Saturday, November 7, 2009

Is the International Market System Sustainable?

By Tom Hawkins

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away ... oh all right. In 1973, but it feels long ago and far away! Anyway, in 1973, the British economist E F Schumacher wrote Small is Beautiful. He was praising small enterprise at a time when big companies and the newly globalising economy were apparently failing to deliver what people wanted. He was miles ahead of his time in arguing that big business, the fossil fuel economy, and internationally unfair trade were unsustainable. And the subtitle of his book- which has been hugely influential since it was published (but maybe not influential enough!) - was "Economics as if People Mattered".

Today, the sustainability of the international market system looks just as doubtful as it did in 1973. The fossil fuel economy is widely agreed to be a major contributor to global warming. And if individuals in the west feel helpless in the face of a big business financial crisis, how much more helpless must people in the developing world feel? How can we believe that "people matter"? Schumacher argued that people needed to work together in human-scale groups, where they could express their identity, exercise autonomy, and not be exploited by the technology of mass production.

In the world we see about us there is not much evidence of human-scale, autonomous production, but there is some. One ray of sunshine in a troubled world comes from the co-operative phenomenon. In Europe we tend to think of co-ops as retailers, part of a movement founded in the 19th century to help poor people buy healthy food at fair prices.

In the developing world there are production co-ops; groups of people, often from a single village, working together to make something for sale locally, or occasionally internationally. Mainly they use relatively simple, sustainable technology, local resources, and basic handcrafting skills. By banding together in a co-op the workforce gets autonomy, avoids exploitation, and offers work where there may otherwise be none. All they need is a route to market.

Here's an example: Katundu is a group of women, mainly orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in central Africa, making beautiful beaded cotton and linen clothes and cushions on an island in Lake Malawi. Please have a look at this site to get an idea of how inspirational a small enterprise in an unknown corner of Africa can be.

Now how about a route to market? There are people who share Schumacher's belief that "small is beautiful". People who know how to use the Internet to create a business, and who have taken the time and trouble to forge links with small producers, co-ops and family firms wherever they may be. And people who appreciate the beautiful things that can come from small and hard to find places.

Here's a link to a small company who can sell you some of the lovely things made by the ladies of Katundu, as well as a wide range of ethical and eco friendly tableware and gift ideas.

Article Source:

No comments:

Post a Comment