Place Based Grass Roots Groups Political Action Web

This is the Local Economy and Livelihoods section of the Carrboro Energy Descent Action Plan.

The content currently in this section is duplicated from the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan / "Local Economy and Livelihoods" section by Michael O’Callaghan and Diane Carton.

The Present[]

The emergence of a transport-based global economy has undermined local and regional economies to the extent that local regions and localities are no longer wholly or even partially self-sufficient in energy, food supplies, building materials, clothing, crafts, etc. The economic ties that once underpinned communities are largely gone. Centralised funding structures have supplanted local economic autonomy.

The Background: - The Debt-Money System. All money comes into existence as interest-bearing debt, issued by private banks. All loans must be repaid with interest, therefore all economies must continually grow, or face collapse. Economist Richard Douthwaite identifies this growth imperative as a social cancer, where the stress of background debt gives rise to relentless competition, obsolescence, waste, innovation, computerisation, acceleration, expansion, mergers and eventually monopolisation.

The positive aspects of this growth dynamic manifest as greater system efficiencies, accelerated technological innovation, competitive opportunity, wider markets, increasing economies of scale, apparent wealth creation, consumer choice, media impact and global markets. In short - the global industrial economy.

MATERIALLY however, the downside of growth manifests as jobs lost to increased efficiencies, poor-quality goods like clothes and food, an array of trivia and unwanted products, the cultural monotony of `one-size-fits-all', the escalation of corporate power, invasive 24/7 advertising, and lower-paying jobs in a `race to the bottom'.

In the core industrial, corporate and business sectors, humane and altruistic values are deemed unproductive and undesirable, while aggressive instincts are rewarded. These values then permeate throughout the wider economy.

SOCIALLY, this system impacts as career stress, loss of family time, loss of personal time, stress-related illnesses, depersonalised relationships, and the undermining of friendships, voluntary work, etc. As monetisation increases the social fabric suffers, children are reared in daycares, parents are placed in nursing homes, savings are eroded and retirement delayed. Regrettably these characteristics have become the accepted norm of modern life, as economic values overshadow all others.

The characteristics of the growth economy are so present and widespread they may even be difficult to perceive, particularly as we haven’t experienced or imagined the alternatives. Besides, the human spirit is forever optimistic and incorrigible, taking each circumstance it finds and generally making the best of it: `Hope springs eternal in the human breast.' Our good spirits may disguise the background realities.

Also, the pervasive "I'm-all-Right-Jack" syndrome receives official and media sanction. As long as we occupy a successful niche in the system then we are likely to support it, or at least not question it. Individualism - and isolation - is encouraged, while our collective instincts are slowly dismantled by the same market forces. Margaret Thatcher's notorious dictum "There is no such thing as society - only individuals and their families" confirmed this reality of the market economy.

CONCEALED STRUCTURES. And so the structural components of our economic `reality' remain concealed. Market values and institutions are tacitly accepted by academia, the religions and the media. Indeed, `market values' now claim the moral high ground of the work ethic, whereby success in the system is deemed virtuous, while failure is a moral weakness. Meanwhile the debt-money mechanism quietly transfers wealth from the lower 80% to the `top' 10% of the population, and thence to the top 2%, etc.

ENVIRONMENTALLY the financial `growth cancer' is seen in the destruction of habitats, soil erosion, loss of bio-diversity, species extinction, air pollution, global dimming and warming, toxic land and ground water contamination. Our full supermarkets conceal the environmental costs of carbon fuel-miles, worker exploitation, land depletion and toxic waste. Our species is relentlessly depleting limited resources and exploiting the fragile biosphere in blind pursuit of the profits required to feed the financial system's (or money market's) insatiable need for growth.

"Growth is the heart of the environmental problem. The National Environmental Plan will never succeed because it is embedded in growth." R. Heuting, head of Dutch Environmental Statistics, The Hague, 1997.

THE LOSERS. Those who cannot play a successful role in this economic competition quickly become marginalised, welfare-dependent, debt-laden, impoverished, even destitute. Their material insecurity and loss of social esteem serves as a silent threat to others to remain on the treadmill of (illusive) success, at whatever the cost. The material security offered by the globalised economy is largely illusory. Supermarkets hold an average of 5 days food-supply for the communities they serve. Companies owe no loyalty to place or population. Supply lines are stretched. The system is complex and vulnerable to geo-political tensions, industrial strikes, supply-line interruption and financial uncertainty and disruption. The system is top heavy: it fails to recycle its wealth and so maintain a healthy customer base. And it depends on cheap oil.

