by Acarya Gunamuktananda Avadhuta
It is a well recognised fact these days that self and society are interconnected. The health of oneself is dependent on the health of the society one lives in. Collective good lies in individual good and vice versa. Personal transformation and social justice are inextricably linked.
There are currently two glaring indicators of social injustice in our present-day society:
1. The living standard of the poorest people is unacceptable by the standards of any civilised society. The health of society is measured by the living standard of the poorest people, not that of the richest.
2. The wealth gap is absurdly high. It is currently in the order of millions, whereas a healthy wealth gap would conceivably be around ten-fold.
So we have an incredible degree of social injustice in our capitalist society, and the primary mechanism for that is our system of so-called democracy.
Current political democracy is a two-party system. Corporations hedge their bets by funding both parties in the electoral race (media resources win elections), and the one that wins is obliged to the interests of its funders. The country is not run by government but by big business, where the guiding philosophy is profit.
Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University, has written, “The American political system is a corrupt system. If politicians are raising billions of dollars of private money to run political campaigns, you know that this cannot work, that this isn’t really representing the attitudes and opinions of the people. The power of the interest groups is so enormous — their hold on politics — that whatever happens is utterly transactional.”
That’s why we have entrenched institutions that — due to the vested interests of their corporate bodies, suppliers and investors — prevent fair government, health care (as opposed to disease care), meaningful education, wholesome food, environmental sustainability and renewable energy.
So we don’t just need a change of government. We need a change of system. Because it’s the system of corporate capitalism which is the vehicle of corporate hegemony. It’s the system which allows corporations to buy, control and own government. It’s the system which has allowed the corporatisation of our democracy.
A common question of journalists interviewing anti-capitalist protestors in recent years has been, “We know what you’re against, but what are you for?” That’s a good question, and one which I believe is answered to some extent by the preamble to the Earth Charter:
“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognise that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”
In other words, we need to share the love and spread the wealth. Now, I don’t know exactly how we’re going to get there, although in many respects we are in the process of that transition right now. The shift is happening as we speak. But here are some key aspects of what I believe a just and equitable socio-economic system will look like in the near future:
1. Economic democracy
We all know by now that political democracy is a sham. And globalisation is just a feel-good catchphrase for global exploitation. True globalisation not only means bringing people of all cultures together in a global society, but also respecting each local culture and empowering local people. It is summed up by the phrase, “globalise humanity, localise the economy,” or “think globally, act locally.” So we need to go from political to economic democracy.
Economic democracy means the freedom of local people to make all their own economic decisions, giving them a sense of empowerment and self-determination. In economic democracy local people are shareholders and stakeholders in economic enterprises, they are employed in local enterprises, there is local control and administration of all resources and industry, and locally produced commodities are given priority in the marketplace.
2. Decentralised economy
Economic centralisation causes economic and social disparity, both in the cities and the countryside. A decentralised economy is healthiest for people, animals, plants and the planet. So we need to go from a centralised to a decentralised economy, where planners understand the problems of the local area, leaders are local people with local sentiments, and implementation is practical, effective and quick.
3. Cooperative industry
Researchers have found that the human immune system is physically compromised by selfish actions and strengthened by cooperative actions. A healthy human society, just like a healthy human body, must also be cooperative rather than competitive. Cooperation must supercede competition for sustainability. So we need to shift the emphasis from corporation to cooperation; from corporate to cooperative industry; from Wall St to Main St.
Some of the important aspects of cooperatives is that collective ownership gives the feeling of ownership and oneness with the job, co-ops combine the wealth and resources of many individuals in a united way, there is optimal production and distribution of goods and services, and cooperative management is necessary for the most efficient utilisation of land and other resources.
4. Regional self-reliance
Rather than relying on goods, services, labour and resources from far-off points of supply and distribution, imagine the world full of vibrant, thriving, largely self-contained, cooperative communities spread throughout the countryside. There would be minimum importation of raw materials and maximum processing of products for export, thus keeping as much wealth and resources as possible in each local area. The application would be regional while the spirit would be universal. This is in marked contrast to the current setup of “free trade” agreements or trade “partnerships”, which in reality represent the imposition of tariffs for the exploitation of poor trading partners by the richer ones.
5. Moral leadership
Political leadership must be moral (self-less) leadership, as opposed to the immoral (selfish) leadership we are all too well familiar with. Otherwise the degradation and corruption of constitutions and government institutions is inevitable.
People act selfishly because they don’t feel the connection between themselves and others. They don’t understand how their actions ultimately affect themselves as an integral part of society. It’s only those people who feel that connection; who’s hearts feel the hearts of all; who consider the welfare and happiness of each and every one as at least as important as their own, who can really act for the good of everyone.
How to get ethical leaders in positions of power still remains to be seen. What is certain, though, is that ethical leadership cannot be achieved through political democracy. Rather, universal suffrage is the very mechanism by which people continue to be exploited by immoral leaders and their backers. For example, a driving test is not only based on age but also knowledge and ability. Why should it be any different for determining the right to vote? Instead, people of voting age are easily duped into voting for the candidate or party with the most media influence through the most financial backing.
6. Proper utilisation of resources
Again, as in a healthy human body, all resources must be properly utilised and equitably distributed. Economic deprivation is not so much due to a lack of supply as due to a misutilisation of natural resources and misdistribution of finished products. There are enough resources on our planet for more than our current population if production is sustainable, renewable resources are maximised, and production is primarily according to need rather than profit.
7. Rational distribution of wealth and resources
This does not mean equal distribution, but rather an equitable distribution of wealth depending on the needs of people and communities.
The wealth gap is currently in the order of millions, whereas a healthy wealth gap would be somewhere in the order of ten-fold. A wealth ceiling would result in decreased socio-economic disparity, ensuring the equitable distribution of wealth to individuals according to need, and to the collective in the form of public services and amenities, thus increasing individual and collective wealth for the vast majority of people.
This would provide a decent standard of living (through adequate purchasing capacity) for all people. The minimum requirements would be provided to all through full and meaningful employment for every able person (or socio-economic security for those unable to work), and incentives would reward special merit and skills on the basis of the social value of those skills.
The use of appropriate technology in an economy where production is for necessity, not profit, would ensure decreased work hours, increased quality and quantity of production, increased wages for time worked, and the freeing up of time and energy for leisure activities.
8. Social progress in all spheres of life
Just as a tree has the freedom to grow but the responsibility to give fruit or shade (for every privilege there is an obligation), there should be a balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility, and between economic growth, social development, environmental sustainability, and individual and collective interests.
We can achieve this if we can extend the spirit of love and welfare for our own families to all people, animals, plants and the world as part of our greater universal family.
These are just some of the key aspects of a new socio-economic paradigm introduced by mystic, philosopher and social reformer Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, which he called the Progressive Utilisation Theory, or Prout.
Prout embodies a progressive socialism for a truly progressive human society; a socio-economics for the welfare and happiness of all.