Preservation Institute
The Natural Environment : The Social Environment

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What We Believe

Today, most people recognize that modernization and growth can harm the natural environment. The Preservation Institute believes that modernization also damages the social environment - that many of our social problems are side-effects of modernization and economic growth.

To preserve the natural environment and the social environment, we must modernize selectively. Factory mass production is an efficient way of producing most goods that used to be made by hand. But we are in danger of using the same centralized, standardized methods for every aspect of life, from housing to retail shopping to child care.

Inappropriate modernization threatens the natural environment and also threatens:

  • Communities: Small towns and urban neighborhoods have been replaced with anonymous shopping malls and impersonal tract housing. We believe in preserving existing neighborhoods and small towns that are still intact - as in Vermont, where there is a movement to keep out Walmart and other chains to protect Main Street businesses. And we believe in restoring old-fashioned neighborhoods and towns that have already been damaged - as in the Hayes Valley district of San Francisco, where the neighborhood revived when the state tore down the Central Freeway.
  • Small Businesses: Independently run small businesses have been replaced by superstores and chains. For example, McDonalds, Burger King, and a few other giant corporations dominate the restaurant business. Often, chains are no more efficient than independent retailers: they control the market only because they can do more advertising. We believe there should be laws limiting on the number of stores that a single chain may control, to break up the big retail chains.
  • Families: School systems have taken over much of the working of raising children, and now day care centers are raising even the smallest children. We believe in school voucher systems, to give parents a say over their own children's education. And we believe in reversing the growth of day care, by giving families who raise their own children subsidies equal to the subsidies for day care and by giving parents more flexible work hours.
  • Personal Responsibility: During the twentieth century, centralized technocratic organizations also took over purely personal choices and responsibilities. For example, Health Maintenance Organizations and insurancers Medicare now make most decisions about individuals' health care. We believe in giving people more choice and more responsibility for these decisions.

Modernization has not been as effective as people expected during most of the twentieth century, because in the United States and the other developed nations, the average person already has enough, and continued economic growth provides trivial benefits. As we show in our book The Politics of Simple Living, Americans would be better off if they had the opportunity to work shorter hours, consume less, and do more for themselves.

Which way will we go in the coming century?

If we continue on the path of blind modernization and growth, we will have a flood of new products, many of them useless. We will also have continuing environmental breakdown, as global warming becomes more severe, and continuing social breakdown, as technocratic control makes small groups and individuals more powerless.

If we modernize selectively, we can produce an abundance of useful products. We can also have enough leisure time for ourselves, our families, and our communities. We can have a stable environment. And we can have a balanced society that has room for the modern economy but also has room for civil society, families, and individuals to do for themselves.