By Trond Øverland
Keywords: Protectionism, free trade, national capitalism, Prout.
These days, whenever someone mentions "the economy" many of us actually think of "our society and its economy". We often hear about fluctuating interest rates, unemployment figures, retail prices, and stock exchange markets, but all the while we wonder how such developments might impact us and our families, society and peace.
"Socio-economy too is a
collective expression of humanity"
Among all living beings, humans in particular seem to have clear ideas about progress. We aspire to be something much more than just figures on someone's Excel sheet, and we feel deeply that our society isn't just meant to be an economic machine. First things first then: Actually what is a society?
Societies obviously consist of living beings. Still, for a group of people to qualify as a society they require something other than just being many in number. Societies of monkeys, thieves, and of human beings all have their particular features and qualities, some sort of purpose and dynamism that make them come alive in their own way as a society.
Take the example of passengers on a metro train. When boarding the train, all we may see is a collection of random individuals seemingly unrelated and socially quite inactive. Whereas if the train comes to an unexpected long stop in an awkward place, or an accident takes place inside the carriage, those previously apparently unrelated individuals would suddenly start to interact. Personalities, groups, etc. will come into play and a kind of society will manifest among them. Some passengers will proceed to form parties and opinions: A few will take the lead, others will follow, one or two will want to be daring, others cautious, some will argue, others will be commenting bystanders, some will try to get a more comfortable place, etc.
Still, the orderly passengers we saw when we first boarded the train also formed a society even when all they did was quietly reaching their respective destinations together. After all they were not that passive but had already paid their fares in order to form a society of passengers on their journey. A society is very much “history in the making” whether or not its members at the outset of their journey together know a great deal about each other or about the precise conditions at their respective destinations.
Historians label societies. For instance, our present society and times are said to be characterized by a) rapid technological advancement, b) ruthless economic competition, c) the emancipation of women, d) ecological awakening, and a great many other things. Past societies and times have been labelled as matriarchal, patriarchal, monarchic, dark ages, enlightenment, industrial, modern, post-modern, etc. Such labels intend to convey something about the ways and customs of those societies. The string of such labels may also lead us to conclude that:
- We the members of society love to define collective and individual potentiality, perhaps as a way for us to better know and become ourselves.
- Societies frequently move from one such label to another, indicating that we have it in us to change our ways fundamentally (having to do with our evolved basis), and even rudimentally (having to do with our existential roots), in order to realize fresh potentiality.
Socio-economics, more than just economics
All living beings are born into some society or the other. Society is where we grow up to fulfil our instincts, interests, and dreams. Our society is our common playground, school, university, and workplace—our common home and world. In society we realize ourselves individually and collectively.
As collectives of living beings, societies themselves exhibit particular properties of life in their own collective ways. Collective sentiments of fear and joy, compassion, participation, hopefulness, possessiveness, animosity, revenge, etc. are among the chief momenta we see reflected in the behaviour, traditions, and laws of societies.
Naturally, those features expressed clearly by a majority of the members of a society will typify that society more. Coming back to our original subject, socio-economy, economic factors such as investment, financial returns, and profits are not common to all and found to be dominant only among traders and others intimately connected with economics. On the other hand, the general goals and values of society—security, belonging, togetherness, creativity, cultural evolution, civilizational refinement, emancipation, etc.—are universal and the domain of all. It follows that society is something more than economic affairs and economy must be subordinate to society.
Socio-economy of individuals and groups
We have now established that, like any other dimension of human society, socio-economy too is a collective expression of humanity. One particular feature of socio-economics is its need for both closedness and openness in order to function properly. In human terms we may say we need privacy and stable personal circumstances in order to strengthen our self-reliance, while at the same time we need to develop social skills and our abilities to engage and participate. It follows that the closedness of a society maintains its rudimentary existence and basic identity, while its openness generates further development and integration beyond its indigenous limitations into the larger world and universal spirit.
“Countries with closed economies are entirely self-sufficient and neither export nor import goods. …
In an open economy, the country willingly trades outside of its borders, including both imports and exports…”
Source: “What are the differences between closed and open economies?” -Reference.com
A society's first priority is the security of its members. From a security point of view, basic necessities should be produced domestically. Not only should crucial commodities be home-grown, they should also be tax-free (according to Prout1 regular domestic taxes should be levied at the starting point of production and not in the form of VAT on retail and income tax).
This is a main aspect of the closedness of a Proutistic socio-economic system: A strong foundation of basic self-sufficiency. If such self-reliance is not established, efforts should be continued until basic self-reliance is achieved.
"Socio-economic dignity starts
with basic security and rights."
