Resource-based economy and “pay-it-forward”

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The resource-based economy (RBE)

Whilst the term resource-based economy could just as easily apply to the localised gift economy I advocate, it’s now more commonly understood to be a high-technology, globalised version of a non-monetary economy. Proponents of such an economy include Peter Joseph of the phenomenally popular The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM)(38) and Jacques Fresco of The Venus Project (TVP),(39) two projects which up until 2011 had been strongly associated with each other.

Their central premise is that in order to enjoy what these members perceive to be a high standard of living, people don’t need money, but instead resources such as food, water, minerals and other materials. In fact, they claim that monetary economics actually prevents the fair distribution of such necessities of life. Advocates of such a system argue that the world is abundant, and that all of its resources could be utilised much more wisely and shared equally amongst all of humanity, not just those with financial prowess. Fresco advocates using the high levels of technology that humans are capable of creating, but within a resource-focused, economic model in which built-in obsolescence(40) makes zero sense. It is an economic model in which machines do any job that can be automated, and are used not to replace human labour in a way that leads to unemployment and all the social implications of that, but instead to shorten the working day for all, meaning much more leisure time and complete and free access to all the resources of the Earth and the technologies that are produced. It is a design where human ingenuity is tapped to collectively create the most efficient and sustainable technologies based on best practice and highest quality, and not reduced by the pressures of the competitive market where duplication and waste are inherent and rife. The monetary economy, they argue, and again I agree, is based on scarcity, whereas a resource-based economy is based on collective abundance.

Much of this I find admirable, especially the intentions behind it. Peter Joseph,(41) in particular, is a fascinating man whose analysis of many of the major problems we face today is insightful and his courage and dedication in raising awareness of the destructive consequences of monetary economics is exemplary. Yet I feel that by aiming for a high technology, highly complex version of a non-monetary economy, both TZM and TVP are making their vision almost impossible to realise.

Why? Aside from the fact that high technology has proven to be entirely counter-productive to our sense of happiness and connection to local place and community, a point I’ll explain a little further on, for it to happen would require the entire world’s nations to get on board before we could even begin to think about achieving such a grand plan, as many of the minerals and materials that would be used (to make all the high technology products that RBE proponents want) come from all over the planet – oil from the Middle East, copper from China, minerals from Africa, rubber from South America. Unless all of these diverse countries and regions signed up to such an economic model and philosophical perspective, it would be unworkable. Considering the complexities of the world and its nations, politics, cultures, laws and religions that I outlined earlier, this is highly unrealistic.

With a localised economy, anyone can start living in the non-monetary economy fairly immediately without having to wait for the political and corporate leaders of the US, Iran, Namibia and Mexico to relinquish their control and unite with their entire populations under a new moneyless world order. Not that I am suggesting that TZM or TVP are advocating that we ask permission from our governments to start enacting elements of their vision – they certainly aren’t, and again on that I agree.

Even if a unification of world ideologies was possible, within this version of a resource-based economy there seems to lie the assumption that ‘advanced’ technologies make us happy. If this were true, why is it that in easily the most technologically advanced period of human history, humankind has never been more depressed? I’ve no doubt proponents of a globalised non-monetary economy would point out that the reasons for our current unhappiness are much more complex than that, and they’d be right, they are. At the same time, it is widely documented that those who live in low technology societies, past and present, express stronger feelings of happiness, contentment and connection to community and place than those of us in the global West, who survive on a collective diet of quick-fix antidepressants, escapism and self-help gurus.

Research such as The Happy Planet Index(42) by the New Economics Foundation (NEF)(43) backs up much anecdotal evidence to that effect. I and many people I know have travelled the length and breadth of ‘undeveloped’ countries (the only thing developing about them is their debts to the International Monetary Fund and their cronies) and have encountered people in every village and town much happier, and more generous with their time, food and material possessions, than the vast majority of people I encounter in the ‘advanced’ country I live in. A twenty year study by Helena Norberg-Hodge(44) of the modernisation of the Ladakhi people, as documented by her film Ancient Futures – Learning from Ladakh,(45) powerfully demonstrates the effect of technology and its potent ability to destroy the very fabric of our communities. In their experience, after modernisation they had many more time-saving gadgets, yet somehow much less time. The story has been the same everywhere, and we all have experienced this to some extent.

Having lived both a high and low technology life myself, I can unequivocally state that my physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health increased as the role of high technology in my life decreased and the degree to which my life was localised increased. I don’t want my table to be made by a machine, I want to make it with my own hands, or at least by the hands of my friend. Using our hands is crucial to our well-being, our sense of creativity, our relationship with the land. The only argument for a high technology non-monetary economy would be if it enabled us, and the rest of life on Earth, to live happier, more meaningful and freer lives. I have yet to see any evidence of that being the case, whilst our history is littered with examples of the opposite.

I would also argue that the separation from the rest of Nature that such high technology would inevitably cause would further diminish the lack of understanding of ecology and natural cycles, while simultaneously heightening the trauma that we endure from having no interaction with Nature in its wildest states. This disconnection would lead to the very same problems we have today and the deluded sense of self that gives rise to them. If humanity has no daily relationship and intimate connection with the Earth, how can it develop any sense of interdependence with it, or care or respect for it?

That said, there is still much we could learn from both the philosophy and practical solutions proposed by RBE advocates, and it all adds into the mixing pot of new ways of viewing economics and how we meet our needs in a more caring, sustainable and life-affirming manner. It is certainly not my intention to be unjustly critical of high technology RBEs (as I have nothing but the utmost respect for many of its intentions and efforts), but instead to help refine our collective thinking and unite us to some cause that we can actually achieve to some meaningful extent in our lifetimes.

Pay-it-forward

Pay-it-forward is a beautiful idea, popularised by a Hollywood film of the same title. It is a perspective that when you do something for somebody, and they ask you what they can do to help you in return, you tell them not to ‘pay you back’, but instead to look out for an opportunity to ‘pay the favour forward’ by doing something useful for someone else, possibly someone they’ve never even met before. Whilst there is still the tiniest element of conditionality about it (i.e. a request has still been made), it’s the most generous, loving form of conditionality I know of.

Regardless of whether you want to start applying some of these ideas, to various degrees, in the inner city or the woods, there will be both internal and external challenges to overcome, and I’ll examine these, along with proposing transition strategies to navigate them successfully, in chapter four. These challenges will take time to overcome however, even if you do want to fully live beyond the need for money. To help you make the transition, or to simply incorporate degrees of moneylessness into your life, I’ve co-created a tool to help you: the Progression of Principles (POP) model.