Forget Shorter Showers
Why personal change does not equal political change
Upping the Stakes
by Derrick Jensen
Published in the July/August 2009 issue of Orion magazine
WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”
Or let’s talk waste. In 2005, per-capita municipal waste production (basically everything that’s put out at the curb) in the U.S. was about 1,660 pounds. Let’s say you’re a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You’re not done yet, though. Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I’ve got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States.
I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.
So how, then, and especially with all the world at stake, have we come to accept these utterly insufficient responses? I think part of it is that we’re in a double bind. A double bind is where you’re given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and withdrawal is not an option. At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one—if we avidly participate in the industrial economy—we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world—none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.
Besides being ineffective at causing the sorts of changes necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet, there are at least four other problems with perceiving simple living as a political act (as opposed to living simply because that’s what you want to do). The first is that it’s predicated on the flawed notion that humans inevitably harm their landbase. Simple living as a political act consists solely of harm reduction, ignoring the fact that humans can help the Earth as well as harm it. We can rehabilitate streams, we can get rid of noxious invasives, we can remove dams, we can disrupt a political system tilted toward the rich as well as an extractive economic system, we can destroy the industrial economy that is destroying the real, physical world.
The second problem—and this is another big one—is that it incorrectly assigns blame to the individual (and most especially to individuals who are particularly powerless) instead of to those who actually wield power in this system and to the system itself. Kirkpatrick Sale again: “The whole individualist what-you-can-do-to-save-the-earth guilt trip is a myth. We, as individuals, are not creating the crises, and we can’t solve them.”
The third problem is that it accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers. By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.
The fourth problem is that the endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide. If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.
The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned—Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States—who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.
Whenever I hear of another school shooting or other youthful violence, the first thing I think about is Dr. Calhoun and his mice. Dr. John Calhoun put four pairs of white mice in a steel cage eight-and-a-half feet on a side. Within two years the mice had increased to 2,200. The adult mice began excluding young mice from their company and the young began biting, attacking, and slashing one another. Finally social and sexual intercourse became impossible without violence. The mice stopped reproducing and eventually all died out.
We’re in a cage, too, except it has shopping malls and freeways and cops with guns and sirens. We have governments and hospitals and schools and we have talk shows and newspapers to help us forget that we’re in a cage.
But spend an evening surfing the channels and count the humans being destroyed—by crime, for fun, in sport. You can say it’s television’s fault, but, in the end, the producers and the reality cops and the extreme fighters are also in a cage, just like the viewers. Each is trying to control an environment over which they have lost control, whether using a gun, a ball a camera, or a zapper. And it always ends in another confrontation: another ratings war, another arrest, another illegal deal, another TV pilot, another channel.
If you step back, there is a madness in this, but if you think only of those in the cage—what they can hear, see, and understand—then a primal logic emerges, the need to restrain, suppress, or eliminate the proximate usurpers of one’s rightful time and space. We don’t talk about it much except when somebody suggests we might do it differently and then we say they are “thinking outside the box.” Thinking and living inside a box is now more normal.
As with Dr. Calhoun’s mice, the problem begins to reveal itself with the young. After World War II, spurred by a series of reports from Harvard president James Conant, America deliberately dismantled the education system that had brought it that far. Among other things, Conant considered the elimination of the small high school essential for the US to compete with the Soviets. America listened and Between 1950 and 1970 the number of school districts in the country declined from 83,700 to 18,000.
Thus, with Auschwitz-like efficiency, over 6000 people perished every day during World War I for 1,500 days. Rubenstein recounts that on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the British lost 60,000 men and half of the officers assigned to them. But the internal bureaucratic logic of the war did not falter at all; over the next six months, more than a million British, French and German soldiers would lose their lives. The total British advance: six miles. No one in that war was a person anymore. The seeds of the holocaust can thus be found in the trenches of World War I. Individuals had became no better than the bullets that killed them, just part of the expendable arsenal of the state.
That we have come to accept a politics that offers no choice save between our acquisition of abusive power or our submission to it speaks only to the depths of our condition; it says nothing about that which is possible.
This condition has been largely the result of limits we have voluntarily accepted for ourselves. To those who would rule, manipulate, and lie to us, we have replied with remarkable apathy, repeated acquiescence, and utterly reliable consumption. These are precisely the responses that power seeks.
If we wish to change events there is no better place to start than to change our own reaction to them, to declare that a politics lacking justice, equity, decency, and compassion is no longer acceptable. Economics, efficiency, perception, and brutish power calculations no longer suffice. The bottom line has bottomed out.
The most radical act of individualism in which one can engage today is to come together with other individuals— as church, neighborhood, city, and organization—in order to uncover the biggest secret our leaders keep from us— that we are not alone.
We could ask the questions, raise the concerns, and share the ambivalences that might illuminate the way to a wiser and more just community. We could fill the air with the sound of voices not afraid to speak of decency and encourage those who profess to guide us – politicians, writers, academicians, and preachers—to join our concerns rather than continue to lease their moral authority as though it were just another apartment on the market.
What would this look like? It might mean a coalition of conscience formed by the religious, by socially concerned business people, and by non-profit organizations to give the community a moral opinion on political questions and to set moral standards for politicians. It might mean a city or community coming together to discuss and discover common ground. It might mean academicians demonstrating their political conscience as well as their political facileness. It might mean children being taught once again what being a citizen and having a constitution is about. It might mean reporters treating ideas as news. It might mean a media more critical of the corrupt and less sarcastic about the idealistic. It might mean compiling indicators of a good and just society as well as those of a prosperous and efficient one. It might mean a country that asked why as often as it asked when and how much and a culture that was concerned about the way something was done as well as what that something was. Finally, it might be a country that, just in time, paused to ask a question it had almost forgotten” what it the right, just, moral thing for
us to do” And we might find that by just asking that questions, we had already become a better people.
Meyer, Michael and Jennifer, “The Myth of German efficiency.” Newsweek, 7/30/90, Vol. 116 Issue 5, p36, 1p
A few costs of the Teutonic ethic: meddling neighbors, sodden pedestrians and wooden tomatoes
Time and efficiency: the diptych of German virtue. It’s a cliche. Just as the mere word manana brands Latins as slow and unreliable, jokes ask how many Poles or Irish it takes to change a light bulb. Globe-trotting sophisticates know that dinner at eight means nine in Madrid and half past in London. Here in Germany you can be the last guest if you show up at five after. Social promptness is only one of a host of traits that have given Germans a reputation for efficiency unrivaled since Alexander the Great made short work of the world before his 33rd birthday.
