Confronting the Context: Permaculture and Capitalism 22

I’ve written before about the challenges faced by permaculture enterprises. Farms, like other land-based permaculture projects, are faced with the formidable task of regenerating ecosystems and communities, while surviving in a system that rewards the destruction of the same systems. Permaculture projects have to compete with degenerative enterprises and institutions that are happy to take the efficiency ‘bonus’ from unsustainable and exploitative practices.

The consequence is that it’s hard for permaculture enterprises to keep costs as low, and therefore people with less of an economic buffer, who have to minimize costs as much as possible, find it hard to support regenerative enterprises as consumers. That’s most of the world, in case you were wondering.

So the regenerative enterprises that we would like to create have a difficult time offering products and services that most people can afford, and most people can’t afford to support the regenerative economy. If we want real change, then this impasse demands our attention. We need new strategies for scaling up from gardens. We need new institutions – ones that can provide an interface between our regenerative practices and the degenerative economy.

Permaculture’s take on institutions is not as developed as its take on landscapes. This is probably not news to anyone – but it’s important to spell it out. While some attention has always been reserved for alternative institutions (e.g. Chapter 14 in the Designers’ Manual), the focus of permaculture’s principles, strategies, and techniques, has always been on the human-landscape connection, not the human-human connection. We have to look outside permaculture for more substantive insight on these questions.

Enter Emily Kawano, and the Solidarity Economy perspective. Emily Kawano

Emily is the director of the Center for Popular Economics and the US Solidarity Economy Network, and works with the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy. I had the opportunity to teach with Emily last January, and I don’t mind saying that it was a little bit of a revelation for me. For the first time I felt like I was encountering a way of thinking about economics that resonates with the best of permaculture thinking.

I knew that it was going to be good when the subject of capitalism was introduced in an email discussion leading up to the course (thanks to Patrick Gibbs) The discussion soon turned to whether and how naming capitalism would serve the course, particularly in terms of the risk of alienating politically mainstream attendees. I found Emily’s contribution very useful, and I’ll reproduce some of that discussion here (with her permission).


“Sometimes speaking frankly and forcefully is what’s needed, no matter how difficult it is to hear – but that’s a strategic question that is driven by context and goals. A lot of the familiar ways of talking about the toxic aspects of our social order are really alienating to some folks. I’ve found that framing issues of disparity as a wound in the social fabric, bigger than all of us, that forms a barrier between us and where we want to be, can be an effective way of supporting people in thinking strategically and not shutting down.

By starting from the place of people articulating their goals and desires, and keeping those desires on center stage as the reason for making change, disparity and the systems that produce it become less of a personal indictment and more part of the landscape we have to design for. Capitalism, as a term, is complex, loaded, and means very different things to different people. There may still be a time to use it, but almost certainly not at the beginning of the week.”


“I agree that it can be a delicate dance between presenting a clear critique of capitalism and the need for systemic transformation on the one hand and alienating your more mainstream allies on the other. I’ve been surprised at how [the] goal of inner city community revitalization through job creation, worker ownership and economic democracy has been widely embraced by mainstream folks from various sectors… [T]here’s pretty wide-spread recognition that the mainstream strategies of economic development have failed, especially in poor communities of color, and there’s a receptiveness to new ideas. If you’re talking about job creation, you’re golden. [W]e don’t generally talk at the level of critiquing and seeking to transform capitalism as we’re focused on the practical tasks of getting these businesses up and running.

But when we have an opportunity to, for example when we bring a speaker from Brazil in to talk about the solidarity economy, then it makes sense to bring in the transformational agenda. I agree that an emphasis on the merits of transformative practice is more useful than blasting capitalism. And you have to choose your moments. [I]t is critical for organizers/practitioners to have a clear eyed systemic analysis of capitalism so we can build towards systemic transformation instead of lovely but isolated practices.

I completely agree that there’s a lot of smoke and obfuscation [about the meaning of capitalism] – but that’s a problem.

So when do we talk about capitalism in permaculture? If we don’t address it as a system, can we possibly design institutions that can do what we need them to do? Can we design permanent agriculture (or settlement, or whatever) without a systematic analysis of the existing landscape? There is no reason to expect that we could.

