The fact that repairing the damage caused by climate change and wars are the surest source of further economic growth should now be ringing alarm bells around the world. Wars are now legitimate, they are no longer generally condemned but democracies support them with arms supplies. And the damage to the climate is getting worse because more and more carbon dioxide is still being emitted every year.
Our political leaders are committed to capitalism and they have no other solution than capitalism with its infinite growth. That is why it is now up to us citizens to take action. But protests are not enough. We have to present the politicians with a solution on how to get out of this global crisis and we have to take a step into the future now. If there is no known economic system that can replace capitalism, then we have to see what a utopia has to offer.
People are ready for a utopia. We are on the threshold of the third millennium. We are beginning to colonise the moon and we know at the same time what is happening on the other side of the earth. But we are clinging desperately to an economic system whose origins go back almost to the Middle Ages.
The basic contradictions of the capitalist system cannot be resolved within this system. People continue to consume out of fear of losing their prosperity, even though they realise that this consumption is driving climate change and neo-colonialism. How are we supposed to limit ourselves when we are being encouraged to buy more and more by adverts around the clock? Recently, artificial intelligence has been used to adapt these adverts to our personal interests in such a way that we will soon no longer be able to perceive them as advertising. I am mainly talking here about people in the global North, but the demand of advertising to consume more and more is certainly present worldwide.
What would happen if we actually bought less so that the economy could be scaled down to perhaps 70 per cent in order to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the extraction of raw materials in the Global South?
In this case, the financial system would panic, as it does on every much smaller occasion. The financial system lends to the economy and expects these loans to be honoured. If economic growth were to slow down, the economy would no longer be able to fulfil these financial services in full. The financial system would then no longer provide the economy with funds and an economic crisis of unimaginable proportions would ensue.
It is precisely for this reason that there can be no gradual transformation from within, as proposed by many authors of post-growth ideas.
It follows that we must now leap over our shadows. There is no doubt that familiar paths such as socialism will not lead to a solution. We must now turn to a utopian idea. But more importantly, we must turn to an almost unthinkable path that allows us to realise this utopian idea in the short term.
The future economy must be an economy in which all people are securely provided for and do not have to fear unemployment. It must be an economy in which no one is tempted to take more than they really need. And it must be an economy that is independent of the financial system, which forces the economy to grow.
We think that we have to create certain conditions for a transformation. But all the conditions are there. We have the most modern technology, we have the necessary means of production and we have the people who go about their daily work.
We also don’t have to come up with complicated tax laws to redistribute wealth. All we have to do is change the framework conditions for the economy so that it starts by itself to produce only what people really need in order to live a happy and contented life.
This form of economy has already proven itself in thousands of practical applications, namely wherever people work voluntarily. This is the prerequisite for the functioning of supply structures of grassroots movements. In the people’s kitchens, the “kitchens for all” or “Küfas”, this form of economy can be observed in many cities at any time.
It is a complete economic cycle; there are raw materials, production and distribution.
The principle is very simple. Everyone works voluntarily. This is not unusual because today the proportion of voluntary work worldwide is around 40 per cent and rising. People working in the voluntary sector often do a better job than those who are paid for it.
If the raw materials were also free, then all goods could be given away to everyone. This is the prerequisite for ensuring that no one is asked to take more than they really need. Then no one would be excluded too.
Now, of course, many people say that this is not possible because of our greed. But we have to remember that the moment we start working voluntarily, other conditions prevail. There is no longer any competition and therefore the conditions are the same as in the private sector, where greed is largely excluded. Moreover, this risk is small compared to the certainty of what will happen to our world if we do nothing.
Are all raw materials free? Yes, of course, because we don’t have to pay the earth or the sun for them.
For many people, this is not so easy to understand. They argue that the owner of the land on which the raw materials are extracted makes a living from selling these raw materials. Or they say that the farmer has to make an advance payment in order to harvest the grain.
In the form of economy described here, the owner of the land would not need any income at all because he receives his livelihood for free. And the farmer also provides the preliminary work by means of voluntary labour; he also receives his entire livelihood for free, of course.
We can therefore conclude that all the prerequisites for the conversion of the economy are in place.
What happens to the financial system? It would then dissolve all by itself because it is simply no longer needed. Because it does not create any material value, people will not miss it at all. The freed-up properties will help to alleviate the housing shortage and the former employees will help in the economy so that a 20-hour week will probably suffice.
Money is the scarcity factor that makes us want more and more of it and motivates us to get as much as we can for our money. The opposite of this is abundance, the good feeling of actually being able to take an infinite amount (which of course no one will do later). The former leads to unbridled consumption, the latter to frugality, without the feeling of renunciation.
And then something very special happens. Because the entrepreneurs can no longer make a profit, they gradually lose interest in their property, because they are still responsible for it. When their interest is completely extinguished, everything becomes common property again.
This simple and absolutely logical question could change the world:
“Are you ready to work voluntarily if you are given everything you need for a contented and happy life for free?” Who would say no?
The genius of this programme is that the transition can take place at any time, as soon as everyone declares their willingness to work voluntarily. That could theoretically happen this year.
We really need to start discussing it now.
Berlin, January 2024