Is it deserved? Even as the Teutonic industrial machine rolls along like a supercharged BMW, there are signs that German efficiency is not all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, West Germany is Europe’s economic dynamo, boasting the highest per capita productivity in the world. Yes, German planes and trains leave (more or less) on time, and the streets are clean. “The Germans are not perfect,” says John Meyer, an American business consultant in Dusseldorf “But when it comes to efficiency, they come closer than anyone else.”
But let us remember: efficiency, taken to an extreme, can become inefficiency. Anyone living in Germany quickly learns the drawbacks of excessive perfectionism. Take the helpful telephone operators at the West German Bundespost. They will routinely disconnect your call if it exceeds the time deemed necessary to efficiently conclude your business. Frustrating? You bet, but less so than the hassle of getting a phone in the first place. That can take six weeks (three months if “street work” is required). Nor is the technician who installs your line the man who plugs your phone into the wall. That five-second operation requires yet another appointment—and another long wait. Don’t do it yourself; you will be fined.
Rules and regulations encumber German society. “The price of efficiency is bureaucracy,” says Stephanie Wahl, a sociologist in Bonn. “We Germans like to be told how to do everything.” That may be an understatement. In Germany, there are laws against squeezing the tomatoes at the grocery store, laws telling you when to clip your hedge, laws on how to hang your window curtains. When you move in Germany, you must register with the police. You should also register your TV. Roving vans cruise German streets, equipped with antennas that pick up waves from whatever electronic appliances you might have. They know how many radios, TVs or telephones you have—and tax you accordingly. But watch out. A foreigner with a new baby recently found herself in an endless wrangle with the German government, which was convinced that the signals picked up from her baby monitor were transmissions from an unregistered (and therefore illegal) cordless telephone.
Few advanced countries make the mundane tasks of life so…inefficient. A simple money transfer takes two weeks. Trains and planes are canceled without notice on holidays. Grocery stores close during the lunch hour, on weekends and before most people get off work. And don’t dare mow the lawn on Sundays, a statutory day of rest. Violations might elicit a note from the neighbors, pushed under the gate, reminding you of the regulation . . . and the likely interest of the police.
Germans argue, not without merit, that such restrictions make you think before you do. The theory is that if you make a careful list and budget your time, you are automatically more efficient. So be resourceful. Slip in for doorknobs or diapers on the way to interviews with heads of state.
Traffic jams: Being so efficient, Germans have oodles of free time. Come weekends, they all climb into their cars and drive on the same autobahns to the same spots to relax in the same cafes. That produces the world’s biggest traffic jams on the world’s most efficient highways. You also see this in L.A. But in Germany, the breakdowns have a different cause: a love of institutional behavior. The German Bundespost regulates everything from selection of television programs to what size envelope you must use to mail your mother’s birthday card. There aren’t a lot of choices—but then, at bottom the Germans don’t really like choices.
How do you calculate the costs of over-regimentation? Manfred Bauer, an executive of Prudential Bache in Munich, suggests one answer. “No one disputes the Germans’ flair for organization and management,” he says. “But they are less skilled as innovators.” German-made ovens are wonders of industrial design—yet hardly a manufacturer in the country has childproofed them by moving the controls from the front of the stove to the top. There is a more serious side to the question, summed up in the word Gehorsamkeit. It means dutiful obedience, with the faintest allusion to lemminglike behavior.
Today, as Germany sweeps toward unity, people fear that things are happening too fast, too efficiently. But there is little resistance, no public outcry. It’s hard not to respect a people who can stand calmly in the rain, waiting for the light to cross a street on which no traffic passes. But sometimes you feel like a friend who recently took a vacation in Italy. “God, it was wonderful,” she said. “Everybody was driving the wrong way down one-way streets.”
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are, New York, 1994: ISBN 1562827693, Page 47
On the radio, I heard someone define ethics as “obedience to the unenforceable.” Not bad.
GULF: JANUARY 17, 1991
by JONATHAN HOLDEN
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another!
— Matthew Arnold
And didn’t our love seem almost a political act,
to turn away from the footage of the F-15s
following each other in single file
along a slow assembly-line as if on parade,
toy after toy, each copy being lifted, smoking
off the scorched belt, then the next
and the next being mass-produced into an industrial sky.
As we kissed, and kissed more deeply, trying
to make the picture go away, to deny this, I saw
that what we had been watching, what so fascinated us
was only another kind of factory, that it was inevitable
the activity we call “war” be conducted in round-the-clock shifts,
that military bases and state penitentiaries
are designed to manufacture identical deaths
as heartlessly as a commercial egg factory
where the lights are kept on to get the hens
to produce eggs faster than is natural. The men
all in the same sand-and-spinach uniform
were as similar as hens. Even the General strutting
like a fat rooster had donned those funny pajamas
like a surgeon’s gown, a carpenter’s apron;
what boys wear when they put on
the frightening costumes of efficiency,
roll up their sleeves and get ready to get down
to business, to be men. Wasn’t it Spengler
who said it takes about twenty years for hens to forget,
for a generation to be bred ignorant of the shop floor,
enough time for new men who,
because they don’t know any better, are willing
to put on the killing pajamas, the aprons again
and, like their grandfathers, earnestly go to work?
Isn’t it twenty years since I used to watch, rapt,
with field glasses, the fleas circling
the hive of Alameda Naval Air Station,
the carrier like a slate, shelved landform
that would appear overnight, a grey grandmother,
to babysit the skyline for a week,
then go back to work in Asia. Ah, Love,
didn’t it seem subversive to turn off the t.v.,
how we followed each other wordless, deep
into the immediate truth of the next kiss.
And the next. And decided then and there
we would take our costumes off for the afternoon,
we would not go to work that day
or the next. Or the next.
Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. NewYork: Perseus Books, 2002. ISBN 1586480499,
The prospect of war is exciting. Many young men, schooled in the notion that war is the ultimate definition of manhood, that only in war will they be tested and proven, that they can discover their worth as human beings in battle, willingly join the great enterprise. The admiration of the crowd, the high-blown rhetoric, the chance to achieve the glory of the previous generation, the ideal of nobility beckon us forward. And people, ironically, enjoy righteous indignation and an object upon which to unleash their anger. War usually starts with collective euphoria.
It is all the more startling that such fantasy is believed, given the impersonal slaughter of modern industrial warfare. I saw high explosives fired from huge distances in the Gulf War reduce battalions of Iraqis to scattered corpses. Iraqi soldiers were nothing more on the screens of sophisticated artillery pieces than little dots scurrying around like ants — that is, until they were blasted away. Bombers dumped tons of iron fragmentation bombs on them. Our tanks, which could outdistance their Soviet-built counterparts, blew Iraqi armored units to a standstill. Helicopters hovered above units like angels of death in the sky. Here there was no pillage, no warlords, no collapse of unit discipline, but the cold and brutal efficiency of industrial warfare waged by well-trained and highly organized professional soldiers. It was a potent reminder why most European states and American live in such opulence and determine the fate of so many others. We equip and train the most efficient killers on the planet.
Charlie Pye-Smith, The Subsidy Scandal: How Governments Squander Public Money and Destroy the Environment. London and Virginia: Earthscan Publications, 2002. ISBN 1853839027. Pages xvi and 154-5
During the early 1970s I worked on a mixed arable and dairy farm in the north of England, and as a farm student I was frequently entrusted with the least skilled and most dreary tasks: forking bales of hay, unloading wagons of fertilizer, shoveling cow muck, and the like. One of the less cerebral activities involved ripping out hedgerows, and during the course of a month I and a couple of others destroyed and burnt great lengths of hedgerow, which for two centuries or more had been home to a wide variety of plants, birds, and small animals. In doing so we turned half a dozen small, irregular fields into one large 100-acre field, thus gaining extra land on which to grow crops. From now on the business of plowing, sowing, and harvesting would also be much easier, and the farm more “efficient.”
Much of this-like many other practices whose purpose was to make farming more efficient-was paid for by a government subsidy. Hedge removal subsidies no longer exist: over a short period of time they led to the rape of a beautiful landscape, to the loss of wildlife habitat, and-eventually-to a sense of outrage among the public. Nowadays farmers in some area are paid a subsidy to plant hedgerows instead, which means that today’s taxpayers are obliged to make amends for the damage done by activities that were paid for by yesterday’s taxpayers….
In the waters off Newfoundland it was the big draggers, working throughout the year and catching vast quantities of fish, which were primarily responsible for the collapse of the cod. As Tom Best said, the inshore fishermen could never in millions of years have done what the draggers did in a matter of a few decades. They simply don’t have the technology to be so destructive, although the emerging Mid-shore fleet is proving highly efficient – efficient in the sense that large numbers of fish can be quickly caught with relatively little manpower. But is that the only sort of efficiency?
“You can’t stop technological progress,” Art May told me. “It’s an inevitable law of nature.” But what if the nations, or individuals, whose task it is to manage fish stocks, and to ensure that they provide a sustainable harvest in the future, fail to adequately control the latest generation of high-tech trawlers? This is precisely what has been happening in many parts of the world. Although there is no way of preventing net makers and boat-builders and sonar manufacturers from designing more efficient products, the time may come when we should insist that certain types of vessel must not be allowed to fish in certain waters. “To have the society we want,” suggested David Schorr, “we may need to willfully embrace inefficient technologies. After all, what is wrong with that?” Nothing, though I might quibble with the use of the word inefficient. Is a fishery that provides a modest living for 10,000 people working froth small boats using hook and line less or more efficient than one of similar size that provides a living to 100 individuals using large trawlers with the most modern gadgetry? I would say it is more efficient: the same resource provides a living for a greater number of people. I am not suggesting that all fishing should be conducted from canoes. If that were the case, fish stocks far offshore, would remain unexploited. However, we do need to rethink our ideas about efficiency -and get rid of the perverse subsidies that encourage overfishing. If we don’t, then there will be fewer and fewer fishermen making a living from the sea, and fewer and fewer fish.
Peter M. Senge, “Creating Desired Futures in a Global Society” in Northeast Sun magazine, Spring 2004 issue, Pages 11-19.
Understanding your constraints frees you to create.
One of the things that distinguishes the master from the novice is an appreciation of the constraints of his or her medium. Or as Fritz put it, “No painter paints on an infinite canvas.”
John Elter, a former vice president at Xerox who led development of the company’s first fully digital product, used this principle to great effect. Early on in a multi-year product-development process to create a new generation of digital copiers, Elter took his team on a two-day wilderness expedition in the New Mexico desert. On the way back, they happened to walk by a dump – at the bottom of which they discovered a Xerox copier. It was a revelation. They returned to work with a new vision for the product and their entire enterprise: “Zero to landfill, for our children.”
Says Elter, “Most of the constraints engineering teams deal with are management claptrap. All the managers make it up: The product has got to grow revenue by this amount. It’s got to achieve these cost targets.” However, after their epiphany in the desert, says Elter, “We discovered our real constraint-that nothing from this product should ever go into a landfill.” The product they designed was ultimately 94 percent re-manufacturable and 98 percent recyclable, and met or exceeded all its sales targets. The team created a great product – and probably saved the company from bankruptcy or takeover – by redefining the constraints they worked against.
As Elter and his team showed, increasingly, the constraints that will enable creativity will come from appreciating the environmental and social realities of an increasingly interdependent world. Nature produces no waste. Why should business be different? But, by and large, we fail to see these constraints, because we fail to see the interdependence out of which they arise….
Systemic imbalances fail to compel our attention because we simply do not see them in the same way we see more immediate and local problems. And, we fail to see them because we define urgency by what is immediate. We are victims of a self-reinforcing crisis of perception, a crisis of our own making. If it persists, we doom ourselves to continued passivity. Only catastrophe will compel action, which, given the growing social divide that distributes problems like global warming unevenly between rich and poor, is likely to manifest as social and political disruption-not unlike what we are already seeing around the world over the past few years.
