Earth’s resources are the common inheritance of all humanity. So all people should enjoy the fundamental right to the goods and services required to maintain their existence and to support their development and their expression.
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights asserts that, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [themself] and of [their] family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services,” and that, “Everyone has the right to education, [which] shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”
The Global Prout Policy Parliament declares that:
(1) the right to the minimum requirements of life — food, clothing, housing, medical care and education — must be constitutionally guaranteed;
(2) other basic necessities and common amenities of life must also be guaranteed; and
(3) effective policies are required for establishing this right in practice.
Minimum Requirements, Basic Necessities and Common Amenities
The minimum requirements of life include food (and drinking water), shelter, clothing, education, and medical care. People also need access to certain other requirements, including energy/fuel, transportation, communications, water supply, and waste disposal. Together, these constitute the basic necessities. In addition, all people desire common amenities — those things which make their life easy and satisfy their physical and psychic longings.
Society’s standard of the necessities and amenities that are due to all should be established according to the age and place in which people live. This standard should be progressively adjusted with changing conditions.
Acquisition of basic necessities and amenities should, in the main, come through individuals and families having access to adequate purchasing capacity.
Assuring a sufficient level of purchasing power should not just be the burden of individuals and families but, where appropriate, the society should assist as well.
For those able to work, purchasing capacity would be acquired through dignified labor, compensated by adequate pay. Those not able to work, because of disabilities or demands of family care, should receive their income through family support or from financial assistance arranged by the society.
With respect to education and medical care, the responsibility of the society is comparatively greater to provide these services directly. Basic education is the investment of the society in its future. And medical care cannot be provided efficiently and universally without being managed, in some manner or other, by the society.
In addition to guaranteed basic necessities, the society must also see that its members have sufficient purchasing capacity to acquire common amenities — the commodities, services and experiences that are enjoyed in the age and place in which they live.
Not only should the common amenities be available to all, but they should become available in increasing measure.
Amenities that are at one point considered to be special goods, only available to a few, should increasingly come to be within the standard of living enjoyed by all.
Also, the productive capacity of the society should be devoted to maximizing the availability of common amenities, with comparatively less of its productive capacity going toward producing luxury goods. That is to say, the production of luxury goods should not take place at the expense of adequate production of everyday consumer goods.
The purpose of the progressive increase in common amenities (whether in quality or quantity) is not to promote consumption or clutter people’s lives with material possessions. It is to meet people’s natural physical and psychic longings and give them an expanded material base for their all-round development and expression.
While people should enjoy the right of ample access to common amenities, this must occur within the context of sustainable production and protecting the health of the environment.
Arranging Purchasing Capacity
The guarantee of people’s purchasing capacity requires two main factors:
First, the society must arrange for full employment for all who are able to work. This, in turn, requires policies and approaches that ensure a vital, stable, and sustainable economy. It also means that as efficiencies of productivity increase due to mechanization and improved utilization of human potentials, the length of the work-day should be reduced.
Second, economic planning and policy must insure the availability of commodities, stable prices, periodic increases in wages, and a steady increase in collective assets (such as roads, electrical grids, and communication systems).
The right to guaranteed basic necessities and common amenities should be established in principle in the global declaration of human rights. It should then be constitutionally and legally established at the national level. And it should be implemented in practice through national, regional and local economic planning policy.
If a regional or local economy, due to underdevelopment, lacks sufficient capacity to adequately assure basic necessities and amenities, then neighboring regions within the concerned nation or multi-national federation should contribute resources and other assistance for the accelerated development of the less developed region or locale.
Where citizens enjoy a guaranteed right to purchasing power, should they then face economic hardship due to unemployment or lack of state assistance, they would be statutorily empowered to take legal action against the concerned state for failure to manage the economy in a manner that assures them adequate income to meet their needs.
Relativity of Standards
The standard of basic necessities and common amenities that people should enjoy cannot be fixed but require adjustment according to three relative factors.
First, standards will change over time: education in the age of print required use of books, while education in the electronic age also requires access to the Internet.
Second, standards depend on location: the clothing worn by Siberians will differ from that of Nigerians.
Third, people may have individual needs: an autistic child, for example, may need special educational assistance.
Neither basic necessities nor common amenities can be properly provided if the society fails to place reasonable limitations on over-accumulation of individual wealth. The limits on excessive accumulation should be periodically adjusted so as to maintain balance between social equity on the one hand and the efficacy of income incentives on the other. Social policy should strive to continually adjust the gap between the highest wage compensation and the lowest in a manner that encourages equitable growth in everyone’s standard of living.
Should the society feel an individual is able to make socially constructive use of a greater level of wealth, it should give that individual express permission for an exception to the cap on accumulation.
