Building a Creative Economy - Transition to a Sustainable Economy

Adapted from a presentation delivered at the Building a Creative Economy conference in Sydney on 29th October 2011.

I remember when I was little I asked my mum what her religion was. She told me that she didn’t have any religion per se, but that she felt connected to a particular philosophy – that of the native American Indians. She explained that she did not worship any god, but worshiped the earth in the sense that she felt compelled to nurture that which sustains life. Her way involved connecting with our resources in a symbiotic way, with an understanding that if we do not sustain that which sustains us, for whatever reason, we will not survive as a species to tell the tale and say I told you so.

It was growing up with this influence that started me on my journey toward a destination thus far untried amongst most of the white, western invaders of previously sustainable functioning democracies.

The Zeitgeist Movement tells of the need for a third way – beyond left and right; a new direction in which we need to move in order to ensure the sustainability of our earth. It has been shown that various political and economic paradigms attempted thus far have failed to address society’s needs in a way that ensures equality and sustainability. It is all too clear that we are damaging the very thing that is most necessary to our survival – our earth – all in the name of profit and unequal distribution of resources that leaves wealth and power in the hands of only a few who perpetuate the cycle of destruction and the upward flow of the monetary system.

It is for this reason that a different economic paradigm is needed. Various economic models must be examined and compared in terms of their respective merit, and weighed up against the sustainable economic system of a resource-based economy, as advocated by the Zeitgeist Movement. It is important, when examining a new model, that we explore ways in which such a system could be implemented and maintained, and acknowledge that the first steps have already been taken.

A brief sketch of economic models

Beginning with a brief sketch of economic models enables us to critically examine those models that have thus far been proposed in modern civilization, and to weigh up their respective merits and issues.

Growth economics, the current economic zeitgeist, is the inherently flawed concept of an ever-growing monetary economy in which we attempt to continue to produce and consume at ever-increasing rates while neglecting the all-too apparent fact that the carrying capacity of our landbase cannot be exceeded by either population growth or consumption of resources without disaster. It is precisely this delusion of infinite growth that we need to move away from.

Steady-state economics is a system proposed by some in which there is no growth, but a static economic state. This, however, does not take into account the inequalities present in the current system that are not addressed by a lack of growth – especially with regard to developing and third world nations. It also does not factor in the fact that many of our current practices are already destructive to the extent that even a static economy is unsustainable because we have already gone too far.

True-cost economics is an interesting concept in which the full cost of resource usage, production and consumption are factored into the cost of purchasing. This means that all costs are factored in to pricing of products and services, including the full cost of labour at a livable wage, repairs to environmental damage incurred by resource extraction, and the cost of disposal or recycling of the materials used in production, to name but a few of the factors involved. Of course in theory this sounds wonderful, but in practice items would be prohibitively expensive if the methods of production and the rate of consumption stay as they are in our current zeitgeist. It is unlikely that we will ever see such an economic paradigm as prohibitive pricing would make the cycle of consumption unviable, thus rendering the system immobile. In order for such a system to be viable it would be necessary to produce as cheaply, and therefore, as sustainably, as possible – meaning that the cyclical consumption and planned obsolescence that characterize the current market system would be negative for the market. With these being the very factors that drive the market in a monetary system, the concept of true-cost economics shoots itself in the foot.

Participatory economics is an economic model whereby those who are affected by economic decisions play a meaningful role in their process. This means that the general public would actually have a say in what goes on in the world of resource management and distribution, in the field of production and consumption, and the arena of trade. This may sound almost utopian. It is highly unlikely that such a paradigm would ever be allowed to manifest by those who currently seek to hold sway over the majority of the world’s wealth and power. While a competition-driven monetary system is in place there is always the likelihood of abuse and corruption, rendering true participatory economics more of a pipedream than something we can hope to manifest in reality.

A resource-based economy

If we are to think outside the box in which we have all been brought up and indoctrinated we may allow ourselves to consider the possibility of an economic paradigm in which sustainability is not just taken into consideration, but is, in fact, the goal. A resource-based economy is one such system in which the true meaning of economy – the sustainable management of our resources – is integral. It is also a system in which true participation, and not mere political representation is possible.

A resource-based economy, as advocated by the Zeitgeist Movement involves a more objective system of resource-management unhindered by the power-play of the current political system or the corruption of the monetary system. A resource-based economy is one in which the processes of science are implemented in order to ensure the sustainable use and replenishment of the earth’s resources, and their equal distribution. In this way decisions are not made according to the pressures of vested interests and corporate agendas, but are arrived at by experts using an objective scientific approach.

