Ac. Krsnasevananda Avt.
In Jamalpur, India in 1959 P.R. Sarkar gave his pioneering discourses of PROUT, the Progressive Utilization Theory. The opening sentence of his final discourse was, “The universe is just like a joint family” (a joint family is an extended family, including the children of more than one generation). It is this family kind of thinking, I am certain, which is the key to understanding PROUT. Imagine for a moment that your parents were extraordinarily prolific and that all the people around you, indeed everyone on the whole planet, is your family.
Does your family allow people to starve to death? Does your family allow stronger members to torture the weaker ones or to pile up luxuries by robbing them of their basic necessities?
Do you allow some members of your family to wander shelterless or simply stand by and witness murder, theft and rape without intervening? Of course not.
Does your family feel that your house belongs to everyone or just to mother and father? And does everyone have an exactly equal say in decision making or are decisions taken by the wiser and more senior members of the family, or are decisions taken by the wiser and more senior members of the family, those who have proven that they can think for the benefit of all? Finally, don’t you encourage all members of the family to develop and utilise their full potential?
For those of you that know a little of PROUT I hope you will begin to agree that the spirit of the ideal family is the inspiration behind PROUT thinking. Although there may be strict rules in family life there is no question of oppression, suppression or repression. From guaranteeing the basic requirements of life to controlling the accumulation of wealth, as well as the benevolent leadership of moral persons, PROUT principles clearly reflect the family spirit of love and fairness. And if there are areas of PROUT policy yet to be formulated I am confident that all we need to formulate them correctly is to put our heads in “family mode” and go ahead.
But is this practical? These are high ideals but the question is, will it work? How will it compare to capitalism and democracy when it comes down to dollars and cents and protecting people’s rights?
To begin with I don’t think capitalism and democracy present such a great challenge. Today, in a world predominantly capitalist and democratic, more than half the world’s population lives in poverty. Excluding the Asian economies the majority of countries in the world , including the EU, have experienced declining purchasing power, rising unemployment and growing social despair since the middle seventies (Australia now leads the world in the number of youth suicides). More recently the Asian Tigers have collapsed pushing millions of people into financial crisis and some to the brink of revolt.
Other rising stars such as Brazil teeter on the edge of disaster. Newly democratized and capitalist Russia is in economic and social chaos and the smiles on the faces of China’s new capitalists are fading only half way to the bank. All methods have failed to revive the Japanese economy and even in the U.S.A. (which some argue is only enjoying its recent boom because it is the last safe place to invest) a husband and wife now both have to work, and for longer hours, in order to maintain a life-style comparable to that which could be enjoyed on a single income in 1975. The alarm bells may be muted in the minds of some Americans enjoying a state of temporary economic tipsy (amazingly ready to forget the pain and sweat they are being charged for it) but for most of the world the time to replace capitalism is due.
Why ethics matter
My proposition is that thinking like a family not only works better than capitalism, it is the only approach which will save us. The first reason for this lies in the very way the universe works.
“The universe is just like a joint family.” The world view behind this statement is that we all come from one infinite consciousness, and every atom, molecule, plant, animal and human being is evolving back towards that consciousness. There is no favoritism here, there is no preferential treatment according to caste, color, sex or species. The universe is designed as a place for all to evolve, not just the white, the rich, or the human species.
This collective evolutionary flow towards limitlessness is a powerful force. In the Indian spiritual tradition it is known as dharma, in the Chinese tradition, tao. Dharma represents the underlying flow or momentum of the universe. Once we understand this it becomes obvious that any individual, group, or society which considers only its own interest, and blocks the progress of others, invites its own downfall. Exploitation of this nature is in direct conflict with dharma. The message is simple: “That which does not genuinely serve the collective interest can never endure”.
Thus, it is not difficult to see that the one-sided “successes” of capitalism, creating rich people and poor, rich countries and poor, can also never last. These successes will always be short term and end up in depressions, wars, ecological disasters and other such symptoms of fundamental wrongness.
Conversely, the powerful laws of nature will also ensure that any individual, group or society which seeks to promote the progress of all its creatures will, like a raft swept along by a wave, be supported and carried forward by the flow of evolution and inevitably establish themselves and endure.
