“What is true is that the idea of power corrupts. Power corrupts most rapidly those who believe in it, and it is they who want it most. Obviously, our democratic system tends to give power to those who hunger for it and gives every opportunity to those who don’t want power to avoid getting it. Not a very satisfactory arrangement if power corrupts those who believe in it and want it.” – Gregory Bateson
The Benefits of Economic Decentralization – Part Two
Citizen control of a local corporate entity, in the form of the Watershed Charitable Foundation (WCF), is a logical next step in the devolution of power. It began with the absolute dictatorship of monarchy, then authority became split through the internalized, self-governing space of the Old Order corporations of church and trade guilds, then further devolved into the individual liberties we cherish today.
The long term, sustainable, and compounding economic growth that we think of as crucial, was not the norm in the 17th and 18th centuries, at least not for the great masses of people. The liberty to enter into contracts, form new churches, access to law, to legal rights and political contest, were originally the powers of kings, the Church and wealthy elites who grappled for control over the tools of violence to enforce their wills over the rest of society.
Only about the time of the American Revolution, at a time of economic take-off that coincided with the rise of commercial society in the context of capitalism, did the whole of our population (eventually) get access to the legal system. Individual liberty is a concept that came relatively late in Anglo Saxon history. To be sure, these changes caused great debate amongst Enlightenment thinkers of the time.
Le Conte, for instance worried that there was a price to be paid with the rise of the middle class. The fear of losing their newfound wealth would create class envy and result in a right-wing take-over by politicians who would exploit their fears. Adam Smith advocated for the individually independent tradesman and worker, and to dissolve Old Order trade guilds, as vastly liberating. John Stuart Mill hoped voluntary associations and organized social bodies would counteract fickle rule by the masses and was concerned about the local despotism of the family, clan or traditions, and how to control them. Like de Tocqueville, he feared the possibility that, in a modern world, all would become equally free, equally anonymous, and equally powerless.
The Farm Resettlement Congress (FRC) 20-Year plan is based upon the idea that individuals can sort themselves into communities in order to provide governance, and trade local public goods without reliance or coercion by the corporate-state. An individual’s freedom to enter into a WCF confers legitimacy on the acts and decisions of these groups.
As such, so long as these groups respect a formal right of their neighbors to not enter into their membership, to exist separately and independently, their non-profit status and charitable actions are legitimate, and cannot be overridden or violated by the corporate-state and the oligarchs, even if a populist economic plan for the decentralization of government power is inconvenient to them.
The insertion of direct (horizontal) democratic norms into non-profit institutions at the base of the American power pyramid (i.e., as a new third tier of decision-making), has many improvements. The decentralization of institutions is the next evolutionary step in the restoration of wealth ownership and comity in American civil society. The Ozarks is likely the last, best region left in North America where this is possible at the speed and scale this economic reformation must occur.
The corporate dinosaurs that dominate the world economy will not be swept aside in favor of rational principles; they will be supplanted by the insertion of bioregional autarchy. The Ozarks is the last, best region where decentralization through small scale restorative agriculture is possible, and people are capable of it.
The FRC 20-Year Plan to restore food and energy freedom agrees with de Tocqueville’s foundational argument that local organizations and associations cultivate a spirit of independence that is the bulwark of freedom against centralized oppression, be it from monarchs, democratic centralization, or the Bankster-corporo take-over of planetary resources.
The Swiss Constitution contains a provision requiring “Account to be taken on the dignity of creation when handling plants and other organisms.” Over a decade ago, an amendment was added to defend the dignity of vegetation and animals against unwanted repercussions of genetic engineering. The amendment was turned into law and is known as the Gene Technology Act. “Genetically modified plants are ok,” it says, “as long as their independence, i.e., reproductive ability and adaptability are assured.” In other words, no forced sterility or terminator genes are allowed (read Monsanto, now Bayer).
The Swiss model shows that when the scope of decision-making is bound by natural geographical realities, as reflected at the federal level, it provides the least constraints to the freedom of individuals. By grounding the WCF service charter in the three-fold relationship of the social organism (to one’s Source, to community, to the entire life web), where the eco-health of the environment is maintained in ways that equally protect the non-foundation member, people are protected from those who would use WCF resources to enhance their private power.
We cannot sacrifice the virtues of pluralism in the belief that there is a simple or optimal institutional structure. The FRC philosophy is this: If the coporo-state is prohibited from violating individual freedoms, then so are private and non-profit groups. Moreover, we cannot, in any way, deny the freedom of individuals to enter organizations that impose constraints upon those imposed by the liberal state. Churches or local organizations have the right to exclude members. As Jacob Levy, author of “Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom” puts it, “We cannot dissolve groups, associations and civil society before the altar of the liberal state.”
The principle of combining protective and productive functions on the same land is an essential part of the Farm Resettlement’s 20-Year Plan to create food and energy autarchy in the Ozarks, and as common in Europe for a long time. The Interlaken Workshop on Decentralization (2004) is an example of the exchange of experience between long decentralized countries, and some newer ones. With a holistic focus and a new approach, we can accomplish much the same right here.
Let’s further explore the benefits of decentralization for the Ozarks.
Centralization and decentralization are two sides of the same coin; it is a dynamic process in which these two features in any government system interact. Stepped-down decentralization results in a process of horizontal democratization; men and women become empowered with more choices, thereby gaining more prosperity. Also, a more humane ethos is inserted into the laws of the power hierarchy.
The states of Missouri, Arkansas, and part of Oklahoma would be pulled closer to representative government through a process of bioregional decentralization and democratic liberalism, giving a modicum of balance to mid-American politics. The benefits of intermediate bodies like the WCF bring life to the notion of “market-preserving fiscal federalism.” When institutional decisions are tied to a threefold social order, and the hierarchies of nature are reflected in a demurrage currency, then economic freedom is grounded in food and energy autarchy, the overarching requirement for self-government.
Service to the planet resolves the debate between pluralism and rationalism; it’s the how-to-build-it bulwark meant to defend against political fragmentation, rent-seeking, and market disintegration. The State is properly preserved as a force for market integration and a force for greater liberty as it is in Switzerland where a localized form of direct democracy significantly protects against the political threat to liberty and prosperity by the federal State.
The Swiss found a way for a local community to take back responsibility for the wellbeing of its own constituency by combining a direct democracy procedure at the local level, within the bioregional ethos, as backed with a high regard for the planet embedded within a federal system. What they can do, we can do also.