I’m going to be doing a monthly series of “Musings” on a topic that feels fundamental to our current condition and transition. The first one is in a couple of weeks, on money, economics and work. Do join me if you can!
This Merry Musing dives into the core of our current societal system: money, economics and work. With Extinction Rebellion launching the Money Rebellion campaign, there is likely to be increased attention to the core questions of how we organise ourselves economically to ensure fulfilling work for all that contributes to a thriving planet for all life. As in his Why Work? book, Peter describes the psycho-spirituality of work and how our current economics impacts people and nature. He also lays out how each of us could co-create and contribute to parallel local economic systems that would withdraw our consent and resources from the old dysfunctional system and build a new one to make the old obsolete.
By the end of this session you should be able to:
- describe the core psycho-spiritual problem with the current economic system;
- lay out a simple design for a parallel local economy; and,
- motivate others to join you in co-creating a new economy.
One of the positive things to come out of the pandemic is some radical questioning of our current economic system. Fundamental flaws have been exposed in terms of what is valued and how money is used. In the Why Work book I identified three main pillars in terms of policy that would set us on a course for a more sustainable economics: Eco-tax reform, Basic Citizen’s Income and Redistribution of Work.
At present it is more economically efficient for a producer to intensify energy use and cut back on human labour, due to the relative expense of the two. The present taxation system encourages the use of scarce natural resources and discourages the use of abundant human labour. Eco-tax reform aims to reverse that situation. It involves:
- the phasing out of taxes on incomes, profits and value added;
- taxing unsustainable energy at source;
- taxing the unimproved site value of land;
- taxing the use of other common resources (e.g. oceans).
Basic Citizen’s Income
The Citizen’s Income (also known as a Basic Income) is, in its purist form, an income, sufficient to meet basic needs, paid unconditionally to all individuals, independent of all other income and without any requirement to work.
The ideal Citizen’s Income would be unconditional, permanent and cumulative. In more detail, it would be:
- tax-free income paid by the state to every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship;
- unaffected by other income, wealth, work, gender or marital status;
- age-related (higher for adults than children, and higher for the elderly than those of “working age”);
- a replacement for all existing benefits and pensions, but would include additional supplements for people with disabilities and for housing for low-income families.
Redistribution of Work
Bertrand Russell illustrated clearly the ridiculous logic of the present system:
Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins as before. But the world does not need twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacture of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. … Half the men are idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a source of universal happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?
Sharing out the paid work that is available more widely would appear to be the more logical solution. A number of different methods could be stimulated to achieve this. They include:
- shorter working week/year;
- overtime restrictions;
- longer holidays;
- more part-time work;
- V-time (trading time for income in employee/employer negotiation);
- flexitime (employee fixes start and finish times);
- mid-career training;
- opportunities for earlier retirement.
For more on each of these areas see the Why Work book.
See my other post of the creation of a parallel economy focusing on what we can all do at the community level (as opposed to policy proposals like the above).
I recently read a quote attributed to Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minster and head of the euro group, to the effect that “we know exactly what we should do; we just don’t know how to get re-elected if we do it” (quoted in Guardian Weekly 25.05.12). I then heard Yiannis Milios, top Economic Advisor of the Syriza Party, currently polling highest in the run up to new elections, on BBC World Service’s Hardtalk.
Think for a moment about what Juncker is saying – according to our economic policy framework and paradigm, we know what we should do, but we also know that it would be immensely unpopular with people. What does that tell us? One of two things: either the people are ignorant and don’t know what is good for them and their countries, or the socio-economic paradigm from which our politicians are trying to manage the crisis is fundamentally flawed. I tend to go with the latter. They are trying to impose more of the old when the old itself is the problem – because they don’t know any better.
Listening to the Hardtalk interview, I was struck by how, for the first time in a long time, views that fairly fundamentally challenge the current economic paradigm and assumptions were given a serious airing. Something is shifting. And Greece is leading the way.
This is not to say that I agree with everything Syriza stands for nor the energy with which they are going about it. But that is not the point. The point is that life is giving form to a new way of thinking about our societies, and Greece and Syriza happen to be the channels for the new birth. Passion, positioning and polarisation is part of the process. This may sound romantic but is actually a blessing very much in disguise. Greece is the innovator here, and for an innovator to carve out a new paradigm at this level is going to be extremely tough.
The transition will be painful, as people struggle to make ends meet playing by the rules of a game that is dying. It will take time for the new ways to emerge and crystallise in such a manner that they really serve the needs people are feeling and can be widely adopted (see this emergence of local solutions as an example of innovation due to need). There will be recriminations towards the old order, babies will be thrown out with bathwater, sides will be taken, society will be polarised. But eventually the new order will settle down, people will have space in their hearts to forgive, they will remember the good elements of the old and will re-integrate what has been rejected too hastily, and Greece will once more have been the cradle of a new civilisation.
