Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Regaining Opportunities Lost in Rural Economies By Dicken Crane

Dicken Crane at a barn raising

Regaining Opportunities Lost in Rural Economies

By Dicken Crane

Have you ever watched a dog drop its treat to grab the one tossed to another dog and thought, silly dog, what's wrong with the one you've got? Closer to the point have you watched the jobs and opportunities flow out of our rural communities and wondered what those communities have that that can bring them back? And while your mind is on grim thoughts have you wondered how the demands of our consumption driven society can be sustained by our increasingly compromised globe? It's enough to almost spoil a nice walk in the woods. But a nice walk in the woods might just reveal some answers.

Those of us that spend a fair amount of time walking in the woods are aware of the great diversity of forest types throughout New England. Equally diverse are the benefits that those forests can provide. The one that played a huge role in the development of the New England economy, forest products, has waxed and waned since colonial times and is now on the brink of waning away. Unlike the decades that followed sheep fever when the landscape was mostly cleared for pasture, the current decline in the forest products economy is occurring while trees in our forests are becoming over crowded.

Since we continue to use more forest products per capita than most people in the world why aren't we using our own instead of grabbing someone else's? There are many reasons, most are the same reasons that most of the resources we use are imported. The result, though isn't good for their forests and it isn't good for ours. The exploitation of natural resources that built our global economy has subsequently destroyed many local ones. The converse can also be true. The lack of environmental regulations throughout much of the global forest has lead to their decline while the lack of sustainable management of our own leads to the decline of ours.

As president of the MA Forest Landowners Association
Dicken presents the Massachusetts Forest Stewardship
Award to Cinda Jones, president of of W.D. Cowls who
partnered with the MA Department of Fish and Game
in the creation of a 3,486 acres conservation restriction:
The Paul C. Jones Working Forest  in Leverett and
"What is sorely needed" reports the Harvard Forest publication Wildlands and Woodlands "is a wide spread culture of stewardship that encourages sustainable forestry to spread across the landscape and make it economically viable". We have the opportunity in New England to sustainably  manage our forests, provide incentives for private forestland owners to keep their land in forest and rebuild the rural economy. We can take responsibility for our own consumption by management and conservation of our own forests.  As a society we should recognize the breadth of forest values, both locally and around the globe. We don't have to be that silly dog that drops its own treat to grab another's. 


Dicken Crane is a farmer, timber harvester, proponent of sustainable forest management, board member of Mass Forest Landowners Association and a Trustee of Mass Environmental Trust


  1. Thank you, Dicken, for finding the metaphors to address the challenges of our time with real solutions. Your efforts are a model for the rest of us to follow.

    We need to add some clarity to the definitions that are used to facilitate and control the realization of the goals we all have as parents and community members. However, we also have to be aware of the difficulty we face from persistent efforts by those who gain the most from our consumption patterns to consciously (maliciously) steer the choices we all make toward those sources that have led and continue to force us into this outsourced resource dependence.

    The simplicity of the following statements may hide the difficulties we face in connecting these truths to the form and function of our governmental structures and the entities that flow from these support systems (our economy and society). Our agreement (if any) with the substance of any particular message will not be enough to cause that fact to become a reality. Our failure to stand up for a functional system based on well understood principles will continue the dysfunction we now enjoy!
    1. Sovereign entities (governments) exist (in democracies) because the people want them to be there. These democratic governments are created and continue by the contribution of a portion of the personal sovereignty of each citizen in a region.
    2. Governments do things that no one else can or even should.
    3. A basic duty of a democratic government is to maintain the common good. The current system trashes these common assets by encouraging externalization of as many costs as possible and allowing misinformation based campaigns that lead everyone to believe that “cheap everything” is beneficial.
    4. Coinage of currency and creation of credit are basic sovereign (governmental) responsibilities that have been transferred to entities that do not have the standing to act as (or for) any sovereign and should not act as such except in highly regulated "utility" modes.
    5. Compounding growth (interest being earned on principle and interest) must be severely limited as a our common expectation for any part of human activity.
    6. There should be two kinds of currency created - long term system maintenance funds (infrastructure) and short term (our normal economy) funds.
    7. Infrastructure functions are the basis for our common good (life support). We are not generally conversant with the range of these long term aspects of all facets of “life as we know it” and we all must begin the conversation to build / rebuild this understanding.
    8. Currency games - most investing - should be seen as addictive and unsustainable activity and be relegated to a pass-time for enjoyment. Gains from such games must be taxed as they accrue.
    9. True investing should be limited to equity ownership in productive entities that are held for the benefit of the entity and society.
    10. One's prowess at a game should not bestow any special status outside the clique of game payers. The best games are those where all players win - rigged games are unfair and should be illegal.
    11. Credit creation today is a rigged game because the debt basis of all credit (using compound interest) guarantees that all value ends up being owned by the lender.
    12. Life is the source of all value - without life there will be no value as we know it.