My view is that nothing short of a radical shift in our dominant western materialistic worldview is likely to dislodge this crisis of perception. How can diverse people from different parts of the world come to a fuller sense of the whole-that is, the social, economic and ecological systems we share? Perhaps when we start to appreciate together the exquisite web of interconnectedness that enables life in the universe wherever we stand – and the role of our own consciousness in that web.
Donald A. Brown, American Heat. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield 2002. ISBN 0742512959
A number of economists have recommended that greenhouse gas allocations among nations be set to maximize global utility or efficiency. The idea is that the allocation scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be chosen that maximizes global GDP or some other measure of global economic activity. It would make no difference under such proposals if the U.S. economy would prosper more than other nations that might shoulder more of the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, provided that total global economic activity is maximized in the chosen option compared to alternative allocation schemes for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The ethical basic for such proposals is, as discussed in chapter 3, the utilitarian notion that public policy decisions should choose the option that maximizes happiness or utility as measured by market preferences.
Such utilitarian prescriptions are often indifferent to how burdens are distributed. That is, according to some often-follows economic theories, distribution inequalities assigning burdens to implement public policy can be ignored, provided that aggregate utility is maximized. If such an approach were followed in determining national allocations for greenhouse gas emissions, it could lead to the result that some people would have vastly different rights than others to use the atmosphere as a sink. In other words, such approaches often ignore distributional equity.
Not all economists, of course, argue that distributional inequities should be ignored. Some economists actually urge that compensation should be provided to those who are harmed by public policy decisions that seek to achieve international welfare maximization or that such decisions should avoid disproportionate harm altogether. Yet many narrow welfare maximization schemes ignore distributional effects. Because distributional equity is ignored in these schemes, proposals to define equitable criteria on the basis of welfare maximization without compensation to losers must be rejected out of hand as fundamentally inconsistent with the idea of equitable and just distributions. Although some economists and others argue that public policy options be chosen that maximize utility without regard to distributional effects, it is disingenuous of proponents of this approach to argue that his approach is “equitable” for so long as distributional equity is ignored. Equity and justice demand that policymakers examine whether those who are harmed by public policy decisions are being treated fairly. If these questions are ignored in the prescriptions recommended by some, they cannot claim that their prescriptions are equitable.
In addition to the ethical concern with the use of welfare maximization strategies to assign national greenhouse gas emission rights, there are large practical problems with such approaches in an international setting that are not present in domestic policymaking. Any nation could choose to follow welfare maximization strategies domestically because sovereign governments have the ability to choose such strategies on behalf of their citizens. Yet if some nations are asked to shoulder proportionally larger burdens of protecting the atmosphere than other nations, it is highly unlikely that they would agree to a strategy that would make them poorer while others gained simply on the basis that total aggregate global welfare would be increased. This is particularly the case where some nations have been benefiting from irresponsible energy use. In an international system, nations are likely to prefer options that are viewed as just over those that maximize global utility. For this reason, narrow welfare maximization strategies are not only inconsistent with theories of equity but are also less likely to achieve widespread international support. Particularly the poorest countries that do not receive the benefits of high levels of global economic activity will likely strongly oppose proposed allocations that ask them to bear disproportionate burdens.
Efficiency key to maintaining economic competitiveness, The Malta Independent Online – News
A high level of efficiency at all times and across all sectors of the economy was instrumental in maintaining Malta?s economic competitiveness.
Dr John C. Grech, president of the foundation for national competitiveness, made it very clear that although Malta was well positioned to make the most of the opportunities for growth, it was important that the country took a long hard look at the future and established where it wanted to go.
Dr Grech was addressing a business breakfast organised by The Malta Business Weekly and the Le Meridien Phoenicia Hotel last Thursday.
Throughout his presentation, Dr Grech emphasised on the need for change but more importantly consultation between all parties. He said the options chosen must be plausible and desirable, and the country?s strategy must be developed accordingly.
He added that incorporated Malta ?should not try to do what it could not
?We cannot be any of the larger resorts in Spain. It is simply not possible. We have to work within our capabilities and structural limitations,? Dr Grech said.
Turning to politics, Dr Grech said there should be space for everyone and the country deserved coordination between political parties so that one policy direction which no party could call its own ? but which Malta could call its own ? could be drawn up. EU membership had been essential for Malta but it was not the vision. Membership had been an essential means to an end.
The country now needed to have a vision, he said, adding that it had to think of the scenario in 10, 15, 20 years? time and plan the infrastructure as a corporate body planned its strategic business competence.
?There has to be competitive efficiency and competitive response. Were Malta to sharpen its response capability rather than adding on to the bureaucracy which was weighing the country down, things would start moving,? Dr Grech said.
Dr Grech gave an in-depth analysis of the Global Competitiveness Report which was compiled by the World Economic Forum and EMCS Ltd.
The Global Competitiveness Report for 2003 put Malta in the 19th place worldwide as regards the Growth Competitiveness Index, but 42nd worldwide as regards the Business Competitiveness Index.
On the one hand, Malta is 19th as regards the growth competitiveness because Malta excels in the following fields:
· FDI technology transfer, where Malta is registered as first worldwide;
· Government prioritasation of ICT where Malta is sixth worldwide;
· Interest rate spread in 2002 (6th);
· Government success in ICT promotion (7th);
· Recession expectations (16th);
· Lack of organised crime (16th);
· Lack of irregular payments in tax collection (16th),
· Lack of irregular payments in public utilities (18th);
· Property rights (18th);
On the other hand, the areas where Malta, despite its high placing, ahead of countries such as Israel, Luxembourg, Spain or France, ranks lower than its competing countries include:
· Government surplus / deficit (67th);
· National Savings rate 2002 (62nd);
· University/industry research collaboration (62nd);
· Company spending on research and development (55th);
· Tertiary enrolment (58th);
· Extent of distortive government subsidies (41st);
· Technological sophistication (30th);
· Inflation 202 (32nd);
· Country credit rating 203(28th);
· Public trust of politicians (2nd).
