Saturday, October 1, 2011
Resilience - a more appropriate national index?
Three questions arise from reading Orlov’s Reinventing Collapse – to which two of my recent posts have given extensive coverage
• Do European countries face the same collapse which Dmitry Orlov anticipates for the US.
• If so, what sort of differences will be evident in how the various countries such as UK, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany and Romania , for example, cope?
• And what does that mean for our activities – whether personal or political?
Of course, countries such as England, Greece and Ireland already face severe economic and social crises – but the official rhetoric in these countries is that these are simply tough adjustments due to the excesses of (variously) bankers or specific governments. And that the bitter medicine will soon have us back on our feet agin. Orlov’s argument is completely different – that we are witnessing a breakdown of the Anglo-Saxon liberal model of economic governance (he doesn’t use this phrase) which seems to have served many of us well over the past 90 years. And that many millions face a return to basic self-sufficient living as the goods and services; and social and physical infrastucture we have become dependent on waste away and collapse.
I don’t want to offend my American readers (of whom I seem to have many) – and I’m sure they wouldn’t be reading my stuff unless they accepted that many of their systems and ways of living are excessive and inefficient. All the data tells us that US citizens are at one end of the spectrum in their resource utilisation and dependency. And advertising - and the media system it supports – beams this hedonostic and sybaritic way of life into even bedouin tents and creates enormous ambitions, envy and disatisfaction everywhere on the globe. The basic message is that it disables us all. I am an excellent product of the system - highly educated and well-read (and written) but pathetic at practical skills. My immediate reaction when something needs to be cleaned, repaired or built is to send for a house-maid, plumber or builder (at least I cook and can saw and chop wood!). In Romania I feel ashamed and inadequate – since most people (with the dangerous exception of the educated younger generation) build everything for themselves. I’ve already mentioned that this doesn’t figure in national statistics – and Romania and Bulgaria would actually rate quite high in the league tables if they were contructed around this coping or resilience factor (see tomorrow).
I’ve noticed that resilience has become a fashionable word in the past 2 years. The first paper I noticed was a 2009 Think Tank one – which basically seemed a neo-liberal take on how communities could cope with emergencies. But emergencies, by definition, are one off and short-lived events – after which things are assumed to return to normal. And this view is also evident in another interesting paper from the New Economic Foundation which looked at how a different set of national accounts might be constructed – in which resilience was, again, a factor. Bulgaria was rated very low on this index – although my experience of the modest lives they lead – with rural connections and excellent soil - suggests they would actually have a very high coping level (unlike England). And clearly Denmark and Germany would also cope very well. Sadly, despite France having heroically resisted the Anglo-saxon model culturally and protected its rural way of life, its urban spread and inequalities will not serve it well under crisis.
The UK’s Institute of Development Studies has a very useful overview of the various resilience measures in use. Access to food is a basic consideration in all these discussions – and here is a useful discussion paper on that issue. On the other hand, here is a typically crap academic treatment of the issue I realsie that I am only scratching the surface so far - and hope to return to the issue soon.