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Free «The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future» Essay Sample

The book “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future” by Bill McKibben describes and evaluates the current system of global production and marketing networks, and their impact on social relations and state powers. McKibben creates a unique picture of the global order and assigns specific roles to each of the global players: a community, a state and an individual citizen. McKibben claims that at each stage of societal development, in any period of the history of a nation, there arise certain principal (and many less consequential) conflicts over specific issues. By distinguishing principal conflicts, one can effectively differentiate stages of societal development and periods of history. Without such private ownership, capitalism is no longer capitalism. It is ownership that determines the character of all other relations in the free-market society. Other conflicts in capitalist relations are secondary, even the universal conflict between the elite and the masses. Conflicts of lesser scope, such as those that occasionally emerge in ethnic and majority-minority relations, are more obviously secondary.



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McKibben develops a unique description of the current marketing systems and links between capitalism and environmental problems. The strengths of the book are that McKibben current environmental policies and degradation affected all geographical regions. Invocation of the national interest is able in many contexts to mobilize all three of the requirements for legitimated action—cause, actor, political culture. The threat of invasion in war is the most obvious, clear-cut case. A national objective which overrides any substantial objection is self-evident: there is a clear and present danger. The agent is equally self-evident and uniquely competent, namely, a national government working through its armed forces. The political culture, focused through and stimulated by the speeches of eloquent leaders, vibrates with such unity of purpose that individuals willingly surrender a certain freedom of action for the manifest public good. They accept conscription, temporary restraints on freedom of expression, the internment of enemy aliens and the like. The author admits: the closed earth of the future requires economic principles that are entirely different from the “open” cowboy economy pf the past” (McKibben 2007, p. 26). All this is in the expectation that the sacrifice, while considerable, will not last for ever and in the end will lead to a better future.

The strength of the book is that McKibben clearly and objectively described the problem of resource ownership and consumption patterns. These issues are not as universal as the perennial split between ruling elites and the masses. They are also not as peculiar to specific conditions in a given region and time as conflicts over regional, ethnic, and religious policies have been and continue to be. To an extent, the social conflicts are transformed old conflicts. Yet, they increasingly concern issues that did not exist or were not raised in the past, such as entitlements, budgetary allocations, rights to services, taxation to maintain public services, and the welfare system. These issues will continue to be the principal issues for a long time to come. Who controls what is an issue with many faces. In local societies, ownership, and especially exclusive ownership in the traditional meaning, is less socially important than the more specific question, "Who controls corporations?" Exchange, cooperation, compromise, persuasion, and, of course, intercession and conflict, form a part of day-to-day life under such conditions. Until recently, people derived income from wages, salaries, royalties, professional fees, profits, interests, and dividends. Although these forms of income still constitute most of the income structure in Western nations undergoing change, part of income also consists of services, transfer payments, and other government benefits. A special attention McKibben gives to local food production, local consumption patterns and agriculture which influence food industry and health issues. In Introductory part, he admits: “A single farmers’ market, for instance, may not seem very important compared to a Wal-Mart, but farmers’ markets are the fastest-growing part of our food economy. They’ve doubled in number and in sales and then doubled again in the last decade, suggesting new possibilities for everything from land use patterns to community identity” (McKibben 2007, p. 2). Not always perceived by the population as actual income, but merely as part of the available condition, such benefits can be considered invisible income. Special privileges associated with particular positions in the bureaucratic structure can also be equated with income.

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The main weakness of the book is exaggeration of the environmental problems and inability of the author to perceive and evaluate benefits and opportunities of globalization. There is a difficulty in defining clear and present dangers which show symptoms that are incontrovertible. The threats associated with global warming are not as visible or as immediate as foreign troops on the border. Therefore, one important aspect of the book is its exploration of ways in which the nature of risk and threat arising from global phenomena can be presented accurately, and yet simultaneously trigger an awareness of the need for action. McKibben comments: “it’s all politics. The farm program subsidies those crops that are geographically concentrated in a few states” (McKibben 2007, p. 86). The history of the international political response to global production threats is illuminating, for it shows both the difficulty of seeking immediate political action on the basis of an assessment of long-term possible threats, and the temptation of “short-circuiting” that frustration by exaggeration and oversimplification.

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The other weakness is that the author tries to generalize economic, social and environmental problems by neglects the role of integration and global cultural change. It would be important to recognize that all states formulate their policies with the interests of their own people only in mind, and with no more than a passing regard for the interests of others, or of the global commons, or even without due regard for the long-term consequences of their actions on their own national self-interest. The outcome of a negotiating session is almost always the haphazard consequence of a competitively pursued set of excessive national interests. No nation-state can ever validly claim to have ultimate objectivity in its views and policies. But the use of the vital social interest and the legitimate national interest concepts would assist in attaining greater objectivity than a pure expression of national self-interest without regard for broader consequences. McKibben does not recognize and accept a position that modern states do everything possible to stop pollution, degradation and devastation. Such an approach is similar to the perception of citizen responsibilities, which are defined more by circumscription of prohibited behavior (murder, arson, theft, fraud) than by positive identification of rights or other lawful action. A citizen’s freedom extends to the point beyond which it interferes with that of others. Anything not thus prohibited is lawful behavior.

