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.