by Rich Nymoen
The 20th Century can be characterized as “The Age of Bureaucracy”—an era of increasing emphasis on size, hierarchy, regulations, incentives, and eligibility protocols. During the 20th Century we saw the rise of corporations in the business sector, the increasing scope of agencies in the government sector, and the grant-driven dynamic of the non-profit sector. And we’re still living with that legacy today.
Bureaucracies operate from a mechanized view of society. But some social thinkers (for example, see Henry George’s The Science of Political Economy) view society as being inherently organic in nature; they claim that since artificially-imposed bureaucracies are contrary to the organic nature of society, their harms outweigh their benefits. The dismal record of bureaucracies—whether in corporate-dominated western societies or with the nomenklaturas of non-western societies—seems to bolster that perspective.
In all sectors of society, there are many ways to incrementally shift from bureaucratic approaches to organic ones. Organic approaches focus on smallness, fluidity, self-motivation and equitable sharing. A good example of this approach in the non-profit sector is the proposal to create “rent-sharing farm trusts”; these trusts would increase the viability of small family farms by having farmers rent land from a community land trust which pools the collected rent and then shares it with the trust’s farmers via an equal dividend. In the business sector, the “sharing economy” is a promising organic development that gives support to small, self-motivated, and fluid companies through means such as open-source software and co-working office and manufacturing spaces.
It’s time to start applying these concepts to the government sector as well. This means shifting from a tax and subsidy system to a resource rent and dividend one. In agriculture, for example, the dysfunctional effects of the current farm subsidy system could be replaced by giving all farmers equal dividends from a pool of funds created from levies on land rent as well as on soil and water pollution. In the electoral arena, it could mean shifting to “cellular democracy” — a multi-level bottom-up voting system based on small neighborhood districts — as well as “bioregionalism,” making public and private decisions that focus on a local ecology, economy and culture. Let’s see if organic approaches produce better results than bureaucratic ones.
As is often said, problems cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them. Solving society’s deep-seated problems requires solutions resembling the organic patterns found in nature, not ways that replicate outmoded hierarchical systems.