A Diverse Economy

I’ve been thinking about economy lately.  Not, The Economy—that great abstract power everyone seems to worry about and no one seems to be able to control.  The economy of my concern has been closer to the word’s roots—oikos-nomos, household management.  I’ve been wondering how to manage the efforts and energies of my household in concert with the households of my neighbors and the household of the creation in which all of us are really only occupying rooms.  The question that has been staying with me is how we can all sustain our livelihoods in ways that sustain one another’s livelihoods?  How can I make a living and keep neighbors, human and not?  How can I make a living and have a neighborhood?

One of the keys to any economy is its capital—the resources it can put to work for the creation of abundance.  Since the industrial revolution capital has been narrowed, for most of us, into money.  Those with extra money can invest it in various companies or perhaps start a company and from that produce an abundance of more money.  This is all good for money, but if our aim is household management the goods become more questionable.

Money is a kind of monoculture—growing it is like growing a field of corn or soybeans.  That kind of farming works as long as oil is cheap and subsidies high, but take away either of these volatile supports and the whole enterprise comes crashing down.  A more diverse farm, on the other hand, is a more sustainable farm—it doesn’t put all of its eggs in one basket or even just eggs in its basket.  The same is true for the right use of capital—there are many forms of capital and the best way to ensure sustainability and security for the long run is to diversify it just as one would a farm.

Toby Hemenway in his book, The Permaculture City, lists eight forms of capital including spiritual capital, social capital, experiential capital, and material capital.  Financial capital is just one among many.  If we want to work toward a good and flourishing economy then we will work to increase our wealth in all of these forms of capital.  We won’t just use our money to increase money, but we will also use our money to increase social capital and material wellbeing.  More goods get valued in this kind of capitalism and it tends to make more of us wealthy in a more holistic way.

It is this kind of economy that I see at work through the Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative.  When I spend money on food through the co-op, I am not simply circulating financial capital.  Instead, I am also building social capital by supporting farmers working for ecological capital alongside financial sustainability.  It is through this diversification of goods and capital that real sustainability can be achieved, so spend your money to diversify your assets—social, cultural, living, and financial; spiritual, material, experiential, and intellectual.