The permaculture literature has always shied away from of systematic analysis of institutions – and perhaps as a consequence, so do many permaculturists. When you compare permaculture’s basic analysis of social systems, with the sophistication of our analysis of agroecosystems… it’s kind of embarrassing.

Q: Why are we in this mess?

A: Greed!  Greed and stupidity! 

If you look to Mollison for your answer, that’s just about all you’ll get. Not that greed and stupidity aren’t active forces in the world (lol?), but shouldn’t we also ask why their impact is so great? The permaculture lit has paid very little attention to the processes that are producing, rewarding, and maintaining greed and stupidity. It’s like looking at 10,000 acres of GMO corn and saying that the the pests and weeds are the problem.

Solidarity Economy  is a way of addressing our economic system as a system, and designing institutions that can regenerate social well-being while thriving in the here and now. It’s worth noting SE’s several commonalities with permaculture. SE crafts a popular, accessible framework, based on principles and patterns, that serves as user-friendly front-end for an extensive and detailed analysis of socio-economic processes. SE is solutions focused – after spending the minimum amount of time necessary discussing and diagnosing the current system, the attention turns to strategies for change. It’s driven by bottom-up action – though unlike permaculture, SE is consistently and explicitly about groups. Like permaculture, it focuses on creating new institutions rather than reforming old ones – though like permaculture, the ideas can easily be adapted for reform, as well. Last but not least, it’s both a conceptual framework and a rapidly growing international movement.

SE provides some resources with which we can address capitalism as permaculturists, and more broadly as systems designers. We start, as always, with site analysis. We define the system. As Emily kindly pointed out above, the lack of a shared understanding of the system is a problem – and I would add, a needless gift to the status quo. The Center for Popular Economics has been using these five elements to define capitalism for more than three decades:

(1) Private, rather than common, ownership of the means of production (factories, tools, land, etc)

(2) Production for sale (not use)

(3) Profit maximization

(4) Wage labor

(5) Market exchange

But a list of elements is not a system. To make it more systemic, I tried to map out some of the dynamics that emerge from the interaction between elements. That was pretty cool (for a first draft), but then I got smart, and turned the mapping over to a group.  During the  Economics unit at the 2013 Finger Lakes Permaculture Design Certificate Course, I placed the five elements on the white board, explaining each as I put it up. I explained that our task was to map out how the elements interact, and then put up two examples. It’s fair to say that class and I were equally excited about the exercise. (Sorry I have no pictures of the process – just the result!)

It’s important to note that the five elements aren’t absolute and universal. Capitalism easily accommodates a bit of common ownership of land and resources, a smattering of non-market exchange, a pinch of production for use instead of sale… But these five elements are the overriding patterns in the system. Local variation from that norm doesn’t necessarily dispel or disprove the overriding pattern, but they can provide points of leverage, or refuge, from which to build.

Even more importantly, we should notice what’s not on the list, e.g. entrepreneurial spirit, free enterprise, individual and collective ambition and innovation, and democracy. The idea that opposing capitalism means opposing these aspects of freedom is one of the great bugaboos of the right. What we are opposing are the mechanisms by which are whole society is organized to reward greed and destruction. We can change the social context of the entrepreneurial spirit to make it more robust, so that more people have a chance to take their amazing idea and make it useful, make it real.

While we’re at it, I want to note that while capitalism uses markets to determine basically all questions of allocation, that doesn’t mean that we have to be completely anti-market if we want to replace capitalism. Markets are just one element out of five – and capitalism is the system composed of all five of these elements. Just like with entrepreneurial enterprise, we can put markets in a new social context. We can use markets to do some allocation, at a human scale, without having the weird mystical cult of infallible markets that we live and die under today.

So if this is the system we face, what do our institutions need to look like? The Solidarity Economy framework points to examples of of models that exist in different economic spheres: worker cooperatives in production, community development financial institutions in finance, and community land trusts in consumption/ownership. All of these models can mesh in straightforward ways with the existing economic system, while at the same time undermining it. Substituting collective ownership for private ownership has a cascade of effects that make it possible for enterprises to optimize for multiple functions – including ecological and social health – instead of simply maximizing profit. I’m especially interested in worker cooperatives, because of how this can be applied immediately to the many permaculture enterprises that are being started every day. It’s also a model for which there are incredibly successful examples already.

