Prosociality in action, the economy
multiplying the good stuff :-)
This article follows on from Poverty & prosociality
Certain things will thrive under certain conditions and so far we have never managed to really change the underlying conditions that cause poverty and inequality. Some plants grow best in an acidic soil, others grow best in a basic soil. Poverty seems to grow best in a soil made up of greed, competition, exploitation and dominance. It would seem, as we’ve tried a lot of other things, that we need to change the soil and replace it with one that encourages the growth of more appropriate things :
Prosociality keywords :
Compassion, sharing, mutual aid, integrity, cooperation, honesty, altruism, caring.
This sort of thing has been talked about before and yet we have stumbled along with the same old stuff and now we are really up to our necks in it. There is only really one way top sort it all out and that’s by cooperating together. The only way this type of mutual aid can work is if we change the basics on which the current mess has been built.
An image of success is continually thrust in our faces to the point that it comes to seem that it is real, worthwhile and something to be aimed for. Yet all the evidence around us, the social miseries, the destruction of our planetary resources and all the rest show in a stark way the real costs of this type of this so-called success. It kills and it destroys.
A successful man, often cited as being the world’s richest” made a big proportion of his fortune through an electric car company. These electric vehicles are seen as being more “ecological” than petrol or diesel powered cars. Yet all we are doing is replacing one set of problems for another, something we continue to do. For the most part we find new ways of destroying the environment and killing people. Children are dying in the mines needed to produce the rare earths needed for this new generation of machines. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates 40,000 children are working in DRC mines. A whole host of problems associated with cars are simply ignored, I discuss these below. Can someone really be considered successful when their activities cause such harm and loss of life? 40,000 children? Come on.
In a prosocial world someone has a good social status (is rich), is admired and respected by others because they have knowledge, skills, tools, compassion etc and they share them.
In economic terms the way this person lives creates positive externalities (see below). The environment and the people around that person are better off thanks to how that person lives their life.
Those who continue to hoard or accumulate those assets associated with the current false idea of “high status” must be encouraged to change or face social exclusion.
A long time ago, some evidence points to the period around 600,000 years ago just after we split from Neanderthals and Denisovans, we encouraged ourselves, as a species, to be cooperative.
A much shorter period ago we started to undo this work, the earliest known evidence of organised violence dates back to 13,400 years ago in Jebel Sahaba, Sudan. Exhumed remains show evidence of repetitive organised violence. Dating to around 10,000 years ago human remains were found at a site in Kenya called Nataruk, here a number of individuals had suffered violent deaths. With all that said little other evidence has been found to support the idea that Humans were violent and engaged in warfare before around 5000 BCE. For most of our history we gathered in flexible non-exclusive bands and only “needed” a government system from around 3800 BCE, probably after climate change caused drought in what we call Mesopotamia. We can ask ourselves if Hobbes was right in thinking that a world without government will be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" and that the period before we had governments was “warre of everyman against everyman”. The evidence points the other way.
So for maybe a bit less than 600,000 years we tried being cooperative, sharing and compassionate and it worked pretty well, and for a bit more than 10,000 years we have been trying the “each for their own” model and we can see that it’s not working out too good. So it’s time for another crack at it, incorporating the best of both models and eliminating the crap stuff.
(An externality is a cost or benefit of an economic activity experienced by an unrelated third party)
Cars as an example of negative externalities
Most of the goods and services we consume today have negative externalities associated with them, in both the production and consumption phases. Take a car as an example “Producing a medium-sized new car costing £24,000 may generate more than 17 tonnes of CO2e – almost as much as three years' worth of gas and electricity in the typical UK home” (Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark) This figure is an underestimation as it doesn’t include a number of factors but it will do to start off with. Then we have the consumption part :
Air pollution, Co2, Co, Nox, So2, unburnt hydrocarbons, benzene (C6H6) and particulates. Global Action Plan estimate that 1/4 of UK schools have levels of particulate pollution above WHO limits (PM2.5 of 10 μg/m3).
Tyre, brake and road surface particles, around 6.1 million tonnes of tyre wear particles and 0.5 million tonnes of brake wear particles are dispersed into the environment globally each year. This will increase with electric cars because they are heavier. Most tyre dust particles are around 0.02 microns in size, anything at our smaller than 2.5 microns can pass the membrane barrier and enter the blood.
