RE-INDUSTRIALIZING NASHVILLE

6 06 2015

southernbroomI drive through Germantown from time to time, and my route takes me past a small, warehouse-type building that bears the legend, “Southern Broom and Mop Co.”  There is never any sign of activity there when I drive past. It looks as if it must have been in existence for a hundred years or more, a bit of flotsam left over from our city’s industrial heyday in the late nineteenth century, when much of what Nashville needed for its daily functioning was manufactured or grown right here in middle Tennessee.  When I went to research this story, I discovered that, in reality, the company has only been in existence for about twenty years, and is a janitorial service, not a manufacturing enterprise.  What’s more,  the building has recently been sold–for nearly a million dollars–and will be turned into yet another trendy, high-end restaurant in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.  That’s too bad.  Even the wealthy can only eat so much–but everybody needs a mop and a broom.

In a recent post, I proposed that we re-industrialize Nashville, spreading new, preferably worker-owned enterprises throughout the city so that as many people as possible could walk to work, and thus lessen the pressure on our roads, and the pressure on low-income people to spend money on an automobile.  There’s two ways to increase peoples’ disposable income.  One is to pay them more, and the other is to lower their cost of living.  Even “cheap” cars–some would say, especially “cheap” cars–are expensive!

Today, I want to talk about two aspects of my plan.  One thing I want to do is explain the Mondragon Co-operative model, and examine how it could fit Nashville.  Another is to talk about what kind of industries would be suitable for the city, where they should be located, and how to raise the startup capital they will need.  I will outline some general ideas about appropriate manufacturing enterprises, but the amount of detail involved is more than I could cover here. I think that the Davidson County planning commission and the neighborhoods should work this out among themselves.  There are many variables and alternatives. I couldn’t possibly anticipate them all, but citizen involvement and an intelligent, responsive, well-informed oversight agency should be able to figure it all out over the course of a few years.

The first thing I want to say about this plan is that I am not proposing a return to the old industrial model.  The old industrial Nashville was a pit of pollution, its air filled with coal smoke, its earth and waters fouled. Nashville’s new factories should be, in the nonpolitical sense, green.  They should be quiet, nonpolluting, energy-efficient enterprises that will not detract from their neighbors’ quality of life.  Some things we may want to do are going to be loud and/or smelly, and we can find ways to buffer these from their surrounding communities.  Since community members, as employees, will also be owners of these enterprises, they will have the power to change things if they need to be changed.

So, what are the basic principles on which Mondragon factory co-ops are founded?

Read the rest of this entry »





CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT THE ONLY “INCONVENIENT TRUTH”

11 10 2014

truthlies

(This is a slightly edited version of a blog post that first appeared in my candidate blog, “Holsinger for House.”  You can read the original here.)

Al Gore called his landmark presentation on climate change “An Inconvenient Truth.”  I think he chose the word “an” very purposefully,  He’s a smart guy, and he knows that climate change is not the only “inconvenient truth.”  There are many “inconvenient truths,”  subjects and realities that conventional American politics carefully avoids or glosses over.  Gore explored this in a subsequent book, “The Assault on Reason,” a volume that most Democrats seem to have chosen to ignore. I believe American politics would benefit from greater public awareness of and dialogue on these “inconvenient truths. ”  Here are some that come to my mind.  If you have any other ones you would like to nominate, feel free to comment!

GROWTH IS THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION

Conventional politics is religiously dedicated to the proposition that fostering “economic growth” will solve all our problems, and that anything that halts or slows “economic growth” is a Bad Thing.  This theory has been most notoriously promulgated as “trickle-down economics,” AKA “Reaganomics,” but its practice is not confined to the GOP.  The fallacy of economic growth as a solution to our problems is that we live on a finite planet, with finite resources, and our dedication to “growth” is running up against the limits of those resources, whether we are talking about fossil fuels, phosphates, clean water, fish, other foodstuffs, arable land, oxygen, or anything else tangible.  If we use up all of these things, even over the next few hundred years, what will people (and  other animals) do to substitute for them in a thousand years? Ten thousand years?

