Empowering local communities

If, as I contend, we need to reduce the size and influence of government and dramatically curb global corporatism, replacing both with more localised forms of social cooperation and industry is essential. For much of history ordinary people have tried to base their lives on more than a herd instinct and the meanness of survival.  By ‘ordinary’ I do not mean average or unremarkable but ubiquitous - the majority.  The history-long pressure to suppress free will and human rights is still widespread, but out of the West came a concern for the rights of man.  Mankind, according to western tradition, must be treated with dignity. The ordinary person is extraordinary because they are cosmic phenomenon. The Judeo-Christian conception, centered on individuals, made ‘in the image of God’, with the free will right to choose from ‘the good’ while despising wrongdoing and evil.  These demanded systems of government that protected both freedom and ‘the good’ – for all.   Even liberalism’s philosophers, who eschewed Christianity, would never have developed rights of Man conventions in non-Christian states.  The prevailing ethos in such states provide no room, no right and no platform for such ideas. 

Natural law has been central to human cultures.  There has been a relentless desire to capture beauty, love, freedom and relationship; reflected in architecture, the arts, efforts made to create social order and the development of government.  This drive advanced in the West beyond other cultures.  The cosmic uniqueness of human potential has been sought more vigorously and successfully in the West than anywhere else. The family, systems of justice and the means to conduct economic activities by fair means pervaded western thinking, thanks to the adoption of the Judeo-Christian philosophy.  The fact that governments and rulers have, more often than not, turned their mandate to govern into a will to power drive for dynastic empire and oppressive control, bears testimony to the need for the inalienability of natural law and a philosophic order seen as higher than Man’s institutions.

Western communities broke with the general human condition in dramatic ways, which accelerated over the last 300 years in the battle against the meanness of tribalism, superstition and arbitrary government. The village based pastoral and craft lifestyle grew to embrace, rights, innovation, specialisation of labour and scientific farming practices.  Urbanisation was eventually prompted by advances in agricultural practices and industrialisation.  This was coupled to sophisticated social and economic institutions, the rise of democracy and the expansion of Western influence across the world.  But what was lost in the process?  By the turn of the Twenty First Century it is now obvious that the very drivers behind western success was lost in the welter of advancement.  Free will, and the responsible, self-reliant individual, engaged in the day to day ordinary pursuits of commerce and family life, are now subsumed in pervasive government and globalised corporatism specialising in mass consumerism and money market manipulation.   

The will to power, often associated with commercial selfishness, fuelled colonialism and the building of empires with all the usual injustices common to human history - including the exploitation of African slaves.  A largely Christian concern for social justice in the West squeezed out these practices, at least in the forms associated with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Unfortunately, since World War Two, and following the rise of global corporatism and liberalism, new forms of colonialism and slavery have emerged in both the developed and the developing world.  Despite all the knowledge acquired and social progress made over centuries it is now clear that the ordinary person’s natural right to live a life free of oppressive controls, malpractice, uncertainty and injustice is threatened all over again by the first two facets of the problem.  

History tells us something vital about ordinary people.  They have always been supremely capable of providing for themselves.  There has been an organising principle in western societies that is both relentless and naturally progressive because people are always thinking, producing, inventing, innovating, building, dreaming, searching, creating and working. They do so because they can.  Freedoms and certainty make it possible. As Lord Macaulay observed:

 “We see in almost every part of the annals of mankind how the industry of individuals, struggling up against wars, taxes, famines, conflagrations, mischievous prohibitions and more mischievous protections creates faster than governments can squander, and repairs whatever invaders can destroy.”[1]

Ordinary people developed agriculture, turned the laws of physics and biology into life changing technologies, engaged in exquisite forms of art and organised themselves into cooperating communities. They did not need empires, kings, satraps or feudal lords to do these things.  They had to suffer at the hands of men greedy for power and wealth and contend with the elements while sustaining themselves; all while operating the levers of human progress.  They did need men who could rise up to provide immediate and relevant leadership, providing they did not get in their way.  They also needed a climate that respected the freedom to explore, innovate, produce and trade.  The Judeo-Christian system of free will and individual responsibility provided them with the right values base to pursue both self-interest and community interest in a network of interactions and institutions that maintained an appropriate tension between the two.