Note that it’s when cooperatives are networked together, like reciprocal elements in a permaculture design, that the model becomes the most powerful. See the Mondragon Cooperatives, in Spain, and the Evergreen Cooperatives in Ohio that are modeled after Mondragon. These cooperatives have attacked the dichotomy of owner and worker, so that all workers have both a stake and a voice in the enterprise. Workers with a stake and a voice have the flexibility to respond to multiple imperatives – including things like ethics.

It also means that the cooperative has as access to collective intelligence and insight that is much greater than what the owning class can ever buy. We need more of this in permaculture – and badly. These are the kinds of institutions would should be building as nests for our regenerative enterprises, that can thrive now while making a very different future. It’s clear to me that Solidarity Economy is a natural ally to permaculture, and I’m looking forward to all the opportunities ahead of us to integrate these frameworks.

  • Shane Hopkinson

    Yeah so am I. I have subscribed to the network.

    Ever since I did my PDC. My gardening skills are still pretty limited but the most frustrating part is what you identify as the weakness of social permaculture. Its amazing how readily biologists feel they can comment on society as experts in ways that, as a sociologist, I’d never dream of commenting on biology. Its made worse because in general they reproduce ‘common sense’ (conservative) understandings.

    I think the idea that “capitalism easily accommodates a bit of common ownership of land and resources” is a massive understatement. Vast areas of social life are run voluntarily by people and the domestic work of raising families – via which the system reproduces itself – is done (mainly by women) at home for free. Capitalism business are dependent on the resources of the state both historical (for enclosure of commons, for eg) and presently through all sorts of subsidies etc (eg the GFC bailouts of trillions). No major capitalist firm expects market forces to apply to them – and if they do – they expect to be compensated!.

    I could write pages but a couple of quick comments. The division between society and nature is reflected in our ways of thinking and in the ways these are institutionalised. One of the things that militates between a reconciliation of thinking about society and the environment is that attempts to incorporate biology into social thinking have tended to be very conservative and similarly for systems thinking there have been functionalist social theories using systems thinking but they deal with issues of power very poorly – with attempts at social change being seen as ‘dysfunctional’ or women being confined to their ‘natural’ roles.

    Wondered about how some mention of Transition Towns as part of this process too.

    Enough for now.

  • RafterSass

    Thanks for the excellent point, Shane! Here I’m totally neglecting the huge realm of unpaid labor and non-market exchange on which capitalism depends, as well as the dependence of capital on public (which is not to say common) resources. It’s incredibly important.

    And yes, lot’s of natural scientists and systems theorists make atrocious commentators on social issues, vz. for one illustration.

  • Dave Jacke

    Good stuff as usual, Rafter. Glad to hear about this network and the ideas herein. I’m currentlly working on the History chapter of the Coppice Agroforestry book. It’s amazing to see the parallels between the above and what I’m working on, and to realize that we are still in the midst (or at the endgame?) of the enclosure movement that began 600 or 700 years ago, if not earlier. The big picture of coppice history is that it started out as a communal subsistence resource, became a market commodity, and then lost its value as either. Revival of the practice depends, in large part, on the socio-economic structure within which it is embedded, and of course the relative costs of energy and labor.

    • RafterSass

      Indeed, Dave, and thank you for bringing in the enclosures – still, as you say, very much ongoing, and still very much a violent piracy.

      So what do you suppose are some social, economic, and political structures that could support coppice management? Or what are
      some elements of those structures?

      • Dave Jacke

        Rafter, Aaah, that my friend is the rub right now–I don’t know. Land tenure is a huge huge part of this. Some form of common rights culture seems necessary for the time scales involved–some way of simply and clearly disaggregating the bundle of rights we think of as “land ownership” which is a monoculture now. For example, in some coppice-with-standards systems (widely-spaced full sized trees with an underwood of coppice), some elements only get harvested once in 25 or 50 or 100 years, while in the same woodland the shorter material may get harvested every other year or every 10 or 15 years or something in between. Then there are foraging rights to consider, and hunting, and fodder harvesting, and ‘pannage’ or pigs eating acorns, and so on. How do we have a clear understanding of who gets to harvest each of these and manage the various elements cooperatively as part of a whole culture and a whole ecosystem without throwing either the economy, the social relationships, or the ecosystem out of whack? That’s a toughy! OH, yeah, then throw in taht right now, given the relative value of energy and labor, such systems aren’t even economic, but we need to figure out how to run them in our times and places with species we don’t fully understand before the shit hits the fan…. Hmmm.

