Apocalyptic Boredom

Barefoot Economics

Why carry on with the charade?

Janneken Drange, Jan. 5, 2013

Loe Russel

I was in the middle of a PhD in economics when the crash hit. So I remember watching firsthand as my profs defended their ideology until the severity of the economic meltdown made their proclamations embarrassingly comical. Before the university officially closed, I walked away. There was no point carrying on with the charade.

I was never certain I would get back home, but thanks to a few Good Samaritans and a healthy dose of serendipity, I made it. And on account of my academic background, I was immediately asked to join a group of local community leaders who were trying to configure an alternative economy. It was damage control, really. We wanted to protect ourselves from the more catastrophic effects of the collapse.

Due to patchy supply lines and the end of cheap long-haul transport, we knew we would have to be more self-sufficient and distinguish needs from wants. Food was an obvious starting point. We only have minimal capacity to import food so we got all the local farmers to agree that no food will leave the community until local needs have been met. Other resources are kept local through the formal bartering network we have established. We buy cooperatively even though it means fighting over how long we use particular items. We recycle so much that we rarely use the term “waste.” Almost everything holds value. And it’s been a struggle, but I think I’ve managed to convince people to loan each other resources without charging interest. The way I see it, no one should profit off someone else without laboring for it. And I’m not alone. The sacred texts of Jews, Christians and Muslims all condemn the charging of interest.

Now that we’re slowly getting to our feet, we’ve put feelers out to other communities to see what they’re doing. Many of them are excited by our prescriptions and have asked us for advice. We may try to create regional alliances. But as the new economy grows, we’ll fight to ensure that our original vision is never abandoned. We’re taking full responsibility for our economy now that governments and corporations have dropped the ball. It’s not easy. We don’t always agree and not all of our ideas have worked. The new economy involves a considerable degree of sacrifice, but people are used to sacrifice now. We’re committed to creating a sustainable, holistic, human-scale economy designed for the long term. It’ll be built on the model of a true-cost market in which the price of every product tells the ecological truth. Progress will be measured by our social and environmental well-being as well as the sum of how much we produce and consume. Our waterways, forests and grasslands will be valued as natural capital that does not need to be harvested to be worth something. And we’ll restore the historical taboo against charging interest.

This time we simply have to get it right.

Janneken Drange