A Resource Based Economy
This is the chapter by Kelly Mitchell omitted from his book Gold Wars, and we publish it here alongside his letter to us.
‘Economy means efficiency – a lack of waste’ Peter Joseph
Imagine a world without telemarketers, without advertising, without someone trying to sell you something constantly, without a propaganda industry trying to convince everyone their empty lives will be filled by the latest gadget/fragrance/object, without logos, and without soulless consumption. Imagine a world without money. Money is useful as a medium of exchange, but a world where all human needs (and most reasonable desires) are readily fulfilled is only possible without money. We are the sole species that pays to live on this planet. This society would simply terminate private property as an arcane, useless and even wasteful fixation. The age of ownership would recede into memory – a necessary, but immature phase in our societal growth. Sounds insane, right? But if all human needs can be met, if most non-harmful and physically possible desires can be universally met, then property would be pointless – merely a pathetic, failed means to bolster the self-worth of adult children. Such a world moves through purpose, not paper. It is sustainable. It’s called a Resource Based Economy (RBE). The ethic of the resource based economy is to align with natural law. We cannot consume past the earth’s ability to provide. An RBE catalogs and utilizes planetary resources in the most efficient method we can create for the good of all humanity. Money is not necessary and everyone has access to all goods and services. Planetary resources cannot be claimed by individuals, but are publicly owned. Many proponents of the system now exist, most notably the Zeitgeist Movement.
Conceptual cities have been detailed with full energy independence, complete food self-sufficiency, and awesomely convenient public transportation. Designed cities can have immensely higher efficiencies than the ad hoc ones currently in use. They can maximize human satisfaction through good planning, clean air, water, and organic food. This would not restrict anyone living in the country and fully utilizing technology, either. All choices are voluntary – there is no coercion. If someone is using property, it is not available for others, of course. But no one could own immense tracts of land, letting them lie fallow with no public access.
Certain mandatory measures toward a more sustainable direction must be met – the economy must change from a growth to a steady state economy. 1) The monetary system must be eliminated – it creates scarcity. 2) We must move from a competitive to a collaborative model. This will eliminate redundant products, just for monetary competition. It will also eliminate inferior products because all players have full knowledge access and there is no financial incentive to build junk. In a collaborative world, every innovation can draw on all knowledge – nothing is proprietary or withheld. 3) Total open source knowledge. Centralization of knowledge requires distribution of production, but in a coordinated manner. Locally produced goods would be available for all needs. Earth could be catalogued and inventoried as per resources and energy supplies. Action could be taken well ahead of time to avert crisis. A simple form of this is feasible right now, but knowledge is proprietary and resources are owned by elites. Open-source knowledge would eliminate duplication of efforts and mass resource wasting. It would allow for the best understanding and processes to emerge without the current artificial constraints. Global collaboration would overcome the barriers of competition and proprietary knowledge. Humanity would experience an explosion of progress in knowledge, ideas, ideologies, and technology. Eliminating the monetary system would remove the need to suppress competitive technologies like alternative energy (which threatens big oil). Without the need to create energy scarcity for oil profits, those technologies would no longer be restricted.
4) Deliberate automation. The economy is headed to automation already. Artificial means of creating jobs exist (largely as public sector workers), just because the capitalist system demands work for pay. Virtually all factory workers could be replaced in a few years. All jobs with no social benefit (Wall street, finance, and so many public sector jobs) would be pointless. 65% of all jobs could be eliminated with current knowledge right now. Productivity is inverse to employment. The higher the productivity, the lower the employment. It’s a marketplace function – people are much more expensive than machines. They need a house, food, car, etc. Machines only need their raw energy inputs and maintenance. Some machines can even repair themselves.
5) Eliminate property rights in favor of universal access for all goods and services. If all goods and services are freely available, multiple problems are instantly eliminated. Shared resources create abundance – nothing is ‘owned’ by individuals without ever being used. Nothing sits idle, so all that idle time is now useful time, requiring only a tiny percentage of current material goods to fully satisfy all human needs. Hoarding uses an enormous amount of resources. A car in constant use takes care of 20 people instead of 1. The problem of theft is entirely eliminated – if no one owns anything (or everyone owns everything) theft is pointless. 98% of all crime would disappear overnight. We can provide an excellent quality of life for all humans many times over, while eliminating war, crime, poverty, destitution and displacement. There is no need for any of that.
