarily at times. But if this happens, an effort should be made eventually to reduce the community’s size to a “proper” one again in the near future to ensure the viability of the CEC.

• From a sociological standpoint the efforts of community planners/builders should be to make their community a “family of families.” There is no necessity of abandoning the family as an institution—quite the contrary, in fact. An effort, however, should be made to give the community the feel of a super family. A major problem of contemporary society is that it engenders feelings of insecurity in its inmates—especially as the time nears for “leaving the nest.” Community planners/builders should make an effort to “design for security”—not only in the sense of providing safety to residents, but a feeling of family, belongingness.

• There is no reason to object to “ecological company towns” (ECTs) being created, so long as they avoid the paternalism, exploitation, etc. of past company towns.

As the above discussion should make clear, a rather large number of decisions would need to be made before actions could begin, and because many of those decisions would be interrelated, it would not be possible to make them in a clear sequence. Likely discussion would begin on one matter, then switch to another, to still another …, with the discussion then coming back to the original subject, with this process continuing until a number of decisions were made—and almost simultaneously. Even after the group had reached a point where they felt comfortable proceeding (in purchasing land, arranging for the construction of buildings, etc.), they still would face many decisions of a practical nature. Only after the community had become established, and had “operated” for some period of time would some routine be established. However, one would hope that life never would become boring for the residents of a given community!

It would be helpful if Communities magazine, or a newly-established magazine, would record the progress of the New Society Movement (NSM), along with providing helpful information to those planning, or already living in, a CEC or ECT.

How might that progress occur? In 1984 my scenario/strategy of societal system change was published, ((“Ecotopia: A ‘Gerendipitous’ Scenario,” Transition: The Quarterly Journal of S.E.R.G.E. (The Socially & Ecologically Responsible Geographers), Vol. 14, no. 2 (Summer 1984), p. 2-8.)) and I will summarize that article briefly here. As that scenario was inspired by a passage in an old book by Ralph Borsodi, and the passage in question is somewhat lengthy, I repeat it in the Appendix below.

I began my article by noting that a book had just been published on “lifestyles,” with some useful categories. ((Arnold Mitchell, The Nine American Lifestyles. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1983.)) I argued that a movement for societal system change would need some “pioneers,” and that two of Arnold’s lifestyle categories appeared to be particularly promising for providing such individuals—those in the “Societally Conscious” and “Experiential” categories. Being familiar with migration concepts, I used those concepts, along with Arnold’s categories to develop a scenario of societal system change—what I called a “pull, push, pull, push, drag” scenario.

As I thought about our society, it occurred to me that retired people might be especially suitable for “Wave” One—the “Societally Conscious” and “Experientials” among them, specifically. For not only do they have incomes independent of jobs; they may at least sense that any technologically-oriented society involves change which renders the old obsolete and worthless—so that they have a good motive for exiting the Larger Society. I was also encouraged by Philip Slater’s statement: “Older adults have a vested interest in finding a place for themselves in the new society, and whatever place they find will provide a model for new-culture adherents as they age.” ((The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970, p. 143.))

Wave Two I also thought of as involving retirees, but lower-income ones who might be less well-informed, but individuals dissatisfied with their current place of residence—whether because of dwelling unit quality (lack of!) or an unsafe neighborhood. Because such individuals would likely not be well-informed, they would need to be actively recruited by “First Wavers.”

The NSM might now have achieved a magnitude (in numbers of people) that it could attract—as Wave Three—people of all ages. I would expect that in particular “Societally Conscious” and “Experiential” people of “productive” age could be attracted to the movement during this phase. The inclusion of a broader age group would mean, of course, that such issues as child rearing and schooling would now come to the fore.

It is during Wave Four that the Movement could begin to attract significant numbers. During this phase the effort would be made to attract people who are currently “working class.” I say “currently” to emphasize the point that once those individuals would enter the Movement, they would cease being “working class”—because of the basically egalitarian nature of the Movement. If there was a “making of the working class” ((An allusion to E.P. Thompson’s book with that title.)) during the Industrial Revolution, there would be an unmaking of same during this transition to a New Society.