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McKibben pays less attention to structure of global economy and its benefits. It would be important to mention that societal and economic systems possess an inherent propensity to expand, grow, and turn increasingly more complex. Elements of their structures, such as firms, corporations, branches of government, small "empires" built by active entrepreneurs, politicians, and all kinds of people, display a similar proclivity. Under capitalism, each individual, group, firm, corporation, and industry strives to augment its sphere of activity, to increase its control of the market, and, where possible, to engulf the sphere of others. Conflicts thrive under such conditions. However, internal regulation overcomes recurring disarray and any imminent dangers to the system. The state equilibrates growth by instituting regulation. The local economy aims to regulate everything that can be regulated, which contradicts the intrinsic striving of organisms and open systems as a whole to maximize the freedom with which they operate. As the system grows larger, encompassing increasing numbers of more complex interdependencies, the state strives for more penetrative control over more relationships, both within and beyond the sphere of its management. Standards are set for courses of action, services, and commodities: for everything that can be standardized. Norms and rules are set for any recognized roles, positions, and activity. Societal and economic structures become increasingly more systemic in character

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McKibben follows conservative economic and political position describing economic and political changes. It means that tasks of communicating global threats and translating that analysis into calls for action cannot be avoided. In the case of the local interest concept, informed consent would have to be linked to supranational political mechanisms which, at the moment, do not exist, if the concept of stakeholding in the global commons is to become a viable route to legitimated political action. However, if successful, and in contrast to reaction to fear, sustained rather than sporadic effort becomes possible. The current form of change is not the final state of political evolution necessary to respond to the challenges of the twenty-first century. McKibben questions: is there really a wealth of possibilities in our communities or are we irrevocable tied to our global system?” (McKibben 2007, p. 77). Historically, the development of common law through precedent is the main example of an “extension” within the nation-state. In future, the local interest concept will no doubt operate in the same way. For, as noted earlier, the prerequisite to a self-sustaining mobilization of the local; interest in global politics will only come from a transformation—indeed, an awakening—of a new form of global social consciousness. This global consciousness alone can ensure that new institutions and mechanisms, designed to protect the social interest, are granted the legitimacy they need in order to be effective, grounded in an informed consent of the people. The old issue has not been removed from the agenda of public confrontations. Yet, newer controversies and confrontations concern the multifarious interest groups comprising present-day society much more and reduce the importance of past concerns. While many of the issues that spark conflict in capitalist societies persist, new and profoundly different issues have emerged in local societies. The new issues deal to some extent with property rights, but focus more on control than on ownership. They pertain to control over property, but increasingly to control over a mixed economy. More and more, in all Western societies, including the United States and Japan, conflicts concern control by the state, which has been transformed into the manager of the whole of the national economy. Increasingly, the principal issues are related to control of the state's budgetary allocations. This is quite apparent in current congressional and parliamentary debates, mass media discussions, and the actions of special interest lobbies. It is evident in party competition for power and in many other aspects of political life. Every interest group in contemporary society is fighting to get more out of state management and control of the economy, state distribution of benefits, and state protection. Conflicts over state control are more apparent, involving more groups, because more people and corporations depend on the state for their income, profits, and security, and because state policies can be influenced through the mass media, elections, demonstrations, and other forms of public pressure.

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Having a global agreement, nation-states frequently enter a reservation or interpretation that establishes, in law, their particular national position on the provisions agreed. Secondly, the manner of the implementation of their national obligations under the global agreement subsequently reflects the national interest more vividly than their global rhetoric at the conclusion of the agreement. It is evident that contemporary law and the mores of daily practice recognize other forms of control as valid, sometimes equally so or less, but valid, as are those derived from ownership. Some rights more and less limited, rights to control objects of property not owned by the controllers are emerging as well: the public's right to determine, through environmental groups and the media, whether an object is put to safe uses; unions' rights to participate in the decision-making process affecting certain aspects of production; the rights of the entire hierarchy of public authorities in the territories where the owned object is located.

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In spite of the fact that McKibben’s book has some weaknesses and limitations, the work is well-founded and well-researched. The author presents his vision of reality and future using environmental, economic and political agenda. Readers can agree or disagree with the book, but should accept that it is well-written and would be interested for every sociologist, economist and politicians. McKibben clearly describes that certain forms of control, ownership, management, and territorial rule, constitute a condition in which the controller—an individual or corporate entity—may earn pecuniary values. Other forms of control—as the right accorded to public institutions to restrict the use of private property because of safety or other concerns or the unions' rights to participate in corporate decision-making, may not yield direct monetary earnings to the controlling agent, but are as important as money. Under new social relations, not only is ownership increasingly transformed into a form of control and the rights of many other groups to control objects they do not own increasingly recognized, but certain forms of control are implemented through regulatory practices, which in turn, when conducted along with an objective of generating more values, evolve into a form of management. In this sense, the regulatory function of the state metamorphoses into management of the economy and society.

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In sum, McKibben creates an interesting narration about complex problems and issues affected modern world and economic order. The author proves that in a world that is responding increasingly to global forces yet is increasingly nationalistic at the same time, the question of legislative and enforcement authority at the global level is a delicate and sensitive one. Others oppose this on several grounds: some on philosophical judgments of individual and national freedoms, some in the political judgment that the global institutions as presently composed are not sufficiently representative of the world’s people.


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