Steps towards an Economy for All
Fair Distribution of Wealth
Each of us is unique in many ways, with different abilities, inclinations, and goals. Although everyone may not be able to accumulate the same amount of wealth, we all deserve to have enough to survive and thrive. A fair distribution of wealth can be achieved through the following four steps:
Cap on wealth accumulation: Extreme wealth accumulation results in reduced income and opportunities for large numbers of people and inefficient use of collective resources. The situation today is clear – globally, the top 1% of the wealthy own 44% of all wealth while the bottom 55% own less than 2%. To finally put an end to this over-accumulation and misutilization, a cap on wealth needs to be put into place. Each society would determine a maximum amount that people may accumulate before it begins to hinder the collective development of everyone else.
Guaranteed Basic Necessities: By guaranteeing everyone their basic necessities, society establishes a foundation upon which to build a fair economy. On the supply side, there must be sufficient production of and access to these minimum requirements (food, clothing, medical care, housing, and education). To ensure adequate demand, the economy must create sufficient well-paying jobs so that working people can purchase these goods and services. For those unable to work or with special needs, the economy must provide the necessary care and support.
Incentive System: Incentives provide motivation for people to become more productive and find greater meaning in their work. Instead of using profits to enrich a few individuals, enterprises should use their surplus gains to encourage employees to improve their output. The best incentive system should give people greater scope to develop their potential and to help raise people’s standard of living.
Increasing Standard of Living: The true measure of a successful economy is whether it can consistently raise the standard of living for everyone in society. To accomplish this, there should be improvements in the level of basic necessities as well as increases in the availability of incentives. However, a fair distribution of wealth demands a continual effort to minimize the difference between the two. In this way, everyone’s standard of living will go on improving with higher wages, better goods and services, and increased access to incentives.
There is a growing consciousness around the globe that local production and buying local boosts the local economy, saves fuel, and creates more local jobs. If communities are also involved in their own local economic planning, there will be better utilization of local resources, community empowerment, and more sustainable business practices. However, as long as powerful, trans-local corporations heavily influence how capital and resources flow in the economy, these benefits remain unreliable.
True economic decentralization must entail a deep restructuring of our economic system. Prout recommends the creation of socio-economic units based on common economic problems and potentials, ethnic and cultural similarities, and common geographical features. Such units or regions could mobilize their communities and resources to achieve greater self-sufficiency. Their goal would be to uplift economically every area within their jurisdiction.
The key idea behind this decentralization plan is to democratize the economy, that is, empower communities to control their economic destinies. Therefore, efforts to decentralize must continue down to the lowest feasible planning level. Even small rural communities and neighborhoods or areas of larger cities could engage in their own economic planning. With the goal of self-sufficiency and collective prosperity, local planners could favor local businesses and workers over outside economic players and even reduce or eliminate imports of goods and services into their areas. Such local strategies would build a truly bottom-up economy based on economic democracy.
New Ownership Structure
Private ownership is the foundation of the capitalist system and corporations continue to expand their ownership privileges into all aspects of human and natural life. This allows them to profit from areas of our existence that we once considered beyond the realm of economic transactions, such as genetic material. The idea of private ownership has caused innumerable wars, economic deprivation, and social injustices.
To build an economy for all, the value of private property needs to be replaced with the idea of universal ownership, or as Prout calls it, cosmic inheritance. This worldview basically states that the universe is collectively “owned” by all living beings who should utilize its resources for the welfare of all. From this perspective, all beings are part of a universal family and it is our collective responsibility to help each one of us progress. Cosmic inheritance does not preclude legal ownership by individuals, but the underlying sentiment is that we must utilize our possessions in a just and fair way for both our individual and collective welfare.
Adopting a cosmic inheritance perspective is the first step in restructuring ownership in the economy. In order to create a more cooperative economy, a three-tiered economic structure is proposed. In this system, smaller enterprises, especially those with complex transactions, would be operated privately by individuals or partners. These businesses provide opportunities for individual entrepreneurship and serve as centers for innovation and creativity. The second tier consists mainly of producer, distributor, consumer, and financial cooperatives. Most medium and large scale enterprises would operate with a cooperative structure where all workers have equal votes and decision-making powers. This arrangement would effectively eliminate corporations and replace them with businesses run by local residents. Finally, major utilities and other large-scale key industries should be operated by immediate governmental authorities (state, provincial, or regional level) on a no-profit-no-loss basis in order to facilitate the development and expansion of local business. This 3-tiered system, based mainly on cooperatives, would significantly help to decentralize the economy and result in a fairer distribution of wealth.