The world economy has become much more unstable since the early 1970s and increasing numbers of people and places are excluded from full participation in it. Unfortunately, national politicians are powerless to change the factors that created this situation. Communities are going to have to act for themselves.
To protect themselves from the instabilities of the world system, communities can create parallel financial micro-climates within which local resources are used to meet local needs to a much greater extent than would be possible if only world-market prices and interest rates ruled.
If people cannot trade among themselves without using money issued by out -siders, their local economies will always be at the mercy of events elsewhere. Many ways exist for them to create their own money, however. Options run from group currencies such as LETS, through Swiss-style mutual credit systems for businesses and commodity-backed currencies, as in Exeter, New Hampshire, to money issued by local government, like that in Guernsey.
Locally owned financial systems enable people's savings to be lent out in the areas in which they live on terms that allow them to realize their social objectives as well as their financial ones. Here again, communities have a wide range of options open to them, including credit unions, building societies and investment trusts. Interest-free lending along the lines of the Danish and Swedish community JAK banks is another possibility.
The provision of an adequate supply of energy from local resources is fundamental to greater community self-reliance. Fortunately, most places can easily develop a combination of wind, hydro and biomass sources to meet their needs, as examples from Denmark, Austria and Ireland show. Saving energy is as important as generating it, and here Holland and California provide good models.
Modern industrial agriculture cannot be continued much longer because of the damage it is doing to the soil and to its own genetic base. It also requires high levels of energy- intensive Inputs from outside the local area. Organic and other low-external-input types of agriculture are therefore needed if communities are to become more self-reliant, and several techniques already in use in Britain, the US and Ireland demonstrate that the transition is possible.
The market economy relies on competition to control the way businesses behave. As high levels of competition are not possible in a community economy, new approaches and attitudes towards how we should interact commercially need to be found. Medieval craft guilds, the Mondragon co-ops in Spain and the Briarpatch network in California all provide hints about the right direction.
Maleny, a small town in Australia, has probably adopted more of the techniques discussed in this book than any other place in the world. The result is a community where people can extend and fulfil themselves by working with each other. But it is by no means self-reliant, so there is still a long way to go.