With regards to the Business Competitiveness Index, where Malta, at 42nd, ranked quite low in the world table, the factors examined underpin high current productivity and hence current economic performance measured by the level of GDP per person as determined by:
· Sophistication of Company operations and strategy:
· Production process sophistication (27th);
· Nature of competitive advantage (30th);
· Value chain presence (31st);
· Control of international distribution (75th);
· Extent of incentive compensation (68th);
· Reliance on professional management (64th);
· Quality of national business environment
· Local equity and bonds market access (12th);
· Quality of local educational system (16th);
· Judicial independence (20th);
· Stringency of environmental regulations (85th);
· Prevalence of merger and acquisitions (83rd);
· Local availability of components and parts (81st).
Mr Grech explained the genesis and work of the Competitive Malta organisation which was created and is striving to get the whole of the country to focus on competitiveness. Competitiveness will become a crucial component once Malta joins the EU and starts to encounter the impact of worldwide globalisation, Mr Grech warned.
He also had his own list of what must be done on the national level in the coming period of time.
· We must start to think as one country.
· We must identify what it takes to link production to a product.
· We must think in terms of integrating and internalising the value chain.
· More importantly, we must have a vision for our future.
Mr Grech complained of bureaucracy: when MTA recently produced its plans for St George’s Bay, it needed to talk to 20 organisations. Malta, as a friend told him in Dubai, has old structures still there alongside with new structures. He said there were still very few links between business and university and the people at university seemed to expect these links to be one-way only. The university must not be a teaching university only, but also a university of research.
Malta must learn to deliver value, he said. “We cannot compete with competitors who have a bigger country and who can offer better economies of scale. Malta must offer itself as a value place.”
Again and again, Mr Grech mentioned Dubai as an example: 50 years ago Dubai was just a desert. Malta cannot compete with Costa Brava. Concluding, Mr Grech warned that unless Malta got it right, EU accession would bring all the pain and no gain.
“The pain will lead to unhappiness and gloom and doom, and this will be further encouraged for partisan reasons. The end result will be a mess all around. “Malta must emulate Ireland and pull together, come to an agreement on a social pact and move forward to get the gains of EU accession and not just the pain.”
Taking questions, Mr Grech said the Maltese must stop looking at their own backyards and start looking outside: with EU accession we now had a market of 450 million in our backyard. “Politicians are important in our country, but they must realise there are other people on the island, people who can contribute validly to the national forum. The Maltese are a competitive race, we learn and act fast, we are intelligent and have time and again proved we can move on ahead.”
Robert M. Persig, Zen The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance New York: 1975 ISBN 0553103105
But if you have to choose among an infinite number of ways to put it together then the relation of the machine to you, and the relation of the machine and you to the rest of the world, has to be considered, because the selection from among many choices the art of the work is just as dependent upon your own mind and spirit as it is upon the material of the machine. That’s why you need the peace of mind.
Page 290, 291
I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to fix a motorcycle.
by HUGH FRANCIS BLUNT
He made but dreams; for this they laughed him down,
Those praters of Efficiency, who wrought
The more substantial things (or thus they thought)
That merited a place of sure renown.
He never made a shoe, a suit, a gown;
He paid no taxes on a house and lot;
He never sold a thing and rarely bought;
He was the Non-Producer of the town.
He made but dreams; such inefficient things!
And they who bought and sold and toiled and played
Could never guess the joke Eternity
Had played on them; for still the Dreamer sings
Long centuries since his deriders paid
God’s tax of death on earth-idolatry.
Suppose a corporation proposes and an environmentalist group opposes the building of a shopping center in a rural area just outside of town. An economist might make a recommendation based on prices assigned to the various wants or preferences of relevant interest groups. This would effectively limit conflict to the immediate parties who know about and are affected by the project. The genius of democracy, however, is to let the conflict spread to a larger audience.
The institutions of democratic government—legislatures, agencies, parties, courts, and the press—depend and thrive on the potential for conflicts of this kind to widen beyond their original bounds. This happens when one side— usually the side that otherwise would be defeated—finds a public issue (e.g., a “snail darter”) and moves the conflict into the press, the legislature, and the courts. The decision-making process then may become a kind of public good, since it allows everyone who participates in it the feeling of relevance, importance, and community-consciousness flowing from that participation.
This might seem grossly inefficient, and perhaps it is, but it is what democratic government is all about. An alternative—technocracy quarantines or localizes conflict so that it can be resolved by the application of some mechanical rule or decision procedure. Cost-benefit approaches to public policy, if taken to their extreme, would do this, and thus they would substitute themselves for the processes of democratic government. The genius of cost-benefit analysis is to localize conflict among affected individuals and thereby to prevent it from breaking out into the public realm.
Dewey, John. Democracy and Education, Macmillan, 1916, Chapter Nine: “Natural Development and Social Efficiency as Aims”
Translated into specific aims, social efficiency indicates the importance of industrial competency. Persons cannot live without means of subsistence; the ways in which these means are employed and consumed have a profound influence upon all the relationships of persons to one another. If an individual is not able to earn his own living and that of the children dependent upon him, he is a drag or parasite upon the activities of others. He misses for himself one of the most educative experiences of life. If he is not trained in the right use of the products of industry, there is grave danger that he may deprave himself and injure others in his possession of wealth. No scheme of education can afford to neglect such basic considerations. Yet in the name of higher and more spiritual ideals, the arrangements for higher education have often not only neglected them, but looked at them with scorn as beneath the level of educative concern. With the change from an oligarchical to a democratic society, it is natural that the significance of an education which should have as a result ability to make one’s way economically in the world, and to manage economic resources usefully instead of for mere display and luxury, should receive emphasis.
There is, however, grave danger that in insisting upon this end, existing economic conditions and standards will be accepted as final. A democratic criterion requires us to develop capacity to the point of competency to choose and make its own career. This principle is violated when the attempt is made to fit individuals in advance for definite industrial callings, selected not on the basis of trained original capacities, but on that of the wealth or social status of parents. As a matter of fact, industry at the present time undergoes rapid and abrupt changes through the evolution of new inventions. New industries spring up, and old ones are revolutionized. Consequently an attempt to train for too specific a mode of efficiency defeats its own purpose.