        I’ve had direct experience with various legal entities for land tenure, community land trusts, cohousing, etc., but so far nothing that seems to really work in that regard, partly because of the embeddedness within this crazy culture of ours, nd our limited vision of what problems those social structures are needing to solve. So much of what was done in the commons cultures of Olde Briton was done by custom and not written down, and has so many layers of Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Tudor, Elizabethan, Modern culture on top of it that its hard to see what kinds of models there were there, if any. How exactly did people decide who got to use the pollard shoots from a given wood pasture in which years, and how many to harvest, and what the rotation cycle should be? So far it doesn’t seem anyone knows or even has a clue. Got a ouija board?

        I’m in the chaos phase of getting into this coppice and commons history material and having my world and worldview turned upside down in various ways–its forcing a reinterpretation of much of the history I had learned in days of yore–amazing stuff. Pissing me off, actually, how wrong much of what I was taught is, or how little was taught. Not that I didn’t know that, but I’m getting more specifics now.

        Do yo know of the Carta de Foresta, that was signed at the same time as the Magna Carta, and gave economic rights along with the magna carta’s legal rights to habeas corpus, etc.? Few do. Interesting stuff. But, for one thing, it basically guarantees widows “common rights of estover”, meaning they can harvest wood from the commons for their needs at will. Many of the witch trials actually were persecutions of women trying to act on that right…and getting caught up in the commons vs. privatization struggle. Sound familiar? Sigh. But I am now much clearer that the concept of “rights” is, or can be, a way of partitioning resources in an ecosystem–forming resource-partitioning guilds, if you know what I mean. I like where that thought heads.

        Anyway, your piece above excites me because it appears to offer a key synthesis piece for the puzzle of our times. I’ve been developing ideas around the social-and-economic-structure and inner landscape elements of permaculture for years, but have yet to give it consistent focused attention and get some framing for it that feels solid and connects to everything else the way things should. I can feel that coming soon, though. It does appear to be the big kahuna in terms of whether permaculture can fully embody its principles, though. If we don’t address both of those realms simultaneously, then we’re just arranging deck chairs and hammocks and forest gardens on the Titanic.

        At some point I will write something about the one frame I’ve been developing that is getting solid for me around this stuff. I call it the “Axes of Social System Design.” It functions in a manner similar to the Scale of Permanence to help us cover our bases when we design social systems. I have used it on projects twice and it is a very useful frame for thinking through specifics for given situations.

        But I need to get back to writing this history! Chapter due tomorrow! I’d love to talk in much more length and detail about all of this sometime, and hear your latest thoughts and realities as you continue your research and teaching. I’m glad we’re on the same team!


      • Neil Bertrando

        Wow! thanks for this Dave. lots of food for thought

  • Adam Brock

    Great analysis, Rafter!

    I heartily agree that permaculture has yet to clearly articulate its application to economics, despite the fact that there are many allied memes and movements just waiting to be fit into the permaculture framework.

    I’ve found that the pattern language approach works particularly well here, and I’m slowly building out a set of interconnected Alexander-style patterns to better understand these new institutions and how to apply them.

    When I teach this stuff in my permaculture classes, I start by having students play Jenga while explaining how it represents the extractive nature of capitalism and its focus on growth in one dimension. I define the terms “capital” (accumulated energy in a system), “currency” (a means to regulate flows of that energy), and “dollars” (one of many kinds of currency). I explain how dollars, as a currency, are designed to concentrate wealth via debt and interest – dollars flow towards more dollars like water flows downhill. This is why it seems so hard to earn a livelihood in line with our values.