The notion that “whatever increases the Gross National Product is good, “is gross.  Hurricane-caused damage increases the GNP.  Diseases that require expensive treatment increase the GNP; frequently, diseases are caused by other activities, such as environmental degradation, that increase the GNP.  Lots of things that increase the GNP make us less happy.  Happiness comes from a sane state of mind, not the possession of a mountain of toys.

“Economic growth” has tended to benefit those who are already wealthy more than those of us who are not.   That leads to another inconvenient truth, which is that

AMERICA IS AN OLIGARCHY

The wealthy and powerful, the people the Occupy! movement refers to as “The One Percent,” are the people who call the tune in this country. It doesn’t matter what is best for most people, whether it’s an open internet, a sane health care system, a decent neighbourhood, or a clean environment.  Our government will do what benefits the wealthy. Read the rest of this entry »





IT’S THE END OF THE WORK AS WE’VE KNOWN IT

12 02 2011

Last month, in a post entitled “Dude, where’s my $30K?,” I tried to shed some light on the magnitude of income inequality here in “the land of the free” by pointing out that our country’s per-capita spending on bank bailouts and our military apparatus, plus corporate profits, comes to $30,000 per person.  Yes, that’s $120 thou for a a family of four.  And they say we don’t have money for unemployment benefits, a national health care system, or social security.  Go figure!

That money, all $7.5 trillion of it, is not coming out of our tax dollars, at least not yet.  Mostly, it’s being created out of thin air by “quantitative easing” and/or being borrowed from the Chinese and the Saudis.  It’s not being created by the classic route of taking raw materials, conceiving a use for them, modifying them, and selling a product at a “profit”–profit being both the difference between what workers are paid and the true value of their work, and what we keep for ourselves instead of repairing (if possible) the damage to the environment that our extraction of raw materials has caused.  That paradigm as a road to wealth is obsolete, although it’s obviously what we are going to need to relearn how to do, minus the profit and plus the environmental repair–just to get by, as international trade implodes under the weight of the end of cheap fuel and other raw materials.

I was raised to believe in the virtue of the labor movement.  My early heroes were the IWW martyrs and all those who fought for the poor in the class war that runs through the history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  These were epic struggles for justice.  Workers fought for fair treatment by their employers, and, for a time, prevailed.  The result was the blossoming of the American middle class in the thirty years between the end of World War II and the mid-seventies, which we are starting to realize was America’s “golden age.”

But several things were wrong with that superficially happy picture .

The most obvious, and widely commented on, was the spiritual emptiness of our material paradise, noted by commentators as disparate as Jack Kerouac (who, I hope, needs no introduction!) and Sayyid Qutb, one of the leading lights of the Muslim Brotherhood and, along with the CIA, a major inspiration to the founders of Al Qaeda.  But that’s a whole other story.  Back to “work,” as it were.

Another thing that is wrong with the struggle of the American labor movement is that, after the marginalization of the IWW and the Socialist Party, the labor movement never questioned capitalism as an economic arrangement.  That has been the subject of much commentary and analysis, and certainly has a great deal to do with how the ruling class has been able to dump the American working class and its unions into that famous, even cliched, “dustbin of history.”

But there’s something else the labor movement never questioned, something that has rarely even been noted:  the labor movement, even the Socialists and “radical” anarchists of the IWW, never questioned whether the work they were doing was, in the long run, worth doing.  The forests of America were clearcut, Appalachia was despoiled, and General Motors destroyed America’s interurban railroad system so it could sell more cars–and all the unions wanted was a bigger piece of the pie.  Nobody in the labor movement questioned the wisdom of these moves.

That last one, GM’s dismantling of mass transit in America, is especially worth examining, because shifting from mass transit to personal motorized vehicles has had such a massive, destructive, and likely unintended effect on not only America, but the world.

