visser_logo_small.gif (1783 bytes)Work In A Sustainable Society:
Values for New Economic Relationships

Miller, page 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

Section headings:

dot.gif (101 bytes) I. Values underlying current economic relationships dot.gif (101 bytes)

III.a   Mondragon's Society of Cooperatives

dot.gif (101 bytes) II. Values for new economic relationships in a sustainable society dot.gif (101 bytes)

III.b   Korten's People-Centered Economy

dot.gif (101 bytes) II.a  Basic Moral Presumptions dot.gif (101 bytes)

III.c   Daly and Cobb's Wholistic Community of Communities

dot.gif (101 bytes) II.b  Moral Priorities dot.gif (101 bytes)

III.d   Theobald's Economic Security Plan

dot.gif (101 bytes) II.c   Applying the Moral Presumptions and Priorities dot.gif (101 bytes) IV. Actions for transformation
dot.gif (101 bytes) III. Some visions of what could be


home.gif (503 bytes) index.gif (483 bytes) feedback.gif (656 bytes) glossary.gif (710 bytes) links.gif (499 bytes)

II.c.3. New Technological Orientation: Appropriate for People and the Earth - Our moral presumptions for the dignity of persons, for work as co-creation, for workers as subjects not instruments, for the preservation of the earth for future generations call for reorientation of our definition of technological progress and the appropriate organization of work.

Labor-saving technology, mandated by the relative resource endowment in the early industrializing countries, is inappropriate for countries rich in numbers of people but poor in quantity of physical and monetary capital. But adoption of labor-saving technology is the definition of "progress;" granting and lending governments and institutions urge (or require) its adoption; and few resources have been put into developing capital-saving technologies. Therefore, economic "development" increases unemployment and under-employment in poor nations, deepening the poverty of the poorest. Movement toward sustainable economies requires

increasing attention to and funding for employment-generating technologies, best designed with the people who do the work. These technologies are usually less energy-using and less abusive of the environment than labor-saving technologies.

Of course, using technology to relieve people of repetitive and physically harmful or very difficult work is a goal consistent with our moral presumptions. One can argue that if a machine can do a task it is in some sense a sub-human task. But this presumes the availability of the machine and that generating the energy to operate it does not harm the environment.

Technology historian John M. Staudenmaier, S.J. challenges our sense that there is nothing we can do about any of the technological structures that intrude on and organize our lives.

Passive apathy in the face of autonomous progress simultaneously erodes our capacity for kinship with those around us and our sense of holy pride and adult responsibility for the technological works of our collective hands. [John M. Staudenmaier, S.J., "Technology: Reading the Signs of the Times," in T. Howland Sanks and John A. Coleman (eds.) Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for Social and Cultural Analysis (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1993), 191.]

He calls us to "public adulthood," to citizenship in the larger world, which requires that we pay attention, and contemplate human decisions with a willingness to be implicated in their results. Taking responsibility for the direction of technology for the sake of creating humane, sustainable societies, rather than letting ourselves be its servants is thus another essential implication of our moral presumptions.  [Ibid., 199.Giving labor priority over capital means putting employment goals ahead of tax cuts for the wealthy or anti-inflationary policies to protect capital at the expense of workers. It also means fostering the development of social consciousness and skills for teamwork on the part of business executives. [Don L. Boroughs, "The Bottom Line on Ethics: Many Companies Are Discovering That Doing Good and Doing Well Go Hand-in-Hand," U.S. News & World Report (March 20, 1995), 61-66.]

II.c.4. New Commitment to the Common Good: Co-Responsibility in Community - Attaining a sustainable society in which people can live and work in dignity requires new attention to the social dimension of life. The individualistic ethic underlying the current economic order is at the root of the widespread neglect of the common good, to varying degrees in different capitalist market countries. This neglect is not surprising given the underlying view of society as collection of individuals and of the social good as the sum total of the fulfillment of individual desires. The common good has been the missing dimension in public policy, especially with the pervasive ascendancy of laissez faire views during the last 20 years.

The moral presumptions for the social nature of persons, for the unity of the human family, for the common good as inseparable from individual good call for renewal of commitment to co-responsible participation in shaping the policies and institutions for a sustainable society. A widely shared commitment to the common good is key to the development of the environmentally sound social policy essential to move toward sustainable societies. Without such a commitment the behavioral and attitudinal changes necessary to achieve sustainability are unlikely.

In Catholic social teaching the common good is defined as "the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment." [Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Art. 26. In David J. O'Brien and Thomas A. Shannon (eds.) Renewing the Earth: Catholic Documents on Peace, Justice and Liberation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image Books, 1977), 201.]

A commitment to create sustainable societies in which everyone has opportunity to contribute through work insofar as they are able, and to support when they are not requires this sense of co-responsibility. Without this underpinning the necessary moral consensus that everyone has a right to work will not be possible. With it the political will can be mobilized.

All institutions of society will have to be held socially accountable. As we have learned to require environmental impact statements of businesses proposing change, analyses of impacts on employment and on community life will be required in sustainable societies. In communities where co-responsibility for the common good is the rule, incentives and sanctions will be reordered to foster social accountability.

The privatized religion of the Western middle-classes which legitimizes the individualism of the current economic order will have to be challenged in light of the moral presumptions for human solidarity, for shared responsibility for all of life.

