Responses to Ulli Diemer
in Green Revolution
Letter to Green Revolution:
The article in the last issue of Green Revolution, "Building
a Social Movement: A Canadian Perspective" by Ulli Diemer,
expressed one Canadian's views, mostly political, about the recent
Conservative victory m the election in Canada. In that article Mr.
Diemer praised the virtues of the welfare state, and imagined a
whole litany of negative symptoms that might result from what he
calls 'the free trade deal', between the United States and Canada.
I found his article full of contradictions such as opposition to
'continentalism' followed by advice to 'think globally'. In the
end, if you got beyond his initial predictions of doom that would
result from 'free trade' he proposed small scale decentralist solutions
as alternatives to the centralized state, but not without 'social
control', for which he seems willing to rely on the central government.
The School of Living always has and now does believe that one of
the causes, if not the major cause of most of our problems lies
in the centralized power of governments and other gigantic institutions
that have grown beyond human control. We believe that 'free trade'
is better than barriers to trade and that the more free, trade and
markets can become, the more just our society will be. Governments,
corporations, unions, and sometimes just individual citizens have
a vested interest in seeing artificial barriers to free trade. It
depends on whose ox is being gored. If we do not like a particular
free trade agreement, we should propose freer trade and freer markets
and not reversion to more controls enforced by a Central Collossus.
And when the corporations are beyond citizen control so they impose
unfair prices, run roughshod over the environment, steal our natural
resources, etc. etc., we should limit their power through citizen
action and freer markets, not through reliance on an even more sinister
power to control them.
Many of us in the School of Living would have a problem finding
any benefits from the welfare state, and especially any long term
benefit, even to the few who such programs have allegedly been designed
to benefit. As a minimum it is safe to say that most, if not all,
central government social control proposals create more problems
than they solve.
After having just spent most of a week in Canada while attending
the 8th Assembly of the Fourth World, and having lived in Canada
for several years, my impression was once again reinforced that
true free trade between the U.S. and Canada would mostly benefit
Canadians. Prices in Canada on what seems to be the majority of
items run roughly double what they are in the U.S. We used to joke
that the only thing cheaper in Canada was a haircut. But the cost
of production in Canada is often less than in the U.S. due both
to lower labor costs and to a super abundance of natural resources.
Goods produced in Canada often sell for less in the U.S. than they
do in Canada. Free markets and free trade would almost certainly
tend to bring about a closer parity between prices in the two countries,
which should economically benefit the average Canadian most of all.
Canadians in general have an almost pathological fear of being
dominated by the United States. They fear that closer ties could
make them the 51st State. The size and constitutional makeup of
the Canadian Government plus the power reserved for the Provincial
Governments, make it a preferable system to that of the United States.
If free trade and free markets really brought Canada more under
the thumb of Uncle Sam, that would be a political consequence which
would indeed be cause for concern. From my perspective, free markets
and free trade are more likely to create a more just and a more
democratic society. They will aid in the creation of a movement
to change society and make social change more possible, which is
what Ulli Diemer says he seeks.
Falls Church, VA.
Published in Green
Revolution Volume 46, Number 3 (Fall 1989 issue).
Ulli Diemer's recent article ("Building
a Social Movement: A Canadian Perspective," Vol. 46 No.2)
was interesting indeed. The wide ranging article made many good
points about our need to keep economic values in balance with other
One thing mystifies me, though, and that is why Diemer is opposed
to free trade. Whenever we are tempted to take the anti-freedom
side of an issue, we must be very careful to study the situation
very thoroughly first.
A good place to start is with the definitive book on the subject,
"Protection or Free Trade." This book was written by the
grandfather of Green Economics, Henry George. George was a foe of
big corporate interests and a supporter of free trade.
Every tariff is a sales tax on domestic purchases, you pay tariffs
in the form of higher prices to the "protected" industry.
In the United States for example, the steel industry is "protected"
by a tariff, which means they call and do charge higher prices to
users of steel. Anyone who rides a train or car or owns a house,
is paying money to the big steel magnates.
Protectionism means higher prices for consumers, less choice in
the marketplace, and subsidies for big corporations.
Read for yourself. Decide whether Green Economics should oppose,
or embrace, freedom in trade; whether Green Economics should require
nations to erect costly protectionist burners against one another,
or should emphasize cooperation instead.