As my discussion of Ralph Borsodi (in the Appendix) should make clear, with many in the “working class” now being a part of the Movement, those remaining in the Larger Society (no longer that!) would be “dragged” into the Movement. They would, however, be welcomed into the Movement—so long as they relinquished their conviction of being superior, and their habits of domination. This, then, would be Wave Five.

It goes without saying if a process of societal system change were to be initiated along the lines of the about scenario, change would occur in an evolutionary manner that would be unpredictable. My hope is that any such modifications made to the scenario would be of a positive nature, from the perspective of the two goals of (a) addressing the threat of global warming while simultaneously (b) attempting to build a society offering a way of life more in accord with human design specifications.

As to criticisms (or potential criticisms) to my plan (besides that it is too “radical”! ((Why is it radical?! See, e.g., John Nichols, The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition … Socialism. New York: Verso, 2011.)) ), I will identify—and respond—to five here. First, several decades ago Alvin Toffler, in discussing “future shock,” ((Future Shock. New York: Random House, 1970. The term “future shock” was coined by Toffler, and first used by him in an article (1965) in Horizons magazine.)) was (p. 2) referring to a phenomenon induced “in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” In referring to change as an “elemental force,” Toffler implied that change was irresistible, a virtual law of nature. However, he was somewhat ambivalent regarding the matter of change, for he then went on to add that we must learn to “control the rate of change” in our “personal affairs as well as in society at large,” or “we are doomed to a massive adaptational breakdown.” Toffler failed to make clear here whether he was referring to the amount of change that had occurred or the rate of change; what he seemed to be suggesting, however, was that the rate of change (a) was excessive, (b) could be reduced, and that (c) an effort should be made to reduce it.

Toffler’s attitude toward those having difficulty coping with change seemed to be somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand it seemed to be somewhat Social Darwinian in that he seemed to perceive those able to cope as the “fit” and those having difficulty coping with change as the “unfit” (used in a pejorative sense). On the other hand, however, he seemed to feel some measure of compassion for the “unfit” because he devoted Chapter 17 (“Coping With Tomorrow,” p. 319-341) to a number of different coping strategies: Direct Coping, Personal Stability Zones, Situational Grouping, Crisis Counseling, Half-Way Houses, Enclaves of the Past, Enclaves of the Future, and Global Space Pageants. At least one cannot fault Toffler for not being creative!

Where Toffler came closest to expressing a condescending attitude toward what might be thought of as communities similar to Cooperative Eco-Communities was in his discussion of Enclaves of the Past. (Of course, the comparison is not perfect, because Toffler was writing at a time when global warming was on the “mental maps” of but a few individuals.) Toffler stated that these Enclaves would be (p. 335) communities “in which turnover, novelty and choice are deliberately limited.” Life in these communities would be slow-paced, relaxed, less stimulating (i.e., dull!). Toffler came close to saying that such communities would be created for the slow-witted dregs of society. Given this, his variety of compassion was of a rather peculiar sort—but not one unknown n the history of the West. Toffler added that such communities should not be thought of derisively but, rather (p. 336), “should be subsidized by the larger society as a form of mental and social insurance.” Thus, it appears that from Toffler’s perspective, the people living in such communities would have no value in themselves; rather, the communities would house unimportant people, and in effect be mental wards! They had the advantage of being good for the “unfit” people who inhabited them, while simultaneously being good for the society—in that they would provide a sort of insurance for those living in the larger society. Just how Toffler did not make clear, however.

Were Toffler writing about the future now, I’m not sure what he would say relative to what he wrote in 1970. But if Future Shock is considered in the light of our current world situation, it comes across as a naïve, ignorant book. A book that shows no awareness of The Discrepancy, of “design specifications,” or the threat of global warming. Thus, even if some in our midst might cite Toffler in criticizing my Cooperative Eco-Community “plan,” it would be foolish of them to do so.

