The Society of HumanKind is not here to instruct humanity on how it ought to organise itself. From its infinite perspective on human life, communism, capitalism, socialism, free enterprise, industrialisation, nationalism, globalisation, and a host of other -isms and ideologies, are no more than episodes in our search for better ways to live together. But the modern belief in 'progress' or 'development' measured by ever-increasing material possessions and personal consumption, with its allied vision of limitless growth in the world economy, creates problems for the Society.
As with every major social and political issue the Society takes its lead on economic questions from its Aim and the Objective of the Dogma . It will therefore first ask what effect such ideas, and the social and political policies that arise from them, are likely to have on humanity's prospects for infinite survival. It will then look at their impact on the effort to maintain continuous growth in human skills and knowledge.
From its infinite perspective the Society sees modern industrial free-enterprise as an interim, or short- to medium- term phenomenon, and no more than yet another stage in our long struggle to find better ways to manage our productive activities. In that light these latest methods of economic production have much to their credit. There is no doubt for instance, that they have played a large part in the recent quantum growth in our capacity to supply the material needs of humanity. That has brought great benefits, not the least being the power to free our world of poverty and famine if we so choose. The problem is that the proponents and chief exponents of these modern methods of meeting our material wants and needs, the so-called 'developed' nations, seem incapable of grasping that opportunity.
For its part, in the light of its Dogma and Principles , the Society of HumanKind cannot regard an increase in personal consumption as an acceptable end in itself, nor as the proper overall objective for economic policy. Indeed, its opposition to the idea of universal progress and development through increasing production fuelled by rising levels of personal consumption must extend to a rejection of the whole of the current concept of what amounts to economic growth. It takes that stance on two grounds.
First, on its own ground of the uncertainty of all human knowledge , it will point out that we have no way of knowing whether or not the present economic policies and practices of 'developed' nations are either sustainable or practical over the infinite time scale on which the Society bases its decisions and moral judgements. But second, and perhaps more importantly, it will say that we cannot foresee what goods and services will be needed to achieve the Objective of Dogma and the Aim of the Society , or when we will require them. Neither can we now tell what resources we will, in future, require to produce those, as yet unknown, goods and services.
The Society will argue that the resources now being consumed by our thoughtless pursuit of universal progress and development may well be vital, both to the future survival of our species and to continual increase in our knowledge and skills, and thus to the achievement of its Aim. To take but one example, we may find in the future that the oil we are now extracting to burn in our motor cars contains rare substances which are both irreplaceable and essential to our survival.
Clearly, we have no way of predicting such future needs and problems. It is for that, and other, reasons that the Society seeks, in all circumstances, to minimise the use of economic resources, and hence of our consumption of all goods and services. It does so as part of its effort to maintain the Conditions of the Dogma and to discharge its Responsibility to future generations.
The watchword of the Society in all economic matters is therefore, frugality. The Society will be frugal in its use of resources and in its consumption of them, both in order to protect the interests of future generations of humanity and to further its Aim. Every member of the Society will avoid waste of any kind as a moral duty, including that caused by the creation, acquisition, use or display of unnecessary or merely ostentatious possessions. They should also take every opportunity, consistent with the Principles of the Society, to condemn unrestrained and unjustified consumption when practised by others. As the Essay on the Economy makes clear, the Society believes that, in every generation, our economic activities ought to be designed to increase, rather than to diminish, the total amount of resources available to our species.
Our generation needs growth, but not in our economy. We need to grow in our knowledge and skill of the management of our environment and the resources it provides. On economic questions the present priorities of the Society are clear enough. We need first to identify, and then to provide, the minimum level of economic services and material output required for the maintenance of the Conditions of the Dogma . That means we have to discover how to produce and distribute, with no avoidable waste or excess, just enough goods and services to enable all humanity to live in health, peace and safety. Then we should look for the best way to use any surplus productive capacity to help realise the full potential of every individual member of our species.
Economic progress or development, as it is understood by the Society, is not about material possessions, or even about providing better public services. It is a process of releasing the wealth of human talent and energy presently crushed under the burden of poverty and disadvantage.
We are a long way from even that modest target. Indeed, our generation seems to be set, at present, on rushing off in entirely the wrong direction.
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©Lawrence Thornton Roach
March, 2001 AD