Livelihood

Livelihood = Home + Community + Earth Care

My prior focus has been directed toward the dysfunctions of capitalism, both in this blog and expanded recently in my reactivated website. The second part of this project defines a long term strategy to limit the scope and proportion of capitalism within a fuller notion of the economy.

The post on the Braudel Trilogy has provided background toward an alternative economy that inverts and shrinks capitalism. No, this is not Socialism, the ownership of the means of production by the government. Rather, the emphasis is to decentralize economic life, bring it closer to home and to community, disclose and expand ways of value production outside of capitalism, and to protect the Earth. A guiding light is the masterpiece by Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America.

So, the name to this three-level arrangement, Livelihood, tells the story. The term, often associated with subsistence-based economies, suggests that a small-unit approach works best toward promoting a living, local economy.

Followiing Braudel, I define three layers to material and cultural life while remaining within capitalism:

Home: the Household

Home is where you live and love. As in, after work, you go home. Home is where the heart and hearth is. Home envelopes a major part of our lives from childhood through old age. Capitalism has no metric or, frankly, little use for the value produced at home. So let us start by recognizing that having a vibrant, comfortable, secure home is where we need to start an expansion of value in our lives.

Economists include home as households, where the consumer buys goods and services, takes on the debt of a mortgage, and where labor is “reproduced,” by raising a family. Leisure emanates from home life. Vital statistics on births and deaths are kept but the essential value of homelife, largely the (dis-valued) domain of women, is not within the purview of capitalism.

Appreciate (investments should appreciate) more fully just how important your home is, how valuable it is, how much time you spend there, and what a treasure (asset) your home provides. Leisure, neglected in economics but not culture, occurs at home. Take better care of your home, embrace it, improve it. The true value of your home and the world within it exceeds the value capitalism places on housing.

Home produces immense real value. Labor happens within the home, but is not counted in the GDP statistics. Women do most of this work, so this activity is systematically dis-valued by the metrics and the norms of a market society, i.e., capitalism.

You can easily gain more value from your home. Home investments, such as in energy, likely provide the best investment that you can make. Time devoted to maintaining your home is not taxed. Look at your paycheck to realize how much money is diverted.

Go home.

Community: Commerce, Civics

Braudel entitled his second massive volume  “Commerce.” The original definition of commerce was a convivial activity involving face-to-face communication, not the abstraction of anonymous monetized transactions.

Communities form a vital but largely unnoticed social capital, an enduring set of relationships that serve our direct needs. At this level, monetized transactions make sense, vibrate, take on a human face. We worship in community, find care, and togetherness. We share. Embrace community life (Putnam).

Commerce, embedded in social relations in Scottish villages, was idealized by Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations. To the ancient Greeks, the agora, the place where commerce was transacted was a vital community-building space. The Medieval City that wrested material life from the barons of feudalism, the marketplace took place within or just outside of the nascent trading towns: “Stadt Lucht macht Frie,” meaning “City air makes you free.” Commerce and community need to be integrated, accompanied by an active exercise of citizenship, the essence of democratic practice.

Karl Polanyi advocated a socially and culturally embedded market at a human scale. We all have experienced the excitement of a marketplace, perhaps a local farmers’ market.

For a decade, I served as the founding Trustee of the Economic Development Corporation of Jersey City, New Jersey, a non-profit contracted to perform economic development services for Jersey City, not a trivial charge.  This is a tough turf with a history of corruption to be overcome. The path-breaking success of the EDC has been for me a formative personal experience.

The waterfront facing New York City provides the most dramatic achievement but the activity within neighborhoods (also politically potent wards) was invaluable and essential.  Working with banks and small businesses was a core activity. The entire enterprise gives me insight into the lived experience of local economic development. I claim some credibility here. Toxic dumps (the first Brownfield projects) now provide thriving economic zones. I chaired the first Free Enterprise Zone. Did I mention that I did this work on the ground in Jersey City? Cred.

There are technical aspects to community-building that must nurture the local economy. Much of our economic lives surrounds us. Like our home, our community must be valued, protected, safeguarded, and nurtured. This will be explored soon on my website.

All such activities, despite Adam Smith, have little to do with contemporary capitalism. Like the home, the community has not been appreciated as the economic the economic entity that it surely is. You and I know this.

The community/commerce/civic nexus provides the building-block to counter the larger domain that Braudel called the World System. To that we must turn next.

The Earth: The Civics of Earth Care

As cosmopolitan citizens of the Earth and our species, the level of our capability to participate have been greatly exceeded. Once we have lost that capability, abstractions replace direct contact, allowing trans-national corporations to run amok over us — and the only planet we inhabit.

Start with representation, where democracy becomes indirect and diluted, and where we have lost control. Globalization, international relations, even at the state or provincial levels exceed our capacities to understand, much less control. We must respond strategically: “Think globally and locally but act strategically” (Bookchin).

I will point out how Adam Smith, a shrewd Scottish nationalist and professional philosopher, handled this dilemma. I will argue that Smith has been greatly misunderstood so that instead of a hero of neoliberal capitalism he, like John Maynard Keynes, advocated localism and community. Again, my purpose is to invert capitalism and to rebuild from the local base around Livelihood. This is not socialism, but citizenship.

I will take a dramatic step here. I regard the external political economic forces as displacing our legitimate place in the world with their placing us within their Matrix of profit and control. We must resist respectfully and intelligently:

Three principles will guide our bottom-up approach to globalization:

  1. The perspective of a cosmopolitan localist provides our critical analysis. We build on our home as a base.
  2. The analysis must be informed, systematic, and smart: thus strategic.
  3. The nation-state now belongs to the forces supporting globalization, not localization. The global system has been formed from the top-down, including the U.N. and global capital since World War II. This arrangement is outside of our control.

Our assertive cosmopolitan localism guides our contesting the forces that rip us apart, replace local autonomy with global remote control, rips off the surplus value produced locall, and, perhaps worst of all, precludes our taking action to instill Livelihood in our homes and communities.

Conclusion

Our response to the dysfunctions and contradictions of capitalism builds on our cosmopolitan citizenship, an expression of our active, expanded liberty. These are the steps to take:

  1. Build Livelihood in our communities and regions. Resist the domination of outside authorities. Go local. Think as a strategic, engaged cosmopolitan citizen within a potentially hostile world.
  2. Appreciate our homes, our families, that which we love and care for every day. This is our personal foundation.
  3. Nurture our communities around locally-supportive commerce and engaged citizenship. Extend this action and spirit to our neighboring communities and the bio-regions that nestle us on Earth.
  4. Care for Earth but recognize the political, economic, communicative, and ecological forces that will displace our autonomy with their attempt to place us within their Matrix.

The outline above, like the critique of capitalism, provide a manifesto of sort that needs to be spelled out.