Here the term closedness is not used as in "a closed society" or "closed economy". Psychology has taught us that abused people need to learn to set boundaries for others so that their life of abuse ends. This has to be done without becoming isolationalist, self-centered, or abusive oneself. In the same way, societies, too, need to exercise a certain autonomous control in order to recover their sense of dignity. When one is vulnerable to the control of others, one has been deprived fundamentally of their dignity and becomes a victim. Such abused socio-economies may be termed as vulnerable or victimised socio-economies. A properly developed socio-economy is self-reliant open to dignified interaction. Socio-economic dignity starts with basic security and rights.
Another aspect of Prout's dignified socio-economics is its emphasis on mother tongue and local culture. The propounder of Prout, Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar, noted: "The psychology of suppression undermines the progress of a country. People will eventually revolt against it and restore unity. The sentiments of people cannot be forcibly suppressed for a long time. Human beings best express themselves through their mother tongue. If people’s mother tongue is suppressed, it is equivalent to strangling them. The suppression of people’s mother tongue is a sin."2 And, "According to the policy of PROUT, besides the mother tongue, students can also learn as many languages as possible. Let people know as many languages as they can. Still, in the practical field—government and non-government work and court work—the mother tongue should be used."3
No matter how much we human beings value our security and cherish the land where we were born, we still dream of a greater world beyond. Human history abounds with tales of exploration of the unknown. These days, airports all over the world require constant expansion, while on the Internet… Crude and subtle indications abound of our universal craving for the unknown: The science of ecology tells us that all of us as well as each and everything are interconnected, while the science of spirituality prods us still further on in this respect. We clearly want to find the link between what is known to us and what is not.
Our universal need for basic security coupled with the innate human longing for further exploration present us with an apparent socio-economic riddle: No security-conscious society can afford to leave its basic necessities to chance or to foreign powers unconcerned with its own local interests. On the other hand, human beings cannot and do not wish to remain in isolation.
Prout's solution to this pronounced conundrum is balanced dynamic development. Another term would be movement towards synthesis. Faced with society's basic need to be socio-economically self-reliant, Prout balances this closed dimension with being open to global trading and bartering of semi-essential and non-essential commodities, and promoting free trading and bartering of overproduction (more on Prout's free trade model below). Cultural exchange and cultivation of non-dogmatic spiritual outlook and practices throughout the educational system complete this approach to synthesis.
Socio-economics is not an isolated field of human activity. Prout invites further interaction and synthesis of various countries and regions for improved security and further progress. For instance in the form of common environmental planning and projects; implementation of universal legal values; human, animal and plants rights; united military strength, etc. For the smooth running of such global affairs, Prout suggests the establishment of a world government based on a world constitution.
Earlier in this short paper, society was defined in a general way illustrated by a few examples. More on the socio-economic point, Prout defines societies as people with same economic problems, uniform economic potentialities, ethnic similarities, sentimental legacy including language, historical traditions, literature, common usages and cultural expressions, and similar geographical features such as topography, river systems, rainfall and irrigation water.
With a proper closed-open balance such dignified societies will continue to grow both their own independent core as well as their ability to reach out and interact. In the process, adjacent societies will increasingly find that they share socio-economic characteristics and challenges with their neighbours. Naturally, Prout suggests the merger of properly self-reliant, mature, well-matched units into greater and still greater units—until the entire World is established as one smoothly functioning dignified socio-economic unit.
Protectionism and free trade
A healthy socio-economy is both closed and open, serving a conglomerate of human beings, animals and plants in a dignified way. It is firmly secured at its core and outwardly participatory. As such, societies can deal and adjust with constant changes in both domestic and external factors.
Coming back to the economy, Sarkar suggested4 free trade (trade free from export and import duties) in someone's overproduction as a solution to the underproduction of others. Sarkar reasons that such trade will allow overproducing- and underproducing countries to make adjustments between themselves. Overproduction of any industrial or agricultural produce in one country may be consumed by another country where there is underproduction of the same commodity.
Prout does not however support trading in raw materials. Wherever there is production of raw material, efforts should be on producing refined goods within the country and not just shipping raw materials abroad.
Sarkar noted that local raw material prices in the export market are subject to manipulation and sudden fluctuations as they are currently traded through speculative commodity markets, which are controlled by vested interests. "To root out dishonesty from the field of trade, free trade should be established throughout the world as far as possible. Manufactured goods, on the other hand, are generally subject to less price manipulation and command better prices than raw materials. By manufacturing locally finished products, a socioeconomic unit can conserve its reserve bullion and improve the purchasing capacity of the local people."5
The refining of raw materials at home will strengthen domestic technology and know-how whereas wholesale exports of raw material will only increase trade imbalances (the difference between the value of a country's exports and imports) due to the fact that consumer products generally command higher prices than raw materials. For instance, if a country exports cotton and imports cotton products it will stand to lose in so many ways on the transaction.
