“Sustainable development is like teenage sex – everybody claims they are doing it but most people aren’t, and those that are, are doing it very badly.” -Chris Spray (Northumbrian Water)
US Development Theory and the Accumulation of Capital
In 1960, Walt Whitman Rostow (1916-2003), an anti-communist economist and political theorist wrote a book that would become the manual for U.S. development that sparked green revolutions, Economic dependency and U.S. Military interventions in Latin America, Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
His book, The Stages of Economic Growth (1960) presents what has been called the “Rostovian take-off model for economic growth” which organizes capitalist development into five evolutionary stages of economic growth of varying length that include—1. Traditional society; 2. The preconditions for take-off; 3. Take-off; 4. The drive to maturity; and 5. High mass consumption.
Rostow’s Traditional societies are equivalent to what Karl Marx understood as feudal societies. “A traditional society is one whose structure is developed within limited production functions, based on pre-newtonian science and technology, and on pre-newtonian attitudes toward the physical world”(4).
The stage he calls “the pre-conditions for take-off” is a transitory state of a developing society which he defines as:
“Societies in the process of transition; that is, the period when the pre-conditions for take off are developed; for it takes time to transform a traditional society in the ways necessary for it to exploit the fruits of modern science, to fend off diminishing returns, and thus to enjoy the blessings and choices opened u p by the march of compound interest.”(6)
These pre-conditions include revolutions in agriculture and production (industry) and a conscious raising in the idea that economic “progress” is a necessary condition for some other purpose. The process is led by re-education and the emergence of a “visionary” class of entrepreneurs, “new types of enterprising men” who are “willing to mobilize savings and to take risks in pursuit of profit or modernization (7).
The third stage for Rostow is Take-off. For him, Take-off is a crucial moment as it is at take-off that he invests a considerable amount of time in his book to explain. It is via take-off that Rostow is able to advance his vision of the ideal capitalist society. He defines take-off in the following way:
“The take-off is the interval when the old blocks and resistances to steady growth are finally overcome. The forces making for economic progress, which yielded limited bursts and enclaves of modern activity, expand and come to dominate society. Growth becomes its normal condition. Compound interest becomes built, as it were, into its habits and institutional structure” (7).
Key to making take-off happen is the shift from 5% to 10% investment rates and savings of the society. According to Rostow the expansion of industries grows more rapidly due to this increase in investment allowing for profits to be re-invested creating more industry and drawing more and more labor. This is the beginning of what he terms “the march of compound interest”. The expansion of urban areas and the growth of the entrepreneurial class (financial capitalists) is typical of a society where take-off has occurred. Agriculture is also industrialized and intensified in order to maintain urban populations of workers.
The fourth stage is what Rostow terms as “the drive to maturity”. He defines this stage as:
“A long interval of sustained, if fluctuating progress, as the now regularly growing economy drives to extend modern technology over the whole front of its economic activity. Some 10-20% of the national income is steadily invested, permitting output regularly to outstrip the increase in population” (9).
New industries accelerate at this stage, replacing old industries, the domestic economy finds a place on the international scale, goods that used to be imported are now domestically produced, new imports take their place and export industry is expanded, and society is reorganized based on the new values and institutions that support growth over the older institutions. Maturity is reached forty to sixty years after take-off according to Rostow.
“Maturity is the stage in which an economy demonstrates the capacity to move beyond the original industries which powered its take-off and to absorb and to apply efficiently over a very wide range of its resources—if not the whole range—the most advanced fruits of (then) modern technology” (10).
A major quantitative measurement that Rostow uses to define his stages is the amount of money that is invested of the national income. It is the move from using industrial production to generate surplus value towards the use of fiscal entrepreneurship to generate surplus value that marks the final stage of maturity for Rostow.
The fifth and final stage of development in Rostow’s model he terms the “age of high mass consumption”. He defines this stage as a society, “where, in time, the leading sectors shift towards durable consumers’ goods and services” (10). A mature economy, according to Rostow, has resulted in two things:
- Real income has risen to a point where many people gained command over consumption beyond basic necessities.
- The structure of the workforce has changed in ways that increased urban populations and people employed in office and skilled factory jobs, as consumers has increased.
For Rostow, this stage of high mass consumption is the pinnacle of society and civilization that allows for a society that can generate social welfare and security based on compound interest. He claims that this achievement of high mass consumption is what led the United States to develop a Keynesian Welfare State.
Why, would you make me read about Rostow?