The guarantee of basic necessities and common amenities and the provision of material incentives are intimately linked. Where the standard of income rewards for hard work and socially valued talents fails to create sufficient incentives, the economic vitality of the whole society will suffer — and those with the least will suffer most.
Increasing Standard of Living
To serve both individual and collective interests, there should be a steady rise in the standard of living of the society. Indeed, the increase in standard of living is a principal measure of the vitality of a society.
An increase in the standard of living cannot properly be measured by growth in per capita income. Money may lose its value, taxation may rise disproportionately with growth of income, or people may become burdened with new kinds of expenditures required by the society.
The proper measure should instead be that of growth in purchasing power. When there is growth of purchasing power, there will implicitly be an increase in the material standard of living.
Increase in the standard of living does not necessarily mean an increase in the quantity of material consumption. In underdeveloped and in developing societies this may be the case, as many in these societies lack even the basic necessities. But in developed countries, an increasing standard of living may mean access to a higher quality of goods, housing, and services. Or it may entail the acquisition of creative skills or of personal development experiences, rather than the acquisition of material stuff.
Balance between the society and the environment cannot be maintained where there is mindless consumption. Much of the present excess in material consumption is due to enticements to buy that are goaded by profit-driven advertising. And it occurs because spiritual development is not well-supported, so that people seek fulfillment by indulging in material cravings, rather than through personal development and spiritual upliftment.
A New Paradigm of Development
No society can guarantee basic necessities and amenities if its economy depletes and fouls water tables, soil vitality, forests, arable land, marine life and other resources necessary for human, and non-human, life to thrive. Giving primacy to the profit motive in economic development goads resource depletion and environmental destruction.
Therefore, the guarantee of basic necessities and amenities cannot occur under capitalism, but requires a new economic system that promotes balanced and sustainable development.
Capitalism has had success in increasing the scope of necessities and amenities enjoyed by many on the planet. And, with the adoption of regulatory and welfare policies, a near universal social safety net has been established in a few developed capitalist countries. Yet, capitalism is inherently unable to assure adequate purchasing power to all, to manage a path of development that is truly sustainable, or to sufficiently support the inner development of human beings.
So an expanded economic paradigm is now required, one that has a life-centered value base. Only then can the whole of the human family be well cared for and be given opportunities to fully develop and fully express their potentialities. And only then will the impact of human economic life lighten on the planet, so that all other living beings can also thrive.
Policies for Enhancing Purchasing Capacity
Full implementation of the principle of guaranteed basic necessities and common amenities may prove difficult in profit driven economies and may have to await the acceptance of a new socioeconomic paradigm able to give more attention to human needs.
However, in this time of growing economic hardship and high unemployment, there is great need to develop practical policies and approaches that can increase people’s purchasing capacity. Immediate practical steps are required. If this is not done, those who are without the means to acquire their basic goods and services will either suffer from want, or over-burden the state with welfare expenditures, or resort to anti-social or desperate means for their livelihood. And, having meager disposable income, they can do little to help revive stagnant economies.
There are several strategies available to local communities, and to regions and nations, to create and enhance purchasing capacity. The Global Prout Policy Parliament recommends making use of the following approaches, as may be appropriate given local conditions and opportunities:
(1) make affordable goods and services more available, thus extending the purchasing capacity of money;
(2) arrange to make jobs more available (eg, through policies that promote job creation) or to prevent job losses (eg, reducing work hours to prevent job loss), giving more people access to earned income;
(3) establish means of exchange that are outside of the money economy for acquiring income, goods and capital;
(4) create opportunities for citizen-based access to small enterprise credit;
(5) keep capital within the local community where it can circulate and enhance opportunities for more people to earn sufficient livelihoods;
(6) protect the productive capacity of the earth from environmental degradation, and restore the productivity of lands that have been degraded;
(7) enact policies that prevent money from lying stagnant and keep it circulating;
(8) create policies that serve to reduce concentration of wealth and which progressively redistribute it;
(9) protect local jobs from being outsourced;
(10) relocalize economic development, and in particular build the capacity of the local economy to produce goods locally;
(11) help people to acquire new job-related skills;
(12) provide capital and infrastructure development that assist in establishing new enterprises that have promise to create new employment;
(13) tightly regulate and limit all speculative markets;
(14) find new and productive uses for resources that are presently wasted or underutilized,
(15) regulate profit margins on basic necessities to prevent price gouging,
(16) give preferential support for small labor intensive industries that make efficient use of technology and do not require large capital investment,
(17) provide government funding for jobs that build the society’s productive potentialities by enhancing its human capital, infrastructure capital, natural capital, and social capital, and
(18) encourage the formation of producer cooperatives as a means of retaining wealth within local economies.