Kohr\’s claim was that society\’s problems were not caused by particular forms of social or economic organisation, but by their size. Socialism, anarchism, capitalism, democracy, monarchy – all could work well on what he called \”the human scale\”: a scale at which people could play a part in the systems that governed their lives. But once scaled up to the level of modern states, all systems became oppressors. Changing the system, or the ideology that it claimed inspiration from, would not prevent that oppression – as any number of revolutions have shown – because \”the problem is not the thing that is big, but bigness itself\”.
Drawing from history, Kohr demonstrated that when people have too much power, under any system or none, they abuse it. The task, therefore, was to limit the amount of power that any individual, organisation or government could get its hands on. The solution to the world\’s problems was not more unity but more division. The world should be broken up into small states, roughly equivalent in size and power, which would be able to limit the growth and thus domination of any one unit. Small states and small economies were more flexible, more able to weather economic storms, less capable of waging serious wars, and more accountable to their people. Not only that, but they were more creative. On a whistlestop tour of medieval and early modern Europe, The Breakdown of Nations does a brilliant job of persuading the reader that many of the glories of western culture, from cathedrals to great art to scientific innovations, were the product of small states.
At least, I agree with that part of it.
Kingsnorth then, sadly, goes on to tack \”growth\”, \”economy\”, onto those list of things which grow too large.
I\’m even willing to agree, to a point, with the idea that companies can grow too large, that economic power can be too concentrated (the \”to a point\” coming from the fact that there can indeed be positive network effects and that thus \”too large\” depends upon what the company or network is actually doing). But taking the leap to the idea that \”the economy\” itself can be too large seems to me wrong.
To continue the analogy, that would be like stating that the world is too large: the analysis does state that the world as one political unit would be too large, yes. That it\’s much better if it\’s lots of small political units that make up the political world. In economics, the idea that a few large economic units should make up the world: well, actually this is an analysis which is pretty Hayekian really. That it would be better if we had lots of small economic units making up that whole which is the economic world. The size of that total economic world isn\’t the important point: rather, the relative sizes of the units which make up the whole.
You know, that world where all are price takers, perfect competition rules and so on?
And I will admit to a certain chagrin: Kohr\’s analysis of say, socialism working but only at a small scale is similar to what I call Bjorn\’s Beer Effect. That high tax, high redistribution systems do work on a small scale, as they do in say Denmark where the basic taxation unit is the commune, perhaps as few as 10,000 people (such local taxes are several times the national ones). If you know where the bloke who levies and spends your taxes has a beer on a Friday then you\’re likely to be happier with the amount levied and he\’s likely to be more careful with the way he spends it.
For the obvious reason that you can serious ruin his Friday night (up to and including glassing him) if he pisses it about like a monocular Scot.
The chagrin of course coming from the way in which what I think of as an interesting idea, arrived at independently, is not in fact original. Originality it seems, for my ideas, is reserved for those which are obviously wrong.
But back to Kohr: Austrian, LSE when Hayek was teaching there. I don\’t think it\’s really all that surprising that you could fit this description of his views into a Hayekian structure. Although doing so would of course horrify those various greens like Kingsnorth who support Kohr\’s analysis.