II.c.5.  Widened Definition of Community:   Commitment to the Universal Common Good - The increasing globalization of the economy forces upon us the realization that we can no longer think only in terms of the societies in which we live. Evidence of global problems defying national solutions is everywhere: destruction of the ozone layer, pandemics like AIDs, threats of nuclear warfare, and international terrorism. As John XXIII pointed out three decades ago, in an interdependent world, we share responsibility for the universal common good, the common good of the entire human family. Our moral presumptions for the unity of the human family, the integrity of creation, the universal purpose of material things call for new understandings of the meaning of human community and our roles in it. [John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, Art. 80. in O'Brien and Shannon (eds.), p. 70; Pacem in Terris, Art. 135-137, Ibid., pp. 156-57.]

Movement toward sustainable societies which treat human persons and work with dignity requires development of this commitment to the universal common good. Development of global institutional and legal frameworks to protect environmental and labor standards is a formidable but unavoidable challenge. The exploitation of women and children by unscrupulous employers, national policies which victimize foreign workers, and displacement of workers by runaway corporations call for action which transcends national borders. Ways must be found to hold directors of transnational enterprises internationally accountable for the effects of their decisions on workers, communities, and the environment.

Strengthening regional cooperation among neighboring societies may be the best way to move toward sustainable societies in which people can live and work in dignity. Peoples who share borders can develop interdependent sustainable economies self-reliant in terms of necessities. It could be easier and more humane to move work or workers among neighboring countries. Cross-border organizing to protect labor and environmental standards is more likely among nations not separated by great distances. The experience of the European Economic Community and other common markets demonstrates the possibilities (and the problems) and also the importance of the underlying vision and commitment to cooperation for the wider common good if the potential of regional collaboration is to be realized.

In summary, if sustainable societies which enable people to live and work in dignity are to become a reality, some of the moral presumptions that are undervalued in the current dominant economic system will have to be given greater emphasis. In particular, we have to make meeting human needs in a sustainable way the goal of economic life, to redefine happiness to stress quality of life rather than consumerism, to take responsibility for the direction of technology, to commit ourselves to shared responsibility for the common good -- societal and universal.

III. Some visions of what could be

The challenge of individual conversion and societal reconstruction implied in the value transformation required to address the questions of work in a sustainable society can be overwhelming. But some visionaries have grappled with the questions to give us a sense of what a people-centered sustainable society might look. Their work can stimulate our imaginations and give some sense of how the principles might look in practice.

III.a  Mondragon's Society of Cooperatives

At the end of the Spanish Civil War the Basque region lay in ruins. A parish priest, Don Jose Maria Arimendiarreta determined that there must be a way to rebuild the society according to the principles of the dignity of persons and their work, democratic cooperation and solidarity, and education for technical knowledge and skills. Today there exists a local economy organized as a complex of cooperatives grounded in Catholic social teaching and the Rochdale principles. Here in a system based on the dignity and primacy of labor the generation of profits is a limiting condition but not the primary driving force. Mondragon's worker-owners recognize that the generation of profits is an essential means for achieving their ends of social and economic development.

Don Jose Maria began in the l940s with a technical school, and in 1956 five of its graduates began the first of the production cooperatives with 23 employees. Today 170 cooperatives employ over 21,000 people who produce a broad range of goods and services. Sales of the 90 industrial cooperatives were $2.6 Billion (US) in 1990; 25 percent of the sales were exports to foreign markets. One of the industrial cooperatives is Spain's largest producer of consumer durables (stoves, refrigerators and electrical appliances) and Spain's 7th largest manufacturer.

Mondragon is a democratically governed, integrated complex of high-tech firms, a cooperative bank for saving and investment, agricultural cooperatives, a large supermarket chain, and construction cooperatives, in addition to its own social security system, a research cooperative and the technical school. Worker-owners benefit from wages and capital appreciation, enjoy job security, and receive extensive technical education and occupational retraining, and share in the governance of the cooperatives.

The joint democratic management of the group of cooperatives in the Mondragon system gives flexibility and support and facilitates strategic planning. When unemployment in the Basque country was 27% in l985, less than 1% of the coop members were unemployed. Over 30 years only 3 of the cooperatives have shut down. The salary differential between the highest and lowest paid is restricted; in the mid l980's it was 4.5:1. No more than 10 percent of a coop's employees can be non members, and only for four-year contracts. Continuing education in the principles of cooperation is a means to maintain commitment to the core values. [William Foote Whyte and Kathleen King Whyte, Making Mondragon: The Growth and Dynamics of the Worker Cooperative Complex (Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, Cornell University, 1988); David Morris, "Mondragon: The Cooperative Alternative Meets Free Trade," Earth Island Journal (Winter, 1995), 38.]

As the evidence of interdependence grows on all levels it should become clearer that we will have to be co-responsible for the shape of our societies. For survival, the individualism that atomizes and separates us will have to be modified by this realization.

In 1992 with the new stage of European integration, Mondragon underwent a dramatic restructuring in order to compete effectively against European and global corporations. This meant more centralization of management, widening salary differentials among workers, and distancing workers from management. The leaders of Mondragon have always been pragmatists; while embracing social values they live in the real world. As one of the founders observed:

From its birth, development and success in a local and domestic market, Mondragon finds itself in a new competitive planetary scenario where the validity of its socially oriented model will be tested. [Morris, 7.]

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