Product Reviews from a Scientific Perspective

Monday, January 17, 2011

Small is Still Beautiful Review, Part II

This is Part II of my Small is Still Beautiful book review and summary. See Part I here
Heavy industrialization is a critical aspect of large scale economies, which is environmentally and socially damaging, especially of third-world countries. Industrialization requires heavy capital investment and high energy/electricity input (think of how much resources it takes to build a factory), resulting in debt, resulting in a need for greater production to overcome the sum of debt, interest, and resulting inflation. The inevitable result is that debt and environmental destruction only increases, leaving the workers with little advances in material wealth, let alone happiness. In addition, heavy industrialization inevitably leads to high unemployment rates, since factories are designed to eliminate the need for manual labor.
It is important to note that industrialization not only occurs in the cities, but in agriculture as well. Governments subsidize the use of environmentally destructive pesticides, antibiotics, intensive farming and livestock techniques, all of which leave the land unusable (similar to what happened in the Dust Bowl that led to the Great Depression). This industrialization of agriculture also leads to higher unemployment rates (because industrialization always moves towards requiring fewer workers), which forces millions into the cities, accelerating urban growth.
Urban growth is inherently environmentally destructive in the following ways:

1.      Transportation is needed to allow workers access to the workplace and back home.
2.      Transportation is needed to bring food from the countryside to the cities.
3.      To avoid the spoilage of urban food, there a greater reliance on meat products, preservatives, and energy-costly food preservation techniques (such as packaging).
In effect, large cities are a destructive force environmentally and socially. We have trouble realizing this because we do not realize we assume that large-scale is better than small-scale.
The author warns that the large-scale mentality drifts into politics, and results in the following problems:
1.      Increased conflict: forcing people of vastly different cultural backgrounds to coexist increases conflict and violence, such as the increased violence during “Balkanization,” when Yugoslavia was artificially created out of a forced fusion of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Albanians, and other nations.

2.      Inefficiency: The Soviet Union attempted to control its citizens economically and socially from a highly centralized government.
3.      Dehumanization: The large-scale mentality practices conceptualizing people into statistics and masses of numbers. People are no longer human beings, but  numbers. This mentality shifts into treatment of people as objects, resulting in a mentality of dehumanization. Pearce points out that nations with highly centralized governments are most responsible for millions of deaths, including those governments established by Stalin, Mao, and Hitler.
4.      Loss of democracy in practice: the ancient Greeks originally described democracy as “the unit which is small enough for every man to make himself personally heard is the only unit that can possibly claim to be a democracy.” When a citizen can convince his peers, this is a democracy. But if his voice is lost among literally millions, then no democracy can actually work. A small democracy can thus know its leaders intimately, but a large democracy can never truly understand its leaders. 
5.      Corruption is easier: With a centralized government in which few people understand the intimate details of negotiation, personalities, etc., secrecy and its resulting corruption is harder to see. Examples include the European Union and its recent political scandals.
6.      Decisions are made in the hands of a few privileged elite who have no personal experience with the problems of local, underprivileged people, resulting in inappropriate, ineffective policies and decisions. For example, the EU committee on agriculture decided to implement policies and subsidies that ended up producing such a surplus of grain that it was impossible to consume it all, while the intensive farming practices that produced this surplus destroyed the farmland.
Small-scale economies and communities, on the other hand, are more spiritually and socially satisfying. People’s voices are heard, and flexibility in addressing local problems is strong. People can use their own experience in making decisions, rather than following the regulations of some distant politician. Small scale economic activities are sustainable and do not accrue environmental damage.
Continued on Part III here

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