Many people have the feeling that the idea of a resource based economy is actually quite good, but it could never work. Obviously, an unlimited list of tedious procedural ‘problems’ can be drafted – what about people wanting land to homestead, for example? Rural versus urban vehicle use? Vandalism? But such a list are merely wrinkles to iron out through human ingenuity. The most common significant objections are some variation of the following: 1) This is communism. 2) It’s utopian. 3) It’s dystopian – a machine governed, totalitarian prone society/ technocracy. 4) Owning private property is fundamental to human life and society. 5) People will not be motivated to do unpleasant and dangerous jobs. 6) It’s overwhelming. 7) The powers will never let it happen.
Some of these are valid concerns; some are merely philosophical dislikes. It’s difficult to give complete answers because we are talking about a total restructure of society on a global level. Let’s take the objections one at a time.
1) This is Communism! An RBE is not communism. First, capitalism and communism are not mutually exclusive systems – they work in tandem within a society. If we call any socialized project a shade of communism (as some do), then the military is a perfect example. It performs, in theory, a societal benefit – it defends the country. All the people pay for it through taxes. The military is the ultimate socialist institution. Roads, schools, hospitals, courts, police – many of the things we take for granted are socialized – paid for by the public and there (ostensibly) for the public good. Most people drive, want clean air, land and water in their town, need to feel safe, and believe in education as a right. These are socialist values, and they can exist right alongside of capitalist values of earning a living, owning property, and engaging in the marketplace economy. In fact, every family is communist – do children pay rent? Do they work? No – in a family, the unspoken rule is ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’ One parent makes the money, the other takes care of the house, and the kids eat and live for free and go to school. Capitalism simply makes no sense for the internal operating structure of a family.
More to the point of the resource based economy, however – it is not Communism because the labor supply side is totally missing. The labor is supplied primarily by machines. Certainly, some workers will be needed for planning and maintenance, but many, many people simply enjoy these activities. They will volunteer. People like work and they love to feel meaning in their work. Moreover, it’s not ‘to each according to his needs.’ Each person has full access to anything they currently have – and a whole lot more. Because goods are well-made and communally owned, they are always available and far more durable.
2) It’s utopian. This criticism stems from the fact that people do not have to work and have all needs provided. While true, there is far more needed for a ‘utopian’ society. People will still have to deal with innate meaning, relationships, personal development and other social concerns. An RBE could never hope to solve such issues, but it can create far better opportunities for us to work on them, rather than being imprisoned in an increasingly senseless monetary system.
3) It’s dystopian. This comes from the notion that it will be a centrally planned system, subject to political tyranny by controllers. While the need for central administration is obvious in terms of resource logistics, distribution and manufacturing, it need not translate into a political control. In any system, preventing dictators from seizing political control is incumbent on the population itself. People must remain aware. No economic system is immune. In fact, the monetary system of control allows for far easier dictatorial control because it creates an impossibly disproportionate distribution of wealth. A few people who control trillions of dollars and even the creation of currency exert so much control that the citizenry is rendered powerless. That is the current situation and it is a definition of oligarchical dictatorship. The people have no true voice, only the illusion.
4) Owning property is fundamental to humans. This is completely false. Ownership is largely an illusion – all you have is temporary possession and use. Even pre-historical societies were completely egalitarian – all possessions were commonly owned. Societies exist now without individual property rights – all resources are communally owned. They function on a tribal scale, so the challenge is to scale up. It is a formidable challenge, no doubt, but it is doable, if we all see the virtue and strive toward it. People do not need property or possessions, they need and desire the benefits of these things. If you always have access to a home and privacy within that, or to a sailboat, why would you want the individual expense of owning it? Even property taxes would cease – no one would complain about that. A limited ‘ownership’ would still exist – mainly the right to use something as long as needed. What other point is there to ownership?
