Re-Thinking Property for a Well-Being Society

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* Conference: RE-THINKING PROPERTY: pathway to a Well-Being Society scenario. INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE PLATFORM. Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 25-27 August 2011

The objective of the Exchange Platform in August 2011 is to engage in multi-stakeholder and interdisciplinary dialogue around re-thinking property as a core challenge in various domains, in order to explore these alternatives; as well as to empower transformation movements towards genuine realization.

Post-conference review by Hans van Willenswaard: Rethinking Property Exchange Platform Conference Overview

The Organizers

Organized by the School for Wellbeing Studies and Research

  • Address: 77, 79 Fuang Nakorn Rd., Wat Rajabopit, Pra Nakorn, Bangkok, 10200 Thailand
  • Tel: (662) 622-0955, 622-0966, 622-2495-6 Fax: (662) 622-3228

Leading sponsor: The Japan Foundation


  • Thailand Research Fund
  • Chulalongkorn University; Chula Global Network
  • Heinrich Boell Foundation
  • Right Livelihood College, Penang, Malaysia
  • Sciences Po, Paris
  • Universitee Catholique de Louvain, Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics, Belgium
  • CCFD – Terre Solidaire, France

The event will take place:

25-27 August 2011, 9th Floor, Auditorium 901, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Building; Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok


E-mail: [email protected] ; [email protected]

Details and Subpages

  • The draft introduction to the conference is available here
  • The draft schedule is available here

Important subpages:

  1. Individuals Participating in the Re-Thinking Property Platform
  2. Organizations Participating in the Re-Thinking Property Platform
  3. Papers Presented at the Re-Thinking Property Platform

Documents available from the Organizers

Please request from: [email protected]

Introduction to the Themes of the Conferences

The following is a version without notes and references:

(* a full version of the draft introduction with notes and references is available here)

* Welfare State or Well-Being Society?

If doubts prevail whether ‘the welfare state’ is a feasible option for Asian societies, and ‘populism’ – driven by the market-economy and intending to satisfy the needs of citizens at an artificial level only – is increasingly rejected as an un-sustainable solution1, other alternatives will have to be explored.

Alternative approaches to our governance and economic systems need un-biased evaluation and passionate exploration of prevailing and new development paradigms.

Does economic growth result in wellbeing? Are the legal foundations of mainstream property-regimes still valid in a context of continuous environmental degradation, land grabbing and the accumulation of private wealth fed by unspecified economic growth? Can altruism become central in economics? Who Owns the Earth?

Re-thinking the fundamentals of ‘property’ may lead the way to unlock new development paradigms.

In the second decade of the 21st century our world moves towards a ‘Great Turning’. Alternative ideas that initially emerged in the 1970’s are gaining critical mass today. The Club of Rome: Limits to Growth; E.F. Schumacher: ‘Buddhist Economics’; the start of IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements in France in 1972; the 4th King of Bhutan who pronounced in 1974: ‘Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product’.

An enormous diversity of new movements of living alternatives7 has come up since the 1970’s. To mention only a few: the World Social Forum, ‘Cultural Creatives’, the Eco-villages and Transition-towns movement, social entrepreneurship, the Commons Movement.

In Thailand Sulak Sivaraksa established the Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation in 1968. ‘Ajarn Sulak’ personifies a movement of cultural integrity and engaged spirituality confronting soul-less modernization. He consistently supports the Assembly of the Poor8. Around him a cluster of independent NGO’s9 and social enterprises10 are blossoming. Sulak Sivaraksa received the Right Livelihood Award11 in 1985 and the Niwano Peace Prize in 2011. He is a Member of the World Future Council; and Advisor of the School for Wellbeing Studies and Research.

At the dawn of UNCED 201212, twenty years after the groundbreaking conference in Rio de Janeiro, the School for Wellbeing proposes to create a modest but effective momentum – 25-27 August 2011 – to take stock of what is happening in the world of alternative development, in Asia, Southeast Asia and the Mekong region, in order to contribute to empowering and re-positioning Thai and Asian change agents in the global transformation movement.