Second, some might argue that my “plan” is so radical that it is simply beyond the scope of everyday thinking; therefore, the “plan” has no chance of being taken seriously. I realize that there is merit in such an argument, but would point out that at least since the time of Plato, some individuals have developed critiques of the then-Existing Order, with some of them also devising “pictures” of their concept of a Better Society. ((See, e.g., the massive Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel, Utopian Thought in the Western World. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979.))

Third, I would point to those who think my “plan” is “off the wall” that intentional communities have played an important role in American history (e.g., and For example, Dolores Hayden, in her important Seven American Utopias: The Architecture of Communitarian Socialism, 1790-1975, ((Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1976.)) lists (in Appendix B, pp. 362 0 365) 130 such communities. In addition to Hayden’s book there are numerous other books (and articles), including Edward K. Spann’s Brotherly Tomorrows: Movements for a Cooperative Society in America, 1820-1920 ((New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.)) and Donald E. Pitzer, ed., America’s Communal Utopias. ((Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.))

Fourth, skeptics need to be aware of the fact that there is already, and has been for several decades, a Federation of Egalitarian Communities ((See also “Co-ops & Community.”)) Their web site offers information to those interested in joining an existing “intentional” community, or initiating one; and the Communities magazine that they publish also provides valuable information on the subject. In addition, this organization publishes a directory of intentional communities in this country and elsewhere (the 6th edition is the one currently available), which publication gives one a good idea of how many such communities exist, and where.

Fifth, a criticism that might be directed at my proposal is that it is asking them to do something that is just plain “unnatural;” that the “American Dream” is to live in a single-family home, and that most of do. What such people need to know is that this “American Dream” was created as part of a propaganda effort on the part of the Hoover administration in the 1930s. “President [Herbert] Hoover organized a national Conference on Home Building and House Ownership in 1931, dedicated to a campaign to build single-family houses in the private market as a strategy for promoting greater economic growth in the United States and less industrial strife.” ((Dolores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1991, p. 275.)) Also (p. 283): “Industrialists began to consider the strategy of offering white male skilled workers small suburban homes, to be purchased on home mortgages, as a way of achieving greater industrial order.” (Figure 13.1 on p. 283 shows the title page of a booklet put out by Industrial Housing Associates in 1919: “Good Homes Make Contented Workers”!)

A question that might arise with some is: “What about the rest of the world? Other countries will be affected by global warming as well, and what should we do about that fact?” I have three suggestions to make regarding that matter:

• Encourage individuals in other countries to study what we are doing here.

• Lend whatever assistance we can to people in other countries—doing so, however, in a sensitive way that does not involve imposing our will on others.

• Cooperating with other country’s governments in addressing the refugee problem that is likely to arise.

What are the prospects for my “plan”? Paul Gilding (formerly head of Greenpeace International) has stated, “As a species, we are good in a crisis …” ((The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011, p. 2.)) When (p. 6) “our backs are against the wall, all the great qualities of humanity, our compassion, our drive, our technical brilliance, and our ability to make things happen on a massive global scale, come strongly to the fore.” When (p. 58) we respond to the global warming crisis, “it will be with breathtaking speed and scale, and it will drive the biggest economic and industrial transformation in history.”

Gilding uses (p. 110) “the example of World War II as evidence of what we are capable of, both economically and physically and in terms of sudden political shifts.” Gilding recognizes that, unlike Adolf Hitler, “climate is hard to personify and is something for which we ultimately have only ourselves to blame.” He concludes, however: “But on closer inspection, while there are some real differences, there are not as many as you might think, and there are many lessons and great encouragement in that experience.” “Without the benefit of a retrospective view,” continues Gilding (p. 111), “it would be much harder to predict when exactly the denial of Hitler’s threat would end. So it’s also hard to predict when the moment will come on climate, even though in hindsight, it will be ‘obvious.’”