Why is Rostow’s book important? It is important because it is a heavily flawed theory, that for years was the basis for U.S. Foreign Policy, based on guesstimates, he has to make up data to support his thesis, which he does by estimating national figures before anyone ever recorded economic data that was important to capitalism, Gross Domestic Product, that he uses to calculate investment rates, sometimes for nations that didn’t even yet exist.
In the discipline of Anthropology, it was Rostow’s theory that guided several projects, specifically in India, Mexico, the Philippines and several countries in Africa, where research projects led to development projects, most of which failed, and many of which left these countries in debt to the United States, and later justified U.S. interventions on sovereign soil during the Cold War.
These development models should be familiar to many of you, because, even though Keynesian economics has been completely dismantled in the United States proper, this type of development model has been used abroad to facilitate primitive accumulation (natural resources, oil, labor) and has made Republicans and Democrats alike rich beyond their wildest dreams as they land private contracts with the U.S. as they rebuilt Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. etc. Even nations that the U.S. doesn’t invade, like Mexico, the Philippines and India, were subject to the “Green Revolution” which facilitated four tactics, the ability of the U.S. to “slow down social restructuring such as land reform and community development; increase investment in agriculture to raise productivity and food supplies; develop a new counterinsurgency capability involving the military in economic and social programs; and later, promote family planning and birth control to limit the growth of a working class that refuses to work productively at profitably low wage rates” (Cleaver 1977).
This strategy of capitalist development for the accumulation of capital later evolved externally into the war against Terror and the war against Drugs, and internally as the war against crime, allowing for the accumulation of capital for specific groups of people who belong to these two U.S. parties. It is no secret that Presidents become advisors to multi-national corporations whose subsidiaries benefit from contracts made possible by these wars (Sweetheart deals), just follow the money trail of the Bush Family, the Reagans, the Clinton’s. Barrack Obama and even candidates like Mitt Romney. You will find that the accumulation of capital in neoliberal advanced capitalism is closely linked to development.
As Harry Cleaver suggests in his essay From Development to Autonomy (1988), “Over and over, we see that economic development “theory” has been elaborated as a part of very concrete strategies to accumulate capital and its class relations”(Cleaver 1988). According to Cleaver, “only within an analysis of the evolution of our own struggles can we find any real alternative to capitalist development” (Cleaver 1988). Cleaver had earlier written an analysis of the world food crisis that emerged in 1972 where he dispelled the commonly held myth that the food crisis was a natural phenomenon. Famine, as Cleaver aptly demonstrated in the pamphlet Food, Famine, and the International Crisis (1977) was a direct result of the Green Revolution, one of the U.S. development projects, but not in the way you would think, Cleaver argued that the problem was more complex, “poverty and hunger are not just offshoots of capitalist development, but are functional to capital in its attempts to control working class power. Underdevelopment, like development, is a strategy as well as a process” (Cleaver 1977). He continues, “It is only by analyzing how struggles over the production and distribution of food have developed and how they have circulated that we can evaluate the efficacy of alternative strategies” (Cleaver 1977).
Building upon this analysis Cleaver offered the following analysis that I here quote at length:
The fundamental power of food for capital is the power to force the working class to work to get it. The need of the working class for food has thus led capital to make scarcity-hunger-a basic ingredient of its social order, so much so that hunger, or the threat of it, is endemic to capitalism. Ultimately, capital attempts to pose “no work, no food” as the condition of life for the working class and so convert all means of subsistence into variable capital. This has been the case since the earliest history of capitalism. The story of primitive accumulation is in large part the story of the separation of workers from their land and thus from their ability to acquire food independently. Today the results are seen both in urban centers, where capital’s control over distribution is exercised through retail outlets and prices, and in the agrarian hinterland, where that control is exercised through the manipulation of land (Cleaver 1977).
It is within this context that I offer a narrative of one such struggle over the development of food forests and urban permaculture in the western United States and the way that “sustainable development” is being used as a justification to advance a national trend of enclosure of common spaces. This kind of capitalist development is connected to the displacement of poor, working class, and people of color communities through gentrification. The alienation of these communities in urban settings from independent access to public land for the production of food is being mediated through the development of “professional” food forests, that in some cases, as we have seen in Santa Barbara, doesn’t even begin to “trickle down” to working class, poor and people of color communities that it originally claimed would benefit.