Because individual automobile ownership has become the norm in this country, our population dispersed over a far wider area than would have been the case had we remained dependent on mass transit.  Suburbia became possible.  Urban sprawl sucked up millions of acres of woodland and farmland adjacent to cities, undermining local self-sufficiency.  In the name of boosting automobile and gasoline sales, our country’s intercity highway system was improved.  Thus subsidized, trucking and automobile travel undermined the country’s long-distance railroad system, once the best in the world.  Now, like the much of the rest of the country’s infrastructure, our railroads are struggling not to fall into third world status.  The net result of this is that now, as petroleum production slips into decline, we are tied to the most petroleum-dependent and inefficient methods of transport–road and air, and our automobile-addicted population is too scattered to be served by mass transit, even if we had the money left to build it.

Wait, there’s more!

The psychological effects of America’s transition to individual automobile transportation are likewise manifold.  Travelers no longer need to deal with railway schedules; we can leave whenever we want to, travel by any route we choose, stop where we feel like stopping, and we don’t have to share our space with anybody else and negotiate whatever compromises that might entail.  We do not sit on benches in train stations waiting for connections.  The primacy of individual preference has been enshrined, from our individual psyches to our lifestyle expectations to our national foreign policy.   It’s all me, all all the time, all splendid isolation, from our far-flung suburban homes to our daily commutes…oops, fewer and fewer of us have a job or the resulting daily commute.

And that is where it all starts falling apart.  I have commented before on the fascistic nature of American society–how our government increasingly exists solely to promote corporate interests.  It’s not just about health care or the right of corporations to spread GMOs for fun and profit. Full participation in American society, if you live outside a few urban areas, requires that automobile ownership.  For most people, that means an investment of twenty to forty thousand dollars or more–hundreds of dollars in monthly payments to a private corporation for an object that, ironically, does nothing but lose value from the moment you drive it off the lot.

Think about how much money is tied up in automobiles.  Five relatively new vehicles are easily worth a hundred thousand dollars.  How many cars do you encounter on a typical drive around town?  Five hundred?  ten million dollars.  Five thousand?  A hundred million dollars worth of automobiles, all stuck in rush hour traffic.

But, as I said, fewer and fewer of us are stuck in rush hour traffic, because fewer and fewer of us have jobs, nor are we going to have “jobs,” at ;east not in the traditional meaning of that term.  As I pointed out last month, it would take 630 businesses with 35,000 employees each just to absorb people who are currently “unemployed,” let alone create cubicles for all those who are, as they say, “just entering the labor market.”  There are no buyers in the labor market, not in America.

But that’s not the same as there being nothing to do.  On the contrary, there is everything to do.  Somewhere along the line in its drive to monetize everything, the official economy of America has largely ceased to do the things that really matter to people.  There is food to grow for people who want something besides sugar, starch, fat, and salt.  There are young people, old people, and sick or handicapped people who need care that is truly caring rather than being motivated by the promise of a paycheck.  Increasingly, there will be a need to manufacture and use basic tools, a need and the skills to sift through America’s trash middens and waste stream to find what can be reused or repurposed.

Our profit-crazed, out-of-touch formal economy now places a higher value on putting people out of their homes than it does on keeping them in those homes.  There are currently eighteen million unoccupied houses in this country, many of them foreclosures, and about 700,000 homeless people.  Do the math.  Many of the unoccupied houses have been stripped of wiring and copper pipes and anything else that could be recycled.  Many homes, unoccupied or occupied, are poorly insulated and inefficiently heated,  These are all jobs screaming out for someone to do them, but there is no money to be had, because housing the poor is of no value to the rich.

