If you’re a supporter of a resource-based economy, then there’s two things you know for certain: 1. it’s a great idea, and 2. it hasn’t happened yet. So the question has to be asked: why has such a good idea still not happened?
In fact, why does it seem an even more remote possibility today than it did ten years ago? In this article I hope to deliver the answer to these questions and propose ways to bring this about that you perhaps hadn’t thought of.
The idea of a Resource-Based Economy (RBE) has been etched on the fringes of modern intelligent thought for some decades now, championed mostly by eminent futurists like Jacque Fresco of The Venus Project and Peter Joseph of The Zeitgeist Movement (Natural Law Resource-Based Economy).
In a nutshell, the idea is to apply science and rational thinking to human society such that we remove counter-productive and dangerous processes from our culture, basing decisions instead on what can logically provide the best outcome for all people and environment.
The thinking is that once we apply these methods, many of our flawed institutions like money, markets, politics and all their various offshoots would become obsolete.
It’s certainly an impressive train of thought – impressive enough for this writer to embark on many projects (like Sharebay) that could support and even expedite it.
But the RBE movement is, I believe, suffering a crisis of paralysis which is this: It’s an all-or-nothing concept that can’t happen until a) massive numbers of people are mobilised into bringing it about, and/or b) the enabling technology becomes so cheap and accessible that it happens by default. Let’s address each obstacle briefly.
I think the cheap tech avenue is quite a few years away yet, and, even with that, there’s nothing to suggest that cheap tech alone could usher in that kind of dramatic socio-political change. For one, vested interests will most likely monopolise it, and – even if the tech isn’t monopolised – there’s nothing to suggest that people’s desire for material gain and status (the main drivers of market excesses) will just magically disappear when greater technology arrives. In fact, the opposite may be true. As people become more resource-enabled, the opportunity to gain elevated social and material status would become more available to more people.
So, what about the first obstacle – getting many people involved to organise and make it happen? Well it’s possible, but, as any change-maker knows, the reality is that it’s extremely difficult to mobilise large numbers of volunteers within the current labour market paradigm - especially to create the superstructure needed to build an RBE society – or even a modest prototype. And any prototype – even if it was able to withstand external pressures – is still no guarantee that it will work everywhere and at scale due to cultural, personnel or geographical differences.
So, it seems to me that realising a resource-based economy is stymied by the apparent paradox that while it seems perfectly desirable once established, actually establishing it under the overwhelming influence of today’s market society may be too insurmountable a task.
I believe this paradox explains why no resource-based economy exists anywhere – or looks even close – despite many decades of hard work from its main proponents.
In the absence of progress, the casual followers lose interest and drop off, leaving just the hard-core ‘devout’ who often end up chomping at the bit
Another unfortunate problem is that big ideas without results tend to lose their flavour quite quickly. While movements like Zeitgeist or Venus continue to promulgate ideas without real world results, they run the risk of starting to appear cultish and faith-based – thus damaging their ideas’ credibilty.
In the absence of progress, the casual followers lose interest and drop off, leaving just the hard-core ‘devout’ who often end up chomping at the bit and bickering amongst each other over hypothetical minutiae, until they tire and begin to splinter. And I see this already happening in both movements.
So is it actually hopeless?
Is there no way to realise something like an RBE – even though it’s clearly a good idea?
Well, yes – but I don’t think it can happen in the way that most proponents seem to think. In fact, I think RBE, as its methodology currently stands, may not even be the best approach to creating a nurturing, moneyless society. And that’s the end goal here, right?
So if you’ll indulge me, let’s back up here a little and examine what these movements are really proposing. What is meant by a ‘resource-based economy’ exactly?
In its purest sense, I think the fundamental axiom of an RBE is that value shifts from owner to resource. For example, in our market society, we have resources, and we have resource-owners who sell that resource, which creates the market. Whereas in a resource-based economy, a property claim to a resource is not owner-based, but need-based. In other words, those who need it the most are entitled the most, instead of an owner monopolising it.
So, when you look at it this way, perhaps the biggest challenge of transiting to an RBE is this: How do you wrest ownership from the resource-owners? Or, to put it bluntly, how do you convince millions of resource-owners to relinquish ownership of their valuable resources for an idea that has almost zero proven basis?
How many people do you think would happily sacrifice their cash livelihood or business empire to support a risky, untested idea? Would you?
I don’t think I would. And neither, I presume, would the majority of people.
Is it realistic to think that billions of people would suddenly leave behind their prized belief systems to become baptised by science and rational thought?
Secondly, presenting science as an approach to society is indeed a noble idea, but – as we know all too well – society doesn’t usually play well with hard science. In fact, it seems we are ruled now more than ever by hearsay, populism and media-sponsored outrage. Is it realistic to think that millions and billions of people would suddenly leave their prized belief systems to become baptised by science and rational thought? Might this be a little too much to hope?
And these are the answers that I myself arrived at a couple of years ago. Because of this, I believe it’s highly unlikely – barring some major catalysing event – for an RBE to be realised any time soon.
But there is another way to wrest ownership from resource-owners and shift people’s behaviour towards more rational outcomes:
By that I mean eroding and blurring the concept of resource ownership over time so it becomes less and less relevant, while offering alternative systems that can work in parallel with our existing one and alter people’s expectations and attitudes over time.
And thankfully there are already many initiatives in place doing just that – providing access to free, shared resources and skills right now. Sharebay is one and there are many others too. Then there are the tool libraries, repair cafes, open source projects and resource sharing apps that are all busily promoting the ideas of shared ownership, skill-pooling and community support.
At the end of the day, an RBE world is a shared world
And this stuff is vitally important. Because, at the end of the day, an RBE world is a shared world. And, for it to work, we need to all get into the habit of offering our goods and services freely to our communities, while also enjoying its bounty.
By free-sharing skills and resources among each other today, we are progressively blurring the lines of ownership and private property. beginning the process of valuing resources over resource-owners, and most importantly, forging new neural pathways towards a world of cooperation, sharing and open access.
Obviously, the idea is not that we all somehow provide for each other’s needs and wants straight away, but that we move incrementally towards that objective. As confidence in sharing as a methodology grows, it will soon become possible to share higher value goods and services over time, to a point when our societal fear and obsession with ownership can begin to fade, and trust in our fellow beings can return.
With this approach, we don’t need to ‘smash’ capitalism, or wait for resource-owners to hand over the keys to their kingdom, or wait for people to come to their senses. We just need to begin gravitating towards this alternative way of doing things today.
And I think that begins with sharing.