Local Economy: neighborhood + subsistence

Posted by on Mar 28, 2013 in concrete design house
Local Economy: neighborhood + subsistence

Wendell Berry, if you are unfamiliar, is a farmer, writer and professor who lives in works in Lane’s Landing, Kentucky. He is a man with keen insight and an uncommon depth of wisdom, though I can not agree with everything he says. He writes mostly of the fall of rural culture and economy, and is very concerned with the plight of the small farm and its effect on our economy and society. At the heart of his writing is an astute understanding of humanness and community. I have recently had the privilege to read a few of his essays concerning locality, economy, and personal responsibility; all of these ideas we have been wading through with our recent rebrand. Since we are still working out our own thoughts and could not possibly relate it as well and Mr. Berry himself, I will just leave you with a quote. Enjoy.


“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. Of course, everything needed locally cannot be produced locally. But a viable neighborhood is a community; and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common. This is the principle of subsistence. A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. It does not import products that it can produce for itself. And it does not export local products until local needs have been met. The economic products of a viable community are understood either as belonging to the community’s subsistence or as surplus, and only the surplus is considered to be marketable abroad. A community, if it is to be viable, cannot think of producing solely for export, and it cannot permit importers to use cheaper labor and goods from other places to destroy the local capacity to produce goods that are needed locally. In charity, moreover, it must refuse to import goods that are produced at the cost of human or ecological degradation elsewhere. This principle applies not just to localities, but to regions and nations as well.
The principles of neighborhood and subsistence will be disparaged by the globalists as “protectionism” – and that is exactly what it is. It is a protectionism that is just and sound, because it protects local producers and is the best assurance of adequate supplies to local consumers. And the idea that local needs should be met first and only surpluses exported does not imply any prejudice against charity toward people in other places or trade with them. The principle of neighborhood at home always implies the principle of charity abroad. And the principle of subsistence is in fact the best guarantee of giveable or marketable surpluses. This kind of protection is not ‘isolationism.” -Wendell Berry

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