Soon enough, it won’t matter.  Our system has stoutly resisted reform, which means that the only alternative left is collapse, and a rebuild from the ground up.  The web of car payments, college loans, and credit card debts that keeps so many ensnared in a world a few removes from reality, running on a paycheck treadmill, will melt away like a bad dream, and we will find ourselves in a different world altogether.  All together, indeed.  That will be the only way to succeed at surviving.  And there will be plenty of work for everyone.

music: Burning Times, “The Only Green World”





BETTER WAYS TO SPEND $2B A WEEK, PART 2

23 02 2008

see below for part 1….

high-efficiency, affordable automobiles, for one thing–one for those who still have some money:

March 3, 2006 Why do we need 1.5 tons of steel to get an 80 kg person from A to B? That’s the question Gerhard Heilmaier, Stefan Ruetz and Uli Sommer asked themselves six years ago which led them to form an innovative company named LoReMo – Low Resistance Mobility. LoReMo used this week’s Geneva Show to introduce its first car – a featherweight (450 kg), highly aerodynamic (Cw value of 0.20) 2+2 auto powered by a 20 PS (15 kw) two-cylinder turbo-diesel motor capable of 1.5 litre/100km (157 mpg) that will sell for 11,000 euro (US$13,200). Want more speed? The 50 PS (37 kW) three-cylinder turbo-diesel Loremo GT can top 220 km/h (138 mph) returning 2.7 l/100 km (88 mpg) for less than 15,000 euro (US$18,000).

and one for those with less money, who like to tinker with old cars:

Finally something to wipe the smug off you hybrid owners, you high-mileage acolytes, you global-cooling zealots who wash your Priuses (Prii?) with graywater while wearing reclaimed plastic fleece and hemp undies.

Don’t choke on your organic soy-double-decaf-fair-trade-carbon-neutral macchiato, but how does 376.59 miles per gallon sound? Makes your Honda Civic hybrid look Hummeresque, doesn’t it?

That number doesn’t come from some manta ray-shaped, wind tunnel-vetted carbon fiber space car. No, it’s from a chop-top, steel-frame 1959 Opel T-1 (think melting jelly bean, but uglier). And the record was set in 1973 in a contest sponsored by Shell Oil Co.

hey, here’s what Bloomberg News says about the price of oil:

Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) — Crude oil prices of $100 may look “cheap” within five years if OPEC production fails to keep pace with global demand growth, according to Alfa Bank.

“We may hit peak oil in the course of the next three, four or five years, in which case $100 oil will look somewhat quaint,” Alfa Bank’s Moscow-based Head of Research Ronald Smith said in an interview with Bloomberg television.

and of course we might want to eat….

ECO: Eastern Carolina Organics – An Interview with Sandi Kronick, marketing manager for Eastern Carolina Organics.

By Trace Ramsey
Produce Manager

Eastern Carolina Organics is a distributor for organic and transitional produce from small to mid size North Carolina farms. ECO is located in Pittsboro, NC, a small town in eastern Chatham County. As Tidal Creek carries produce from ECO, we thought we would get some background and get our ownership caught up with them.

1 – How did ECO get its start?

ECO was started in 2004 under a project of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, sponsored through a small grant from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. North Carolina has been blessed for a long time with a strong progressive consumer community and a lot of small organic growers who have worked together to make direct market connections a reality in restaurants and grocery stores. However, there are plenty of restaurants and groceries that weren’t getting enough volume or consistency to meet their demand for local organic produce. Additionally, there are plenty of farmers for whom direct marketing through a CSA or farmers markets either isn’t right for them or isn’t enough to sell all they can produce. ECO was started to serve the needs of these consumer and farmer groups by coordinating the logistics, communication, marketing and deliveries. We aim to help buyers achieve their goals of purchasing as much as possible from local organic farmers and hope you’re noticing the difference in your own shopping at Tidal Creek!





GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS

10 01 2007

Ethicist Peter Singer read the UN’s Millenium Development Plan, which calls for an additional fifty to seventy-five billion dollars a year in order to halve world poverty and hunger and offer an education to every child in the world, among other things. This plan has been stalled out for lack of funding—the US finds it’s more important to take that kind of money and burn it in Iraq, just for openers. We could end world poverty, but we’re too busy fighting the poor. We could end our dependence on fossil fuels, but we’re too busy making sure we’ve got all the fossil fuels we can glom. But, I digress…. Dr. Singer did a little math, and found that raising the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans so that they paid the same ten to thirty-five percent of gross that the rest of us have to give up —leaving them ninety to sixty-five percent of their breathtakingly high annual income–would generate…over four hundred billion dollars a year. Enough to fund the UN anti-poverty program about seven times over. Noblesse oblige, anyone?

