When I first dreamed about a natural economy, I had no clue what I meant by that.
I had to figure out what a natural human economy would look like.
I figured it would need to exist as a set of relationships between the Earth and our basic needs.
Basic Human Needs. In very simple terms, we need to have enough safety to operationalize our capacities to obtain food and water, build shelter, reproduce, and raise the next generation. Raising the next generation requires many different skills including healing, education, and building a life among other humans. In a natural economy, humans would also have a set of reparative and constructive relationships with Earth as we engage with It to supply ourselves with all materials necessary to maintain our lives.
What is required for us to be able to maintain our lives?
Maintaining Our Lives. That depends on our environment. I live in a smallish University town in Oregon. I have urbanish means to obtain food, water, and shelter as well as any other supplies I need. I have already reproduced and raised my kids, so I don’t need as much of anything as I did for the previous 28 years. I was meeting my kids’ needs for food, water, shelter, and raising at that time, as well as maintaining myself. So, I could add up the costs of what I used to stay alive and productive and raise two boys in US culture. In a natural economy, the money (lucre) required to do those tasks would include my basic needs (see below) and my productivity in agreed-upon lucre (see below). I don’t need as much lucre now since I am just one person.
What are the Basics? The basics are supplied for everyone. Now, here is the rub. The basics are just that: basic. Think Conestoga hut village with sanitary services staffed by residents. There would also need to be communal meals (hence a communal kitchen and dining area), also staffed by residents. Here is another rub, if the residents aren’t physically able to do the work to stay alive, they will require maintenance until such time as they die. Such folk need to be in care facilities that are appropriate to their needs, so no Conestoga huts. This sort of service was performed by immediate and extended families in the old days, and sometimes is today, in which case those providing the care need to work to be able to provide the costs of that care in one form or another.
Key Concept: Division Between Lucre for Basics and Work. In a natural economy, the cost of each person’s life is known in terms of the cost in lucre for basic needs. But, humans do love to work, invent, create, and interact with each other in an intensely social sort of way that includes building culture. These sorts of activities have resulted in our many great cultures (including our products and markets), each of which has been instrumental in the survival of its people over the many millennia of homo sapien’s existence (from at least 200,000 years ago somewhere in Africa).
Producing culture as well as the goods and services needed to maintain human life, Earth, and culture is tied to contribution lucre. So, you can work hard and affect many lives (we will fight over this) and get paid more than if you decide to be a mediating mystic and live in your Conestoga hut/village. Obviously, there will be people making goods and services and creating culture who are happy to take your lucre so you can obtain your wants (different than your needs).
So beyond basic needs there is life salary that is tied to contributions to immediate through long-range communities that permit these communities to function well.
But, I digress. There are accounting methods for a natural economy, just like there are for a capitalist economy. In a natural economy, each person produces an amount of goods or services that are normalized (translated) into lucre. Yes, people will negotiate (or fight) over how much lucre per item or type of service or cultural event, we always have and I am going to guess we always will. Let’s just say we find a way to negotiate these numbers in a reasonable manner and then allocate them to 1) basic needs by individual, 2) costs involved with producing goods, services, and culture. But, we know that individuals and groups will produce way more than is necessary to cover basic needs, so that is the free cash that can be earned by other folks doing services or producing goods and culture. Costs include effects on Earth’s biome and natural systems that provide us with clean water, soil, and air. This is where we get into reparative and constructive Earth costs.
But the rub is, there are greedy humans. They are born in every generation. They range in appetite from pathological to reasonable. We have to deal with them without violence. So, we have the total pile of lucre due to our productivity in terms of services or goods and culture building. First we basic everyone in terms of cost, then apportion to each person the lucre earned by their productivity. Productivity tables will be fought over. These are humans we are talking about. After human productivity lucre has been distributed and a portion set aside for emergencies, then the rest is the playground of the greedy. But, here is another rub, whatever the greedy do with their lucre, it has to help not harm The People or the Land. And we do operate by the axiom that Truth is the Land and Love is the Community.
So, the overly ambitious and greedy play around, and the rest of us are safe and live sustainably on Earth and with each other.
What do you think?
Update: Please see this in the NYTimes on how much each worker’s contribution is valued and the inequality therein.