Bell, Daniel., and Stephan R. Graubard. Toward the Year 2000: Work in Progress. United States of America: 1997. ISBN 0262522373, Page 219
A negative reaction to totalitarian efficiency leads to overt or covert efforts to prevent exploitation by managerial groups. One way of accomplishing this is to encourage bureaucratic inefficiency. Some of the attitudes expressed by our current adolescent protest groups include this idea. It is of some interest that those groups in our present society that most favor anarchy as a method of avoiding control by the establishment also favor the use of drugs for kicks.
From Touchtones: A Book Of Daily Meditations For Men, New York: 1986 ISBN 006255445X, for March 24
I don’t like a man to be too efficient. He’s likely to be not human enough.
— Felix Frankfurter
Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State. United States of America: 1998. ISBN 0300070160, Page 98
It is helpful to imagine two different maps of activity. In the case of a planned urban neighborhood, the first map consists of a representation of the streets and buildings, tracing the routes that the planners have provided for the movements between the workplaces and residences, the delivery of goods, access to shopping, and so on. The second map consists of tracings, as in a time-lapse photograph, of all the unplanned movements—pushing a baby carriage, window shopping, strolling, going to see a friend, playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, walking the dog, watching the passing scene, taking shortcuts between work and home, and so on. This second map, far more complex than the first, reveals very different patterns of circulation. The older the neighborhood, the more likely that the second map will have nearly superseded the first, in roughly the same way that planned, suburban Levittowns have, after fifty years, become thoroughly different setting from what their designers envisioned.
If our inquiry has taught us anything, it is that the first map, taken alone, is misrepresentative and indeed nonsustainable. A same-age, monocropped forest with all the debris cleared is in the long run an ecological disaster. No Taylorist factory can sustain production without the unplanned improvisations of an experienced workforce. Planned Brasilia is, in a thousand ways, underwritten by unplanned Brasilia. Without at least some of the diversity identified by Jacobs, a stripped-down public housing project (like Pruitt-Igoe in Saint Louis or Cabrini Green in Chicago) will fail its residents. Even for the limited purposes of a myopic plan—commercial timber, factory output the one-dimensional map will simply not do. As with industrial agriculture and its dependency on landraces, the first map is possible only because of processes lying outside its parameters, which it ignores at its peril.
Our inquiry has also taught us that such maps of legibility and control, especially when they are backed by an authoritarian state, do partly succeed in shaping the natural and social environment after their image. To the degree that such thin maps do manage to impress themselves on social life, what kind of people do they foster? Here I would argue that just as the monocropped, same-age forest represents an impoverished and unsustainable ecosystem, so the high-modernist urban complex represents an impoverished and unsustainable social system.
Human resistance to the more severe forms of social straitjacketing prevents monotonic schemes of centralized rationality from every being realized. Had they been realized in their austere forms, they would have represented a very bleak human prospect. One of Le Corbusier’s plans, for example, called for the segregation of factory workers and their families in barracks along the major transportation arteries. It was a theoretically efficient solution to transportation and production problems. If it had been imposed, the result would have been a dispiriting environment of regimented work and residence without any of the animation of town life. This plan had all the charm of a Taylorist scheme where, using a comparable logic, the efficient organization of work was achieved by confining the workers’ movements to a few repetitive gestures. The cookie-cutter design principles behind the layout of the Soviet collective farm, the ujamaa village, or the Ethiopian resettlement betray the same narrowness of vision. They were designed, above all, to facilitate the central administration of production and the control of public life.
Fodor, Eben. Better NOT Bigger. Canada: 1999. ISBN 0865713863
Our modern society has managed to all but isolate us from Nature, which was once our dearest friend. Children, who are fascinated by nature and love the outdoors, are weaned from it as quickly as possible. We go from air-conditioned homes to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices without more than a puff or two of fresh air in between.
Our neighbors rarely see us as we scoot our car deftly out of the garage, letting the door close automatically after us. We have banished dirt, cold, wet, discomfort, inconvenience, and delay from our day.
Let’s assume that our values shift away from consumption and growth and towards simplicity and stability. We rebuild our bond with the natural world. We discover the neighborhood that we live in and meet the people next door for the first time. We discover a sense of place. We find that our community is not all it could be and we make changes. We re-prioritize our lives and find that we want to spend much more time with our families and good friends, even if we have to cut back work hours and reduce our incomes.
In spite of these changes, we find that occasionally the fish lure still attracts us. So we create incentives to encourage healthy, productive activities. We reward ourselves for doing what’s best for us. We use green taxes to reduce consumption of resources and to minimize wastes. We replace income taxes with progressive consumption taxes.
We eliminate the influence of unwanted commercial advertising altogether, relying instead on other information sources (such as Internet databases and search engines) to find all the products that aren’t conveniently available through local merchants.
Amazingly, the entire economy starts to change. Like the circulatory system of our bodies, it quietly delivers the nutrients we need without dominating our lives. With the economy shifted from center stage, society rediscovers cultural, intellectual, and spiritual pursuits. We are entertained by life’s richness and wonders.
Qualitative growth is sustainable. There is no limit to how much information, understanding, or enlightenment we can acquire. There is no limit to diversity, complexity, or variety. There is no limit to creativity, enterprise, or ambition. There is no limit to personal growth or achievement. A sustainable community can be a dynamic and evolving place. There is no limit to the richness of our lives in such a community.
1. Build a positive vision. A positive, shared, long-range vision for the future can provide the inspiration, motivation and direction to propel a community forward and encourage the various interest groups to work together with a common purpose. Developing a community vision requires broad participation and may involve extensive public input. Visions change and must be updated on a regular basis.
2. Improve citizen involvement. Broad, open citizen involvement in public planning and policy-making respects and enhances our democratic process. Increased citizen involvement generates many benefits, including policies that better serve the broader public interest. Citizen involvement doesn’t just happen. Local governments must actively engage citizens and create productive processes for meaningful involvement. Public hearings are just a small part of the venue for actively involving citizens. Others include public forums, town hall meetings, roundtable sessions, televised broadcasts, surveys, speaker series, etc. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of strong public involvement processes in achieving good governance. The desire for expediency and economy on the part of policy-makers can cause them to take costly short cuts with public involvement. Citizens who are empowered with opportunities for meaningful participation will tend to appreciate and support their government and not lead anti-government tax revolts.