Henry George Foundation of America
Published in Green
Revolution Volume 46, Number 3 (Fall 1989 issue).
Dear Editors & Readers of Green Revolution:
I was so glad to read Ulli Diemer's article "Building
a Social Movement: A Canadian Perspective". He pin-points
the root cause of nearly all the local and global disintegration
namely multi-national corporate monopoly or conglomerate totalitarianism.
To enhance and sustain life on this planet we (Living Green Activists)
must bond in small local groups that are democratic to every segment
of our lives especially economics. The early church practiced real
communism: Intentionally they bonded their resources, skills, their
land, their love and practiced integrity together. We have suggested
to the Greens of the U.S.A. to add another key value: namely Integrity
in Action and Lifestyle. We can hardly be green and support corporate
economics with our "every" purchase! We envision millions
of life groups or biocircles, networking around common principles
and values in every bioregion. We call it the politics-economics
of concentric circles, where the base unit is an intentional community
with one or more specific purposes to enhance and sustain life locally.
Each autonomous bio cell is connected via computer to every other
group locally, regionally and globally. In essence we must create
Economic socio/politics that work for everyone and all life forms,
and that is truly democratic even to the children.
Multinational corporate monoconsciousness will not release its
monopoly on land, resources and political power. 'Greed is a most
serious disease. We must be the medium of redemption. We must build
the green alternative locally by feeding, clothing, housing, educating,
etc. etc. etc. - ourselves! We must starve the corporate pyramid
by learning to live together in groups that focus on healing, integrity,
wholeness and celebration. We must begin to co-create bio-circles
in every country - rurally, urbanally. What else is there that can
reverse the corporate psychoses?
Published in Green
Revolution Volume 46, Number 3 (Fall 1989 issue).
Transcending Old Alliances: A Decentralist Perspective
By Dan Sullivan
Truly new movements incorporate ideas and attract followers from
across the entire political spectrum. Ours is not a new face on
the old left; it exists because entrenched elements of the old left
could not embrace radical departures any more than the old right
Growth of new movements is always slow in early stages. We have
no established power base and no mass following ready to storm the
Bastille. We do have a growing number of independent thinkers with
common principles who are prepared to advance those principles -
people for whom living true to their beliefs is far more important
than being politically prominent.
Recently, however, the School of Living and the much larger Green
Movement have become recognized as rising stars, and have attracted
followers for whom prominence is important. Many have come from
the old left, which has suffered a series of political setbacks.
They are good people who genuinely support the Green agenda to the
extent that they understand it, and who are looking for fresh approaches
to combat monopolistic power structures.
However, they bring baggage from the old left with them, and this
poses delicate problems. How can we help them wean themselves of
certain old-left notions without showing disregard for their legitimate
underlying values? How can we embrace them as allies without embracing
things that drove us out of the old left in the first place? How
can we show them that our growing prominence, to which they are
attracted, comes from our ability to subordinate our desires for
The lead article in Green Revolution "Building
a Social Movement: A Canadian Perspective", by Ulli Diemer,
Vol. 46 No. 2) provides excellent examples of someone caught in
this dilemma. While it contains what I would regard as enlightened
passages, they are sandwiched between old-left rhetoric and old-left
solutions which are hostile to fundamental principles of the School
of Living and the Green Movement.
These old-left passages had to do with free trade, social spending,
class struggle, unionism, and the concept of taking sides. It is
on these issues that I feel compelled to offer what I see as "greener"
alternatives. In doing this, I want to be clear that what we offer
is very much in the interests of old-left constituencies, even when
it departs from old-left agendas.
Protection vs. Free Trade
Diemer's article opens with an attack on the menacing ways of
foreign corporations (i.e. U.S. corporations operating in Canada).
Then, oblivious to the fact that the School of Living has advanced
genuine solutions to this problem, it reaches into the old-left
bag of tricks and pulls out protectionism. (Ralph Borsodi, the School's
founder, was a staunch supporter of free trade, as was Henry George,
whose economic principles are central to the School's role in the
land trust movement.)