Gilding has had wide-ranging experiences, and has occupied important positions; therefore, it would be foolish to ignore his statements. My thinking, however, has been more influenced by James Lovelock—a genuine, and noted, scientist—and I therefore share Lovelock’s pessimism. Besides, I’m convinced that my “plan” is more promising (in potential positive effects) than anything Gilding offers.

Still, the question is whether my “plan” has any chance of being implemented, and this is another area where I am pessimistic. The current (a) political—and general—climate (no pun intended!) in our society seems rather unfavorable for any efforts to address this problem, Peter Shumlin (Governor of Vermont) being a rare exception among politicians. ((See, e.g, Robert Scheer, “The GOP’s Sick Priorities,” Truthdig, 12 July 2011.)) “Denial” propaganda (b) seems to be given as much attention by the media as solid scientific work. And (c) if my “plan” does get initiated, various interests in our society may do all in their power to squelch it. ((That such a possibility should be of concern—that we are moving in a police-state direction—is suggested by a recent Chris Hedges column.)) In addition, (d) if the “plan” gets initiated, as global warming results in more and more people becoming miserable and desperate, they may use violence against those in the Movement, thereby hindering—if not terminating!—the Movement’s progress.

If intelligent, enlightened politicians were common in our society, we might be able to minimize the consequences of global warming. But they aren’t; and even if they were, the problem of our “unnatural” way of life would not be addressed—or even recognized, for that matter. The only solution potentially capable of addressing both that problem and global warming is the cooperative eco-communitarian one proposed in this essay. And that is why I am “sold” on this solution—but, again, from the perspective of “Sorelian myth.”

The above discussion gives one little basis for hope, but there is some reason to have hope: The pathetic state of our economy at present—with so many unemployed (likely over 20%), people losing their homes, and many homeless (including many veterans)—provides us with a situation such that if an alternative to the prison we currently live in were offered, many might take advantage of that opportunity. In talking with a neighbor recently—who is from northern Wisconsin, and works in construction—I was surprised—pleasantly so!—to learn how close his thinking is to mine, except that his—currently, at least—more individualistic than mine. This suggests to me that many “ordinary” folk, and perhaps especially those who have grown up in small-town America, could be attracted to my proposal, if presented to them in the right way.

A final point: Solutions have been offered other than the one I offer here (most of them having a technological orientation, with such solutions having been discussed by Lovelock in Vanishing Face), but you will need to go elsewhere to learn about them. It’s not that I don’t think that such solutions have merit; rather, it’s because a discussion of such options would lead me too far afield from my principal concern, the necessity—and desirability—of societal system change.


There is a book that has had great influence on my thinking, particularly with reference to the proposal that I presented above, Flight From the City, ((Flight From the City: An Experiment in Creative Living on the Land. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1933.)) by Ralph Borsodi [1888-1977]. The following quotation is taken from Chapter One (“Flight From the City”):

What are the social, economic, political, and philosophical implications of such a type of living? What would be the consequence of a widespread transference of production from factories to the home?

If enough families were to make their homes economically productive, cash-crop farmers specializing in one crop would have to abandon farming as a business and go back to it as a way of life. The packinghouses, mills, and canneries, not to mention the railroads, wholesalers, and retailers, which now distribute agricultural products would find their business confined to the production and distribution of exotic foodstuffs. Food is our most important industry. A war of attrition, such as we have been carrying on all alone, if extended on a large enough scale, would put the food industry out of its misery, for miserable it certainly is, all the way from the farmers who produce the raw materials to the men, women, and children who toil in the canneries, mills, and packing-towns, and in addition reduce proportionately the congestion, adulteration, unemployment, and unpleasant odors to all of which the food industry contributes liberally.

If enough families were to make their homes economically productive, the textile and clothing industries, with their low wages, seasonal unemployment, cheap and shoddy products, would shrink to the production of those fabrics and those garments which it is impractical for the average family to produce for itself.

If enough families were to make their homes economically productive, undesirable and non-essential factories of all sorts would disappear and only those which would be desirable and essential because they would be making tools and machines, electric light bulbs, iron and copper pipe, wire of all kinds, and the myriad of things which can best be made in factories, would remain to furnish employment to those benighted human beings who prefer to work in factories.