3. Provide economic opportunity. The basic economic needs of the entire community must be met without compromising the quality of the natural environment. Local economic development must be focused on the long-term welfare of existing residents. Economic gains can no longer come at the expense of the environment.
4. Page 149
5. Use land wisely. Land is a finite resource with no substitute. Consequently, we should use land efficiently and intelligently and strive to keep the urban footprint as small as possible to minimize environmental impact. Comprehensive, long-range planning is an essential is an essential tool for wise land use. A commitment to comprehensive planning requires adequate funding to implement the initial plan and for ongoing updates every five years or so. A wise land use plan recognizes that rural land is not merely “future urbanizable land.” A plan to permanently protect farmland, forests, and open space should be included.
6. Provide better information. Good decisions require good information, including natural resource inventories and status reports, growth forecasts, alternative scenarios, policy analysis, development impact analysis, etc. Disseminate information widely and make it readily accessible to everyone. Good government starts with an informed public — it’s the cornerstone of democracy.
7. 6. Use indicators and benchmarks for progress. Indicators are a tool for improving public policy and monitoring status of a community and its environment. Benchmarks are goals that can be measured with indicators to help ensure that public policies lead to progress and long-term sustainability.
8. Use full-cost accounting. Acknowledge the full environmental, social, and economic costs of growth and development. Evaluate these costs in making policy decisions. Eliminate subsidies that distort markets and cause overdevelopment. Enact pay-as-you-grow policies.
9. Think long range. Consider the impact decisions will have far into the future. Extend long-range community panning horizons to 50 or 100 years (instead of ten or 20 years). Utilize computer modeling capabilities to evaluate the long-range consequences of current trends and compare alternatives.
10. Encourage efficient resource use. Set efficiency goals for energy, water, and other resource uses for all sectors: residential, commercial, industrial and transportation. Use incentives and regulations to minimize resource consumption and waste production and maximize re-use and recycling by business and households.
11. Make neighborhoods walkable. Safe, friendly, walkable neighborhoods designed to eliminate automobile dependence will be one of the most visible attributes of the sustainable community. Walking is the oldest and most reliable form of transportation. It has a proven track record dating back four million years that justifies its being treated as a major component of all local transportation plans. Create automobile-free zones and automobile-independent housing complexes where walkers and bicyclists enjoy the privilege of maximum access and convenience.
12. Preserve unique features. Preserve features of local and regional significance: valuable farmland, forests and open space, and unique natural, scenic, recreational, historic, or cultural resources. Treat these natural assets as priceless family heirlooms to be passed on to future generations.
13. Recognize physical limits to growth and consumption. Population size, resource consumption, land use, and pollution levels must be in balance with the complex environmental support system. Start by acknowledging that physical and practical limits do exist. Then, try to identify what these limits are in terms of desirable, optimal, or ideal conditions. This book provides many of the tools needed to achieve desired limits on urban growth.
Here are some things you can do now to get involved and help your community take charge of urban growth:
Run for elected office.
Serve on the planning commission or zoning board.
Participate in your neighborhood organization.
Volunteer for a citizen advisory committee to you local government.
Join an organization. (If there are no organizations working for responsible growth and land use, try the League of Women Voters, your local Sierra Club chapter or form a new organization yourself.)
Testify at public hearings.
Call or write your council representative.
Write a letter to the editor.
Organize a meeting.
Circulate a petition.
Monitor the city council and local government.
Keep a file of information about local growth and development.
Request to be on city notification lists for land use changes and development applications.
From http:\\www.eff.org/pub/EFF/quotes.eff – downloaded 1/12/97
The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency.
— Eugene McCarthy
Whenever you have an efficient government, you have a dictatorship.
— Harry S. Truman, former US President
“The Idea of a Local Economy” by Wendell Berry – Orion Magazine, Winter 2001
The economic theory used to justify the global economy in its “free market” version is again perfectly groundless and sentimental. The idea is that what is good for the corporations will sooner or later – though not of course immediately – be good for everybody.
That sentimentality is based in turn, upon a fantasy: the proposition that the great corporations, in “freely” competing with one another for raw materials, labor, and marketshare, will drive each other indefinitely, not only toward greater “efficiencies” of manufacture, but also toward higher bids for raw materials and labor and lower prices to consumers. As a result, all the world¹s people will be economically secure – in the future. It would be hard to object to such a proposition if only it were true.
But one knows, in the first place, that “efficiency” in manufacture always means reducing labor costs by replacing workers with cheaper workers or with machines.
In the second place, the “law of competition” does not imply that many competitors will compete indefinitely. The law of competition is a simple paradox: Competition destroys competition. The law of competition implies that many competitors, competing on the “free market” will ultimately and inevitably reduce the number of competitors to one. The law of competition, in short, is the law of war.
In the third place, the global economy is based upon cheap long-distance transportation, without which it is not possible to move goods from the point of cheapest origin to the point of highest sale. And cheap long-distance transportation is the basis of the idea that regions and nations should abandon any measure of economic self-sufficiency in order to specialize in production for export of the few commodities or the single commodity that can be most cheaply produced. Whatever may be said for the “efficiency” of such a system, its result (and I assume, its purpose) is to destroy local production capacities, local diversity, and local economic independence.
This idea of a global “free market” economy, despite its obvious moral flaws and its dangerous practical weaknesses, is now the ruling orthodoxy of the age. Its propaganda is subscribed to and distributed by most political leaders, editorial writers, and other “opinion makers.” The powers that be, while continuing to budget huge sums for “national defense,” have apparently abandoned any idea of national or local self-sufficiency, even in food. They also have given up the idea that a national or local government might justly place restraints upon economic activity in order to protect its land and its people….
SO FAR AS I CAN SEE, the idea of a local economy rests upon only two principles: neighborhood and subsistence. In a viable neighborhood, neighbors ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another, and they find answers that they and their place can afford. This, and nothing else, is the practice of neighborhood. This practice must be, in part, charitable, but it must also be economic, and the economic part must be equitable; there is a significant charity in just prices.
Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities. Random House Trade; (February 1, 1970) ISBN: 039470584X
Today, only two cities in all of Britain remain economically vigorous and prosperous. One is London. The second is Birmingham. The others have stagnated one by one, much as Manchester did, like so many lights going out. British town planners, ironically, have regarded London and Birmingham as problems, because they are places in which much new work is added to old and thus cities that persist in growing. The British New Towns policy was specifically devised to discourage the growth of London and Birmingham and “drain it off.” Birmingham’s economy has remained alive and has kept up to date. Manchester’s has not. Was Manchester, then, really efficient? It was indeed efficient and Birmingham was not. Manchester had acquired the efficiency of a company town. Birmingham had retained something different: a high rate of development work.
Efficiency as it is commonly defined -and I do not propose to change its definition, which is clear and useful -is the ratio of work accomplished to energy supplied. We can speak of high or low rates of efficiency because, in any given instance, we have two relevant factors to measure: input of energy, and quantity and quality (value) of work accomplished. We can compare the measurements in one instance with measurements in other instances. Manchester turned out a great deal of cloth relative to the energy supplied by its workers and by those who served the needs of the workers in the city.
But these particular measurements are not relevant when development work is wanted. A candy manufacturer, reminiscing to a New Yorker reporter about the first candy bar he developed as a shipping clerk in a candy factory, recalls, “I showed it to my boss and he was very happy. `How many of these can you make in a minute?’ he asked me. `In a minute?’ I said. `It took me four months to make this one!’ ” Suppose it had taken him eight months? Or two months? That measurement has nothing to do with the operating efficiency envisioned by his boss.
Efficiency of operation, in any given case, is a sequel to earlier development work. Development work is a messy, time- and energy-consuming business of trial, error and failure. The only certainties in it are trial and error. Success is not a certainty. And even when the result is successful, it is often a surprise, not what was actually being sought.
A low rate of efficiency in production work means that the person or organization doing the work is going about it ineptly. But the exorbitant amounts of energy and time and the high rates of failure in the process of developing new work do not mean the development work is being done ineptly. The inefficiency is built into the aim itself; it is inescapable. There is no systematic way to evade it. The president of DuPont, a company that has tried to systematize its development work to the highest degree possible, has told a Fortune reporter that only about one out of twenty of those research projects that the company decides to develop further after initial exploratory work turns out to be useful to the company. The fact that an organization engages in large-scale production, which is what makes a large organization large, and that it produces very efficiently too, does not mean that the efficiency spills over into development work.
Indeed, development work is inherently so chancy that by the law of averages, chances of success are greatly improved if there is much duplication of effort. The U.S. Air Force’s analytical organization, the Rand Corporation, having been assigned to study how waste could be eliminated in the processes of military development work, came to the conclusion that although duplication of effort was theoretically wasteful, it was not wasteful empirically. For one thing, the report said, different people brought different preconceptions to development work and there was no way of telling in advance which might prove fruitful or where it might lead. Eminence or reputation or even past success was not a reliable indicator. The report cited, as an illustration, the fact that in 1937 when the jet airplane engine had already been developed in Britain (largely in Birmingham, as it happens), a committee of distinguished aeronautical experts in the United States, to whom this event was not yet known, having studied the possibilities of jet propulsion, came to the conclusion that it was not practicable. It was their recommendation that attempts to develop jet propulsion he dropped. The Rand researchers said that they had found definite waste, and a lot of it, in the development work of the military establishments; it was the great waste of administrative man-hours and energy devoted to trying to eliminate duplicated effort. Just so, when Pasteur, that wise old man, begged for enlarged support of the biological sciences, he begged for multiplication of laboratories.
Is it not possible for the economy of a city to be highly efficient, and for the city also to excel at the development of new goods and services? No, it seems not. The conditions that promote development and the conditions that promote efficient production and distribution of already existing goods and services are not only different, in most ways they are diametrically opposed. Let us consider a few of them.
Breakaways of workers-especially very able workers from existing organizations promote the development of new work as well as the creation of new organizations. But breakaways, are not good for the parent company; they undermine its efficiency. To the company or companies in control, one of the advantages of a company town is that breakaways are not feasible there. And in any settlement where breakaways are inhibited, by whatever means, the development rate must drop, although the efficiency of already well-established work is apt to climb.
Now consider for a moment the question of suppliers of bits and pieces of work to other producers. Many relatively small suppliers, much of whose work duplicates and overlaps, are indispensable to a high rate of development. But they are not efficient, neither in respect to their own work nor the operations of the producers who buy from them.
Consider also the conflict between development and efficiency as it applies to the work of investing development capital and supplying working capital. The most efficient way to invest capital (whether by government, by semipublic, or by private lenders and investors-it does not matter) is through a relatively few large investments and loans, not through many small ones. If small loans are made, it is most efficient to consolidate them, in effect, by making them only for purposes that have already become standardized and routinized. To put capital into the purchasing of enterprises that produce goods and services already developed is more efficient than to put it into development of new enterprises and new work. Also, it is efficient to invest development capital in a sure thing-if in new work, then in new work for which customers are guaranteed in advance.
It is most efficient for large construction firms to produce monotonous multiples of identical buildings; it is most efficient for architects to design multiples of identical buildings. Superblocks are more efficient than smaller blocks because there are fewer crossings and traffic can flow more efficiently; when there are fewer streets, utilities can be distributed more efficiently and of course the maintenance of streets costs less. Indeed, numerous small enterprises, just by existing, are in conflict with the economic efficiency of a city’s large and well-established enterprises.
Earlier in this century, it was conventionally supposed by American philanthropists that poverty is caused by disease. Healthy people, it was reasoned, would be more productive, have more initiative, be more capable of helping themselves, than people in ill health. Poverty was analyzed as a vicious circle in which poverty leads to disease and disease reinforces poverty. Measures to combat disease turned out to be quite successful at combating disease, irrelevant for combating poverty. They helped lead to the situation that is now being diagnosed as a different vicious circle-poverty-overpopulation-poverty. To seek “causes” of poverty in this way is to enter an intellectual dead end because poverty has no causes. Only prosperity has causes. Analogically, heat is a result of active processes; it has causes. But cold is not the result of any processes; it is only the absence of heat. Just so, the great cold of poverty and economic stagnation is merely the absence of economic development. It can be overcome only if the relevant economic processes are in motion. These processes are all rooted, if I am correct, in the development work that goes on in impractical cities where one kind of work leads inefficiently to another.