The first challenge to overcome, for those going through either slow economic decline or sudden economic collapse, is uncertainty. In the culture I grew up in, there’s no need for too much concern if the fridge is empty. It’s not far to the store and if the store’s not open it will be in the morning. As humans, we naturally relax and get comfortable when there’s routine, familiarity and most of all stability. We all know, however, the feeling of being out of our comfort zone.
On an evolutionary level, uncertainty – like the uncertainty of not knowing where the next meal will come from – puts us on ‘high alert’, bringing an elevation in sensitivity so that we might be better able to hunt. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol flow. Without learning how to deal with the ongoing stress of constantly being on shifting sands, one could easily slide into a somewhat constant state of fight-or-flight consciousness. As fatigue sets in from being on constant high alert, so too can a sense of hopelessness. However, there is a flip side.
Right now all over the world, in places where uncertainty is paralysing many, there are growing numbers of people learning how to be inspired by it, transmuting the heightened sensitivity brought on by fear and using it as fuel. Like the hunters of tribal culture, hunger is making them sharp and ingenuity is paving a new way forward. What does that new way forward look like?
Get ready for a quick tour of some of the best solutions that are already working. While one of these examples alone may not hold all the answers, a more complete picture may be found from combining the best from all of them.
Humour and Cultural Expression
After emerging, to some degree, from a serious depression around the turn of the new century, Argentina has once again slid into economic crisis. The key lesson to be learned from the Argentinians is how to deal with the sense of despair mentioned above. For these Latinos the answer is humour and expression. The Argentines are currently experiencing a cultural renaissance, particularly in Buenos Aires. Theatres are offering high quality performances, many of which explore the crisis itself and provide a degree of emotional catharsis for the audience. Some theatres are charging nothing at all, others work on Pay What You Want pricing, while others still accept fresh produce in exchange for admittance.
Organising As Community
The Argentinians are also taking the task of finding alternative solutions into their own hands. Community organisations are springing up everywhere, including food banks, community associations, clubs, NGO’s, social solidarity campaigns. The Buenos Aires metro is offering tickets for public transport in exchange for fresh produce donated to day-care centres and food banks. Perhaps the most important aspect of all is the Argentinian way of making fun of the situation. No matter how dire things get, there is always a joke, which on one hand points to the truth (instead of using humour to avoid it), and on the other hand reminds people that when it’s this bad sometimes all you can do is laugh.
Organic Gardening Revolution
During the early 1960’s the US did their best to turn Cuba from an island nation in the geographic sense, to an economic island with a trade embargo. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, Cuba lost financial aid and their sole trade ally who was effectively keeping them connected to the outside world. The economic decimation that followed included an extremely limited supply of oil. In an emergency response, the Cuban government declared that all unused urban landscape was legally available for the public to grow food. What followed was a rapid transition into what has been called the Cuban Organic Gardening Revolution, locally known as Organaponicos. Cuba has become such a great example of how resilience, self reliance and innovation can emerge in the face of crisis, that people from all over the world are visiting to learn the secrets of their success. Policies are being explored or adopted from Minneapolis in the US, to Venezuala and beyond. Despite having no internet to speak of, a tech revolution seems to also be brewing in post-collapse Cuba.
The Coconut Revolution
Just like Charles Darwin’s observations in the Gallapegos islands, uniquely thriving social evolution seems occur on islands cut off from the rest of the world. When the Papua New Guinean Government set up a military blockade around the island of Bougainville they thought it was only a matter of time before the local indigenous population would run out of supplies and give up on their desire for independence. The locals raided all of the abandoned mining operations and used the materials for, among other things, the creation of makeshift hydro-electric power stations. They also set to work powering their diesel vehicles and machinery with locally grown coconut oil. Bougainville went back to traditional and semi-traditional forms of agriculture, and the plan to starve them out failed spectacularly. You can watch the entire story in the 52 minute documentary called The Coconut Revolution.
