Employment is a supra-individual state of an economic system: in a society, people depend on each other, and on infrastructure, to be able to do economic activity. So without other peoples economic activity, and without infrastructure, there is a deadlock: all people wait on other people (the customers) and on infrastructure to be able to start with economic activity. (The fact that modern market economies use counter-cyclical economic politics, investing both in salaries and infrastructure during times of economic crisis, seems to prove this “bad economy by deadlocks” thesis right.)

This does not only relate to total unemployment, but especially to inefficient (subsidizing) employment that only helps to survive, but not to a decent standard of living. Because: survivors need infrastructure to do more efficient economic activity, but for infrastructure to be built it needs money from a flourishing economy, and hence there is again the deadlock situation.

The way around this deadlock would be that government uses taxes to centralize money that can be invested into infrastructure, first in a limited area to get it “running”, and from the outcome of that area the infrastructure in other areas can be built. This is like the re-starting of cells in the electric grid after a total power failure: one cell helps to start its neighbour, and so on.

Government also has the option to build infrastructure by organizing people (like putting them in “labour armies”, as was done in the US during the Great Depression, which also did employ people). And it has the option to gain humanitarian help funds and invest them to build infrastructure. The problem in nations that never emerged out of this economic deadlock (like many African economies) is that government failed in all three points. It wasted its chances to start the economy, and major contributors to this are corruption, fraud and fraudulent conversion of aid funds for private purposes. That way, the “excess resources” that are present even in the poorest economies and could be used to improve the economy by building infrastructure are simply wasted.

Unemployment is also a problem of governments in highly industrialized countries. Here, governments try to force employment by the forced creation of new infrastructure that nobody needs (like environment protection projects of some sorts, esp. climate related). But this just distributes the existing economic resources to more people, so the standard of living falls. Also, large amounts of people in such countries still stay unemployed, as nobody has any interest or vision to create infrastructure for them (the underclass). They are just fed to keep them calm.

Infrastructure that enables economic activity (and hence, employment) includes:

  • Education. This is probably the most important thing: it is the “brain infrastructure”.
    • language
    • trade culture (you need to know what to expect to do trade)
    • collaboration
    • math, physics, sciences of all sorts (as they help to utilize natural resources)
  • grid supply systems
    • electric grid
    • water supply pipelines
    • phone network
    • data connectivity, Internet
    • roads
    • parcel shipment network
    • public security (as criminality hinders economic activity)
  • education system
  • trustable monetary system as the infrastructure to make payments
  • money supply systems to make investments (banks, …)
  • waste management systems
  • necessary supra-individual systems like mining etc.

So we saw that unemployment is never (!) a problem of natural resources, because their lack does not necessarily prohibit the economic development of a region. There are Russian scientific centers in deepest Siberia. Unemployment is always a social problem, a problem of organization of people.

And because it is a social problem, a problem about people on a systemic, supra-individual level, one individual alone cannot solve its own problem of unemployment. The question is now, in light of the government failures outlined above, what is the minimum amount of people, and what are the requirements for their organization, so that they can relief themselves of the unemployment problem? Such a group is called here an “autarkic community with respect to employment”, or simply, an “autarkic community”. Such a community would be able to start other like communities by “divide and multiply”; the hardest job would be, of course, starting the first one, as this starts from zero. Starting from zero is the task of crushing the deadlock situation described above, with the scarce resources one does not need for immediate survival; but this is possible, as it has been performed for example by the “Trümmerfrauen” after WW II: they did the upfront investment of building infrastructure, without getting a direct repayment for this hardest part of all work.

Because all communities would govern themselves, no mismanagement of centralized power can emerge that could damage this economic system again, as it does in mismanaged states. The worst thing would be for individual communities to fail and disband, allowing people to regroup into fresh start-up communities.

