How can we live in harmony with nature? How can we eliminate poverty, provide security and create sufficiency for all the people of the earth? How do we restore an ethic of care for people and for the earth? In short, how can we put human and planetary well-being at the centre of all our decision-making?
At Basic Income Ireland (www.basicincomeireland.com), we recently held a think-in on the links between a universal basic income and sustainability (understood as a sane, humane, ecological and just social economy). Participants identified a sense of enough as a necessary feature of any positive future, and a lack of a sense of enough was identified as a current barrier to progress in that direction. A huge amount of literature and practice exists concerning enough and this article points to some of them[i].
The absolute reality is that we need to contain the economy and the kinds of work we do within the limits of the planet. Rich countries and wealthy inhabitants of poor countries are the worst offenders in all of these matters, since ecological footprint grows with income. Economy must fit the planet via societies of sufficiency. The big overall thrust must be to stop indeterminate and exponential growth, to direct economic activity towards human well-being within planetary limits, and to restore to some degree the health of the natural systems of our planet.
Sufficiency, sustainability and security are key needs of people and living systems all over the world, as we move into the rest of this century. We also need maximum citizen participation, diversity, resilience and whole-system health. This adds up to a different paradigm of progress and economic development. Legislation, attitude and lifestyle will have to go hand in hand and will need to be centered on a moral and ecological principle that enough is plenty.
Public policies based on enough
Enough has important philosophical and reflective aspects, but it is also at the heart of many concrete proposals and frameworks for making the changes we need, in order to live well in the future.
One of the most important frameworks concerns a universal basic income, which provides sufficient cash for all people to have the basics for a decent life, regardless of whether they work for pay or not. This proposal provides security for all in ways that means-tested social welfare cannot do. Personal security is a prerequisite for reducing economic demands to sustainable levels, and for creating a social and cultural climate where everybody is free to act on their moral and ecological concerns. It also has the potential to contribute to general security and a global reappraisal of growth.
A basic income means that individuals are no longer dependent on jobs for their daily needs and are free to choose how they work. At this time, our large, globalised, market-oriented societies structure our paid work towards environmental ruin, because work is how most people get money, no matter how soul-destroying or destructive that work is. In work, we expend our time and energy and it has the potential to be hugely enjoyable and satisfying. We all deserve and need the opportunity to structure our work – paid or unpaid – to be a force for good in the world.
Basic income would allow people to work shorter hours on the job, or in many cases to leave unsatisfactory or harmful jobs, and to be productive in society, in, for example, sustainable food-production, other community-economy activities, personal development, caring work and household production. It would also support the individual members of the many activist and pioneering groups already engaged in practices and projects designed to transform economy and society. Their work is often without pay, or, if paid, it is low-paid and precarious.
One source of finance for a basic income is income tax and most rich countries could finance it from this source already. But there are much more creative and sustainable possibilities for financing it, such as the sharing of dividends from earth resources, in other words, capturing economic rents. One of the most effective forms of collecting economic rent is through land- or site-value taxes (LVTs or SVTs). Such taxes are paid on all land, even if it is idle, and this makes it less attractive for someone to buy and retain land in the hope that its sale-price will increase. An incentive thus exists for an owner to use a land or site, to rent it or to sell it on to someone who can develop it. In addition, because owners of land cannot make huge profits on it, they may use their capital for more economically healthy enterprises than land speculation and these enterprises will most likely need employees.
Where LVTs are in place, banks are no longer prepared to lend to landowners using the future value of their land as security. This prevents bubbles and keeps stable the prices of homes, freeing people from slavery to exorbitant mortgage repayments. In turn, this eases stress and pressures on personal and family budgets.
Government and enough
The function of government, in the philosophy of enough, is to regulate at the broad parameters, in order to create basic securities such as energy, water, climate, food, medicine and transport, and to facilitate unlimited creativity and diversity within those parameters. In an ideal world, governments introduce frameworks such as a universal basic income and economic rents.