In the grip of crippling Austerity, Spain has some amazing examples of how community can come together and overcome adversity. Alternative or complimentary currencies are offering communities a way to return to the original purpose of money: a simple means of exchange. One of these experiments is an online social currency called truekko, while others revolve around peer to peer labour tracking technology known as time banking.
The Spanish are also leading the way in the use of the sharing economy for collective social gain. Strictly speaking, commercial services using peer-to-peer technology for profit like Uber and AirBnB shouldn’t be referred to as part of the ‘sharing economy’. Unlike these services that require people to pay money, the Spanish are using true sharing services like ride-share, couch-surfing, shared book exchanges and others, using the internet to create vibrant, community collaboration in the face of adversity.
Thanks largely to the solidarity of the Indignados movement (a key inspiration for Occupy) there is also a strong focus on community initiated projects, as well as urban gardening.
Remaking the Rules
Iceland is an example of a government who made bold and independent post-collapse reforms that have payed off. Iceland let their banks suffer the natural consequences of irresponsible, reckless and even criminal behaviour in the banking sector. They let the banks collapse, nationalised the central bank and even convicted and imprisoned some of the bankers responsible. It should be noted that the central bank did have to go into considerable debt to prevent their currency, the Krona, from tanking… though nobel prize winning Economist Paul Krugman has the following to say.
“Iceland has the krona to thank for its recovery” – Paul Krugman
The Icelandic government regained control of the banking sector and implemented regulations to prevent a recurrence.
“We moved from a situation where the one that took the biggest risk was the employee of the month, to a situation where the one that took the least risk became the employee of the month” – Bjarni Benediktsson, Icelandic Finance Minister.
Another key reform was that they made it illegal for loans to be issued in foreign currencies as this caused debt to nearly double. People were able to repay foreign debts in their native currency, making payments much easier to manage.
In Cleveland, USA there’s a growing movement referred to as The Cleveland Model, and it’s all about democratic employee ownership of industry. One such concept is is the idea of Anchor Industries, a business model designed to make sure manufacturing never goes off-shore, providing long term economic security for employees and the wider community. It’s a solution to a nation wide problem that has been causing increasing economic hardship for decades and in many places including Cleveland, Anchor Institutions have become their region’s leading employers.
Bristol in the UK are also working with an alternative parallel currency that is so successful that the Mayor is receiving 100% of his pay in Bristol Pounds. Amsterdam in The Netherlands has taken the initiative to open up disused public space and infrastructure to foster innovation. Detroit in the US has been suffering a slow economic decline since 1967, however in recent years a guerrilla gardening movement has emerged as a partial solution to food insecurity. The people of Greece, in the face of devastating financial collapse are already exploring alternative currencies and bartering systems and a return to localised food production as an immediate solution. While these things might not solve Greece’s larger problems, they may be the key to keeping food on the table while the mess is sorted out.
The Most Important Lessons
The world learned in 2008 that we are now economically interconnected to point that crisis in one nation can destabilize the whole. Unlike Iceland’s unique example, the flaws in the global economic system that caused the GFC have not been corrected. Our economy depends on constant growth in order to avert collapse, a premise that could only work on a planet that was also constantly expanding in size and resources. This means that without reform, a repeat of the GFC of some kind is inevitable.
Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn is that the strategies listed in this article are about building resilience for those living in either pre-crisis or post-crisis situation. I strongly believe that if communities are able to pre-emptively implement these strategies they will emerge as islands of innovation when the next financial tsunami hits. These strategies create resilience against collapse, and at the same time they soften the blow if collapse does occur by having already built the framework for resilience in a post-collapse environment. The lesson is clear: localised systems that make more sense than the current, outdated paradigm already exist and the sooner we weave them into our communities the sooner we transition away from our current state of instability and uncertainty.
If you’re looking to go deeper into what the emerging paradigm actually looks like, an incredibly comprehensive resource of the best known models for preventing collapse, or surviving and thriving in a post-collapse economy can be found at Community- Wealth.org
As you can see, there is no shortage of solutions – the only question left is: when will they be implemented in your community? Keep in mind that sooner is better and that all the instances where these things are already existing successfully were started by a community member like you.