Thursday, 25 August 2011

Get shopping Libyans

With the revolution in Libya coming to its denouement, apparently, I heard a commentator today opine that Libyans need to get shopping. Oh yes, that's what we want - more consumption. That's the solution. From dicatorship with shopping trip. From Gadaffi culture to cafe culture.

Spare me.

The Pope says we need an RBE

“The economy doesn’t function with market self-regulation but needs an ethical reason to work for mankind,” the Pope told reporters aboard the papal plane.

“Man must be at the center of the economy, and the economy cannot be measured only by maximization of profit but rather according to the common good.”

Pope Benedict drew upon his 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” or “Charity in Truth” in which he asserted that the dignity of the person must be central to all economic decisions.

He told reporters that the current economic crisis afflicting many young people in countries like Spain again shows that a moral dimension isn’t “exterior” but “interior and fundamental” to the formulation of economic policy.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Materialism and well being

"Constraints on the material level have only a minor influence on well being, as long as a certain level of subsistence is assured via access to the necessities of life".

I believe this is a quote from the New Economics Foundation, but I haven't found it at source.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The fundamental human needs test

It occurs that using one of the lists of fundamental human needs I've featured here, or a better one if you can find it, anything in society can be tested. The recent troubles in England's cities, for example.

In the jargon, 'satisfiers' are the means by which human needs are met. In our consumerist society, advertisers seek to persuade you that your human needs cannot be met unless you buy their product. this enables the spiral of consumption to keep going and maintain the false goal of economic growth.

In the recent troubles, what satisfiers were the various looters and rioters getting? Obviously a flat screen TV is a 'satisfier' in that we're taught to want such things. Maybe setting fire to a building gives a sense of enjoyment.

We need, though, to satisfy human needs in a way that is socially constructive and sustainable. The theory says that satisfiers have to be chosen to really work, but this does not mean that society cannot inform the choices. Classically education and the family are expected to instil society's values, but it's pointless if children are taught to share and not fight, when at national level we see countries grabbing what they can for themselves, using military force if necessary, and in daily life we are indoctrinated that consumer products are satisfiers, to the exclusion of all else.

If society can be arranged so that human needs are satisfied sustainably, it is hard to see how people would want more. And if human needs are being satisfied, we would presumably not see civil unrest.

I see that my argument may be circular. If society is dysfunctional, then human needs are not being met by definition, as a functional society is a human need. Even so, I hold that directly (or as directly as possible) satisfying human needs sustainably should be society's goal, not money, not profit, not economic growth, not competition.

Fundamental human needs

This alternative list of FHNs appeared on Bandy Hume's RBE 101 video (part 3), though I have alphabetised it. Not sure what 'Earth' is getting at.

Air, Earth, Education, Family, Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Peace, Shelter, Water

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fundamental human needs

I have just followed up the mention of Manfred Max-Neef in the RBE 101 vvideo (see previous post). The term used in his thinking is Fundamental human needs. Hee has nine classes of needs, including subsistence, and he breaks these categories each down further into four existential categories: being, having, doing and interacting.

Astoundingly, against subsistence, under both having and doing, he includes "work". This makes no sense to me, for reasons explained, but it's still useful analysis.

Irreducible human need

It seem a no-brainer that society/the economy/the planet needs to be organised to fulfil human need, and it's easy to sustain an argument that human need isn't being fulfilled, and therefore it could logically follow that society is not structured to fulfil it. Some problems are identified when we look at what people say they need. In part 3 of Brandy Hume's excellent RBE 101 videos on the web, she includes some footage from a video about Amartya Sen's Capability Approach - something I want to look into in more depth at some point.

An example used in the video segment is people saying they need a car. The presenter goes on to show quite simply that this is not (to use my term) an irreducible need. When pressed on why they needed a car, common answers revealed more irreducible needs, such as freedom, special identity, and affection (in that the car enabled visits to frends and family). It can easily be seen that these needs could be fulfilled (in part if not in full) by other means than car ownership or even car use.