Ethics, therefore, should form the foundation of good economics. And this is where PROUT begins. While PROUT has 17 principles, P. R. Sarkar, the father of PROUT philosophy, highlighted five of them as “fundamental principles.” The first (by which we can infer is the most important) of these fundamental principles is an uncompromising ethical statement, “No individual shall be allowed to accumulate any physical wealth without the clear permission of the collective body of the society”. We are so trained to think in the laissez-faire mode of capitalist self-centred thinking that such a principle sounds like an imposition on our freedom.
If, however, for a short moment, we put our heads into “family mode”, considering society as our very own family, then we can accept this principle as completely normal, indeed, essential. For what family allows some members to accumulate huge wealth while others starve? The key, therefore, is thinking like a family.
The principle of non-accumulation forms the first part of PROUT’s “Rational Distribution” policy. Two more principles make up the complete policy. The first is, “The minimum requirements in any age should be guaranteed to all.” This principle means that basic necessities such as food, clothing, medical care, housing and education should be guaranteed to every member of the society.
In fact, in a PROUT constitution, guaranteed minimum requirements would be set down as a fundamental human right. The words, “in any age”, allow for changes in what we consider to be basic needs. PROUT recommends that the proper way to fulfil this principle is to guarantee jobs to all adults capable of work and to ensure that the wages or salaries of these jobs provide sufficient income to purchase the basic necessities of life.
Once again, from the ‘me-first’ capitalist way of thinking, such an idea violates the principles of good economics, but if we judge it from the view-point of family management it makes perfect sense. Even in a family however, individuals need reward, encouragement and recognition. Sometimes an older brother or sister may be given their own room or the use of the family car. According to the value of their contribution to the well-being of the family certain members can earn extra amenities that will make it easier for them to carry out and express their larger talents and responsibilities.
To meet this need the third principle of PROUTstates, “The surplus, after distribution of the minimum requirements, shall be given according to the social value of the individual’s production.” This principle ensures that the individual, as well as the collective, is recognised and treated fairly, thus avoiding the great blunder of communism, that of trying to reduce everyone to the same common level.
Putting these three principles together we see a distribution system which has a minimum, a maximum, and a fair gap between the two (it would be interesting to open the topic of what constitutes a ‘fair gap’ to public debate. The Mondragon cooperatives in Spain run successfully on a differential of 3 to 1. Others have suggested as large a gap as 10 to 1. The present difference between the minimum wage and the salaries of some top CEO’s is as much as 1000 to 1).
Rather than one group appropriating more than its share, the minimum and maximum levels will rise in tandem as the society’s standard of living increases. Efforts will be made to gradually reduce the gap between the minimum and maximum wage levels, although this gap will never be eliminated entirely
PROUT’s system of rational distribution carefully balances the needs of both the collective and the individual. Until such basic principles are accepted humanity will not have evolved the consciousness it needs to pass successfully into the third millennium.
Family Economics in Practice
Good in theory, but does it work in practice? The answer is, “Yes”. We can find the proof by looking at economic developments around us. After World War Two Japan staged a dramatic economic comeback and Japanese industry came to be recognized as highly competitive.
Why? Within Japanese companies the distribution of wealth is more like a family. The gap between minimum and maximum wage is smaller, the guarantees of minimum requirements are firmer, and the involvement of employees in the process of management is greater than in non-family-like individualist systems. The Japanese work long hours, but they do so because, at least until recently, top management reciprocally cared for the employees as if they were family members.
Why then has Japan not continued to prosper? Unfortunately, the family thinking which Japan applied so successfully amongst its own citizens, it utterly failed to apply in its dealings with the rest of the world. The global economy is also a family, and a family where only one member prospers and the rest decline will eventually collapse. One sided trading arrangements cannot continue forever. Such one-sided trading arrangements by Japan Inc. and the world’s multi-national companies have strangled the global economy which can no longer absorb an excess of industrial production.