The secret to it all lies in what Henry Hazlett in his 1988 book The Foundations of Morality called social cooperation, which requires the simultaneous operation of two major factors; autonomy and mutuality.  I will put a heavy emphasis on these two in Part Four and they stand as recurring themes throughout this book.  They may be recognised in the earlier discussion on individual potential and human nobility. Whenever I refer to local community and individuality reflect on autonomy and mutuality because they lie behind whatever I am saying. The ordinary person naturally turns to these concepts because they make community and economic cooperation possible.  Centrally planned and controlled bureaucracies know nothing of them.  Autonomy gives each individual the right and obligation to pursue aspirations and opportunities.  Mutuality is the glue that hold communities together in the knowledge that one’s actions and the actions of others are all interrelated and important.  Autonomy and mutuality reached the heights of their utility in the West because they were woven into the values and strengths within the western world view.  The State denies the ‘personal sovereignty’, inherent in the West’s traditional values, by insisting on central planning, regulation and transfer payments (taxation) to support the disadvantaged and other forms of intervention.[2]  The traditional approach was local support for the poor until they reclaimed their economic autonomy. It was an act of mutuality through restoration.

Centralised state largess trends to dependency and an exaggerated, non-autonomous belief in entitlement.  The West is going no-where until the historic ordinary man/woman’s personal sovereignty is properly re-asserted and brought up to the level it would have achieved but for liberalism’s interference. We need to think in terms of the aristocracy of everyone.  The traditional aristocrats believed in their right to power over others, concentrated wealth, intergenerational continuance and local-national control. The liberal-corporate western elite and the ruling class, have assumed these attributes when they should have, in the natural maturation of western culture, been contracted to everyone.  The purpose of the reforms I will recommend is to put control, power, and social oversight into the hands of the common man – the majority.  That is where they belong, if tyranny and inequality in its many forms are not to rage.

 Villages and platoons

Welfare policy is a minefield.  No-one wants to see people languish in poverty, but they do not want to pay high taxes either.  Why should the majority have to work a large portion of their lives to support a welfare class? How do we know they would not rise above their poverty if given direct local community assistance instead? The damaging effects of state funded dependency and its associated underclass are growing, but liberalism’s paternalism, feminism and multiculturalism are doctrines that defy change and encourage welfare dependency.  The ruling class dare not antagonise liberalism’s cohorts and mascots either (Sowell, 1995).[3] The result is policy intransience around welfare policy. Much that will be recommended later would lift the ability of people to stand on their own feet – across all facets of public policy, freed from the wasteful and socially destructive redistribution of wealth, through taxation, by the ruling class, through what is called a ‘demand economy’. A new model that supplants the present welfare and regulatory system and recapitulates the best from the past is needed. The answer lies in what was working well before the state conducted its grand asset-stripping takeover.  Private cooperative societies; what Edmund Burke referred to (dismissively) as the ‘little platoons’ and what Tocqueville called ‘associations’, worked very well before state-ism took over.  They should for part of the new model. In a 1894 New Hampshire Bureau of Labour report it was said:

“The tendency to join fraternal organisations for the purpose of obtaining care and relief in the event of sickness and insurance for the family in case of death is well-nigh universal.  To the labouring classes and those of moderate means they offer many advantages…”

This is the opening quote in a book, written by historian David Beito, recording the history of what he calls fraternal organisations. They provided welfare and insurance services for the less well off.[4]  Returning to this alternative model should be a top priority.  State sponsored paternal welfare-ism needs to give way to fraternalism. It was the many fraternally run financial institutions that escaped the GEC largely unscathed. 

Returning to fraternalism would mean tax funded welfare would be largely replaced by community driven cooperative societies and local community support. The government’s role would shift to a backup place of last resort to catch those who slip through the local support net. Welfare via taxation would be almost entirely replaced by voluntary contributions to societies dedicated to providing for those who fall on hard times through unemployment, temporary illnesses or other unexpected events. Fraternal societies work like not-for-profit insurance companies.  People of modest means would make contributions in ‘the good times’ to help cover periods of unemployment or ill-health.  Pension savings were accumulated in the same way, along with health insurance and savings for higher education. Monies paid into these fraternal societies was not lost in a bottomless state welfare pot. It was available later if it had not been used. Returning to not for profit fraternal societies would greatly reduce the role of central government, remove any temptation to treat welfare-ism as a lifestyle choice, empower people with a renewed sense of social responsibility, restore ‘social capital (discussed later) and rejuvenate local economies as the tax burden reduces and monies stay in local communities.  Researching how these fraternal societies worked and adapting the mechanisms for the modern era is not discussed here.  It would clearly have major implications for the single sales tax reform discussed elsewhere in this book, since it would not need to cover many of the welfare programmes currently supported by income tax.   

According to David Beito, prior to the USA federal government shift to income tax in 1916, its expenditure amounted to about 10% of GDP.  As income and other taxes expanded governments tax-taking potential it extended its reach accordingly. Pulitzer prize winning author Anne Applebaum has documented how Eastern Europe’s Communists took over from voluntary organisations, subsuming them into the state apparatus.[5]  The ‘democratic’ West followed this Marxist example.     