    Then, I describe three kinds of responses to this predicament that I’ve identified:

    – reducing our need to earn dollars
    – using various tricks to get small amounts of dollars to “flow uphill”
    – designing currency polycultures that meet our real needs and make dollars less necessary

    All in all, I’ve got a couple dozen patterns in the economics language so far – some of them are well-established memes in the alternative economics discourse, and some of them are tentative first steps at naming patterns I’ve identified from my own experience. I’d love to compare notes when you pass through Denver on your road trip!

    • RafterSass

      Thanks, Adam. You’re getting at some pretty fundamental – and potentially difficult – ideas, in a way that seems useful. Figuring out a way to understand and teach the tendency of capital to accumulate is a key issue. I like your metaphor of flowing uphill and downhill – but I wonder about two things. One, what if you reverse the spatial relationship? Comparing the accumulation of capital to the downward flow of water naturalizes it – and aren’t we supposed to want to work with nature? I’m legitimately curious if it could be reframed against common sense, to reinforce the notion that capital dispersing is natural, and elaborate social structures are required to enforce the opposite.

      Two, I’m not sure I agree that debt and interest are the fundamental means by which wealth accumulates. Wealth was being concentrated well before the financial sector took on the overwhelming importance that it has today. Not that finance isn’t a big deal: it is. But the fact that capital itself is the tool that enables an owner to extract surplus value from the labor of others – I believe that’s an engine of accumulation and concentration that’s working on a deeper level. Thoughts?

  • Dave Jacke

    One other thing: you say in the piece above that “we start, as always, with site analysis:. Actually, we need to start by articulating our design goals! The goals guide the site A & A, and the site A & A discovers the design….

    • RafterSass

      Ladies and gentlemen, Dave Jacke.


      • Helder Uni Valente – New Schoo

        This is an interesting point…ive been trying to start with a totaly clear observation without any mental goal, just observing for observing even without the client and any of the influence of his ideas…i think its good for me to have all the design possibilities opened so i dont want the influence of the client, i ask him to prepare a tea, sit and the wait for me…and then i go and do some meditative childlike observation….cause i will only have one opportubity for that…we can only observe a landscape for the first time once…thats my goal.

  • nyoman wen

    one of the reasons for the deficit in social permaculture philosophy is that the PDC core does not teach people to think in permaculture ways. even throughout the discussion on this page, most is at a level that is not readily applied to an individual’s everyday life. we can end up teaching pattern literacy at a level that we feel powerless, without teaching how to apply this perspective practically.

    Rafter, you raise the question “Can we design permanent agriculture (or settlement, or whatever) without a systematic analysis of the existing landscape?”

    We can try. If we can raise awareness in the individual of core truths, this should flow out and transform the details of their perspective accordingly. Similarly, if we can “seed bomb” a core node which then self-propagates outwards exponentially, it doesn’t matter what is outside, all will be transformed as it encounters the expansion.

    The challenge appears to be getting the core right, getting down to the most basic pattern level. We could spend days, weeks on this work together, rather than teaching an excessive level of detail in, for eg, energy transaction analysis, or analysis of capitalism and other social systems. Of course this is all excellent stuff, but the PDC is the beginning of permaculture education, so far. A course focussed on pattern literacy with practical application, and ethics, on a wholistic level (from agriculture right through to spirituality) is bound to produce more permaculture free thinkers, and therefore more innovative ways to transform society.

  • I’m really excited by social permaculture, particularly worker cooperatives. Community development financial institutions, and community land trusts are new to me, so thank you for that. I’m curious as to how worker cooperatives can expand, or how some of those organizational elements (such as rotating leadership/other roles, non-violent communication) can be adopted by existing businesses. For example, an organization designed especially to train and support the development of new worker cooperatives. And/or, one that consults with existing businesses to improve worker cooperation. Thinking in terms of profit for mainstream businesses, ideally with improved worker cooperation, comes improved profits. My personal vision is of an empowerment-based corporate culture that supports workers’ well-being, needs for leadership, creativity, play, values alignment, etc.

    I just took a peek at the Mondragon Cooperatives, and wow that is cool! They even have their own university and research/development system. Definitely looking further into this. Thanks for writing this!

    • RafterSass

      Thanks, Lynn – and glad to have attention of someone who is thinking about profit.

      I like the idea of an inter-cooperative service industry. I do know that there is a bookkeeping cooperative in Woodstock, NY, that is forming with the mission of providing bookkeeping service primarily to other worker cooperatives. I’m sure there are lots more I haven’t heard about.

