Book review: The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy, Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty
Yvon Poirier, October 2012
Most, if not all of the examples in this book by Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty demonstrate solidarity between people and various organisations in the same geographical area. In most cases, the activities are developed to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups, as in the case of access to housing for low-income families. Even if the book does not include many examples from countries of the South, we know from various examples in articles we have published in this newsletter that the approach is the same. Our newsletter has illustrated many examples of this kind, such as ASSEFA in India 60, cooperatives in Mozambique 19, forestry users in Nepal 17, and even solidarity economy in rural districts of China 81. We have also illustrated the way in which grassroots organisations in different countries come together to share information, support one another and jointly carry out advocacy.
We know the two authors of the book we are reviewing in this issue and they have used examples to systematically illustrate these and other examples, in order to demonstrate that it is possible to live differently without seeking to achieve growth at all costs, or destroying the ecosystems of our planet. Not to mention the accelerated depletion of the earth’s resources.
The book enables us to get a glimpse of a different way of life, based on things that already exist, of what the authors call “a steady-state economy” that would be more respectful of all human beings, who take the future into their own hands and organise in all regions of the world.
The two authors of the book The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy, Michael Lewis from Canada and Pat Conaty from the UK have achieved the masterpiece of analysing the current socio-economic situation and demonstrating from existing alternative practice that we have all we need to switch to a more respectful community-based human society, one that also respects the planet.
On the basis of existing case studies, they clearly demonstrate that the current growth-based development model is not so much the fruit of the capitalist model per se, but rather the result of the use of almost-free energy based on oil. As they illustrate in an allegory, it is as though we had found a hidden treasure buried in the basement of our house. At least in the case of part of the world’s population, we help ourselves to it, and spend recklessly. We have therefore used up the planet’s resources at breakneck speed; this is true for the natural resources, water, the oceans, as well as land and all the ecosystems. In less than 2 or 3 generations the impact has been greater than all human activity combined since the start of life as we know it. The capitalist system as it exists today, particularly in its neo-liberal form, accentuates this frenetic race of consumption and dilapidation of resources and is taking us to the brink. Yet scientific studies have undeniably proven that not only is this not a viable model, but the very future of life itself will be considerably disrupted by factors including climate change, - something that is now almost inevitable – unless we make rapid major changes. In this respect, we like a quotation by Kenneth Boulding, taken from the book. Having explained that we are living in a world of finite and not infinite resources, he declares “Anyone who believes that economic growth can go on forever is either madman or an economist!”. We apologise to the “real” economists who obviously know that this is dogmatic, and based on ideology and that it has no scientific basis.
The authors explain that there is nothing new about the awareness that we need to adopt a lifestyle that is more respectful of humankind and life. In the 18th and 19th centuries many actors proposed different visions, often qualified as Utopian or idealistic, but that often led to genuine alternatives. Robert Owen, for example is said to have inspired the first cooperative in Rochdale in 1844.
With the economic crises, the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the unemployment of the last 30 or 40 years, people have become aware that it was necessary to create organisations that respect human values and sustainable development. The authors present many success stories to illustrate this, such as:
The Seikatsu Club Cooperative Union in Japan. Founded in 1968 by women, it now brings together 32 cooperatives with 350,000 members who buy basic food supplies direct from producers.
Community Land Trusts in the United States and the United Kingdom that remove land from property speculation, make housing accessible to “ordinary folks”. The one in Champlain, Vermont, in the United States is a pioneer in this regard. It has enabled the creation of 2,200 affordable homes.
Italian solidarity cooperatives provide social services to communities including disadvantaged people in their salaried workforce.
The Mondragon group of cooperatives in Spanish Basque country belongs to its 70,000 workers. Over and above the industrial production the group includes a credit union, schools as well as research and development activities.
Various financial cooperatives and credit unions that have not, generally speaking been affected by the 2008 crisis, or at least not very much. The authors mention the network of 220 community credit unions savings banks in the United States that are active in the disadvantaged communities around the country. Mortgages were healthy and they have lost little in spite of the increase in unemployment within these communities.
The authors illustrate their ideas with many other examples. Nevertheless the examples mentioned above allow us to understand that by fighting against the forces that are perpetuating the dominant model, how it is possible to live differently. These activities, as the title indicates, are more resilient, as they are based on the involvement of people and communities. They are also more resilient for the planet, as they show how it is possible to live in a more balanced world that does not depend on the unreasonable exploitation of the planet’s resources.
Canadian Center for Community Renewal-Centre canadien de renouveau communautaire (EN+FR)
New Economics Foundation (EN)
International Newsletter for Sustainable Local Development n°93