Prout's raw material doctrine is of course diametrically opposed to the present trading practices of global capitalism. Prout clearly contradicts the classic capitalist theories on the importance of comparative and absolute advantages in the creation of global wealth, formulated by Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Today, all that is left of Smith and Ricardo's theories is the frantic search of capitalist exploiters for profitable resources (cheap labour, available raw materials, ready markets, etc.) all round the world. Those basic ideas of global capitalism, once heralded as harbingers of universal prosperity, are no longer indicative of any mutual benefit but only of one-way profiteering.
Two socio-economic solutions
It is often said that capitalism is an open system. Open to what, one may ask? With its dominating tendency towards centralisation of wealth, capitalism seems to be more of a closed system as far as generating opportunities for all, is concerned. At most we can say that capitalism seems to be wide open to exploitation of any available resources.
Prout points to a number of major conflicts and contradictions under capitalism that need to be resolved. Two such severe dichotomies are:
- Rational distribution as opposed to unbridled wealth accumulation
- Maximum utilization as opposed to profit maximization
Rational distribution vs. unbridled wealth accumulation
Promoting rational distribution instead of unbridled accumulation has to do with ensuring universal access to resources and permanent relief from standstills and decay. Apart from the enormity of the suffering that capitalist exploitation has caused to society, there are two critical structural downsides to its exploitative nature; one physical and the other mental.
Firstly, the colossal accumulation of physical wealth by a few leads to a state of affairs where vast funds are no longer accessible to society. The negative implications of such a situation become particularly apparent in economically uncertain times when the exceedingly profit-hungry and hyper-rich few prefer to hold back on investing instead of risking losing on it.
This holding back of enormous and most critical capital reserves in times of particular need naturally results in large-scale financial and industrial standstills. It is the natural outcome of the speculative, hesitating, and essentially anti-social motivations of the mega-rich and most greedy when opportunities no longer abound but their essentially exploitative instincts remain as strong as ever.
This is the second downside to liberal capitalism: The psyche of those who keep accumulating beyond their actual needs, and at the cost of the life quality and indeed lives of others, increasingly becomes corrupt and degenerates into sub-animal greed and crudity. In the end such people become unable to perceive—not to speak of act on—the acute needs of severely deprived individuals and societies, even in times of extreme physical, mental and spiritual crises.
In fact, not even in its worst nightmares does the capitalist instinct dream of kneeling humbly before humanity. Rather, in the same way as the proverbial duty-bound captain prefers to go down with his ship, the capitalist demons in human form prefer to leave Earth with all their riches in hand even if that means that the whole world must go down first.
In order to liberate society from economic exploitation, Prout suggests to initially:
- Remove socio-economic power from the rich.
- Limit individual accumulation.
- Establish a system of rational distribution where everyone is guaranteed a minimum of purchasing power in exchange for their work, and where the extra output of the industrious and those with above-average talent are further rewarded within reasonable limits.
Maximum utilization vs. profit maximization
Maximum utilization vs. profit maximization has to do with the utilization of all kinds of resources; individual, collective, physical, political, economic, social, cultural, mental, and spiritual resources. Let us first take a quick look at the main controlling hubs of all such resources today: Stock exchanges.
The main task of companies listed on stock exchanges is to reward its owners for their investment. This basically counterproductive business template has led to a universal rat race where “leaner and meaner” equals good practice. The term "counterproductive" has been used, as it seems so much more productive to allow investments to be harvested by those who work on them directly, and not by someone unrelated. It is the same principle as in the establishment of basic security touched on earlier in this article. We should attempt to properly appreciate the socio-economic implications of direct ownership, and conversely of alienation, of capital. In Prout, this is taken care of by its predominantly cooperative sector.
As already mentioned, global capitalism involves opportunistic reallocation of operations to wherever cheap raw materials, labour, etc. are readily available. This essentially one-eyed, profit-motivated strategy entails layoffs, poverty, and ruin in formerly prosperous areas being suddenly laid to waste by stock exchange dictates.
By contrast, Prout upholds the principle of maximum utilization. It means continuous accelerated all-round output of individuals and societies, and not of their financial output alone.
As already indicated, human beings and their societies possess numerous physical, mental, political, social, cultural, and spiritual potentialities which can be harnessed and put to good use. A society is a collective mirror of its individual members in many respects of their lives. To paraphrase what has already been stated: To make economic potential the end all of individuals and society is not only a serious misapprehension – it perverts the natural evolution of bringing the potentialities of all living beings to fulfilment.