In the USA (2020) there were 14,386 car accidents per day. 106 car accident deaths per day and 6,252 non-fatal injuries per day. Around 1 million non-human vertebrates deaths per day
In Europe (2013) 277 million tonnes of bitumen (asphalt) was produced predominantly for road construction. This places the industry amongst the top Co2 emitters. This doesn’t count the gravel, stone, sand, cement, cables etc that are mined and transported to the road building site. In the USA 20% of the land area is negatively affected by roads.
Noise. In the USA traffic is the biggest contributor to environmental noise. The noise from tyre impact on the road surface is the biggest factor. This will increase with electric cars which are heavier. The WHO considers noise pollution to be second only to air pollution as an environmental stressor. Noise is considered to be the cause of around 10,000 deaths a year in the EU. It also has negative impacts on the cognitive development of children causing them to develop speech and reading difficulties.
Ok, that’s probably enough. I could go on and even broaden the scope and write about the negative externalities associated with the vast majority of the goods and services we consume, but I won’t, for now.
A prosocial economic approach starts with the negative externalities, seeks to eliminate them and transform them into positive externalities. Where it is impossible to do this the approach will be to eliminate the need for the good or service and or replace it with one that has positive externalities. Cars can be a good example of this as they are probably the most anti-social of all the things we consume. Replacing petrol/diesel engines with electric motors/batteries doesn’t solve anything but simply replaces some problems with new ones. Lithium extraction has huge negative externalities.
The question then is how to reduce and then eliminate the need for private cars?
Average trips by purpose and main mode, as a proportion of all modes: England, 2020
We can see that the car/van is the most used form of transport for all activities (except “other including just walk”)
580 billion passenger kilometres were travelled in Great Britain in 2020. Of this total, 92% of passenger kilometres (534 billion kilometres / 332 billion miles) travelled in Great Britain was made by cars, vans and taxis (gov.uk). (534 billion kilometres / 332 billion miles).
Car free towns and cities, obviously. There are no really valid reasons why private cars are still present in urban areas. It is fascinating that Paris has one day a year without cars and this is called “The day Paris breathes” which seems a farcical title in many ways. Punctual needs can be serviced through car clubs and community owned and shared vehicles.
Turning investment away for private vehicles and towards improving public transport. Multi-local public transport systems can be community owned and run, the profits going to improving the system. The Railcoop in France was set up to take over abandoned or underused rail lines to put them back into service, anyone can become a shareholder and support the project. Railcoop estimate that 90% of French people live within 10 kms of a railway station but 30% of these stations have no trains which is what the Coop is going to change.
Commuting and shopping. Stimulating ultra-local production and local economies. The average cost of running a car in the UK is around £3500 a year or £206,624 over a 60 year driving lifetime. The average price for a new car range from £12,000 to £17,000 with a depreciation of around 50% over the first 3 years. This money that could be invested into the local economy but instead this money flies out of the local area and goes to the petrol companies and car manufacturers. See local multiplier effect below.
Leisure. Improve public transport and promote is as being the prosocial, fun thing to do. Develop local tourism, a lot of people have barely explored their local area and yet fly off to distant parts. House swaps with people in another area, avoiding the use of Airbnb.
Major local road priority changes, making it much more inconvenient for drivers to continue polluting, maiming and killing people in their own communities and those of others.
Organise activist groups who explain to drivers that the convenience of a private car comes at the cost of children’s health, development and well-being.
Sue the local authority for the continual poisoning of adults and children.
I’ve used cars as an example but we can use this approach for each aspect of a local community. Identify a negative externality, find it’s source, analyse why it exists, remove the reason for it’s existence or transform it to produce positive externalities.
Lets get our local economy up and running
Local multiplier effect
Let us imagine that a car owner gives up their car and goes ultra local and so makes a £3000 a year saving, £250 a month. Said person, and each one after, saves £50 a month to a local credit union and spends the rest into the local economy. We are going to imagine that this local economy is a closed economy, none of the money leaks out.
The ex car driver ~ £250 - £50 = £200 spent in the grocers
The grocer ~ £200 - £50 = £150 and spends it buying locally produced vegetables
The grower ~ £150 - £50 = £100 and spends it buying some locally made beehives
The Beehive maker ~ £100 - £50 = £50 and spends it in the pub (it’s their birthday!)
The landlady saves the £50 into the credit union.
