The Second Decentralist Conference

The Schumacher Center’s Second Annual Decentralist Conference was held June 27th-29th at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and featuring keynote addresses by John Todd and Nancy Jack Todd of New Alchemy Institute and Ocean Arks International, Alana Probst of EcoTrust, and June Holley of Appalacian Center for Economic Networks.

The central question to be addressed at the Conference was “How will the job get done when the federal government pulls out?” The conference focused on how states, counties, communities, and neighborhoods—and the thousands of citizen self-help groups working to improve society at a local level—can meet the challenge posed by devolution of Federal power and programs.

The First Annual Decentralist Conference included over 50 workshops on community based approaches to solving our most pressing problems. The Schumacher Center  joined with co-sponsoring organizations to convene the Second Annual Conference on decentralism and the practical details of creating more human scale institutions. The conference brought together over 30 academics and activists, liberals and conservatives-people who have learned how to make communities and neighborhoods work better.

The Conference featured keynote presentations as well as panels and workshops on

  • Local currency projects
  • Regional food systems
  • Micro-enterprise loan funds
  • Consumer and worker cooperatives
  • Flexible manufacturing enterprises
  • Grass roots environmental action
  • Community information technology
  • Neighborhood revitalization

What is Decentralism?

Transcending traditional categories of “right” and “left,” decentralism has been the logical meeting place for those who believe that preserving human scale and encouraging a spirit of community are essential for the human spirit to thrive. In a world afflicted with giantism in its social, economic, and political institutions, decentralism is often mistakenly identified as radical, but it is in fact based on many traditional values. Decentralists are a diverse group, but they share a common belief in restoring community self-reliance and bringing economic and social activities back to a more human scale.

Over the centuries, human scale has had many eloquent advocates, ranging from Lao Tzu and Aristotle to Kropotkin and Jefferson, Gandhi and Chesterton. Fritz Schumacher introduced the concept of human scale to mainstream industrial society in the book Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. In it he called for an economy of permanence, based on human values and sustainable uses of natural resources, and this marked a cultural shift in our thinking about economics.

Schumacher’s ideas rekindled a modern interest in the human scale, decentralist approach; an interest which has been intensified by today’s social, economic, and environmental crises. The modern environmental movement has awakened an interest in the decentralized approach as issues of energy use, resource consumption, and bioregional preservation gain urgency. Intensified globalization has brought forth the need for cultural and community preservation and appropriate technologies. Many visionaries and activists in a variety of fields have opted to develop small-scale, community-based solutions to these problems. Together with the writings of Leopold Kohr, farmer Wendell Berry, economist Ralph Borsodi, regional planner Jane Jacobs, bioregionalist Kirkpatrick Sale, and many others, they continue to build a modern decentralist legacy.

The Schumacher Center for a New Economics is dedicated to gathering this rich decentralist tradition, continuing to bring the values of scale and sustainability into our modern discourse and demonstrating that small is not only beautiful—it is a viable alternative.

Conference Schedule


Registration 2:00 – 5:00 pm / Faculty House

Tour of Caretaker Farm, Community Supported Agriculture, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Meet at the Faculty House

Dinner 5:15 – 6:30 pm /Mission Park
Late Registration 5:00 – 9:30 pm 


7:00 – 9:00 pm / Bernard Music Center, Open to the Public
Featuring John Todd and Nancy Jack Todd, co-founders of New Alchemy and Ocean Arks International

Reception, Bernard Music Center Foyer, 9:00 – 10:30 pm
Also Visit the Literature tables and The Learning Alliance Bookstore/ Mission Park



Breakfast 7:30 – 8:45 am / Mission Park

Hopkins Hall


I. Beyond The Global Economy: Birthing a New Economic Paradigm
Barbara Brandt — Social activist; Author, “Whole Life Economics”

II. Micro-Business Development as a Community Resource
John Glasheen, Margaret Tarbox, and Christine Gingerella — South County Community Action

III. Capital Networking for Community Development
Philip Alexander — Monroby Capital Network Management Corporation


I. Building A Stakeholder Economy
Shann Turnbull — Author, “Democratizing the Wealth of Nations”

II. The Economics of Intentional Communities
John Ewbank and Marjorie Ewbank — Home Rule Globally; long time decentralist-federalists

III. What Does it Take To Sustain Local Currency Systems?
Tim Cohen-Mitchell — Valley Trade Connection/Valley Dollars


I. Neighborhood Computer Centers
Michael Patterson — U. S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Computer Center Coordinator

II. Great Mountain Forest: A Private Ecological Restoration Project
Starling Childs — Great Mountain Forest Manager

III. Time Dollars Systems: Advantages and How-tos
Edgar Cahn — Founder, Time Dollar Institute

LUNCH 12:30 – 2:00 pm / Mission Park


2:00-3:00 pm

I. The Dilemma of Community Economic Development
Greg Ramm — Executive Director, Institute for Community Economics

II. Ralph Borsodi: 20th Century Decentralist Hero
Robert Swann, Erika Levasseur — Schumacher Center

III. Formalizing the Informal: The Success and Challenges of Ithaca Hours
Michelle Beesten — Advisory Board Member, Ithaca Hours

3:15-4:15 pm

I. Urban Agricultural Systems
Daphne Makinson — Intervale Foundation

II. Local Information Systems: Themes from Global Knowledge Conference ’97
Steve Cicler — Senior Scientist, Apple Computer

III. S.H.A.R.E.: Micro-Lending, Self-Financing, and Local Currencies
Susan Witt — Executive Director, Schumacher Center

4:30-5:30 pm

I. Community Corporation: New Models for Locally Owned Businesses
Michael Shuman — Co-Director, Institute for Policy Studies

II. Taking Care of Our Children Locally
Linda Small — Executive Director, Children’s Health Program

III. Approaches to Organizing Community Currencies
Carol Brouillet and Jhym Phoenix — Community Currency Project

DINNER 5:30 – 6:30 pm / Mission Park


7:00 – 9:00 pm / Chapin Hall, Open to the Public
Featuring Alana Probst, Economic Director, EcoTrust; Founder, Shore Trust Bank in Portland, Oregon
and June Holley, President, Appalachian Center for Economic Networks in Athens, Ohio


CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST 7:15 – 8:30 am/ Mission Park


8:45 – 9:45 am

I. Environmental Citizenship: Great Barrington’s River Walk
Rachel Fletcher and Comstock Small — Great Barrington Housatonic River Walk

II. Decentralism and the Population Implosion
Scott Richert — The Rockford Institute; Assistant Editor, “The Family in America”

III. LET’S as an Economic Development Tool for Women
Mary Beth Raddon and Elizabeth Bosna-Donovan — LET’S Toronto, Women’s Project

IV. Flexible Manufacturing Networks
June Holley — Appalachia Center for Economic Networks

10:00-11:00 am

I. Devolving Government
John McClaughry — President Ethan Allan Institute

II. The Community Land Trust Model Applied in Appalachia
Marie Cirillo and Derek Douglas — Woodland Community Land Trust

III. Dillo Hours: A Local Currency in Process
Lyndon Felps — Bioregional Congress of Colorado River Watershed

BRUNCH 11:00 – 12:30 pm / Mission Park


12:30 – 2:00 pm / Chapin Hall
Local Currencies and the Decentralization of Money:
Local Currency Activist Panel Moderated by Susan Witt