      I might be misunderstanding you, but I want to distinguish between “worker cooperatives” and “workers cooperating.” Worker cooperatives are business in which the workers are also the owners. Workers can also cooperate in a traditional business structure, and workplace democracy may offer significant improvements to their quality of life (and the bottom line) – but those workers are still selling their labor at a loss, for no or trivial equity. They are still ultimately vulnerable to the caprice of the owners. This model will still, ultimately, be prone to the same crises that we are getting thrown about by now, and will still exacerbate inequality – if perhaps a more slowly. We have to change the ownership structure, not just the decision making processes.

      • I agree with your view on the need for worker cooperatives. My thought was that supporting better cooperation among workers would be like a low-hanging fruit for conventional businesses. They may not be so keen on the idea of a full on cooperative, but improved cooperation for the sake of greater operational efficiency and thus revenue seems more enticing for the conventional business mindset. For example, I just read about the Dynamic Governance Institute, which consults with conventional (but forward-thinking) businesses to improve operational efficiency through an inclusive, self-organizing process.

        Having just come home from a guest class with Starhawk, she suggested I look into sociocracy. I think another commenter here has mentioned that as well.

  • Rhamis Kent

    Hey, Rafter

    I wrote a similar piece (with a different focus/emphasis) back in June. Glad to see more attention being paid to this particular aspect of the work we’re all trying to do:

    Thinking Out Loud: Rentier Capitalism, Natural Capitalism, and Permaculture – A Few Observations

    “While traditional industrial capitalism primarily recognizes the value of money and goods as capital, Natural Capitalism extends recognition to natural capital and human capital. Problems such as pollution and social injustice may then be seen as failures to properly account for capital, rather than as inherent failures of capitalism itself.”

    “The difference between these two economic concepts is similar to the separation between geocentrism and heliocentrism; one is effectively an ego-driven delusion and the other is the actual fact.”

    “In other words, we’re looking at Ideological Preference vs. Functional Reality.”

    “The rentier capitalist expects everything to revolve around the use of property – most notably, intellectual property and proprietary technology. The thinking behind the development of the genetically modified organism, for example, is a powerful metaphor for our time: born from an attempt to impose an order based on a misunderstanding of natural systems (resulting in an increased “engineered/designed” disorder), fuelled by business-related motives (revenue and profit generated via exclusive proprietary technology and intellectual property rights – the cornerstone of rentier capitalism), producing an inherent conflict-of-interest and moral hazard which ultimately begs the question – is the objective to solve a problem or to sell a product? These two possibilities are not automatically synonymous.”

  • Neil Bertrando

    thought I’d add a comment here…cross posted from another forum

    I believe this is a critical avenue of questions and thought to be operationalized in our efforts to co-create
    agroecosystems that are supported by society.

    paraphrased ‘if we don’t understand history, we’re doomed to repeat it’
    and if we can’t define it clearly we can’t understand it fully

    in order to make effective and lasting change ‘systemic transformation’,
    we can be more effective in our actions (least change for greatest
    effect) if we identify leverage points and if we can monitor for
    information that demonstrates our trajectory towards or away from a goal
    (ecological or economic). Also, to have an alternate system defined is
    a clear goal to work towards. so I offer my great thanks to Emily and
    others in the Solidarity Economics field for demonstrating and
    developing this lexicon and practice.

    I recently listened to an interview with David Holmgren by Scott Mann
    ( where David
    states his view that we need more (and more) on the ground
    demonstration sites which are rooted in place and actively
    regenerative. I believe part of this active regeneration is
    participating in value exchange (both market and otherwise) in the local
    and global resource supply chains. In particular, we can focus our
    actions to re-route these supply chains and offer products that support
    more regenerative development. This is one of the points I hoped to
    make with my recent small scale nursery article


    I’ve heard variations of this statement this from many permacultureists.

    ‘we need people on the ground, rooted in place, demonstrating what works, continuing to observe and
    iterate the incremental design process, deepening our relationships, and
    sharing their stories and experiences and surplus to facilitate more on
    the ground development.’