Such a change would do more to end terrorism in the world than burning money and bodies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it doesn’t even propose cutting off money to the military/industrial blackmail complex. We could pay those people to sit around and do nothing and we’d all be better off. My old friend and teacher Stephen Gaskin has been saying since the seventies that “there’s plenty to go around,” but nobody believed him. Kudos to Mr. Singer for actually doing the math. Now all it’s gonna take is some political will.

Somebody in the DOE did some math and figured out that there’s enough off-peak power going unused in the US electric grid to substitute plug-in electric vehicles for about eighty-five percent of the gas burners on our highways today. That’s a good news/bad news situation all by itself—it means that our current, disgusting level of urban sprawl just might be sustainable—but the air would be cleaner, especially as more electricity comes from the sun and the wind. Meanwhile, it would encourage the continued strip mine rape of the central Appalachians and encourage the ghouls who are pushing nuclear power. This old curmudgeon would like to see America radically restructured, not just staying the course in electric cars.

I think that one of the most peculiar assumptions of our society is the assumption that everyone who wants full economic citizenship must own a car. Think about that, especially as real wages continue to fall (raising the minimum wage is unlikely to do much for the rest of us) and the “American dream” becomes ever more unattainable for ever more of us, for ever more.

But, just in case you think we’ve got it bad over here, consider the Chinese occupation of Tibet, which continues its genocidal course. The railway into Lhasa is now open, bringing thousands of tourists (and potentially thousands of troops), although it will take much more than passenger fares for the line to show a profit; current projections are that the tracks will sink into Tibet’s melting permafrost before the line pays for itself. Meanwhile, the Chinese are forcing Tibetans to demolish their homesteads and move into Chinese-designed dwellings that do not incorporate room for the livestock that are a necessary component of Tibetan household economies, impoverishing the Tibetans and forcing them into the unsustainable, import-everything, Chinese mode of dwelling on the Tibetan plateau. These are the people we’re trusting with our manufacturing capacity, although they are devious and amoral enough to make all but the most hard-hearted US corporations seem like the very picture of benevolence. What does this bode for how they will treat us when it comes time to call in our massive, mounting debt to them?

The Chinese have adopted our western religion of economics and turned it on us. Cheap is everything, graceful is nothing, and they are better at being ruthless than we are.

I think that one of the things we can do about the macro-economic quicksand we are trapped in, i.e., our declining purchasing power, is to spend our money very carefully, and give as little of it as we can to the vampiric multinational corporations that have gotten so very good at sucking our blood. Buy gasoline, if you must, from Citgo and give your money to Hugo Chavez, not Exxon-Mobil. Buy “consumer goods” from friendly neighborhood yard sales (and get to know your neighbors) and from thrift stores—and if you can’t find it locally, there’s all those virtual yard sales on the internet: eBay, Craig’s list, free- and cheap-cycle. More and more of us taking these steps (hell, our financial circumstances are forcing us, so we might as well!) will begin to starve the Walmarts of the world and their Chinese vampire cohorts. Do you really need cable TV? Haven’t you got something better to do with your time? Tell Comcast to get lost! Learn to work in metal or wood or clay, learn to spin and weave and sew. Learn to garden and cook, for chrissake! Learn to play an instrument and sing and tell stories! Learn to listen to other peoples’ stories! Creating post-consumerist, post-oil, post-corporate, post-industrial culture is a collective enterprise that is being created by you and you and you and me and the network of people we see every day. Let’s get to work and enjoy ourselves!

music: Adrienne Young, “Plow to the End of the Row








%d bloggers like this: