Four Rules against the False Abundance of the Eternal Growth Economy

Here is how the physical side of the Economy of the Commons should function! And below, a meditation of how one can choose for abundance over scarcity approaches by turning rival goods into non-rival ones.

1. The rules of the abundance economy

Excerpted from the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, which gives more context:

” The old economy has one major rule: grow or die. Unfortunately, we’re getting to the point where that rule is changing to grow AND die. In contrast, the new steady state economy lives by four main rules described below. It’s very hard to argue against any of these four rules. In fact, as a test, let’s consider the opposite of each rule as well…

Rule 1 – Maintain healthy ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems provide the life-support services for the planet. Ecosystems tend to be resilient, so they can handle quite a bit of disturbance. But if economic activities grow too large, they can disrupt the ability of those ecosystems to do their job.

The opposite of Rule 1 is that we destroy healthy ecosystems or maintain unhealthy ecosystems, clearly not a good idea (assuming we want to maintain life on the planet).

Rule 2 – Extract renewable resources at a rate no faster than they can be regenerated. Renewable resources, like forests and stocks of fish, provide goods for the economy. The amazing part about them is that they can go on providing goods year after year, so long as we don’t overdo it. If we take only the number of trees and fish that can be regenerated (economists call this sustainable yield), we can keep consuming timber and fish for generations to come.

The opposite of Rule 2 is that we extract renewable resources at a rate faster than they can be regenerated. Following such a course of action would wipe out the forest and drive the fish population to extinction. It would be like killing the goose that lays golden eggs.

Rule 3 – Use non-renewable resources at a rate no faster than we can find renewable substitutes. To use a non-renewable resource, like a fossil fuel or mineral, really means to use it up. There will be less of it available for future generations. This condition doesn’t mean that we have to leave all non-renewable resources untouched. But it does mean that there is a clear limit to their exploitation, and we should be working toward replacing them with renewable substitutes as we use them up.

The opposite of Rule 3 is to use non-renewable resources without finding renewable substitutes.

Following this course of action would deplete the bounty of planetary resources in short order. It would be like winning a million dollar lottery, leaving behind a job, and throwing a million dollars’ worth of lavish parties for one year. It might have been one heck of a year, but at the end of it, the money would be all gone, and future prospects wouldn’t be so bright.

Rule 4 – Dump wastes into the environment no faster than they can be safely assimilated. Depositing wastes faster than they can break down means that we have to live in our own piles of refuse. It makes for unpleasant and unhealthy living conditions.

The opposite of Rule 4 is to dump wastes as fast as we please. We don’t have to imagine the consequences of this course of action. We’ve seen them in the past – remember when it wasn’t all that uncommon for a river to catch on fire? And we see them today in the form of climate change and rising cancer rates.”

2. Robin Chase: Choosing abundance over scarcity.

Technology can turn rivalrous goods into non-rivalrous ones!!

Zipcar is another example of how we turned what was perceived as a rivalrous good – cars, that I needed to own in order to feel abundance – into a (mostly) non-rivalrous one. There is always a car around the corner when you need it; why bother to own one and have it sit idle much of the day?

“Let’s consider the human condition to be constant flight from scarcity and constant seeking of abundance. There are two ways to get to that abundance:

I get some stuff, call it mine, and guard it. Now I’m in control. The more stuff I call my own, the safer I am from a world of scarcity. Just about everybody in America and most capitalist societies can identify with this instinct. And the result is that we are incredible hoarders and have recently doubled the amount of physical stuff we buy, doubled the weight of stuff we put into landfills, and built huge amounts of stuff-storage facilities across our country (see Juliet Schorr’s work).

Our legal systems and corporate protection of intellectual property follows these same instincts. We write patents to be absolutely as broad as possible so that someday, we’ll have access to any future value that might possibly be found in these ideas – whether or not we think up this future value, whether it is in our area of business, whether or not it is in our geography of interest. All ours.

Another perspective on scarcity-avoidance is exactly the opposite. Everything I get, I pool with my community. It is all ours. When things are going good, I contribute. When things are going badly, I am protected by the good fortune of others in my community. We recognize this approach in socialist and communist societies.

It’s curious that both approaches are trying to protect and maximize periods of abundance, and they are exactly opposite from one another.”