From a decentralist Green perspective, protection is an unacceptable
non-solution. It is inherently centralist, nationalistic, monopolistic,
authoritarian and bureaucratic. 1n essence, protection is central
powers making people accept bad deals on domestic products by blocking
better deals on foreign products. It keeps domestic monopolies fat
and happy at the expense of both domestic consumers and foreign
producers. Ironically, Canadian arguments about protection from
U.S. competition are nearly identical to U.S. arguments about Japanese
competition. Blaming foreigners is an easy way to avoid dealing
with weaknesses in domestic systems. The notion of decentralized
protection only serves to reveal the inherently destructive nature
of protection. (Should Toronto be allowed to trade freely with Montreal?
Should the city be allowed to trade freely with the suburbs? Should
you be allowed to trade with your nextdoor neighbor for something
you could have made yourself?) Nationalistic protection thrives
only because distrust of foreigners masks its uncooperative nature.
While the Green movement is focused on transcending national boundaries,
protection makes it difficult to even cross those boundaries. As
a professional furniture mover, I have dealt personally with customs
officials at the U.S. - Canadian border. I once spent hours on end
while Canadian customs agents plodded through a maze of forms, subtracting
American import duties from Canadian import duties on a customer's
Japanese camera, television and VCR. He ended up paying the Canadian
government only $16.47, but he had to pay us $125 just to cover
our time waiting. What a stupid way to welcome new residents!
Free trade is a natural process that would work quite well in
the absence of manipulative central authority. Free trade presents
problems only because other perversions of the marketplace have
not been remedied.
Why are taxpayers forced to subsidize airports, seaports and overbuilt
highway systems? Why do small, efficient producers with few resources
pay more taxes than big inept producers allowed to monopolize the
world's resources in the first place? The protectionist Band-Aid
does not address these root causes. In fact, by protecting inept
domestic producers from foreign competition, protectionism often
makes matters worse.
"The state giveth, and the state taketh away." This
captures the essence of current social spending systems. As monopoly
squeezes more and more from productive people, increasing numbers
find themselves unable to cope. Some become physically and emotionally
ill; some turn to drugs as an escape; some turn to crime; some simply
fail to find a niche in the system.
The old-left strategy has been to make these people wards of the
central government so that the system can go on squeezing everyone
else to near destruction without totally destroying those who have
already collapsed. One result of this non-solution is that the system
squeezes even harder to support growing numbers of idle poor without
curtailing its support of the idle rich. In fact, social spending
is often used as a means of indirectly supporting the idle rich.
I was once given a seat on the Pittsburgh board of Americans for
Democratic Action. I couldn't help notice that most of these people,
who exuded great concern for the urban poor, were themselves quite
Years later, while doing research on land ownership patterns,
I repeatedly came across names of various ADA members who owned
multiple properties in poorer sections. Suddenly it dawned on me
that there was more than altruism behind efforts to see that poor
people were able to pay their rent!
I do believe that most support for social spending is based on
genuine concern for the poor, even among rich liberals who exploit
the poor. And making people perpetual wards of the state is still
more palatable than the strategy of the old right, which is to let
these people be destroyed. I am reminded, however, of a quote by
Henry George: "There are people who are always trying to find
some mean between right and wrong people who, if they were to see
a man about to be unjustly beheaded, might insist that the proper
thing to do would be to chop off his feet!"
Indeed, welfare is notorious for conveying the message that it
will spare your life, but you will never work again. Only when the
old-left gets serious about attacking root causes will they be able
to win broad support for maintaining welfare as a transitional device.
Our main strategy is to build alternative communities where people
are not routinely destroyed and where neighbors look after one another
as a matter of course. Because these communities are not trapped
into supporting a rich idle class, members are in far better positions
to support one another.
Many people who had difficulty coping in mainstream systems are
better able to cope as productive members of alternative communities.
Although the land trust community movement is a small movement addressing
a big problem, I believe our strategy is sound. I see no hope in
the old-left strategy of fostering dependence on a system it opposes.
Another Green strategy is changing tax systems to take pressure
off healthy productive enterprise and increase pressure on monopoly.
When the old-left is ready to support the taxing of monopoly privileges
to fund welfare, we will be their enthusiastic allies. After all,
the power to tax is the power to destroy. By destroying monopoly
privilege, we destroy the artificial job shortage and the need for
much of our welfare system.
A Realistic Look at Class
Ours is a class society, but the old-left paradigm of business
class vs. working class just doesn't fit reality. I have held union
jobs and non-union jobs, have been self-employed and have employed
others. At no time did I sense that I was moving from one social
class to another. I was simply altering my strategy for survival.