... Emerging economies have achieved impressive material ‘growth’, but social progress often manifests in not much more than overwhelming consumerism at the cost of little improvement of the quality of life, in particular for the people surviving at the lower strata of society. ‘Cheap labour’ is (still) the motor of this economic growth.

Is the socialist ‘welfare state’ a feasible option for Asian societies? Market economy-driven ‘populism’ is increasingly recognized as an un-sustainable solution. ‘State capitalism’ is the kind of compromise/merger between socialism and neo-liberal ideology that can only thrive under authoritarian governance. ‘Alternative development’-movements should be further recognized and supported."


Action-research undertaken by the School for Wellbeing Studies and Research: Summary

"Is ‘the welfare state’ a feasible option for Asian societies? Neo-liberal market-driven ‘populism’ is more-and-more recognized as an un-sustainable solution. ‘State capitalism’ can only thrive under authoritarian governance. Alternatives should be supported.

The Well-Being Society scenario project produces research in this direction: can we co-create a new Third Way, a contemporary Middle Path?

The research-project, within its limitations, focuses on a strategically selected number of areas:

1. Re-thinking property

2. Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide with studies on a- farmers as social entrepreneurs (rural perspective) as well as b- creative commons in the field of Information and Communication Technology (urban perspective).

The results will feed into the formulation of a broad-specter Well-Being Society scenario, in comparison to ‘neo-liberal’ and ‘socialist/communist’ scenarios. The research outcomes will be offered as elements for a participatory scenario-building process among a diversity of stakeholders. Ultimately the project aims to contribute to a public dialogue on the gigantic policy development dilemma’s incurred in the aim of securing well-being for all citizens.

The International Exchange Platform Re-thinking Property: Pathway to a Well-Being Society scenario draws upon earlier activities on re-thinking ‘GDP’ organized by the School for Wellbeing: the visit of Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz to Thailand in 200920. And the development of National Accounts of Well-being as proposed by the New Economics Foundation (nef), U.K., explained in person by TED speaker Nic Marks, nef’s lead author of the (un-)Happy Planet Index and advisor to the British government.

New indicators of wellbeing like Gross National Happiness in Bhutan have been contemplated and have guided us towards in-depth research on ‘utility’, ‘contentment’ and ‘altruism’ as manifestations of happiness or wellbeing (Amartya Sen versus Matthieu Ricard). And how a shift in producer-consumer orientations from this point of view could result in an alternative approach to economics (Apichai Puntasen: ‘consumption efficiency’). The GNH Index is determined by a ‘sufficiency level’ (‘cut off’) with neutral or negative impact of scores both below and above this level (Dasho Karma Ura). This view resonates remarkably with the concept of Sufficiency Economy launched by the King of Thailand.

As much as the aims, impacts and social awareness regarding a ‘wellbeing society’-scenario a new Third Way or Middle Path will be articulated, the application of the positive aspects of diverse systems or scenarios, realized on the ground in unique combinations, will be enabled. Evidence-based foresight of the impacts of the wellbeing society in comparison to the neo-liberal and socialist alternatives is to support mindful decision-making and informed public participation. The Well-Being Society scenario project aims to innovate an academic platform and ‘social lab’ where participatory decision making can be exercised and multiplied into publicly available learning materials (planned in 2013).

Assumptions have been tentatively formulated on choices to be made between scenarios for the future. What follows here is a provisional overview, with a variety of elements that can be reviewed during the project in more depth.

All three scenarios have both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characteristics and impacts. Development reality will always result in a unique mix of systems. However, for right choices to make, principles have to be clearly distinguished so that synergies indeed enable the achievement of intended results."


Organic Asia: the Heart of Global Transformation

The School for Wellbeing Studies and Research, and CCFD-Terre Solidaire intend to develop a programme Organic Asia in particular in collaboration with partners in the Mekong region (Tibetan plateau and Yunnan, China; Myanmar; Thailand; Laos; Cambodia; Vietnam).

The organic agriculture policy in Bhutan, National Organic Programme, and the Green Market Network, Thailand, may serve as inspiration for building up regional and continental networks to develop agroecology approaches, including mindful marketing, that address growing Food Security concerns.