  3. SIMPLE MESSAGES (continued):
    13. Life depends on many "common goods" - therefore these commons are the basis of all value and must be protected to maintain life - all life as we know it, not just human life.
    14. Being "pro-life" is not simple - or simply about human life. Being alive is a special "gift" - not a birth right. Since life is precious and interconnected, the gift of life requires each one to make the best choices they can. Humans have a very special obligation because we now have the ability to enhance or destroy the normal life processes of areas and the whole planet (our space ship). Those who deny this obligation can not also claim to be “pro-life”.
    15. The ability for a human to make good choices is a skill that must be developed by each individual in each locality - facilitated by the sovereign since the sovereign is the entity delegated by the living to do things that are difficult or impossible for each to do alone. Thus education of the human population is a sovereign duty that must be available continuously to all humans. Those seeking education must provide guarantees of competence to undertake an area of study but should not have to bear the cost of maintaining the educational structure.
    16. It goes without saying that a healthy, capable and well equipped population will be cheaper to maintain than one that requires either extended outside care or incarceration. However, the word "cheap" has little relevance here since we are dealing in responsibilities rather than economics - so the operable word might better be "easier".
    17. Energy use has made human life easier. Energy use entails many activities that have wide ranging consequences. Taken as a whole the actions to acquire concentrated energy sources should not adversely affect the life processes over time since no one person or group has any more right to the life giving capacities of any particular resource base than any other. The high energy culture of humanity is patently unsustainable for humans and deadly for other life forms.

  4. SIMPLE MESSAGES (continued):
    18. A sustainable life basis will use no more of any resource than can be recreated over time for those who come after those now living. The economics of the short term must have no higher priority than does the economics of the longer term. The gifts of the resource base and the gifts of ingenuity to use it are all facets of the same thing. Those thinking of partaking of a particular gift would be well advised to remember a simple rule: "Of a little take a little, manners so to do; of a little leave a little, that is manners too." Those who violate that rule have a heavy burden of justification since they are not privy to the giver and must justify that in the long run their actions will more than make up for their short term consumption.
    19. The common good, INFRASTRUCTURE, is that which exists or can be devised which does or will enhance the maintenance of life. Infrastructure investment and maintenance is the special responsibility of the sovereign. Since the government (which really owns everything) has a much longer time horizon than any individual citizen or community, it is appropriate even essential for such sovereign entities to put in place those factors, situations, capabilities ... that will function over time to enable all to be as sustainable as possible.
    20. Infrastructure (most long term activities) normally have no cash flow, but may have some eventual value that the owner of the facet of the long term economy may recover periodically.
    21. Sovereign entities (the broadest governing entity of a democratic society) are never insolvent unless they either want to be or are put in a position of owing some other entity something that they can not produce. There are many reasons why such entities would like to appear insolvent.
    22. Taxes are a tool for inflation control. The current taxation system is a system for domination rather than effective economy regulation.
    23. Inflation comes from gambling with excess discretionary income. These pools of excess credit are the points where taxation must be applied.
    24. Infrastructure funding is the basis for all other activity and should be available in all localities from the highest level of government as a normal function on a permanent basis. In a sustainable setting "things" are always growing and decaying. Something that is meant to be permanent will require special treatment on a regular basis since permanence is not normal in nature.
    25. Those closest to a situation are likely to be the most knowledgeable about what will work and will certainly have to bear the consequences of any action over time more than any outsider. Thus equipping local residents with the information and enabling with the funding and resources needed to be sustainable or to devise ways to become sustainable is likely to have better results than providing outside expert advice that does not have to bear the outcomes of their advice; see John Perkins work. We are all in this together!