How can a sustainable local community (which is to say a
sustainable local economy) function? I am going to suggest a set of
rules that I think such a community would have to follow. I hasten
to say that I do not understand these rules as predictions; I am
not interested in foretelling the future. If these rules have any
validity, it is because they apply now.
Supposing that the members of a local community wanted their
community to cohere, to flourish, and to last, they would:
1. Ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do
to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?
2. Include local nature — the land, the water, the air, the
native creatures — within the membership of the community.
3. Ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources,
including the mutual help of neighbors.
4. Supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting
their products, first to nearby cities, and then to others).
5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial
doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment,
or any kind of pollution or contamination.
6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local
products in order not to become merely a colony of the national or
the global economy.
7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the
local farm or forest economy.
8. Strive to produce as much of their own energy as
9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the
community, and decrease expenditures outside the community.
10. Circulate money within the local economy for as long as
possible before paying it out.
11. Invest in the community to maintain its properties, keep it
clean (without dirtying some other place), care for its old people,
and teach its children.
12. Arrange for the old and the young to take care of one
another, eliminating institutionalized ‘child care’ and ‘homes for
the aged.’ The young must learn from the old, not necessarily and
not always in school; the community knows and remembers itself by
the association of old and young.
13. Account for costs that are now conventionally hidden or
‘externalized.’ Whenever possible they must be debited against
14. Look into the possible uses of local currency,
community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the
15. Be aware of the economic value of neighborliness — as help,
insurance, and so on. They must realize that in our time the costs
of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood,
leaving people to face their calamities alone.
16. Be acquainted with, and complexly connected with,
community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
17. Cultivate urban consumers loyal to local products to build a
sustainable rural economy, which will always be more cooperative
From a speech delivered November 11, 1994 at the 23rd annual
meeting of the Northern Plains Resource Council.