Social class is based more on privileges and handicaps than on
what one does with them. A more realistic view of class, based on
land and resource monopoly, is as follows:
Tenants - they pay tribute for the right to merely exist on the
Mortgaged homeowners - like indentured servants, they have negotiated
for a degree of freedom in the future, but they still make payments
for the right to exist.
Paid-off homeowners - they may now rest their heads in freedom,
but their livelihoods depend on resources monopolized by others.
They must either work for wages or rent business properties. (The
few who work from their homes are usually dependent on monopolized
resources such as telephone and mail systems.)
Self-sufficient property owners - they are able to find both shelter
and livelihood from their own properties. However, they are taxed
to support a system that exploits poor and middle classes to benefit
Active landlords - they have accumulated natural resources that
others need. They live by selling or renting these resources to
others. (These resources include such goodies as coal, oil and timber,
but the greatest and most often forgotten natural resource is the
land value component of surface real estate.)
Resource monopolists - they have accumulated more resources than
they are inclined to market. They have found that they can create
artificial shortages by holding resources off the market. These
shortages are parlayed into higher prices for their marketed resources.
While there are other monopolies, such as banking, patent and
trade restriction monopolies, resource monopoly is clearly the most
The essence of class based on resource monopoly is that some own
the earth and others must rent from them. In a classless community,
resources are held by the community itself and made available for
rent on equal terms. In such a community, everybody owns and everybody
rents. The privilege of privately holding resources is matched with
the burden of paying fair rent on those resources. (Royalties are
paid on extraction of non-renewable resources.) Community members
who hold no resources receive benefits from land rent, either as
tax-free community services or of outright cash payments.
The Problem of Unions
Solidarity with labor unions presents problems for decentralists.
Although unionization provides essential barricades to prevent human
beings from being crushed in the mad race to monopolize resources,
modern unions have failed to attack the underlying problems that
made their existence necessary. In many cases they aggravate these
problems by protecting the monopolies that employ their members.
Real solidarity with unions requires fundamental changes within
the union movement.
This is especially true in North America, where workers are organized
on an industry by industry basis. For example, U.S. Steel always
had support of United Steel Workers when it called for import barriers
and relaxation of pollution controls; the United Auto Workers supported
the Chrysler bailout and unions connected with oil consistently
support off-shore drilling and other environmentally hazardous practices.
American unions have been the number-one force against free immigration,
which is an essential element of personal freedom. They would rather
see Mexicans starve on a few pennies a day than see them work in
the United States at slightly below market rate. They harp on how
immigration would drive down prevailing U.S. wages while trying
to repress the fact that it would drive up prevailing Mexican wages.
We cannot support the idea that Central American workers should
remain slaves to United Fruit's captive labor market in the name
of higher American wages any more than we could support it in the
name of cheaper American bananas.
There has been a slow awakening among more progressive unions,
and there are some natural coalition issues around substances that
pose both occupational and environmental hazards. However, the environmental
movement, the peace movement and even working people have been repeatedly
betrayed by elements within the union power structure. Whole-hearted
Green support for old union movement agendas simply will not exist
as long as those elements prevail.
An old-left belief lingers that we should supplicate for union
support while we continue to blindly support unions. This belief
seems to be based on the idea that centralized business monopolies
can be checked only by centralized labor monopolies. All this overlooks
the great strength of decentralism
Live and Let Live
The Decentralist star has been rising despite a lack of public
support because we have been building alternatives that transcend
the old right-left struggle. The old-left and union stars have been
falling despite their widespread public support because they are
locked into a no-win struggle, trying to fight industrial monopoly
while living off monopoly industries.
Decentralists are not so easily trapped into supporting monopoly
institutions because we depend less on these institutions to support
us. We instead find ways to directly support one another while avoiding
involvement in structures which support tyranny. There is a great
wholesome peace in this approach.
Dan Sullivan is the director of the Pennsylvania Fair Tax Coalition,
which advocates shifting local taxes onto the value of land and
natural resources. He is a past president of the School of Living
and a vice president of the Henry George Foundation.
Published in Green
Revolution Volume 46, Number 3 (Fall 1989 issue).
See Ulli Diemer's response
to the above critiques.