The groundbreaking Report recently submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter23, can serve as a guideline for the development of an Organic Asia action-research programme:

“Cross-country comparisons show that GDP growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating outside agriculture.”

“Only by supporting small producers can we help break the vicious cycle that leads from rural poverty to the expansion of urban slums, in which poverty breeds poverty.”

“Most efforts in the past have focused on improving seeds and ensuring that farmers are provided with a set of inputs that can increase yields, replicating the model of industrial processes in which external inputs serve to produce outputs in a linear model of production. Instead, agroecology seeks to improve the sustainability of agroecosystems by mimicking nature instead of industry.”

The Green Market Network, launched in Thailand by Suan Nguen Mee Ma social enterprise, aims to support local clusters of small-scale organic farmers (in conversion) to engage in long term fair trade association with institutional consumers, in the first place hospitals. This initiative draws its inspiration from the global Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement.

The International Commons Movement

In November 2010 the International Commons Conference was held in Berlin, in cooperation with the Commons Strategy Group and sponsored by the Heinrich Boell Foundation27. David Bollier28 introduced his conference summary as follows:

‘For years the commons has been gaining momentum as a new paradigm of economics, politics and culture. Its rise can be seen in countless milieus around the world: among indigenous peoples in Latin America determined to protect their ecosystems and cultures; among farmers in India defending the right to share seeds; among Croatians seeking to prevent the privatization of cherished public spaces; among communities trying to preventing multinational bottling companies from appropriating local groundwater; and among diverse digital commoners who are creating “shareable” resources such as free software, Wikipedia, open educational resources and open access journals.

Until recently, mainstream political culture has regarded the commons as an inevitable “tragedy” that results in the over-exploitation of scarce resources. This has helped make the commons a marginal side-story that could be safely ignored. But after the “economic crisis” of October 2008, it has been much harder to dismiss the commons as a tragedy, anachronism or novelty. It became even harder after the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Professor Elinor Ostrom, a pioneering scholar of the commons, in 2009. The growth of countless Internet commons has also been a pointed rebuttal to orthodox economists who regard the market as the only serious means for generating valuable resources.

For these and other reasons, the commons is increasingly being seen as a rich seedbed of community empowerment and a template for new types of fair and sustainable resource management. It offers a way to critique the failures of neoliberal capitalism while encouraging the development of innovative policy alternatives’.

Economics of Happiness: Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide

In her recent film The Economics of Happiness Helena Norberg-Hodge strengthens her appeal to ‘bringing the food economy home’.

During the GNH-movement seminar on ‘Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide’ (2010) the diversity of (often conflicting) property regimes uphold by different stakeholders was highlighted, often implying an obstacle for transformation towards sustainable development. As mentioned before, a leading traditional notion of property, ‘the commons’, has been almost wiped out by the primacy of state ownership in communist and authoritarian systems; and neo-liberal ‘monoculture’ of private property claims.

In order to find windows towards ‘re-setting’ the economy – the backbone of the future wellbeing society – it is necessary to gain full understanding of the issue of conflicting property regimes that influence the capacity to self-determination of societies in its core.

It is a challenging research question whether and in what ways property regimes correlate with the perceived urban-rural divide; and how insights can help to bridging this divide. One assumption is that traditional notions of common property are revitalized in organic agriculture and rural development, in a spirit of social entrepreneurship. Can a new ‘social contract’ between rural food producers and urban consumers be settled? The movement resonates with new approaches to intellectual property, notably the ‘creative commons’ in the area of Information and Communication Technology (ICT): an urban-driven alternative to the supremacy of mainstream private and public property regimes.

ICT for sustainable development: interactive media, social networking

Our worldview changed and is still rapidly changing along with communication technology. Recent social uprisings were enabled by unprecedented social networking opportunities. The School for Wellbeing has been involved from the initial stages in the PARADISO ‘Internet for the future’ project supported by the EU. In his closing remarks at a recent PARADISO planning workshop31 Roberto Peccei32 stated:

‘The goals of the PARADISO project, to explore how society might evolve in the future and how the Internet might help make this future better, are totally aligned with the thinking of the Club of Rome and that of my father, Auerlio Peccei, who was the Club’s founder with Alex King in 1968.’

