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CLARK, John. A Social Ecology. 10. Social Eco-nomics
Article published on 31 May 2004
last modification on 25 April 2015

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1. The Social and the Ecological

2. A Dialectical Holism

3. No Nature

4. The Ecological Self

5. A Social Ecology of Value

6. An Ecology of the Imagination

7. An Ecological Imaginary

8. Freedom and Domination

9. Eco-Communitarian Politics

Social Eco-nomics

In view of the dominance of the economic in contemporary society and the importance of the economic in any society, a social ecology must devote considerable attention to the means of creating a socially and ecologically responsible system of production and consumption. Bookchin has stressed the contribution that can be made by such alternatives as community credit unions, community supported agriculture, community gardens, « civic banks to fund municipal enterprises and land purchases» and community-owned enterprises. [1]

In a discussion of how a municipalist movement might be initiated practically, he presents proposals that emphasize cooperatives and small individually-owned businesses. He suggests that the process could begin with the public purchase of unprofitable enterprises (which would then be managed by the workers), the establishment of land trusts, and the support for small-scale productive enterprises. He concludes that in such a system «cooperatives, farms, and small retail outlets would be fostered with municipal funds and placed under growing public control.» [2] Taken together, such suggestions describe the beginnings of a «Green economics» that could have a major transformative effect on society. [3]

One of the most compelling aspects of Bookchin’s political thought is the centrality of his ethical critique of the dominant economistic society, and his call for the creation of a «moral economy» as a precondition for a just ecological society. He asserts that such a «moral economy» implies the emergence of «a productive community» to replace the amoral «mere marketplace,» that currently prevails. It requires further that producers «explicitly agree to exchange their products and services on terms that are not merely ’equitable’ or ’fair’ but supportive of each other.» [4] Such an analysis assumes that if the prevailing system of economic exploitation and the dominant economistic culture based on it are to be eliminated, a sphere must be created in which people find new forms of exchange to replace the capitalist market, and this sphere must be capable of continued growth. Bookchin sees this realm as that of the municipalized economy, in which property becomes «part of a larger whole that is controlled by the citizen body in assembly as citizens.» [5]

However, for the present at least, it is not clear why the municipalized economic sector should be looked upon as the primary realm, rather than as one area among many in which significant economic transformation might begin. It is possible to imagine a broad spectrum of self-managed enterprises, individual producers and small partnerships that would enter into a growing cooperative economic sector that would incorporate social ecological values. The extent to which the strong communitarian principle of distribution according to need could be achieved would be proportional to the degree to which cooperative and communitarian values had evolved—a condition that would depend on complex historical factors that cannot be predicted beforehand.

Bookchin suggests that in a transitional phase the «rights» of the small businesses will not be infringed upon, [6] though his goal is a fully-developed municipalist system in which these businesses will not be allowed to exist. It is far from obvious, however, why these enterprises should not continue to exist in the long term, alongside more cooperative forms of production, as long as the members of the community choose to support them. There is no conclusive evidence that such small enterprises are necessarily exploitative or that they cannot be operated in an ecologically sound manner. Particularly if the larger enterprises in a regional economy are democratically operated, the persistence of such small individual enterprises does not seem incompatible with social ecological values. This possibility is even more plausible to the degree that the community democratically establishes just and effective parameters of social and ecological responsibility. The dogmatic assertion that in an ecological society only one form of economic organization can exist (whether municipalized enterprises or any other form) is incompatible with the affirmation of historical openness and social creativity and imagination that is basic to a social ecology.


11. The New Leviathan

12. The Future of Social Ecology

Notes :

[1Murray Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship (San Francisco : Sierra Club Books, 1987), p. 276 and «Libertarian Municipalism : An Overview» in Green Perspectives 24 (1991) : 4.


[3Brian Tokar, in his book The Green Alternative, has sketched an even more extensive Green economic program, based on what is fundamentally a social ecological analysis. Tokar’s concise and well-written introduction to the Green movement should be consulted for a clear example of an experimental, non-dogmatic social ecological politics and economics. See The Green Alternative : Creating an Ecological Future (San Pedro, CA : R. & E. Miles, 1992).

[4Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis (Philadelphia, PA : New Society Publishers, 1986), p. 91.

[5Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 263.

[6Ibid., p. 275.

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