 There is a growing movement that emphasises local economies and self-sufficiency.  This movement is, in effect, trying to recapitulate the traditional village or parish economic model, which characterised the historic European experience.  It rests on the ‘common person’ and citizenship; centred on social and economic responsibilities, revolving around a community’s locale. Small, localised, cooperating communities were the lot of humanity until the industrial age and then globalisation minced it all up.  Throughout the millennia communities had to rely on localised food production, self-policing systems of social order, health care, welfare, education, aged care, systems of economic exchange, manufacturing and commerce.  As Alexis de Tocqueville observed; “Local freedom… perpetually brings men together, and forces them to help one another, in spite of the propensities which sever them.”[6] If social policy were thought of in village terms it would lead to some quite radical changes in direction.  Innovation and entrepreneurship that drove men like Tesla, Edison and the Wright Brothers would revive.  When all you had to depend on was yourself, your family and your immediate community it was obvious that you needed to support yourself in cooperation with others, otherwise you stood out as socially irresponsible.  This mutually supporting environment combined the essential elements of classical capitalism and social responsibility.

This advocacy for a ‘village centred’ economic and social model is not to be confused with the green movement’s support for something similar.  Its model is about environmentalism and collectivisation.  It has nothing to say about the sort of self-reliant free individual of which I am speaking.  Green politics invests heavily in state intervention and control, limiting growth by regulation, reducing the human population and limited resource use – again, by centralised control.  They are also heavily committed to liberalism across all the dogmas of its creed.  Environmental responsibility should rest on the same my choice, my risk, my cost ethos explained elsewhere.  A society should set boundaries for resource use and conservation.  Local free enterprise would, by the force of its character, tap into solar energy and new battery technologies (for example) to make local economies energy self-sufficient.  The same would apply to education, food production, support for the poor and maintaining the rule of law. 

People should be free to work within environmentally free boundaries, knowing that if they wish to stray outside them any environmental damage will be a direct cost to them, not through regulation but through the local people’s court system. The reforms recommended for our justice systems would allow environmental harm to be dealt with much more swiftly and effectively than it currently is.  Environmental responsiveness and the conservationists ability to quickly influence decision-making would be enhanced, independent of ponderous state bureaucracy. Beyond that, the rest of the green big-state agenda runs contrary to the Wests cultural survival and should be curtailed.

It is the local village model, conceived in modern terms, that has helped shape many of the recommendations to follow later and goes hand in hand with a move back to fraternal societies.[7]  The village construct rested on community activity as the engine for the larger whole.  The essence of village thinking is a system of effective boundary rules, personal accountability, community engagement, altruism, behavioural transparency and local economic resilience. Within this milieu people can interact freely in the sort of organic ways that saw societies evolve along natural human-centred paths.  Significantly, most of the advances made in the West happened in the village context.  There were no corporate or national think tanks, composed of people trained at the best technical colleges, there was only ordinary people free and motivated to make life better.  Local communities can achieve economies of scale by grouping productive sectors across communities into cooperatives.  This is done successfully in the New Zealand dairy industry which produces a third of the world’s milk solids.  There is a yawning gulf between a system of rules and practices that allow communities to operate and grow organically and a centralised feudal system, which seeks to impose its arbitrary and process driven will on a people cagouled into amorphous ‘masses’ by a ruling class. 

Re-finding western civilisation’s core values depends on employing methods that re-work the traditional village life relationships into the fabric of twenty-first century communities, even if they are part of large conurbations.  Ricardo Semler has found the way to do that in industry. Needless to say it depended on a radical shift away from accepted norms and back to village-like cooperation, without losing the benefits of scale, technology, free enterprise and environmental resilience.   His revolutionary model will be explained in Part Four.  If village co-production interrelationships and fraternal support mechanisms are re-combined the real values that drove western advances and its cultural high places can be re-discovered.  

[1] Southey’s Colloquies on Society, Edinburgh Review, January 1830.

[2] See Dr L.H. Rossiter’s 2006 book, The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness where he discusses personal sovereignty.

[3] Thomas Sowell refers to liberalism’s supporters and beneficiaries as cohorts and mascots in his 1995 book, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.

[4] Ibid. David Beito (2000): From Mutual Aid to Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services 1890 – 1967.

[5] See Scruton – the chapter entitled Liberty in the Post-Communist World.

[6] Murray (2012), referencing Tocqueville, 1840, vol. 2, Google Books.

[7] There is a celebrated community in Mumbai where people live and work in close proximity. Family based businesses in this community make it self-sustaining.