Sustainable Economics

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James Quilligan:

“Sustainable economics is the most advanced stage of human society because it brings all the earlier stages together into a systemic, evolutionary unity. Sustainability presupposes that human beings are balancing freedom and equality through cooperation and that these fundamental forces are supported by cultural development. It assumes that we have been educated with knowledge, expertise and solutions involving our common resources and are applying technology to meet everyone’s needs. A sustainable economy also requires the development of resource self-sufficiency for its population through self-governance. But sustainable economics is more than the sum of these cardinal principles.

By embracing the idea that value flows from prices in the marketplace, we have forgotten that value arises simply through our minds. In fact, this was the historical meaning of use value — how human beings evaluate the materials that sustain us, regardless of their cost. But use value led to exchange value, and this led to a system in which the economic power of the State allocated resources through its sovereign authority. Then capitalism captured this power and privatized the State’s system of finance and debt. Now, under the yoke of institutions and rules that favor individual over collective value, consumers are rapidly depleting Earth’s resources and making little effort to sustain their lives.

We can develop a sustainable economy by realizing that money possesses no real energy. Since money has no power in itself, it might as easily become a public resource for a socially just and ecologically sustainable economy. Imagine, if government debt were eliminated and money were revalued through the democratically-determined objectives of equality and sustainability, there would be no need for banks. Interest and debt would end. Stock and financial speculation would also come to a halt. Yet none of this would eliminate the principles of use value and exchange value — it would align them with the cooperative distribution of the resources necessary for people living today. And in meeting the needs of everyone in the present, we lay the foundations for a sustainable future.

How could society organize itself in the same way as the natural world? This is more than just connecting resources with the people who need them today. It also means ensuring the evolution of human beings by giving everyone access to the wealth that is needed to sustain life for succeeding generations. This is why purchasing capacity — the amount of goods and services that we can purchase with a unit of currency — is needed to ensure the long-term vitality of human beings. Purchasing capacity not only affords us with fair wages or social credits to obtain essential products that meet our needs and spur our personal creativity and growth. By measuring the value of maintaining human life from generation to generation, purchasing capacity will steer all societies toward sustainability.

The free market struggles to find a balance between supply and demand through the prices that are charged for products and services in the present time; it does not even try to predict the conditions of supply and demand that may affect people in the distant future. Yet an accurate measure of purchasing capacity is not possible without democratic self-governance to ensure the long-term equilibrium between available resources and social well-being in both the present and the future. When democratic communities decide to protect a percentage of their non-renewable resources as reserves, they will ensure an adequate supply of these resources to address the needs of future generations. In turn, these reserve assets will become the basis for a self-adjusting standard of value and a means of calculating purchasing capacity value in the present, indicating how wealth may be optimally distributed in society, both now and progressively into the future.

By guaranteeing the rate at which the value of our income is adjusted to meet our basic needs, in line with the replenishment of our resources, we integrate the fulfillment of everyone’s needs now with the ecological conservation and regeneration necessary to meet these needs centuries from now. This is the culmination of our principles of local economic democracy. Purchasing capacity is the beating heart of economics, leveraging the evolutionary forces that converge between the individual self and the collective whole of society and nature across time. By balancing the material supply and demand of people today with the material supply and demand of people in future years, purchasing capacity value will enable all societies to plan ahead for the sustenance of the human species.”