The video above had been circulating social network sites when I chose to write this essay. I guessed that most folks probably watched it with little attention to what goes into “establishing a food forest” in places like the United States. I rarely do op ed’s but I felt that there was a need to do so when it comes to the dominant forms of acceptable “food forests” and permaculture in the United States (those urban farms established by capitalist developers) and the demise and destruction of subordinated “food forests” and permaculture (those urban farms established by poor, working class and people of color communities) like the original South Central Farm in South Central Los Angeles or the liberated Gill Tract Farm next to U.C. Berkeley in the Bay.
Capitalism and Food Forests: The Mesa Harmony Garden in Santa Barbara
In Santa Barbara County, CA we have been able to see first hand, the amount of capital that goes in to freeing up land, changing local development laws and towards transforming “vacant” lots into urban food forests. The Mesa Harmony Garden was one such project in the Mesa Neighborhood of Santa Barbara, CA.
This project was made possible because the Holy Cross Catholic Church needed a justification to hold on to land that like many other Catholic Parish properties was subject to being sold, due to the high cost of court settlement fees, accrued from Arch-diocese child sex abuse settlements. In California, East Los Angeles for example, community Centers such as Self-Help Graphics succumbed to this type of loss:
The Holy Cross Catholic Church, unlike the parish that held Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles, was able to hold ownership of the land by leasing it for the development of the Mesa Harmony Garden.
In Santa Barbara, through the efforts of “progressive” Santa Barbara Community College students, in particular a former CEO of a well known company, a large amount of capital was raised, city managers were swayed and local ordinances were maneuvered in order for the Mesa Harmony Garden to become a reality.
This type of power development did not stop at the city level. In north county, the construction firm that was responsible for making the “permaculture” aspect of this type of development happen ran into trouble with County accessibility codes in terms of its plan to construct a garden near a school. This firm with the help of a larger lobbying network was able to successfully change county wide accessibility codes to conform to their construction plans. This meant that the Mesa Harmony Garden benefited from the lowering of accessibility requirements and thus the first step towards enclosure began even prior to either of these “urban food forest’s” construction.
The next levels of enclosure occur at the levels of production, distribution and nutrition education.
PRODUCTION: At the 2011 Santa Barbara County Localizing our Food Conference, it was clear that the purpose for localizing food production through development projects like “urban food forests” was not to create a commons that everyone would have access to, but to make a business out of the distribution of this subsidized and localized method of producing food. The summary of the conference was very telling, UC Santa Barbara was to take the lead in Research and Development of how to free land for production, lobby the county and municipal governments to allow further depletion of water resources in the name of production, and ultimately to lobby changes in federal legislation to “democratize” federal subsidies towards local production by encouraging new small farmers. Though I attended with the sole panelist who discussed labor, her recommendations were given little attention. It was clear that when it came to developing “urban food forests” and permaculture for production, the driving logic was about making money.
DISTRIBUTION: In regards to distribution, it was clear that established middle men, such as The Berry Man, Inc in Santa Barbara County also wanted a piece of the profit. It was at this level that the intended distribution of the food that was to be produced locally was to be primarily institutions as opposed to individual household consumers, this constituted another level of enclosure in regards to access. The middle men lobbied heavily for the removal of distribution barriers (i.e. policies and infrastructure), as well as for the federal government to provide incentives at the level of distribution. At the level of institutions, facilities were lacking in most institutional Kitchens at public schools and Universities and the middle men wanted government agencies to subsidize kitchen upgrades so that they could keep more fresh produce with facilities like walk in coolers.
NUTRITION EDUCATION: The last area of enclosure involved cultivating a specific type of consumer. One of the most interesting proposals at this level was the idea of advocating the claiming of food stamps by more Santa Barbara County residents, and educating them to purchase fresh produce at the farmers markets with those food stamps. It was clear here as well, that the bottom line was the amount of profit that could be made.
The Santa Barbara case, however, is not unique. In the “300 year old food forest in Vietnam” video above, it is clear that food forests are not a new phenomenon, yet it has become all the rave in regards to development projects such as the one in the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Seattle, Washington:
To be ever more clear, folks, the capitalist development of food forests and capitalist development of permaculture in places like Beacon Hill and the Santa Barbara Mesa are an integral part of enclosure, an enclosure that goes hand and hand with the extended gentrification of neighborhoods as an aspect of capitalist development.
