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Economics as if All Living Beings Mattered

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An introduction to the Prout (Progressive Utilization Theory) system of economics.

by Ron Logan 

The late British economist, E. F. Shumacher, spoke of the need for a new economics - "an economics as if people mattered." In so doing, Shumacher insightfully pointed out the essential failing of present day economic systems: they lack humanistic concern for the welfare of people and other living beings.

The advocates of monopoly capitalism and state socialism claim their respective economic systems are the path to universal prosperity. A lot of sophisticated propaganda has been put forth to support their claims. But the harsh realities of life for the common people reveal the lies within their propaganda. Worker alienation, vast economic disparities, widespread poverty, wanton environmental destruction, the erosion of moral and spiritual values, and other detrimental effects of capitalism and communism are evidence that these are not economic systems which can serve humanity as a whole. They may nicely benefit an elite few, but for the rest of humanity, economic exploitation and psychic misery are their unavoidable consequences. Indeed, the well-being of the whole biosphere is being threatened by the greed of these exploiters.
Though skillful propaganda and a few token material benefits may cause the general mass to accept the status-quo a bit longer, it is inevitable that people's growing dissatisfaction with their lot will eventually lead them to seek a new and better economic system. When the next depression hits, this dissatisfaction will grow like wildfire.

New economic values are beginning to gain popularity: decentralism, stewardship of resources, cooperative ownership of businesses, economic democracy, and appropriateness of technology. These concepts are not compatible with either capitalist or communist economies. These approaches are equally unacceptable to the Chairman of the Board of Citibank as they would be to the Chinese Commissar of Industry. These new ideas will not maximize corporate profits nor consolidate the flower of the centralized state. But they certainly reflect the spirit of humanism. They have been derived out of a concern for the prosperity of humanity as a whole, and thus indicate the emergence of "an economics as if all living beings mattered."

P. R. Sarkar, in his Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout), shares the sentiment of Shumacher. Sarkar states that, "like any other problem, economic problems have only one solution: genuine love for humanity." Sarkar's whole social philosophy arises out of compassionate concern for universal welfare. This universalistic sentiment is rooted in his spiritual outlook on life. Sarkar's spirituality is not a mysticism which remains aloof from the pressing practical problems of late 20th century humanity. Rather, he recognizes that attainment of spiritual knowledge can best be realised in a society free from exploitation and oppression.

Cosmic Inheritance

The fundamental understanding upon which Prout economics rests is the principle of cosmic inheritance. This principle asserts that all of the resources of the universe were created for the benefit of all beings, and access to these resources is the birthright of all.

Human beings have not created the sunlight which provides us usable energy, the vegetation which nourishes us, nor the minerals which are smelted and cast into out tools and building materials. At most we have labored to extract, process and metamorphose the useful raw materials of our world. Since we are not the original creators of the resources we use, we cannot claim personal ownership of this wealth. Ultimate ownership of all wealth can only lie with its Cosmic Creator. This understanding leads to the recognition that each person has the rights to his or her appropriate share and that we are to utilize our common inheritance in a cooperative spirit.

Collective Welfare Economy

Prout defines wealth as being that which has utility in meeting human needs -- be they physical, psychic or spiritual. The proper purpose of wealth lies in its practical value for sustaining and nurturing human existence. Understanding this, the fulfilment of human needs has been made the motivating force underlying the Prout economic system. We can, therefore, call it a collective welfare economy.

Consistent with the principles of Cosmic Inheritance, Prout views people as being the stewards --not owners -- of resources. We assert that the farmlands should be cooperatively managed by those who till the soil, and that the factories are to be under the collective control of those who operate the machinery of production. That is, we believe that economic enterprises are to be democratically controlled by the people who work in them.

Guaranteed Minimum Necessities of Life

A harmonious world community can never be established so long as people suffer from want of their minimum requirements for sustaining life. Deprivation of food, shelter, and other necessities drives those who are impoverished to take desperate measures for their survival. Moreover, for humanity to recognize its spiritual unity, people must strive for elevation of their consciousness. But those who are in dire need simply cannot take time for spiritual growth. They can only respond to their burning urge for physical survival. Thus, economic justice is a fundamental prerequisite for the sentiment of human kinship to become a global reality.

In creating a collective welfare economy, the foremost principle must be that the basic necessities are guaranteed to all. Everyone must be provided the food, clothes, housing, medical care, education and other fundamental goods and services they need for their all-round development.

Prout not only calls for the guaranteeing the basic necessities, but also insists that society must strive to increase these minimum requirements in quantity and quality. For example, the assurance of high school education may be appropriate for the
contemporary era, but, in the future, a guarantee of life-long learning opportunities may be called for. Similarly, the standards for shelter, basic nutrition, medicines, transportation and dress will have to undergo progressive advances.

Four fundamental conditions need to be met before society is in a position to guarantee the basic requirements to everyone.

1 - There must be guaranteed availability of the basic necessities.

The society's economy must have the potential to produce basic consumer commodities, and production of these commodities must take priority over production of luxury goods, cash crops, export commodities, armaments, etc.

Availability of the basic necessities cannot be assured where the dictates of profit and loss provide the logic for economic activity. If there are greater profits to be had, capitalists are likely to invest their capital in producing luxury items, cash crops, export commodities, military hardware, or in speculative investments like bonds, real estate, stocks, and commodity futures.

Though the communist states have given attention to producing the basic commodities, the availability of the basic necessities cannot be fully assured where the economy serves the interests of the dictatorial state. Heavy industry -so necessary for the strength of the glorified military -- takes priority over consumer-oriented light industry and agriculture. While the military is well supplied with armaments, food is rationed and housing limited.

