Ralph Borsodi (1886-1977) is known for his practical experiments in self-sufficient living and community landholding during the 1920s and 1930s as well as for the books he wrote: The Distribution Age (1927), This Ugly Civilization (1929), and Flight from the City: An Experiment in Creative Living on the Land (1933).
His education consisted of homeschooling, private school, and personal reading. After gaining economic expertise as a young man by working in his father’s publishing company, he advised a number of large New York corporations on economic matters. In the 1920s Borsodi became concerned with the problems of urbanized society and left the city to build his first homestead with his wife and two sons. In the mid to late 1930s he led numerous homesteading projects in an attempt to alleviate the effects of the Depression by fostering small, quasi-self-sufficient communities.
In 1935 he bought 40 acres of land near Suffern, New York, and invited 16 families to take up homesteading in what they called the Bayard Lane Community. Borsodi helped to found the School of Living at Bayard Lane in order to promote the homesteading life he advocated. Mildred Loomis, his most devoted student, continued the work of the School of Living in Freeland, Maryland, into the 1970s.
During the 1960s Borsodi spent four years teaching economics in India. He was impressed by Vinoba Bhave, Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual successor, and his experiments in land reform; Gramdan—the “Village Gift” movement—was an affirmation of his own ideas about rebuilding rural economies on the basis of self-sufficient villages on leased land. In 1967 he formed the International Independence Institute with Schumacher Center founder Robert Swann to provide training and technical assistance for people interested in promoting rural development along the lines he had observed in India.
Borsodi worked with Swann to issue Constants, a commodity-backed currency the value of which would remain stable. The Exeter, New Hampshire, experiment began in April 1973 and ran for over a year, circulating almost 100,000 Constants in Borsodi’s hometown. His failing health prevented him from continuing the experiment.
Ralph Borsodi’s work was influential in spurring a “rural renaissance” that emphasized decentralization of the economy and the government as well as a return to a self-sufficient life. Many of his ideas have re-emerged in the modern environmentalist movements.