Gentrification, Development, and Urban Planning
In 1974, Mario Barrera and Gerarda Vialpando published a pamphlet to report “on a set of processes that are going on throughout the urban Southwest”(1) that were fragmenting and dislocating Chicano barrios that once existed in and around metropolitan areas. The pamphlet, Action Research in Defense of the Barrio (1974) consisted of three interviews that dealt with gentrification in barrios that once existed in what would become the Silicon Valley and of barrios in East Los Angeles. Though different in scope, the two barrios in northern California represented the encroachment of capitalist development projects related to a change in the economy, from industrial agriculture towards the high tech industry advanced primarily by corporations and the other, in Los Angeles a city planning urban development project moving towards the “revitalization” of the inner city.
What Barrera and Vialpando were able to glean from their interviews of Chicanos involved in active resistance against these processes of gentrification were two recurring points that they felt could help in understanding these processes of displacement, “One lies in the common observation of the Chicano’s powerlessness and exclusion from decision-making processes…the other lies in the role of Chicanos in the labor force” (2). The editors framed the first within the context of U.S. white supremacist settler colonialism, which they understood as “internal colonialism” and the second within the context of the movement, displacement and management of labor pools for specific industries that were indeed changing.
In hindsight, Barrera and Vialpaldo advanced a sophisticated analysis of gentrification that was based on impirical evidence that in the end proved to be true. They were engaged in a concerted effort to do “research at the service of the community, intended to provide the essential knowledge base from which more effective social and political action can be mounted”(3), by engaging a technique that sought to “probe” the reality in order to gain a better understanding of the situation based upon the response of the powers that be.
Ernesto Galarza, who was working in the once rural Mexican barrio of Alviso observed,
A megalopolis is forming in the Bay area. Land values are going up steadily…Places like Alviso have become very attractive for development by private and public interests. These corporations and the public agencies haven’t cared about the survival of the communities, the social organisms that are in their way. Alviso itself is now in the process of being swallowed up by the expansion of San José…Already some very ambitious plans had been drawn up for Alviso by San José planning agencies. These plans included new marinas, apartment complexes, a trade mart, light industry, new transportation routes, and tourist facilities. (8)
Guillermo Flores, who was conducting research in Mountain View and Union City noted that there appeared to be an order to the displacement of communities that was facilitated by this type of annexation because there was a lot of unemployment within the barrios,
Most of the employment is outside of the city, scattered across the Bay Area. Many have jobs in San José or Oakland…When we began doing research, we found out that in Oakland, where they had a large population of Blacks, they hire many Chicanos from the city of Hayward. In the city of Hayward, where they have an industrial park, they hire many Blacks from Oakland, and Chicanos from other areas. It’s a way in which corporations are able to separate community struggles from class struggles. This is something corporations have learned from history. As industry developed in this country worker housing was often built right next to the factories, in fact often owned by the factory (this is still the case with many mining towns and most farm labor camps)…Capitalists, if only in a very sluggish way, attempt to learn from their past mistakes (19).
Flores could not definitively say that corporations were consciously developing the metropolis this way to divide sectors of the working class amongst each other and alienate them from their communities because it was hard to prove, but he claimed, “it is taking place, whether conscious or not”(19).
Meanwhile, Rosalio Muñoz was conducting research in the barrio of Lincoln Heights in East LA as the community there was resisting the LA master plan which was advancing a 20 year “revitalization” project that would displace Chicanos from their homes in order to develop convention centers, skyscrapers and apartment complexes in place of single family homes.
Based upon what we have learned about the multiple processes of capitalist development and gentrification, we can begin to see how enclosure (i.e. annexation via eminent domain) precedes displacement, and that this type of displacement has had the tendency to divide poor, working class and people of color communities via alienation.
A look at Gentrification in the Present Era
In California, the development of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Los Angeles’ Metro Rail Service (specifically the Metro Gold Line) mirror the types of “urban renewal” and displacement that occured with the construction of Seattle’s Central Link Light Rail. The construction of these transportation systems in each of these Metropolitan areas began with the annexation via eminent domain of single family houses along the route in communities with little political power (underground stations tend to be established as a compromise in politically active communities) where “green” certified multi-zoned apartment complexes with storefronts and built-in garages were constructed in such away that would allow new residents (the emerging cognitariat, i.e. software designers) the ability to live in ethnic neighborhoods, yet never have to leave their home or be bothered by their neighbors. This type of division of different sectors of the labor force, combined with a consumer culture that strives for the “authentic” driving up the prices at community owned restaurants before moving on to the next hot restaurant for foodies, creating a locust effect that leads to a high turnover rate for small entrepreneurs in many communities of color, creates extreme tension between new residents (who tend to be well-to-do and in their 30’s or white) and host residents (who tend to be working class, poor, and people of color). Tensions run high, in particular in contested neighborhoods (those with an underground station).
