Friday, July 17, 2009

Logic of Sufficiency

Great book. I think the framework of scale is so necessary for all of us involved in community organizing to study- and this book approaches it from the elegant language of sufficiency (as opposed to efficiency) as the measure. The author argues that efficiency was useful for single mechanical solutions, but is not useful to use as a gauge to build complex systems. Looking at productivity alone as a measure leaves out whose benefit, level of finite resources used and the costs to extract in future.
Truly, efficiency is simply another arbitrary measure with its own hidden costs and subjective ratios applied. As the author says: " it has been elevated from a common sense idea to a dominant social principle." A good example is car use: often miles per gallon is used as an "efficiency" standard, even though dozens of other externalities change the true mpg of your car-from how your tire pressure is kept, to the type of roads you drive on, to the speed at which you drive. In other words, we use the term efficiency to showcase the best available system, and it does not always lead to that.
Farming is another excellent example of that, when"get big or get out" was the 1970s serious (and mostly well-meaning) idea of the industrial food system to feed more people and create wealth at home and yet, those efficiencies have led to more health dangers in food preparation, less farmers and farmland in most regions, leading to higher prices and mono cropping.

"(this book is) for those who accept the world's ecological constraints and believe human endeavor should be rated on quality of life issues."
"we need to build sufficiency into decision-making and realize the logic of empire is the accumulation of private wealth, efficient extraction (being constant) and technological mastery.
Modern industrial society pays homage to the market, the factory and the laboratory.
The author looks at a few concrete examples of self regulating bodies using sufficiency as a organizing principle: Early timber company that added sustainable growth policies decades before others were forced to, lobstermen in Maine opting to catch seasonally and to ask for federal rules to self-manage those waters year round, residents on Ward's Island on island that decided to do without cars. I also liked the description of shotengai (mom and pop Japanese shopping districts) how they managed much of civil society post WW2, organizing festivals, supporting schools and being (as JJacobs has said famously) being the eyes on the street.

His chapter on the history of efficiency is charming and appropriate to study, especially the insight that Aristotle showed efficiency not as about speed or costs but that it was about the appropriateness of using the correct process.

I highly recommend this- although I am always aware of the danger of asking Americans to reduce anything or to slow things down. Resource management, dignity for labor and direct relationships between the users and the producers of goods is what goes along with sufficiency.
The Logic of Sufficiency

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