    I agree with and am a believer of practicing what
    works for a specific site context. I also want to understand why it
    works and how it works and what we might be able to design and do to
    improve how well it works for us, for society, and for the ecology.

    Thanks Rafter for contributing to this development and adding to the toolkit
    for meeting our goal of improving ecosystem health while meeting human
    needs (while enriching lives)…

  • From a discussion in another forum:

    We are all using very different definitions of capitalism, which is a huge part of the reason I wrote the article. If we are going to talk about politics or economics AT ALL in permaculture (and is there a legitimate other option?) then we have to talk about capitalism.

    “When does conversation help? When do we move closer to what we want, through conversation, rather than merely rehashing what we already know?” – Susan Parenti

    If we want our conversations ( those times when we, among other things, plan our actions) about economics to move us closer to what we want, we would be foolish to go without a mutual definition of capitalism. CPE provides one that’s been field tested for 30 years, designed for non-academics, that makes sense out of the jumble.

    Making money isn’t capitalism, any more than mulching is permaculture.
    Selling things isn’t capitalism, any more than eating veggies from your garden is permaculture.

    Opposing capitalism does not mean rejecting successful regenerative projects right now, any more than permaculture requires that you refuse to work with organic annual growers.
    It doesn’t mean rejecting pluralism for a cookie-cutter template for projects, any more than permaculture prescribes a cookie-cutter landscape.

    Opposing capitalism means that we, as a movement, base our successional strategies on a systemic analysis of our institutions, and create projects that, in networks, will help change the trajectory of the system as a whole. Thats not something ANY one project can do – we only do it as a network, as a movement. And we can’t do it without talking about it.

  • kevin s

    What a gift to us all Rafter, that you share your gifts so generously, thanks.

    I feel iv’e got nothing smart enough to add, tho still have some impulse to scratch, and is something about not glossing over Finance Capital and it’s current degenerative force in the world. I almost feel that it is being downplayed in this conversation as a real, actual, driver of bad stuff in the race to some pure theory of stuff. Strategy-wise it is great be building coop models. We have all only begun to scratch the surface of what multi-stakeholder coops might accomplish in capitalization/dev of local jobs, so far Land Trusts have mostly been a tool for further consolidation of real wealth into the already wealthy, CLT’s even became just a game for non-profit dev. NGOs in the housing bubble, so we have some ways to go to any level of real implementation of all these great tools. At this sad time in land tenure reality i do think there might be some potential in voluntary, “permanent” easements based on conservation easements that facilitate (require) the mgmnt for regenerative design even after sale to a new owner- proactive PC based easements, perhaps using ag rights as part for the design. There are already lots of folks who have or are buying farmland that want to do this kind of thing if they could. Anyway, there’s one more good idea to the mix…and really, there is no shortage of good ideas, the sky is the limits solutions-wise, if we have the imagination and will to actually build cooperative models.

    However, back to finance Capital. If we let it have its way until it has burnt thru all the carbon it can efficiently eat, it will be too late. No solidarity economy can help in a real ecological collapse. I could say more, but really there are already such deep, urgent, and smart critiques of Capitalism, it is hard to know what to add. I guess the curmudgeon in me tho didn’t want to see the encouragement of a new “positivist” trap while trying to extricate from the current one we are in. If we are talking about articulating goals tho, some of them must be for instance the abolishment of the SEC, Fed, Finance Capital, etc. (not their “reform”) The outlawing of most indirect investment- hedges, derivatives, futures, and all of the mechanisms of hoarding surplus in this way etc. If we prevent everything except for direct investment, lending, and debt of existing capital ( what many people imagine “Capitalism” is anyway in their hazy mis-educated picture of it) then we might have some chance against the natural human desires for ‘more’- aka greed and stupidity. It goes without saying that with the end of finance Capital, so too must go Walmart, Exon, and the rest of the global Corporate Supply chain, but still it is worth mentioning.

    So, here is my question as i ponder the design site: do we expect to be able to develop a civil society that can steer the levers of State power in this direction? Do we expect a State, like the U.S. or any other operating under their current Constitutions (designs) to be able to make these kind of changes? Can we imagine a contemporary US Govt that outlaws Finance Capital? And if we can’t, i wonder what we are talking about really. Strategy wise, i mean..

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