2  - Society must guarantee adequate purchasing capacity to all its members.

The economy may be able to produce the basic necessities, but this is of little use to people who are unemployed and therefore unable to earn enough to purchase their needed goods.

Purchasing capacity will be insured in the Prout economy through providing and guaranteeing meaningful employment at adequate pay. Prout does not favour the welfare approach to dealing with lack of income. Nor can we accept making labour at menial jobs compulsory for those needing unemployment compensation. Neither of these approaches shows respect for human dignity or a full appreciation of human aspirations. The aspiration of people to be usefully employed must be given every opportunity for expression. Of course, for those unable to work due to severe physical or mental impairment, financial assistance would be provided by the society.

The effort to end unemployment presents a knotty problem in our present society. High unemployment is a persistent phenomenon, despite numerous attempts by political leaders to create more jobs. There are several significant causes for high unemployment, such as plant closures, credit scarcity due to federal budget deficits, declining capital investments by the large corporate conglomerates, and the economically depressing nature of excessive military spending. These problems are inherent in the American capitalist system. Prout's collective welfare economy would not be faced with these causes of unemployment.

But what about unemployment created by automation? How is this to be handled? Would the Prout economy stifle the introduction of automated machinery in order to prevent many unskilled and semi-skilled jobs from becoming obsolete? Not at all. Prout proposes a progressive course of action. If a savings in production time can be brought about by newer machinery, then there should be a corresponding reduction in the length of the work day, while maintaining the same level of pay. If we can design robots and other machines which will labor for us, why should we continue to toil for eight hours a day? With our time liberated from the assembly line by technology, we would be free to pursue many creative and growth-oriented activities.

3 - There must be restrictions on personal accumulation of physical wealth.

The lack of restrictions on accumulated wealth results in a great concentration of riches in the hands of a few, and deprivation for the many. The total amount of physical wealth is Pirated. When an elite few come to possess a huge excess, then many others in the society do not get their due portion. Indeed, the hoarding of wealth by greedy financiers, industrialists and big landowners is the principal cause of the extreme deprivation in the world today.

The right of all people to enjoy freedom from want and to have the commodities needed for their all-round growth must be viewed as being more basic than the right to unrestricted personal accumulation. Therefore, society should place ceilings on bank balances and shareholdings, and limits on other personal assets.

These limits on accumulation would be appropriately adjusted to specific circumstances and over time. A household with five children could maintain a larger savings account than that of a childless couple. Where the cost of living index is higher, here too limits would have to be adjusted upward. And, in a future time when many more electronic appliances have become basic necessities, the permitted levels of accumulation of physical wealth would be accordingly increased for the whole society.

Prout calls for limitations on accumulation of physical wealth, but it also advocates provisions for special exceptions where an individual or family can show special need or special merit in their use of their wealth. In calling for a policy of limiting personal accumulation of physical wealth, Prout is striving for a healthy balance of individual and collective interests. While society must necessarily restrict personal accumulation of physical wealth, it should not be so severely restricted that people's spiritual, mental or physical growth are hindered in any way.

4 - There needs to be a just and reasonable distribution of wealth.

Rational distribution emphasizes economic equity, but it also appreciates the diverse needs of people. Thus, the minimum necessities would be guaranteed to all, but allocations would be adjusted taking into account differences in need

due to peoples' varying localities, personal situations, and individualities of taste. For example, the shelter and clothing needs of an Alaskan are much different than those of a Florida resident. And the health care needs of an individual with a strong constitution are much less than those of a person suffering from chronic ailments. Such diversities of needs and tastes must be taken into account by society.

Rational distribution also emphasizes the importance of incentives. Prout does not entertain the utopian notion that all people will work to their capacity by natural inclination. Nor do we hold that psychological incentives, i.e. social recognition for exemplary work, will be sufficient to elicit people's full motivation to produce. Material incentives also play an important role in a Prout economy.

Not all of the productive capacity of the Prout economy would go into providing the basic necessities. There would be additional commodities produced which would be allocated for incentives. These incentives would be distributed to meritorious workers whose labor has special value to the society.

Such incentives would be given in the form of utilizable goods or services which can make possible further opportunities for contribution to the collective welfare. For example, an especially gifted and dedicated scientist might be given vouchers for the purchase of specialized research equipment and increased access to useful computer software. Or a committed disaster relief worker might be given a high quality short wave radio, or a personal jeep.

In this manner, incentives will serve both to promote the collective good and to accelerate development of individual's productive potential. This will not only encourage people to use their full talents for social development, but will also provide them tools to put their talents to best use. Distribution of incentives in this way would therefore help promote a rapid rise in the standards of living for all.

Economic planners will have to make appropriate adjustment between the proportions of wealth allocated for basic necessities and that allocated for incentives. The effect of these adjustments will be to strike a dynamic balance between minimizing economic differences among people and maximizing motivation through incentives. The guiding policy will be to increase the economy's productive capacity so as to bring allocations of basic necessities up to par with incentive allowances. For example, if a policy is set to provide personal computers to meritorious educators, then society should strive to eventually make a computers a basic necessity available to all.

Ron Logan is a free-lance writer residing In Eugene, Oregon. His current hook is Human Story, a humorous introduction to Prout's theory of history This article is an excerpt from a longer introduction to Prout which originally appeared in Prout Press (Washington, D.C.)

This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol.1, No.3

 
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