They would also sign adopt a global Cap and Share framework, which allocates carbon-emission permits to all citizens of the globe, within safe, scientifically agreed limits. Big fossil-fuel companies would then get their licences to emit carbon by buying permits from individuals. This would be a way to make the fossil-fuel companies pay a more just cost for their licences (for which they currently pay nothing) and at the same time it would provide a type of global basic income.
The state can also introduce legislation to support cooperatives, non-profit organisations, local and regional currencies and other commoning activities, which make it possible for people to do work of direct benefit to society. Currently, such projects are often disadvantaged by legislation and taxation.
States and currency unions could also bring money under democratic management. The privatised issue of money, where banks issue money as debt and demand interest on it, has become the norm over the last forty years or so. This system drives indeterminate and exponential economic growth. It forces people to generate money through growth, to pay the interest on the loans they have assumed, and, in the case of businesses, to turn a profit.
This system is undemocratic and has fuelled vast social and environmental damage. Democratic monetary reform, in order to provide a public money supply, would require the state, local authority or currency union to issue debt-free money and control the interest-bearing issue of money by banks.
With key structures for security and sufficiency in place, citizens would see an improvement in the quality of life. In turn, this would give a new culture of care and well-being a chance to flourish; the potential of enough could emerge, co-created by government and citizens. It is important, therefore, that activists push for such structures and initiatives to be formally introduced.
Of course, to support such reforms, the state (and the politicians who form government and make its laws) has to align itself with the planet and the people, instead of with markets, as most states currently do. Big money has to be taken out of politics and important ingredients such as a society’s values and moral orientation constantly debated and acted upon. Somehow, the things that people value need to be reflected in the type of government elected to run the state.
Citizen-leadership for enough
Few states at this time, however, are providing structures and policies that foster virtuous action. Constrained by harmful legislation and lack of appropriate legislation and structures, ordinary people in civil society stand in the gap between what is and what might be. All of us have the capacity to be citizen-leaders while we stand in that gap, acting together in pioneering initiatives for local food, currencies, transport and energy, as well as working in national and international campaigns for structural and policy changes. We dig where we stand and strive to educate elected and aspiring leaders and lawmakers.
As individuals, we need to develop the resources and capacities for enough that exist within all of us. An appreciation of enough can help us to challenge the dominant media and government obsession with getting back to ‘business as usual’. Imagination is crucial in this project. We cannot all be official, designated leaders, but if leadership is about taking risks and bringing other people along in a new vision, then we can all do it.
Enough has a good history; it is rooted in past generations and has been valued and practised by several great wisdom traditions. The current movement towards enough is founded on a belief that humans have the inherent capacity to be cooperative and participative, to share resources and to devise an inclusive social economy and forms of work that foster these capacities and care for the planet.
An attitude and practice that ‘enough is plenty’ draws on human capacities for cooperation and sharing and at the same time it develops them in action. Enough is a key concept for the future because it is living, adaptive and dynamic; it encourages creativity and diversity for groups and individuals around the world, who can forge connections and discover common ground, centred on enough.
[i] Enough is a growing movement and there are many books and websites on the topic. Among the best known books are: Juliet Schor, Plenitude (Penguin, 2010), John Naish, Enough (Hodder and Stoughton, 2008); Rob Deitz and Dan O’Neill, Enough is Enough (Routledge, 2013); Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth (Earthscan, 2009); Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky, How Much is Enough? (Allen Lane, 2012); Anne B Ryan, Enough is Plenty, (OBooks, 2009). In this article I also draw on Brian Davey, ed, Sharing for Survival (Feasta, 2012); Mary Mellor, The Future of Money (Pluto, 2012), Margrit Kennedy, Occupy Money (New Society, 2012) and Emer O’Siochrú, ed, The Fair Tax (Feasta and Shepheard-Walwyn, 2012).
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