One of the less publicized reasons for Japan’s economic miracle was the egalitarian nature of economic reforms imposed on the Japanese economy by the occupying forces after World War Two. Idealistic ‘New Deal’ reformers, unhindered by the opposition of vested interests which they faced at home, and possessed of unlimited dictatorial powers within Japan, created what amounted to a social revolution. The large family companies (Zaibatsu) were broken up, Landlords were allocated ceilings on landholdings and vast amounts of land were sold to tenant farmers at rock bottom prices. Prices of agricultural goods were linked to prices in the industrial sector and powerful labour laws ensured good wages and working conditions. Together these reforms created an across the board surge in purchasing capacity and entrepreneurial activity that formed the foundation for Japan’s recovery. To a lesser extent similar reforms were applied in Korea, Taiwan and Singapore and in all these countries governments played a strong role in prioritizing national recovery over individual economic interests. As a result each of the countries enjoyed spectacular economic success yet in all cases, failure to apply the same style of family-thinking outside their own borders inevitably sowed the seeds of reaction in the world economy.
Unselfishness as economic policy
The gap between minimum and maximum wage has important effects on productivity. When there is no gap productivity is low; this is the condition of Communism. As the gap is increased productivity increases in response to the stimulus of higher incentives. But if this gap is allowed to go on increasing without control we find that productivity declines again; this is the situation of advanced Capitalism. The large gap between rich and poor creates extreme poverty at one end and excessive wealth at the other-both of which are a waste of productive resources. Due to poor education and unemployment the productive capacity of large numbers of poor people is not fully utilised. In frustration many turn to crime and dependency on welfare. Meanwhile the rich typically spend a larger amount of their wealth on speculative rather than productive investment. Economic decisions guided only by the profit motive ultimately also reduce an economy to stagnancy. In an effort to cut costs the number of employees is reduced. If growing numbers of people become unemployed naturally purchasing capacity will be affected resulting in a drop in demand. When demand falls the economy will enter a recession. Capitalism cuts its own throat by selfishness. One does not have to be an economist to understand this point.
Unselfishness, however, strengthens the economy. The more we increase people’s purchasing capacity (through providing employment), the more money they will have to stimulate new production. Blinded by greed, capitalists are unwilling to see this simple point, and for this reason, the entire capitalist world faces the increasing likelihood of economic depression.
So we see that, far from being mere idealism, the ethical or family approach suggested by PROUT is also good economics. It doesn’t matter where you look in PROUT, every PROUT policy has its basis in thinking of the universe as an extended family. Even if one were not a brilliant economist one could create PROUT solutions to almost all problems simply by applying this type of thinking.
Acting Like a Hero
The outlook of the self-development system of Tantra, upon which PROUT is based, is that “struggle is the essence of life”. Why is this so and what are its implications in the social sphere? According to Tantra the universe exists due to the balance of two forces, Vidya and Avidya – the centripetal force and the centrifugal force. Within this universal equilibrium, living beings are proceeding on the centripetal path towards the nucleus or source of creation under the guidance of Vidya. Human progress therefore is a constant heroic struggle against the centrifugal force of Avidya. Those who are reluctant to accept the necessity of struggle live in a fool’s paradise of guaranteed disappointment. Those who do accept it consider difficulties as the hallmarks of vitality and get on with enjoying life. “The brave enjoy the world.”
The Samurai is disciplined yet relaxed at the same time. Why? He has accepted discipline as the inevitable necessity of life and no longer attempts, or even desires, to avoid it. It has become part of him, automatic; he enjoys it because it is life.
Democracy’s attractive, perilous Illusion
Struggle means life, lack of struggle means death. In the social sphere this means accepting, indeed, embracing, a constant fight against immorality and exploitation. In the absence of fight, Avidya will inevitably dominate. But where is the fight in today’s democratic societies? Is casting a secret vote once in four years at election time a sign of heroic struggle?
We are lulled into the belief that a system rather than heroism can protect us against exploitation; meanwhile, the noose of exploitation tightens imperceptibly around our necks. Democracy is the biggest sacred cow of the twentieth century. Nobody dares criticise it, yet, in my view, it is largely a hoax. The definition of democracy is “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” yet in that bastion of democracy, the USA, it is common that less than 50 percent of eligible voters bother to vote. Asked why, the most common reply is, “It doesn’t change anything.” Is this “government by the people”?
According to PROUT there has never been, nor ever will be, a time when everyone governs. Rather, at any particular time in history “one group is always dominant.” The group may be warriors, intellectuals or merchants. Their domination may be benevolent or exploitative but, they lead the society. It is a mistake therefore to try and judge the health of any given society from the impossible proposition of government by the people. What we should be vigilant about is the character of the dominant group, i.e., whether it is exploitative or benevolent, capable or incompetent.