Very few people are economically motivated in their basic life aspirations. If the prevailing system dictates such an economic approach to life, we must liberate ourselves from it. In order for us to embark on the journey from a profit-motivated setup to one of maximum utilization of all resources—physical, mental, spiritual—we first need to close down the stock exchanges and all other exploitative capitalist institutions. In the place of profit-motivated economics we should cultivate a socio-economy centering on consumer-motivated cooperative enterprises free of profit-motivation.6
Prout’s aims are all-round development. It wants people to live physically, mentally and spiritually fulfilled lives. Prout's definition of progress is movement towards the highest good, towards supreme emancipation. Practically speaking then, Prout's progressive socio-economics is embedded in trust in a clear idea of what progress really is.
The bonds between an individual human being and human society are intrinsic and undeniable. Trust is an instinct, a basic inner force that living beings mobilize in order to bond with circumstances. In the same way as individuals need to trust themselves, societies need to trust their worth and innate capabilities. For this the members of a society require a clear image and understanding of their common journey through history and of the objectives and goals that are in front of them. Without such strong, deep-felt self-assurance and self-understanding little can be done.
Again we witness the need for closedness and openness playing round each other towards a greater synthesis. Societies need to nurture both their native identity and their universal soul.
Time and again throughout human history hero worship has provided the members of innumerable societies with much needed self-assurance and understanding. Many a strong leader, armed with some notion of ideological greatness or other, has attempted to hold up images of needed societal self-worth. More often than not such imagery has been painted in colours of stark nationalism. Even today, in our global world of greatly expanded sense and sensibilities, we still get to see the return of crude nationalism in many places.
Right now we witness the rapid growth of national capitalist (Naci) ideology. Nacism [nakɪzəm] promotes capitalist interests on a pseudo-nationalist platform. The term pseudo-nationalism is used here as Nacism carries the mask of nationalism over its real face of capitalism. It is fundamentally fake and a contradiction in terms as capitalism's greed and level of exploitation will never stop growing by itself. The malignant cancer at the core of Nacism will continue to spread across any geographical boundary. Neither will Nacism serve any one nation (but only exploit its citizens) and neither will it stay within its borders.
Nacism could turn out to be far worse than national socialism (Nazism). As Nazism and other geo-centred “isms” have already proven, nationalism produces more excluding and negative sentiments and much less inclusive and positive ones. Nationalism in any shape and form turns out to be very bad in the end. In the case of Nacism, the industrial force as well as systemic coherence of global capitalism continue to bolster this monstrous force, and will do so even in the event of a World War III.
The plain truth is that the Naci doctrine is divisive and excluding both internally and externally. It will never create unity within a country. The tension between EU member states today equals the anguish that any European country may feel towards more remote powers. Capitalism in any form is the fox in the henhouse. A fake and a true misnomer, Nacism is as much about big fish eating small fish as any other system of capitalism.
Renaissance of a greater sense of belonging
The term nation means birthplace. As already touched upon, the truth of ecology and spirituality is that we are all born on this planet in this Universe rather than in a particular limited geographic place. To those who have awakened to this ecological and spiritual ethos, the sweet appeal of the “global village” is obvious. Today, claiming that one only lives in a country quite isolated from the rest of the world is a symptom of severe existential myopia with all its unfortunate consequences.
Our crises-stricken world is crying out for comprehensive, unifying, universal thinking that may serve today's emerging world society in all spheres of existence—physical, economic, political, social, cultural, mental, and spiritual.
The global economy may appear to some as "the one ring that binds us all". Indeed, more than any other current factor or element, capitalist economy dictates the lives of most of us, namely the conditions and circumstances we live in. So it is the economy we have to change if we are to liberate ourselves from exploitation and reclaim our destiny locally and globally, individually and collectively.
We humans are many-faceted beings with numerous needs, aspirations, and potentialities. Whatever we are and desire to be, we are not just cog and wheels in an economic robot. Our main job is therefore not only to dismantle capitalism but also to construct and evolve a truly human economic system. It would be a dignified system where both socio-economic closedness and openness are recognized and put into practice and synthesized.
1 The fundamental principles of the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout) propounded by Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar in 1959: http://proutglobe.org/2011/05/5-fundamental-principles-of-prout/
2 "Three Cardinal Socio-economic Principles," P.R. Sarkar. Prout in a Nutshell Part 16. Ananda Marga Publications. http://proutglobe.org/2017/03/three-cardinal-socio-political-principles/
3 "Talks on Education – Excerpt 4," P.R. Sarkar. Prout in a Nutshell Part 18. Ananda Marga Publications.
4 “Economic Dynamics,” P.R. Sarkar. A Few Problems Solved Part 9. Ananda Marga Publications. http://proutglobe.org/2011/05/economic-dynamics/
5 "Socio-economic Movements," P.R. Sarkar. A Few Problems Solved Part 9. Ananda Marga Publications. http://proutglobe.org/2011/06/socio-economic-movements/
6 For more on Prout's cooperative economy, see: http://proutglobe.org/coops