Total multiplication from the original sum £250 + £150 + £100 + £50 = £550 this equates to a multiplier effect of 2.2
Before the economists out there start writing in, Yes I know this is highly simplified but it is nevertheless how it works. See here for more https://sonomacounty.golocal.coop/stories/the_local_economic_multiplier_effect/17/
This local multiplier effect ties into the ecosystem approach used to stimulate local economies. The creation of one new job can stimulate the creation of other new jobs. For example a new local brewery needs barley and hops thus creating a opening for a barley/hop producer. The barley straw can be used as a substrate for someone who wants to set up mushroom production.
The spent brewers grain gets used by someone who sets up a fish production system, the fish water, rich in fish waste flows to vegetable production, the vegetable waste is used to feed hens, the hen’s droppings are used as supplemental fish food, etc etc.
Each of these local productions augment the local multiplier effect as they reduce the need to buy in goods and services from “outside”. This is even better where an industrially produced beer is replaced by a higher quality locally produced one.
The positive externality multiplier effect is created when we turn away from industrial processed products to higher quality local ones.
Better quality food → better health → less medication → fewer medical residues in environment → better quality water → less pharmaceutical soil contamination → better quality food → better health → and so on
This multiplier effect is branching. For example “better quality food → better health” branches to “healthier babies → healthier next generation adults”
There are different layers to way people feel about money.
Low income people track it, worry about it, try and economise as much as possible.
At another layer people have enough and are happy with their lives, we know that after a certain income level increases don’t make people any more content.
At another layer people have a lot of money and it becomes just a way of keeping score. These people left the boundary level “more doesn’t make me happier” behind and it all becomes a game. After a certain time people with high income levels will start to produce fewer “empathy hormones” and thus become physically less capable of either showing compassion or acting on it.
In economic theory money is a medium of exchange that allows people to move beyond direct barter. The latter can block exchanges, for example person A wants a good or service from person B but B doesn’t want anything proposed by A.
Money is a form of asset that can be saved and exchanged at a later time. It is a unit of account enabling a business or person to keep accounts and evaluate how well they are doing. It is a way of measuring debt which allows people to defer payments for goods or services bought today to a later date.
Money is perhaps one of the worst examples of “societies become more complicated over time” effect. In the world of today it has become increasingly difficult for people to manage their personal accounts. Tax declarations, applying for loans, unemployment benefit or housing benefit have become more and more complicated.
Let’s go back to the first point, money is an example of a medium of exchange. We have become fixated with the idea that “I need money (the national currency) to get the things I need”.
Basics of a Prosocial economy
A Prosocial means of exchange is one that circulates and isn’t accumulated. A good example of this are the exchange systems that impose a levy, usually monthly, on accounts that exceed an agreed sum. This encourages people to exchange rather than to hoard and thus stimulates the local economy.
A Prosocial economy is one that favours local exchanges and limits economic outflows from the local area. See local multiplier effect above.
A Prosocial economy is one that encourages prosocial behaviour. A good example of this is the Fureai kippu system in Japan. The unit of account (see above) is an hour of help given to an elderly person.
A Prosocial economy replaces the goods/services that have negative impacts with ones that have positive ones (see cars above).
A Prosocial economy is one that puts economic decision making power in the hands of local people and removes it from control by banks and governments. It is an economy that is universally inclusive and caring, everyone is encouraged to participate in it’s management and everyone works to rid their local community of any form of poverty and exclusion.
These systems manifest the points above. A number of studies have shown how they stimulate local economies, create jobs and encourage a community spirit. They are pretty easy to set up and require quite a lot of promotion to get people involved. My experience is that it is crucial to emphasise the “community” aspect at first and not the economic one. I find it efficient to organise community events like concerts, meals, parties and suchlike, these become opportunities to present the local system and to get people involved. This goes back to the idea that if something is FUN people are more likely to get involved!
For the practical part, setting one up or joining one, there are plenty of links here n the Wikipedia page
What is great today is that there exists a wide number of exchange systems ranging from Local Exchange Trading Systems, through local currencies to the global Community exchange system (CES) “The CES serves two basic functions: it is an online platform that facilitates exchange in a number of different ways. It is an online ‘marketplace’ where users can advertise their skills, offerings and requirements”
The development of exchange systems is a worldwide and growing movement.
In order for your local economy to boom it also needs local production. This creates employment opportunities which create other employment opportunities etc etc.
In the end it comes down to “we got no money, let’s make some!” It also means changing our mindsets, people who are rich are those who contribute and share.
Next article: Prosocial housing
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