Democracy and the merchant class
At present democracy is largely a smokescreen disguising the fact that a small group of people is exploiting the world for all it is worth. This exploitation can only be maintained as long as people believe in the illusion of self-government, ie. democracy.
This illusion is very carefully maintained. When anger boils over it is diverted into elections or into government sponsored programs temporarily benefiting special interests. Hyped up media “experiences” give people the illusion that they are controlling their own fates and allow them to expend their frustrations in an orgy of campaign extravaganzas. Afterwards things continue more or less as before. As long as people believe that they are governing themselves they will not strike a significant blow against exploitation. For this reason the capitalists are very careful to maintain the “sacred cow” status of democracy.
According to P.R. Sarkar, political democracy is the preferred form of government for the merchant class. Under political democracy political power is diffused amongst the entire population, ignorant and wise, moral and immoral. Such diffused political power can never control the concentrated economic power of the capitalists. Rather the opposite occurs; politicians without financial backing never see the light of day and popular consciousness is controlled by the capitalist owned media. A concentrated power will always control a diffused one – this is the law of force. Thus, under political democracy the ability of the state to control the acquisitive tendencies of the merchant class is minimal and, in the name of personal freedom, a small number of individuals justify their right to horde the lion’s share of collective wealth. People urgently need to realise that democracy in this form is actually facilitating rather than preventing exploitation. To put it even more bluntly democracy has become a carefully disguised tool of exploitation.
To control the concentrated economic power of the capitalists, a much greater force than the occasional casting of a vote is required. United and well-organised moral people, with the courage to risk their personal safety on behalf of others, are ultimately what is needed. In other words, Act Like A Hero. This potent strength and readiness to fight will always be the only language which exploiters understand, and therefore the only force capable of maintaining peace and fairness. As long as it is present humanity can breathe the fresh air of freedom but the moment it is forgotten the door is left open for those who would exploit us.
(Note: PROUT advocates economic democracy which emphasizes decentralization of economic power i.e., the ability of local people and local governments to control their economic destinies. Economic democracy is the real democracy because it pertains to everyday life. Only a strong government could implement and preserve the rules of fair-play implied in economic democracy. Thus along with economic decentralization PROUT advocates political centralization. A high quality of government could be maintained by introducing a merit/value based system for voter qualification. This is the exact opposite of political democracy where we find economic centralization – economic power concentrated in the hands of a few – and political decentralization – political power is given to all regardless of knowledge, ability or character)
Italy – Saved by direct action
Let’s look at an example from the previous decade. Italy has been a democracy for a long time, yet, despite millions of votes cast, corruption and political selfishness progressively reached new depths of greed and dishonesty. The people became totally fed up and disillusioned with politicians and the political process. What brought hope to Italy was not democracy, but a small group of courageous judges, prosecutors and policemen who were prepared to risk their lives by taking a tough stand against corruption. Many in fact have been killed in the course of the struggle.
They pursued their cause so staunchly that a few years ago a full half of the legislature was “under investigation”. Mafia bosses and business tycoons were also being arrested and jailed, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The powerlessness which the people felt under democracy and the fear of speaking out against the Mafia and political corruption was swept away. Suddenly people felt that they could take power into their own hands. In the face of this popular wave the entire political establishment collapsed, showing how weak exploiters are when people finally throw aside their reliance on the vote and resort to real opposition.
People must wake up from the fairytale dream of democracy and assume the responsibility of real struggle. For under democracy we can expect nothing except crocodile tears about rising unemployment while companies relocate their factories in cheap-labour countries and manipulate the media to turn helpless immigrants into scapegoats. The notion of a universal family is something that can be made the basis of economic policy. The spirit of heroic fight against exploitation is the second part of the inner spirit of PROUT. It is not democratic elections, but those moralists who are ready to accept this historic role who can guarantee the welfare of the people and ensure that immoral and exploiting groups cannot remain in power.
P.R. Sarkar pointed out the shortcomings of democracy but stated that it was the best system of government so far evolved. He suggested reforms which could remove some of its inequities (see Requirements of an Ideal Constitution in PROUT in a Nutshell). However, reforms or no reforms, the fact that a particular group will always dominate the social cycle and ultimately tend towards exploitation, will always create the necessity for moral activism. Those who accept this responsibility are the real leaders of society.
© The Author 1997-2011