Domestic production, if enough people turned to it, would not only annihilate the undesirable and nonessential factory by depriving it of a market for its products. It would do more. It would release men and women from their present thralldom to the factory and make them masters of machines instead of servants to them; it would end the power of exploiting them which ruthless, acquisitive, and predatory men now possess; it would free them for the conquest of comfort, beauty and understanding.

What Borsodi—an economist—was in effect stating here is that the society (in modern times) is also an economy, and that as such its various parts are all interdependent. If one individual were to withdraw from this system by becoming self-sufficient (i.e., homesteading), this would mean that that individual would be:

• No longer providing labor support to the system.

• By not making any purchases, not contributing to the continuing “welfare” of the economy (including whatever sales taxes that might exist, and go to support government).

• Paying no income tax to help support the state and federal government.

• Selling nothing to those remaining behind (except for what would be necessary for the payment of a property tax).

Selling nothing to those remaining behind (except for what would be necessary for the payment of a property tax).

The exit of this single individual from the system would, of course, have no discernible impact on the economy/society. However, were the percent of the population making such an exit to increase gradually, a point would be reached where that egress would begin to have an effect:

• Some firms would be forced to shut down—or move to a different location (e.g., a different country)—because of the loss of a market for whatever they were selling. What would the employees then do—especially if the firm leaves for another country?

• Those who left firms to become self-sufficient would leave those firms in need of new employees. Where would they get them (besides from firms in the first category)? They might be tempted to import labor, but immigration laws might make that difficult. Moving to a different country might, then, be an option; but if a firm’s market is a local one (e.g., a bakery, a service activity), such an option would not be a realistic one. If a firm does move to a different country, its employees are not likely to follow it there, so what would they (the employees) then do?

• As more and more individuals exit the system, revenues of state governments will decrease, as will those of the federal government. And as firms either shut down or move to a different country, tax revenues from such sources will cease. On the other hand, as more and more become unemployed, more and more of a burden will be placed on governmental units, putting them in a real bind. Governments would need to discontinue many activities, in the process laying off employees—further aggravating the unemployment problem.

• Firms that sell to government units (i.e., “feed off the public trough”!) will find their market shrinking, and will be forced to lay off employees. What will these former employees do then?

• Our military—which has perhaps killed about 1,000,000 Iraqis would of necessity be cut back, for lack of funding. Given that the terrorism that we (i.e., the military and CIA) practice against other countries would necessarily be reduced, there likely would be a decrease in counter-terrorist actions against us! So that even we Americans would benefit, not just foreigners, from a significant exit from the Larger Society.

• Etc.

The point here is that this exiting (and perhaps also exciting?!) action on the part of individuals—whether done as individuals or as members of groups (creating communities for themselves)—would, if sufficiently magnified, have significant results. As it is, the individual in our society is vulnerable—often wondering from day to day whether s/he will have a job (there being many in our society at present not having jobs!). But if individuals were to exit the society en masse (while remaining in this country), at some point it would become clear that the society itself is vulnerable. That is, it is conceivable that the society would collapse—and this could be a “good thing,” one not necessarily involving much (if any) hardship to people. During this process people would, of course, be changing their way of life; but if done right, this change could be an improvement! Is there anybody here who believes that our society is not in need of improvement?!! ((Paul Street, in reviewing Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (2010) states: “Capitalism, Chang proclaims, is ‘the worst economic system in the world, except for all the others’ and ‘still the best economic system that humanity has invented.’ Well, then, with all due respect, we had better damn well invent a new and better system—a democratic, participatory, and egalitarian one.” Street then cites Mike Albert’s Parecon: Life After Capitalism (2003) and Stanley Aronowitz’s Left Turn: Forging a New Political Future (2006). I would like to think that Parts IV and V of this series present a “new and better system.”))

  • Read Part 1 and 2.
  • Al Thompson retired over seven years ago from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: Read other articles by Alton.