Thank you Greece for being so bold. Thank you for cracking the old mold. And thank you for the suffering you undergo for us all. We hold you in our hearts.
In my role as Director of Wisdom University in Europe, I will be hosting a showing of the movie Thrive and a conversation afterwards on Saturday 12.11.11 at the Hub in Amsterdam (Westerstraat 187), starting 18.30. It launches on 11.11.11 and promises to challenge many assumptions. RSVP email@example.com. Film showing is free with donations to cover room hire.
Even insiders who have seen it talked about it for days afterwards. My business partner and friend Tatiana Glad, also co-founder of the Hub in Amsterdam, will join me in hosting the conversation afterwards. Thrive recommends that people go to Wisdom University to get academic credits for studying related issues. See also the Thrive website.
I have now updated and reworked the original Why Work? paper and published it as a book. Check out the book website here.
Peter Merry’s book addresses a central question faced by every human: Why should we work? His overview is lively, direct, readable, and very timely. With technological advances threatening to continue to eat away at employable jobs, new solutions are ever-more urgently required for human daily survival. Peter’s work looks at this issue head-on, with both analyses and possible solutions. Well done!”
Ken Wilber—Philosopher and author of over 20 books, including The Integral Vision. Originator of Integral Theory.
Prof Wayne Visser
Why Work? is a brave treatise that refuses to shy away from Western capitalism’s most vexing dilemmas, such as how to create meaningful work and halt the social cancer of growing inequality. Merry effortlessly weaves together philosophical, economic, political and even spiritual perspectives into a highly readable book that is as grounded in pragmatic solutions as it is uplifted by inspiring aspirations. Many of the policy ideas are rooted in the decades old “new economics” and “green politics” movements, which are only recently being taken up and stress tested by various governments around the world, especially in Europe. This makes the book highly contemporary and recommended reading for changemakers in government, business, civil society and academia. A fertile and far-reaching book of possible futures.
Prof Wayne Visser, director of Kaleidoscope Futures, author of Sustainable Frontiers and Senior Associate at Cambridge University
Dr. Barrett Brown
“Once again, Peter Merry is years ahead with his thinking about global flourishing and what it takes for us to bring about a future that works for all. In this work he deftly weaves a tapestry of hope for our future from the threads of ecological economics, consciousness development, and social change theory. This mash-up of paradigms and trans-disciplinary thinking, combined with examples of practical, liberating structures for the individual and collective, is precisely the grounded wisdom that will stimulate real change. With this text, he will continue to positively influence those with authority, power and influence for many years to come.”
Barrett C. Brown, PhD, organizational consultant and author of The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism
Dr. Bernard Lietaer
“Radical, Necessary, Different, and most importantly Timely!!”
Bernard Lietaer PhD, author or co-author of 17 books and numerous articles written in five languages and co-designer and implementer of the European Currency Union.
Dr. Jim Garrison
This is a brilliant exploration on the deep significance of work in the life of the individual and community. Work is what most of us spend most of our waking time engaged in and thus the challenge of how to make work meaningful and ecologically sustainable is perhaps the single most important priority for society, especially at a time such as ours in which alienation, exploitation, and social unrest are endemic worldwide. If we could crack the code for work that empowers individuals and communities, we could create a paradise on earth. Peter’s book points the way.
Jim Garrison PhD was educated at Cambridge and Harvard universities, is the founder and president of Ubiquity University and has served as President of the Gorbachev Foundation and State of the World Forum.
When Peter wrote this he was ahead of his time, as ever. This book is not only still relevant but very current.
Herman Wijffels is the “best Prime Minster the Netherlands never had” – former CEO of the Rabobank, head of the Dutch Social Economic Council and Dutch representative at the World Bank.
Drilling down to essential truths, Peter calls for us to look again at the role of work in these times – and to question how work serves the betterment of both the human condition and wider societal health. Drawing on thought-leaders from over the years and offering grounded applications of ‘new economics’ for contemporary society, this book offers an erudite summary for practitioners, policy-makers and entrepreneurs seeking socio-economic system change. Essential reading for a future that works!
Tatiana Glad, M.Sc. is founder and director of Impact Hub Amsterdam, and co-founder of Waterlution. She sits on the global Impact Hub Association Board, International Supervisory Group of AIESEC International and Boards of Elos Institute and MovingWorlds.
John Maynard Keynes:
“I sympathise … with those who would minimise, rather than those who would maximise, economic entanglement between nations. Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel – these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible; and, above all, let finance be primarily national.”