For a resource-based economy to function it is necessary that management be objective and scientific, and that the carrying capacity of our land be assessed so that access to resource usage can be distributed equally among people only at a rate at which they can be renewed. Under the current zeitgeist of monetary economics it is near impossible to get a true picture of the carrying capacity of our landbase and the true resource base that it holds due to the inherent corruption of the system that seeks to make profit for the few at the expense of the many.

If a paradigm could be established in which the monetary system could be dispensed with, this would really open Pandora’s box as regards to how the move toward a new zeitgeist could look. Without the corrupting and limiting presence of money or reciprocal trade or barter we are in a position that facilitates equal distribution of resources. One then becomes aware that money only facilitates access to resources for those who have a lot of it, while for others it is an absurd and artificial barrier to the means of survival. This barrier need not exist, and it is unacceptable that it does, as it is known all too well that the reasons for hunger, disease and war are usually related to restricted access to resources caused by shortage of money – which is simply an arbitrary measuring stick with which we assess someone’s ability to access resources.

When this arbitrary measuring stick is done away with we are in a position whereby one no longer needs to work or compete for the means of survival. Imagine not having to slave all day to be able to afford your housing, your healthy food, and your healthcare; imagine instead a world in which we had the free time to really support one another and be creative with our time. How many times have you heard loved ones utter the words “if only I had the time to work on my music/art/writing/(insert favoured creative pastime)”? Imagine being able to live our lives to the fullest capacity – imagine facilitating that possibility for those who are currently marginalized and disadvantaged within our present system.
Imagine not having to worry about environmental destruction or scarcity of resources due to fear, competition and greed. Imagine everyone in the
world being able to go beyond rung 1 on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs!

Is this just a utopian ideal, or is it actually possible? The answer really is within us. It’s possible if we make it possible. None of us can discount the need to understand human behavior and what causes us to act in the way we do. When faced with scarcity and artificial barriers to survival one is forced to compete, and our current sociopathic society based on social Darwinism is a reflection of this. If we are to facilitate a world in which collaboration leads to the development of our humanity and the sustainability of that which sustains us then we will need to face the responsibility for our own actions and behavior, and face the ever-encroaching fact that our current zeitgeist is unsustainable. A non-monetary resource-based economy is one in which the likelihood of equality, peace and sustainability is far higher, and so, in turn, is our survival as a species.

How a resource-based economy can be implemented and sustained

The good news is all around us. Many people may already be moving toward a resource-based economy without ever having thought of it in those terms. It’s a work in progress and something to transition toward together, and we are doing it.

LETS, a community currency system of trading without money, is a system whereby people pay favours forward with no expectation of return. In this way necessary production or other actions are carried out in a money-free manner that facilitates access to resources and services for those who would otherwise be impeded by money.

There is also an ever-increasing trend toward freesharing – a system whereby communities share their resources – be they tools, materials, books, computer equipment, carpooling etc; or space – the space in which people may couchsurf while visiting another town or country, or a space in which to hold a meeting; or time – people willingly giving up their time to help out a neighbor with their gardening or shopping for example; and skillshare – where people empower one another and their communities with the sharing and teaching of their skills. With the rise of freesharing websites at local, national and international level community networking opportunities are increasing while the need for money is decreasing.

The permaculture movement and transition towns are also working toward increased sustainability. The introduction of community gardens and food co-ops and seed-exchanges are reducing the need for money, even eliminating it in some areas, while empowering communities in skills and knowledge previously neglected when everything revolved around monetary transactions.

It is becoming possible for people to devote less time to paid labour and spend more time with their loved ones and on creative pursuits - leading to increased feelings of health and wellbeing and reduced social pathologies as well as empowerment and increased sustainability.

With the recent rise of the Occupy Movement around the world that sprung up from Occupy Wall Street in September it is clear that people are ready for change, and many are not simply demanding that our resources be managed in a more objective and sustainable manner, but are collectively organizing at grass-roots level in order to ensure their collaborative and meaningful participation in a new economic paradigm.

A resource-based economy is being built around us, and it is up to each and every one of us to recognize our own role in facilitating and maintaining its development into a new zeitgeist – one of true equality, peace and sustainability.

In closing it is important that we remind ourselves that we, the Zeitgeist Movement, the advocates of a sustainable resource-based economy, are not the first to suggest or implement this. It has been done for millennia by the indigenous carers of landbases all around the world. It may well be time to learn the lessons of our forebears and return to an era of sustainability with a modern flavor – by combining the wisdom of times past with the accumulated scientific and technological knowledge of the present, and with the compassion that will set us all free.