THE METROPOLITAN BIOREGION

AS A POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC UNIT

 

Arthur Warmoth, Ph.D.

Sonoma State  University

 

[Reprinted from AHP Perspective, September-October 1995]

 

         We are in the midst of a transformation of the world’s economy that is being driven by two powerful forces:  technology and ecology.    Each of these forces offers a combination of irresistible changes and possible opportunities.  The quality of the social world that emerges out of this transformation will depend on our ability to understand and move with the inevitable forces, and to take creative advantage of the opportunities.

         The technological forces are those of the electronic information processing and communications revolution.  The ecological forces are our increasing awareness of the personal and political responsibility of human beings as the major factor influencing the future evolution of life on the planet Earth.

         The inevitable consequences of the information revolution include the globalization of the economy, including the globalization of manufacturing and trade, and of the financial institutions associated with manufacture and trade.  They also include the global integration of the labor market, with its concomitant downward pressure on incomes  in high income countries., and the increasing mobility of large scale capital, which has the power to leave regions which investors find unattractive cash poor overnight (as happened last December in Mexico). 

         The inevitable ecological forces include our growing awareness

of the need to deal with the negative ecological impacts of modern industrial civilization.  But they also include the development of incredibly powerful biotechnologies and the need to take responsibility for (in Walter Truett Anderson’s phrase) “governing evolution.”

         The opportunities presented by the information revolution and our growing ecological awareness lie in the tools and the visions they give us for moving toward the more humane design of our social and economic institutions.

         One consequence of the globalizing economy that is beginning to be noticed is the decline in the power and importance of the nation- state as an institution.  This is because (with the possible exception of Japan) there is not the close linkage between the national government and the growth sectors of the industrial economy that existed in the era of “modern” era of energy-intensive mass production.  This has far reaching implications, because the national government, which we have come to rely on for the coordination of just about everything, no longer has the power or the resources to do so.  National governments, as the economic power center and patron of the welfare state, are running out of steam.

         While many commentators have noticed the weakening of the nation-state, they often seem so mesmerized by the glamour of the globalizing technolgies and industries that they fail to notice that a countervailing dynamic of the strengthening of regional and local

economies is also under way.  The nation state was such a powerful institution that we tended to expect it to be in charge ef everything, including some things that it has not managed very well.

         There is an growing body of literature on the relevance of the bioregion as an ecologically logical unit for the management of natural resource economies.  In her book Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Jane Jacobs (1984) makes an equally compelling case for the ecological integrity and autonomy of the city as a coherent economic unit.  It therefore makes a lot of sense to think of the metropolitan bioregion as a logical political and economic unit for organizing economic systems in the future.  A metropolitan bioregion fortress mentalities that are threatening to take over in some parts of the country.  A case could be made that the healthiest cities in the United States at the present time, such as Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis-St.  Paul, and Atlanta, are already organized according to these principles.

         The key to understanding the opportunities that are available for the metropolitan bioregion to become a central focus for restructuring our economic system is to realize that the onlyhuman and natural resources..  These sectors include:  agriculture, housing, education, medical care, public health services, public safety, social services, environmental protection and management, local and regional transportation, and spiritual and cultural growth and development. 

         If the goal of a well-designed economic system should be the satisfaction of the full range of human needs, humanistic psychologists

will recognize that manufacturing and trade can satisfy only a very  narrow spectrum of the needs, mostly in the middle of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy.  Those are needs having to do with certain aspects of safety--including houses, clothing, and basic creature comforts--and some aspects of status or esteem.  The satisfaction of the lowest levels of physiological and safety needs primarily requires assured access to natural resources.  The satisfaction of the higher needs for relationships and personal fulfillment are primarily dependent on the development and nurturing of human resources (oneself and other people).

         A bit of reflection should convince the reader that our conventional wisdom about economic development misses the mark.  There is an urgent need to rethink the economics of the various economic sectors that we rely upon to satisfy most of our needs (and wants).  Each sector has different economic dynamics and therefore would benefit from different sorts of policy frameworks, including different investment strategies and different mixes of public and private financing.  This means less emphasis in our economic thinking on productivity and profit and a greater emphasis on quality of life.

         The activities of the regional sectors of the economy do not require a free enterprise, export driven development strategy to prosper, as Republican dogma would maintain.  Nor do they require  national planning and organization, as the Democrats would have it

(although they might be encouraged by national policies to equalize economic resources among various regions).  What these sectors do require are public, non-profit, and private institutions that can effectively mobilize, allocate, and manage local resources.  Innovative financial institutions, including local currencies and community banking (which are discussed elsewhere in this issue) have a central role to play.  Humanistically educated psychologists and social scientists should be able to make a substantial contribution to creating such institutions.

 

 

Reference

Jane Jacobs. (1984).  Cities and the Wealth of Nations.  New York:

         Random House