GB No. 2(17)/95
We are living in a very unhealthy society nowadays. People with a healthy and ecological lifestyle are not common today. This is due to a fundamental defect in our economic system, and points to the need for a fundamental transformation in the whole economic structure of society. Alternative economics means exploring alternatives to the unhealthy capitalist economic system dominating society today.
A healthy economic system should embody ecological, human and spiritual values. Both capitalism and communism are based mainly on materialistic values. They emphasize the dominant role of material things in human life, and the accumulation of material wealth and power. They give little or no importance to intellectual and spiritual values of life, except as these relate to the material conditions. The collapse of communism is final proof of its failure an economic system. The extreme economic inequalities, environmental degeneration and global financial instabilities of capitalism, where maximum profit is the sole economic goal, are indication of capitalism's own inherent weakness and could lead to a collapse of capitalism in a few years.
Any economic system which promises unlimited happiness by attaining limited material wealth can never fulfill its promise. This is because the human thirst for happiness is unlimited, and can only be satisfied by attaining the one spiritual source of unlimited happiness. But even when people strive to attain that source of unlimited happiness, their physical needs in the world have to be met. The society's economic system should meet these needs, while the social system guides people to the spiritual source of ultimate happiness. This can be achieved through education for all-round development, including spiritual development.
One well-developed alternative economic theory which is based on ecological, human and spiritual values is called PROUT (for Progressive Utilisation Theory). It was proposed by Indian ecological philosopher P.R. Sarkar. PROUT values the welfare and progress of all living beings above the over-accumulation of profits and the concentration of wealth in a few hands.
According to PROUT, all living beings are part of a universal cosmic evolutionary process that starts from infinite Consciousness or Divine Love, evolves to the physical world and the evolution of life. Then undeveloped living beings evolve through physical and mental evolution until, after reaching the stage of human beings, they finally merge back into that same infinite Consciousness. During this evolutionary process, all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual resources of individuals, society and the universe should be utilized in a progressive way to facilitate this goal, hence the name Progressive Utilisation Theory.
With such a cosmic evolutionary outlook, the economic system should provide the physical necessities for all members of the society, in order to facilitate their evolutionary development towards the final goal of life. Animals and plants have to be given their rights to protection and development as well, as part of this cosmic evolutionary process.
PROUT's economic system would guarantee all members of society access to sufficient food, clothing, shelter, medical care and education. After meeting everyone's basic necessities, the surplus wealth of the society would be redistributed rationally to give sufficient incentives for people to work more productively and in ways that improve the well-being of the whole society. The income gap between the different workers of the society should be continuously reduced, even while the standard of living of the whole society continued to increase. But there should be a maximum limit to any person's accumulation of wealth, so that everyone's minimum necessities for life can be met.
How can such a healthy alternative economic system be brought about to replace unhealthy capitalism? This will require the initiative of the most conscious and unselfish members of society to help educate the public through movements towards this goal. One new movement in this direction in Poland is called Eco-solidarity. It combines practical work to develop one's inner ecology through meditation and intuitional practices, as well as the outer ecology of one's environment, to help bring about the much-needed ecological and economic transformation of society.
How will this healthier economic system function? In the capitalist system, economic wealth is concentrated in a few hands, while most people remain poor. In PROUT's alternative economic system, economic power and wealth would be decentralised and brought under the control of the regions, cities, towns and villages. Special socio-economic regions would be defined, based on factors like common language, customs, history, geography, economic problems and economic potentialities. Within these socio-economic regions society would become self-sufficient in the basic economic necessities of life so that in times of ecological or social crisis, if there is a breakdown of long-distance transportation of supplies, the basic necessities of the local people would still be met.
Big foreign multi-national corporations would be prohibited from investing in and marketing foreign products that could instead be locally produced in the socio-economic regions, to stop draining the economic wealth of the regions. The socio-economic regions would become maximally economically self-sufficient in their basic necessities of life. Inter-regional trade would not be based on economic exploitation of undeveloped countries but on mutual economic benefit of the people of the different regions.
Within these economically self-sufficient regions industry and farming would be predominantly worker-owned and managed cooperatives. Small family farms and businesses could be individually owned and managed. Very large industries would be controlled by regional governmental bodies to operate on a no-profit-no-loss basis.
Regional, national and world governments must be created to ensure this decentralization of economic power and economic democracy, while guaranteeing the rights of all human beings, animals and plants. This will require major changes in the present political systems of the world, which are now mostly controlled by the capitalists and their money power.
If a predicted breakdown in the capitalist system occurs in the next few years, this will accelerate this transition to a more healthy economic system for all living beings. (The alternative would be some combination of the worst features of capitalism and communism.) In the meantime, society should prepare for this transition by developing small-scale models of the alternative economic and ecological ideas, such as developing and supporting more ecological farms, and increasing eco-agro-tourism, to help educate the public about these new ecological and economic ideas. Ecological farmers, due to their greater consciousness of food problems and solutions, can play a leading role in the transition to a healthier and more ecological economic system.