‘The world needs a paradigm shift in economics similar to the one physics experienced at the dawn of last century, when quantum mechanics and the special and general theories of relativity were invented to address new phenomena not explainable by Newtonian mechanics.’

‘I believe economics is ready for a similar paradigm shift’.

Global conversation on Democracy

Ajay Chhibber concluded in his Opening Statement of the regional Conference on Deepening and Sustaining Democracy in Asia, October 2009, Paro, Bhutan: ‘Today, we are at a crossroads for democratic developments in Asia. The region has made tremendous strides in economic and social progress under many different forms of governance. Multi-party elections have taken place in every country in South Asia over the last few years. This is a significant achievement. It is also a resounding call for all the elected governments now in power in Asia to fulfil the promise of democracy.’

‘Either democracy will thrive and deliver benefits for the people in terms of human development, or it will wane and turn into the victim of its own neglect of the people.’

Later the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, organised a session of the Global Conversations on Democracy. A key dimension of thinking through democracy ‘meant understanding the new mutations of institutional power and global mobility that have registered themselves over the last decades. A “global civil society” seems to have entered the world stage and was providing in complex ways a “monitoring” mechanism, overlooking the power of nation-states. This is of course not to simply see global civil society as discrete, easily separable in any way from the nation-state, but rather study it as an index of the changing nature of the relations and networks between state and non-state forms of political power and surveillance.’

These “mutations” obviously are also determining perceptions of property.

Human Security: beyond sovereignty of nation-states?

Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, in his keynote address to the 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness, 2007, Thailand, made the following statement: ‘There is a new idea and concept of security. We call it Human Security. It would mean that the state and government cannot claim absolute sovereignty, and nobody can interfere based on responsibility to protect the people’. ‘We hope that this new approach will gain currency in the world’.

Likewise, concepts of property over natural resources like water, air, earth may have to transcend conventional arrangements for public property or state-ownership which is transferable to private property.

Consensus-building leadership

From the observation, also made in earlier research of the School for Wellbeing, that diverse formal and informal legal, social and political systems – basically in the realms of state, civil society and markets – determines concepts of property the conclusion that can be drawn is the need for ‘consensus building leadership’ capable to fairly (so, in the long term perspective of sustainable development) moderate the often conflicting property claims and subsequent interests.


Towards a Well-Being Society?

The School for Wellbeing started the Well-Being Society scenario project to explore new possibilities for an alternative (and “Asian”?) approach to secure well-being in the region.

The objective of the Exchange Platform in August 2011 is to engage in multi-stakeholder and interdisciplinary dialogue around re-thinking property as a core challenge in various domains, in order to explore these alternatives; as well as to empower transformation movements towards genuine realization.

Recommended Reading

==Commons and Property Resources recommended by Silke Helfrich:

It is a usefull introduction into the commons.

On the property debate, part of the compilation, "To whom does the world belong" [1]

(Also a 'short and sweet one pager introduction' from David Bollier:

More Information

  • A Reader with background information will be made available:

-- central documents will be the report of the International Commons Conference in Berlin, November 1-2, 2010. -- And the Youth Future Manifesto, 18 September 2010, formulated during the global gathering of Right Livelihood Awardees ‘Changing Course, Reclaiming Our Future’ in Bonn, Germany.

  • The ‘Manifesto For A Different Economy’ resulting from a creative meeting, Paris, 13-15 April 2011, with global partners of CCFD – Terre Solidaire, France – a major international NGO – will be circulated for reflection.

Participants of the international exchange platform Re-thinking Property. Pathway to a Well-Being Society scenario? will be supported to make suggestions for a Strategic Action-Research Plan for Asia in line with the above documents. The ‘Manifesto For A Different Economy’ emphasizes pluralism as a fundamental value. We intend to present the ‘Manifesto’ and ‘Strategic Action-Research Plan’ in a Press Conference.

Process Consultant/Facilitator (supported by Heinrich Boell Foundation): Jost Wagner, The Change Initiative.