5) Motivation. The basic problem is conceiving of an RBE through the lens of current reward system programming. As Dan Pink’s book Drive showed, monetary incentives create a detrimental effect in terms of motivation and creativity. True motivators are autonomy, mastery and purpose. In an RBE, a sense of civic duty toward humanity would be easy to cultivate. Many people have such a desire already – it’s why we have philanthropy and volunteerism. Most difficult, dangerous and unpleasant jobs would be machine-doable anyway. All we would need is the technological push, which would come readily through complete open-source knowledge.
6) It’s overwhelming. Very true – the project is inconceivably massive. Most people drop it initially but if they come across the ideas again, it seems more appealing. The concept is so alien to our current social programming that it feels a bit repugnant, strange, incomprehensible, or absurd. All I can do is encourage you to take an open mind and just ponder it – dream a bit about the profound human potential. Any large task can seem overwhelming, but with many people, it becomes possible. And with enough people, it becomes inevitable. Even a total restructure of society can be done if we all wish it.
Now is the time for a change. As Barack Obama told the banking CEO’s, “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” People are angry. The system is teetering. Power is shifting. The world is almost ready for a major change. If a determined global movement pushes, a simple move of capitalist power from West to East can be diverted to a more fundamental paradigm shift.
7) The powers will prevent it. This assumes they can prevent it. They can certainly hinder it, but powerful ideas, when they take hold, live longer than people. The current ‘leaders’ will die and be replaced. Eventually a more conciliatory group will emerge, subject to a nascent ideology. From that perspective, we make a better world not for ourselves, but our children. We will never see it, but it is worth all the more for that. On a more immediate frame – leaders cannot resist a truly determined, awakened populace. Our leaders have ruled by some assumption that they (or a person’s chosen subset) have better insights into managing society. That illusion is failing fast. Politicians are almost universally despised and seen as corrupt. No one trusts them to make decisions that honestly benefit society. They are no better than the average person and often they are far, far worse. All it will take is the people to unify under a greater vision – and that’s the real challenge of a resource based economy. People have enormous resistance based on previous societal conditioning. However, in a very immediate sense (the next few years), a paradigm shift is happening. Political power is being drained from the corrupted West and headed to an East anxious to prove its integrity – to gain the world’s trust so that it can take the mantle of leadership by popular approval. In such a power shift, ideological doctrines have a way of inserting themselves and gaining serious traction. At a deeper level, capitalism may be unsustainable for the reasons listed above, especially on a planet with a ballooning population. From that perspective, all that is needed is to wait for the real collapse, educating as many people as we can in the meantime.
It may sound too good to be possible, but that is just a thought. It may be the only rational solution to our current predicament – for all its power, the monetary system has become open failure, detrimental to humanity. We may be forced to develop an RBE just to maintain a decent standard of life. We have based our society on ‘enlightened self-interest,’ only to find that is a chimera – a totally self-interested society devolves into narcissism and vulgar consumption. Our choice may boil down to global abundance or global destruction. In the end, all that limits us is our ability to transcend our social programming. If we can see a better world, one where basic goodness is known to live in every being, one where global abundance exists by the simple generosity of sharing – like we teach children to do, one where ‘conservative’ means to not waste resources and destroy the place, one where we do not own the Earth because you cannot own your mother, one where hubris becomes humility and greed becomes gratitude – if we can visualize such a world, we can make it real.
Much of this of course, we can agree with. Except we would point out that the type of society described here has always accurately been referred to as socialism or communism, as they mean the same thing – the social or common ownership of the means of living. That so-called ‘Communist’ countries (really systems of state-run capitalism) like the former USSR, China, East Germany, etc abused the term is not in our view a reason to disassociate ourselves from it. After all, these states called themselves ‘democratic’ too!
Regarding, the Zeitgeist Movement, we agree there are a number of positive features of this loosely structured organization, but there are sadly many problems with it too. Not the least of which is its lack of democratic internal attitudes and structures, as well as the fact a great many TZM members – arguably the majority – have views more focused on attempts to reform capitalism (and its banking system, etc) than on the only solution to the social and economic problems of our time – real socialism.