The experience in Seattle’s South End has followed suite to the situation in California’s main cities, in particular at the Columbia City, Othello and Rainier Beach lightrail stops. Beacon Hill, one of the more embattled zones against “urban renewal” was able to escape, if only temporarily, the fate of the other three stations. It took decades of backdoor deals to be able get the Central Link Light Rail approved between Sea-Tac Airport and Seattle’s Westlake Center, plans to extend the lightrail into traditionally white neighborhoods to the North were scrapped for later.
Even before it’s construction, the Central Link Light Rail was heavily contested.
This situation mirrors the successful blocking of the extension of the 710 freeway at El Sereno by mostly white home owners in the 1990s. The city waited and the demographics have changed, El Sereno is now primarily a Chicano barrio, and though a thriving resistance culture lives on, El Sereno is now under the threat of a renewed initiative to link the 710 to the 210 in Pasadena.
As described above, Food Forests and Urban Farms are but another extension of these struggles, just look at the demographics of local farmers markets and you will see an economy where there is money to be made. It is this food culture that is based on mass consumption that food forest development projects like the Mesa Harmony Garden in Santa Barbara are made possible.
Under the guise of Community Supported Agriculture, public (schools) and private (churches) land is enclosed and made into a means of production through high tech (expensive) manipulation of the landscape designed to maximize production for profit that is justified under the rhetoric of “sustainable development” in that the food forest or urban farm can “pay” for itself in terms of land rent, because labor is minimized and specialized, and the distribution of the produce is integrated into a pre-existing market scheme and lucrative economy.
What distinguishes these projects is that they tend to be planned behind closed doors and without the input in the decision making process from the local community where the food forests or urban gardens are planned outside of the city planning meetings of which only a small proportion of the community participates. This was the case for projects in North Santa Barbara County, where the model learned at the Mesa Harmony Garden was exported to explicitly targeted poor, working class, and people of color communities by well-to-do “progressive” citizens, that amounted to a kind of “we know what’s best for you” patronizing and racist approach to engaging those very communities which the project was supposed to serve.
Taking our Food into our own hands
This brings us to my last point in this op ed. Food forests have been cultivated by human beings, specifically those of us with peasant backgrounds, for hundreds and hundreds of years. When we move due to displacement, we construct those same types of food forests in our front and back yards, and in vacant lots as was the case for the South Central Farm in Los Angeles.
However, these types of “food forests” constructed in the name of a community commons, by and for the people, are under the constant threat of enclosure, displacement and in some cases demolition.
In Santa Barbara, even as the Mesa Harmony Garden was being established and applauded, law enforcement officials engaged in the eviction of Mexican workers living in yurts and trailers on the site of the Fairview Gardens (Center for Urban Agriculture) in the nearby city of Goleta. This displacement for the most part came and went without so much as a second look.
The South Central Farm was bulldozed to the ground in June of 2006:
Similar projects, like the Gill Tract Farm in Berkeley, California were also subject to repression, enclosure, and demolition.
We need to begin to do the the labor of thinking about how to defend these types of food forests and challenge development projects to think and act in ways that do not exasterbate pre-existing community tensions. To be able to do this, urban gardens have to emerge from the people themselves, as they already have, as opposed to being part of urban planning and “renewal”, We need to take the production of food into our own hands.
In Santa Barbara, scholar-activists at the University of California Santa Barbara attempted to do so by freeing up University garden plots for the use of Mexican immigrant sustenance farmers in a community gardens research project. Members of UCSB’s Congreso uprooted university lawns near El Centro and planted a Milpa, and UCSB students involved with the local Ateneo occupied a vacant lot in Isla Vista, the community in which they live, and planted a collective garden where they often screen films in an effort to push interaction the garden beyond production.
In Seattle, a practice of Guerrilla Gardening in the contested neighborhoods of Beacon Hill and the Central District, among other sites has “taken off”. The adherents traverse the city of Seattle and grow food in plain sight on plots that used to be neglected lawns, and also in containers. Recently, they have taken an interest in vertical gardening, and for this purpose sought out the expertise of local Asian farmers, who had already been using that strategy to grow food on terraces and in small plots in Seattle in places like the Danny Woo Community Garden. The future, my friends, lies in our own hands.