The United States is clearly in an advanced state of decline. Many people around the world (and even inside America) rejoice at this, but not me. I mourn for the country that I was born in and that I still love.
Yes, the United States has never been perfect, but the Republic that the founders started truly has been a light to the rest of the world in a lot of ways over the centuries. Unfortunately, our foundations are badly rotting and our nation is collapsing all around us. Many Americans like to think that the United States is greater today than it has ever been before, but the truth is that America is like a patient that has stage 4 cancer that has spread to almost every area of the body. Our nation is being destroyed in thousands of different ways, and more distressing news emerges with each passing day. This article will mainly focus on the economic decline of America, but much could also be said about our social, political, moral and spiritual decline as well.
We are simply not the same country that we used to be. Americans are proud, selfish, greedy, arrogant, ungrateful, treacherous and completely addicted to entertainment and pleasure. Our country is literally falling apart all around us, but most Americans are so plugged into entertainment that they can’t even be bothered to notice what is happening. Most Americans seem to assume that we will always have endless prosperity just because of who we are, but unfortunately that simply is not true. We inherited the greatest economic machine the world has ever seen and we have wrecked it, and now a very painful day of reckoning is approaching. But most people will not understand until it is too late.
Can you imagine a neighborhood where people live in a natural environment. No rushed noisy cars, no trash and litter, no paved concrete soil and no iron fences…., but just trees, birds, benches and bike paths. A neighborhood where kids can run around and play and where people can meet and talk on the streets. Where growing your own food in community gardens is supported and where a craft center provides the tools and skills necessary to build your own carpentry. Imagine it having a Community Center where guests can sleep and meals are prepared once a week together. A center where art galleries display their work and activities are held for children. Imagine a neighborhood which houses organizations that believe in cultural diversity and quality of life. Where people live in well insulated and naturally designed, private dwellings. Provided with energy by the solar panel and biomass systems in the back land.
For some this is a dream. For others it is unknown. The fact is that an ecovillage or communities even urban neighborhoods like this not impossible. It is really not such an unreachable utopia as many may think. It is a matter of educating ourselves about the idea and spreading the vision through networks of traditional established ways of practice. It is a matter of combining forces with motivated people who still care enough about their planet and the future of their children to fight for a healthy environment, multi-cultural values, purity of life, social equality and moral justice including sustainable economy. It is a model. An example of where we could go. A model that might be a solution to a social and environmental global crisis. A solution to a bioregional as well as economic crisis. A crisis driven by old-fashioned value systems of consumerism and individual greed, where an old school of experts and greedy politicians dominate over an ecologically sounder value including financial sounder value: health and economic sustainability.
The big picture
Very few people are aware of the potential that current sustainable living practices offer in terms of environmental as well as social welfare. Therefore, the majority of the people who could help considerably in moving the project forward, such as planners, investors or urban designers, need to be approached with care.
Nowadays, more and more people realize that the effects of urban sprawl (eg. modern “strip development”) are increasingly causing serious problems to our natural and social environments. Perhaps environmental damage (eg. widespread loss of biodiversity and the increasing lack of aesthetically pleasing environments) as well as social problems (eg. increase in crime and homelessness) could be attributed to the loss of a sense of community.
In default of government protections against the total economy of the supranational corporations, people are where they have been many times before: in danger of losing their economic security and their freedom, both at once. But at the same time the means of defending themselves belongs to them in the form of a venerable principle: powers not exercised by government return to the people. If the government does not propose to protect the lives, livelihoods, and freedoms of its people, then the people must think about protecting themselves.
How are they to protect themselves? There seems, really, to be only one way, and that is to develop and put into practice the idea of a local economy—something that growing numbers of people are now doing. For several good reasons, they are beginning with the idea of a local food economy. People are trying to find ways to shorten the distance between producers and consumers, to make the connections between the two more direct, and to make this local economic activity a benefit to the local community. They are trying to learn to use the consumer economies of local towns and cities to preserve the livelihoods of local farm families and farm communities. They want to use the local economy to give consumers an influence over the kind and quality of their food, and to preserve land and enhance the local landscapes. They want to give everybody in the local community a direct, long-term interest in the prosperity, health, and beauty of their homeland. This is the only way presently available to make the total economy less total. It was once, I believe, the only way to make a national or a colonial economy less total. But now the necessity is greater.
And then, perhaps, one begins to see from a local point of view. One begins to ask, What is here, what is in me, that can lead to something better? From a local point of view, one can see that a global “free market” economy is possible only if nations and localities accept or ignore the inherent instability of a production economy based on exports and a consumer economy based on imports. An export economy is beyond local influence, and so is an import economy. And cheap long-distance transport is possible only if granted cheap fuel, international peace, control of terrorism, prevention of sabotage, and the solvency of the international economy.
Perhaps one also begins to see the difference between a small local business that must share the fate of the local community and a large absentee corporation that is set up to escape the fate of the local community by ruining the local community.
So far as I can see, the idea of a local economy rests upon only two principles: neighborhood and subsistence. In a viable neighborhood, neighbors ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another, and they find answers that they and their place can afford. This, and nothing else, is the practice of neighborhood. This practice must be, in part, charitable, but it must also be economic, and the economic part must be equitable; there is a significant charity in just price.
Of course, everything needed locally cannot be produced locally. But a viable neighborhood is a community; and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common. This is the principle of subsistence. A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. It does not import products that it can produce for itself. And it does not export local products until local needs have been met. The economic products of a viable community are understood either as belonging to the community’s subsistence or as surplus, and only the surplus is considered to be marketable abroad. A community, if it is to be viable, cannot think of producing solely for export, and it cannot permit importers to use cheaper labor and goods from other places to destroy the local capacity to produce goods that are needed locally. In charity, moreover, it must refuse to import goods that are produced at the cost of human or ecological degradation elsewhere. This principle applies not just to localities, but to regions and nations as well.