The Path to a Future: Prosperity

Part 6 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future. Real prosperity.

A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
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This brings us to the third premise of The Path: prosperity. Prosperity is a mixture of wealth, peace and freedom that delivers a high standard of life. It is a natural human ambition to aspire to increased prosperity; a natural outcome of the combination of our instinct for survival, and our desire for relief from hardship.

The challenge is to reconcile this natural inclination, with the sustainability of our actions to attain it. Prosperity for the minority, at great cost to the planet, is plainly possible for a short time. We have already achieved that, but sustainable it is not. Not only is our current path to minority prosperity environmentally unsustainable, it is also socially unsustainable.

We need a new economic vision for our future. The prosperity we create going forward must be environmentally and socially sustainable, and to do that it must be resilient to the cycles of monetary systems and resistant to the vagaries of climate change. That requires us to move beyond mastering the crude art of industrial-scale extraction, to develop the finer skills of production with reduction, recycling, renewables and, above all, sustainable resilience.

Many thanks to Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute, for the following definition of resilience, as it so well describes the economy and prosperity we must build:

“An inherently resilient system should include many relatively small, fine-grained elements, dispersed in space, each having a low cost of failure. These substitutable components should be richly interconnected by short, redundant links. Failed components or links should be promptly detected, isolated, and repaired.

Components need to be so organized that each element can interconnect with the rest at will but stand alone at need, and that each successive level of function is little affected by failures or substitutions at a subordinate level. Systems should be designed so that any failures are slow and graceful.

Components, finally, should be understandable, maintainable, reproducible at a variety of scales, capable of rapid evolution, and societally compatible.”

A finely grained, richly inter-connected economy made of many small parts that are understandable, maintainable and societally compatible. Such a micro-economy can satisfy the desires of prosperity and sustainability concurrently.

There is enormous prosperity potential latent in our societies today. The time has come to extend the opportunity to contribute at our highest capacity to the entirety of our populations. The development of communications technologies in particular, but also transport, engineering, miniaturization and alternative energy technologies, have opened the way to pluralistic economic development on a scale that was not possible before now.

These advances in technologies allow us to leverage the unique skills, interests and capabilities of people everywhere to create a rich fabric of micro enterprise that compliments and balances our industrial enterprises. There are as many unfilled needs in a day as there are people on the planet, and somewhere there is someone ready and willing to produce the product or service that will fill each one of those needs. This is the prosperity potential of our planet. If we can unleash even a fraction of that potential, we will easily generate the wealth necessary to power our societies along the Path to sustainable prosperity for all.

The two keys to unlocking this latent potential are:

  • development of micro market places
  • free availability of human resources

Marketplaces are essential to the development of prosperity, and modern communications technology creates the possibility for markets in which every person can offer their unique contributions to meet the needs of others. The reason that the congregation of people in cities has been a hallmark of our historical prosperity development, is because cities enabled marketplaces. Now we have the capability to create location-independent marketplaces in the virtual world, for products and services in the real world. We need systems that can connect the billions of needs with the billions of producers, locally and transnationally, through fluid marketplaces that allow the natural ingenuity and innovation of the human spirit to flourish.

To a certain extent, this has already started with the advent of the Internet and the appearance of market services such as eBay and craigslist. What is needed now is a set of trans-global marketplace standards that will enable different markets all over the world to interact. This flourishing of micro- economic activity will be intensely local, but it is vital that each local market can exchange with its neighbours. The barriers of language and culture are not going to go away anytime soon, and the cost of transport is only likely to rise in the future, but trade will remain a vital aspect of our economies. So a rich fabric of geographically specific local marketplaces need to be the hubs around which networks of regional and transterritorial marketplaces rotate.

Small businesses have always been the largest employers in our economies, and the backbone of our social fabrics. Now we have the opportunity to extend the chance to be self-employed to everyone, because we can provide the marketing, technical and social support necessary.

Removing barriers to micro-enterprise is also necessary. Many tax regimes and social support systems today create “poverty traps” that actually discourage people from using their skills and capacity to build their own livelihoods. That will be completely resolved by implementing super-security.

In addition to the marketplace mechanisms, people need to be free to participate in them. That freedom is a function of the peace and security of the society, and requires that we build the structures and services that support them. We all need to be delivering our maximum individual contribution to the greatest extent possible, and that means having the super-security that allows us to live above the level of survival or subsistence.

Prosperity is the fruit of the tree, and it springs naturally from the branches of well nourished and protected populations. Lots of people using their unique and personal talents to create products and services that can be sold and bought through micro-enterprise markets. That is the engine of sustainable prosperity! That is a super-economy.

The diverse and diffuse nature of micro-economic activity makes it vastly more resilient to the ebb and flow of particular markets and economic cycles. It also has the potential to generate significant wealth, because the growth of wealth is largely driven by the volume of value-generating transactions in an economy. The liberation of micro-economic potential has an explosive capacity to exponentially increase transaction volumes.

This is the “super-economy” of our future, and it needs the personal security that will enable us to contribute at our highest capacity, as well as the marketplaces in which to find the needs for our contributions. If we provide these, our individual and collective prosperity will flourish gloriously.

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