We can apply the same approach to jobs. Now a job may provide opportunies for autonomy, mastery and purpose (Daniel Pink's components of motivation), but these could conceivably be provided by hobbies and voluntary work, but the obvious "need" is for money, but this is not an irreducible need. A better candidate is nutrition (probably via food). [OK we could all scientific and reduce nutrition to a biochemical level, but I think nutrition is sufficiently irreducible to make the point].

Because money has stood as a proxy for all the goods and services provided by the planet, such as nutrition and labour, it is hard to get away from the idea of a "need for jobs". We historically had to work to produce the food we needed for nutrition, but as productivity rocketed, much less work was needed for the same production and we are increasingly faced with the fact that money is no longer a good proxy for necessary work, yet it is the key to acquiring the means to fulfilling many of our needs. Instead of facing up to this flaw, we try to generate work for its own sake, in direct opposition to the efficiency we know makes more sense.

Given that our social system is so obvioulsy failing alongside the monetary system that is suppose to underpin and facilitate it, don't we need to re-examine how we organise society to fulfil irreducible human need? A good starting point would be the basic one of nutrition, or we might say subsistence.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Motivation; abundance

So a critcism of TVP/RBE is that people won't work without the motivation of money. Well we know this is not true of everyone at all times -  we know that people do voluntary work, give to charity, and undertake all kinds of recreational activities in their own time and often at their own expense. But there remains a logical possibility that there will be those who if given their fair share of the plantet's resources for nothing, will input nothing from their own resources to the maintenance of an environmentally sustainable, socially just and peaceful planet for the benefit of humanity.

To overcome this problem, basically everyone has to work. Access to resoures is tied to money and money to work. Therefore, it is in the workers' interests that there is work for them to do. Police need crime, doctors and nurses need people to be ill, firefighters need fires, and so on ad infinitum.

This artificially created need to work is supposed to capture those people who would not contribute without being rewarded, but how many of those people are doing work that is actually productive for society and the planet now? Some, like many people, may be doing a job because they have to, and some may be doing jobs that involve clearing up the mess created by the system - to quote my favourite example, they may be employed mitigating or solving the effects of smoking to counterbalance the cigarette promotion industry in which people are paid more the more people smoke. Or they may be doing "jobs" that are unequivocally anti-social, even by current standards - acquistive crime, drug dealing, or whatever.

So, the naysayers' claim is that we can't risk a moneyless society just in case there are enough people who currently do something socially productive but will stop if no longer paid to mean that the required human work in an RBE - work that is increasingly encroached upon by automation -  won't get done.

Well look. If we in fact found it to be a problem that the human work  needed to have a successful RBE was not being done because people felt there was nothing in it for them and were not motivated (even though they would benefit from the successful RBE), we could re-introduce money. We would see it though for what it is -  a claim on the planet's resources over and above one's fair share.

If there truly is abundance, this wouldn't make sense. It would surely be a rare person who would seek to deprive someone else of something of which there is plenty for all, just because s/he could.

So these are the  issues: Will there be motivation to do the human work that needs doing, and will there be abundance so that people will not try to reserve resources for themselves to the exclusion of other? Maybe this is a risky experiment, but I don't think it is. We can easily switch back to our current system if the RBE doesn't work, but if anyone can stand up and say that the financial collapse, war, starvation and servitude that the planet currently faces is clearly better, then I would like to hear their arguments.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Pulling in manual labour

In an environmentally sustainable, just and peaceful world, the world system would only pull in the human work it needed to remain sustainable just and peaceful. If it could reduce human work through automation it would do it gladly. But for this to work the link from survival to work via money must be broken.

People are sceptical that people would work for no reward other than the satisfaction of it. I share the scepticism, but I'm prepared to give it a go. The world is so dysfunctional now, as we destroy each other and our environment, that I'm prepared to risk this motivational problem. And anyway, if we really needed money we coulkd re-introduce it easily in the twinkling of an eye. It's just numbers in computers.


The Daily Mail has reported that since 1977 the share of national income going to those on the bottom half of the earnings ladder [sic] has fallen by a quarter, while the slice going to the top 1% has increased by half.

In a resource based economy, with no money, there would be no possibility of the rich lending out their surplus money to the poor, with interest, so that those who have the most constantly get more.