A quick outline of on such autarkic community as envisioned here:

  • Approx. 50-100 “economically desparate” people, with 15 being the minimum for such a community to work.
  • At least 15-20% of the members have to be already educated people (“bringing in the brain infrastructure”), but apart from this, no other infrastructure or resources are needed. The education mainly needs to be about organizing people efficiently to do collaborative tasks (e.g. in XC style), and some technical knowledge to make best use of natural resources.
  • The community can start with what they find, even if this is trash, and sleeping outdoors. All of human civilization was built from what lies around (and grows naturally), orchestrated by the power of the brain.
  • To be effective as a self-help for employment (which is the ability to work for improving ones own living conditions), the community has to be independent of government activities like building (or not building, or not maintaining) infrastructure. That is, it has to provide its own infrastructure: own schools, own roads (in the sense of cars that need no roads), own tools, own internal markets, own health system, own security, own electricity, … .
  • To not mess with the government any more than necessary (because corrupt governments tend to hinder the communities economic activity by corruption, high taxes and all sorts of mismanagement, as they do with all the other people): the community should be in a remote, scarcely inhabited area. See inspirations from the post “The monastery as a revived society model“.
  • As with monasteries, long (multi-generation) periods of calm, politically and socially stable conditions really help such communities to build up their infrastructure. Permanent need to re-orient in an ever-changing society structure (like in Western countries) is as adversive here as is war and the like.
  • A system that “all time is worth (and paid) equally” can be established here: it allows people who create infrastructure to accumulate time that can be later exchanged in goods produced with the help of this infrastructure.

This idea is mature if it is possible to jump-start such a community with 15 “organizers” and 85 economically desparate people.

Now this idea might sound much like libertarian economic theory  that advocates a no-regulation area as the best thing for economic activity. But this post is not about libertarian economy, not exactly. Because it acknowledges the organizing role of a government as necessary for people to be able to achieve a good standard of living. But because governments are not fulfilling this task for the unemployed, this is about self-help.

I would even go as far as to say that even the most highly “developed” nations live way belong their potential. Where the potential is the most intelligent, most orchestrated, most efficient, most sustainable solution to the problem of “getting from nature what mankind needs to live”. So that such communities could even be an alternative to economic activity for employed people in such highly developed nations.

A good part of this idea was inspired by me taking part in the foundation of a new company for electronics remanufacturing. It will eventually provide employment (and income to pay for life’s expenses) to all contributors, but it was a really hard task, nearly impossible, to set it up from zero. If this task of setting up the company infrastructure had been just a little harder, we would have been totally locked up in the “no infrastructure deadlock”. So in effect, the communities proposed here are little command economies, those of the smallest possible autarkic size. Where autarkic means that the employment of people does not depend on external parties; while the supply with raw materials may depend on them, as this is regulated by market forces well enough. Command economies have to be small, as the large ones die from the mismanagement present in large governments … .

I should add that the ultimate trigger for this post was an article about economic refugees from Africa: “Attacking Europe’s border fences” from BBC News. And also the first two parts of that story: “Billy’s journey: Crossing the Sahara“. And very especially, the comments from African people to these stories, commenting that Africa’s poverty is mainly because of greed and selfishness of the African leaders. So that I thought again how to help these people in place. But this topic of understanding the reason behind the “lack of work” kept recurring in my thoughts for approx. 2-3 years now, and also the topic of autarkic communities. But up to this post, I never really understood why people are unemployed, and did not have a clue as for the solution.

Now it is no new thing to propose to “build ones country” and “serve ones country” instead of fleeing for economic reasons. But what all these proposals miss is practicability. Because they all focus on individual self-help (which is impossible because the state of economy is a supra-individual problem, as stated above). Somehow these proposals believe, individual self-help would become a “movement” of many individuals, and by that society and economy would be transformed. But exactly in how to become a movement these proposals are silent. Surely not by starting with individual activity. And the idea of the autarkic community presented in this post is exactly about filling this gap of “how”. The autarkic community is large enough to be a “movement” on its own, on the supra-individual level where economy improves; and it is small enough to be feasible (in terms of organizing it bottom-up) and stable (in terms of being robust against the danger of mismanagement and exploitation, which endangers current large and centralized structures like states). It is the working hypothesis of this post that such a medium “size of society” exists which will make a society both economically feasible (and flourishing) and robust. If such a size cannot be found, there would be no hope for human economy in the long term.

The idea in this post can also be put otherwise: the autarkic community is a self-sustaining company (indeed, a micro-economy itself) that does not depend on centralized infrastructure and does not have gain maximization as its goal, but instead an equally well standard of living for all its contributors. Because, gain maximization in capitalist companies is the analogy to exploitation by corrupt regimes: some people get the money, and the others get not what their work is worth. The capitalists that get the money claim that this is their right because they set up all the infrastructure as investors (while their workers get only as much as they could produce without any infrastructure, so keep lacking a good standard of living).

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