THE END OF CHEAP OIL. The low-cost distribution system which underpins the global economy was built on plentiful oil. A relentless rise in oil prices will force price-increases across the board. Competitive pressures will then increase and debt/repayment pressures will intensify. Uncertainty replaces confidence and the money supply contracts. Our vulnerability becomes starkly exposed. The consequences are potentially appalling. The need therefore to develop and strengthen stable local economies becomes clearer. However, this realisation may come too late for many exposed localities and regions such as ours.

The Future

Even in an optimistic scenario where plentiful alternative fuel/technologies emerge, the growth imperative of the global money system itself is unlikely to change, particularly as the system is no longer in the control of any single government or democratic institution. Oil or no oil therefore, the challenge now is to (i) envisage and (ii) plant the seeds of, a healthy local economy - one which will place the quality of life and community above mere considerations of profit.

"If people living in an area cannot trade among themselves without using money issued by outsiders, their local economy will always be at the mercy of events elsewhere. The FIRST STEP is for any community aiming to become more self-reliant is therefore to establish its own currency system”. R. Douthwaite.

First, a Note on Multiple (Parallel) Currencies

Progressive economists now agree that a multiple-currency approach will provide solutions to many of the problems above. To use an international currency for local transactions makes little sense, since the latter becomes exposed to the ills and vagaries of the former. Edward deBono observes "Multiple parallel systems, with permeable membranes between them, give very stable systems - as in the human body."

  • LOCAL CURRENCIES encourage and support local skills and initiative, strengthening the web of local contacts and inter-dependence. Energy is captured and circulates locally - it doesn't dissipate or escape. Existing models include Time-Banks, L.E.T.S., The Roma, Ithaca Hours and Hour currencies; Our proposal here will present the Links Network concept as a means of (a) integrating and (b) initiating the best aspects of these local currency models into a single functioning model for Chapel Hill.
  • REGIONAL CURRENCIES support regional and national autonomy and economic resilience. These have a wider geographical spread and acceptance than a local currency. Working models include Barter currencies like The Trade Pound, Trade Dollar, and the Swiss Wir. A `BarterIreland' network was launched in April 2005. The (West Country) Celt and the South American Credito provide examples of regional `mutual credit' currencies.
  • AN INTERNATIONAL CURRENCY should serve international trade, and not undermine local and regional economies, as is currently the case. Economist John Maynard Keynes in 1933 said: "ideas, knowledge, hospitality, science, travel - these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun wherever it is reasonable and conveniently possible and, above all, let finance be primarily national."

The Vision[]

Here in Carrboro we recognise that local information and exchange facilities are the key to re-establishing local resource management structures and community self-reliance. For us, the definition of a `healthy economy' is one where debt-stress is removed from lives and livelihoods, and where everybody finds a useful and fulfilling role in a clean, sustainable environment. These are matters of first principle. By 2021 Carrboro could have a local currency, centred on community goals, and supporting a vibrant local economy of crafts and services. By simple means of currency fee and online transaction charges, Carrboro would have its own local revenue base, and be in a position to independently fund local community services and initiatives.

Under the guidelines set out below, local community organisations (CO's) will be able to `fundraise' or resource themselves by soliciting offers of goods and services from their supporters and pooling these into a collective `resource pool', thereby benefiting mutually from each other's untapped resources. A `CORE Network' will administer these functions. Carrboro could be a leader in this regard. Running parallel to this, a local TimeBank will co-ordinate volunteer activity, identify social needs and address local social problems, particularly for the youth, the elderly, the disabled and the underprivileged. In this Carrboro would be joining a growing world-wide TimeBank movement.

These initiatives will help Carrboro to become aware of its vulnerability and it strengths. When a local community is free to manage its local resources for the general good, its independence, resilience, health and sustainability are ensured.

Getting from Here to There

"Converting the vicious cycle of today's global economy that effects such a strong and divisive fracture within the human heart and mind into a virtuous and nourishing cycle will be no easy task. Community based action in an economics of solidarity is required [...] First, there needs to be a strong shared vision and community of interest within a defined population to engage with the task."

Local resources[]

Practical Steps:[]

Currently In Place[]

Carrboro is a progressive town and has already implemented many steps toward sustainabale local economy and livelihoods such as: