For more than a century capitalism has been the main socio-economic model governing western society as well as large parts of the developing world. Although capitalism has been largely successful in most environments, stimulating growth and progress by stimulating private interest, it's becoming more and more obvious that it has deep flaws that could ultimately lead to a global economic doomsday. The major crisis we have observed in the last decade as well as previous near-meltdown historical episodes such as the great depression of the 30' prove the critical flaws in an otherwise working model.
However, criticism of the capitalist model has not started only in response of its latest failures. Since its earliest days, capitalism had its critics. Perhaps the most famous of them was Karl Marx who, in his writings, widely discusses the problem of capitalism. Marx seemed to have a vast understanding of capitalism and even admired some of the ideas it proposed, understanding that they may lead to progress. However, Marx saw capitalism as being a doomed model.
In short, Marx spotted what seemed to be a major flaw in the system: Capitalism is based on profit, competition, growth and consumption. Therefore, in order to stay competitive and expand, employers must always strive to maximize their profit, by reducing their expenses as much as possible. If this in not achieved, they will gradually become irrelevant and disappear from the market. The problem is that reducing expenses largely means reducing the wages of your workforce as much as the market will allow it. Coupled with more and more effective service providing and manufacturing processes, leading to larger and larger unemployment figures, this spells disaster. Companies will continue to lower wages as it makes business sense and ultimately undermine the entire economy. How so? Simple: Like I said, capitalism is based on consumption. If the vast majority of the population has lower and lower resources at their disposal, this means consumption will steadily decline until the companies fail, unable to sell their products and services anymore. Or so Marx argued.
Looking at the latest developments in the world today, we can certainly see the signs. The latest figures show more and more wealth accumulation at the top while the majority of earners have less and less resources. It should be abundantly obvious to everyone that this uneven wealth distribution will cause less and less consumption as time goes by. Even the "quick fix" that credit provided decades ago is failing. The continuous accumulation of debt was and is completely unsustainable in large scale economic models. This was abundantly proved by the latest financial crisis.
So, what is the solution? Is it finally time to abandon capitalism and move on to a more sustainable model of managing our global economy? I think so. The problem is that nobody has been able so far to provide a viable alternative that would insure continuity of human civilisation while avoiding catastrophic transitional periods. I think that this is in part due to the "hyper-normalisation" of the failing system that we are all part of and depend on.
I am here to argue that capitalism is flawed because of its failure to correctly understand and evaluate the world, as well as the people living in it. This issue is ideological and therefore philosophical.
However, this failure to understand cannot be entirely attributed to the capitalists as it has deeper roots, stretching back for millennia. The capitalist pioneers have merely borrowed the ideas of their predecessors and took their flawed principles as axioms in their new model. We see this phenomenon occurring multiple times throughout history, even when new ideological movements arise in response to old ones. The base building blocks are almost always the same.
Even apparently revolutionary works such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Social Contract" or Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Prince", to name just a couple, have their roots in earlier, sometimes ancient writhing, far predating western civilisation. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans, the precursors of western philosophical, social, political and cultural ideas, have often been inspired by older teachings of oriental or Egyptian origin. So, the million dollar question is: Where and when did we go wrong?
This is not an easy question to answer. Attempting to provide an answer may transport us to the realm of speculation and carry us too far from the practical points that we need to make. To summarise, most of what today are considered philosophical, religious or political ideas, have their roots in antiquity, in hermetic texts and various spiritual teachings which date back to a time beyond documented history. This is how society has always operated, taking earlier ideas that seemed proven and tested and combining them in ways that seemed advantageous to the existing situation.
One can even argue that, philosophically and spiritually speaking, mankind has not done much evolving in the last few millennia. It's only our modern technology and superior management abilities that set us apart from our forefathers. Ironically, we owe much of that technical progress to capitalism, the very model that is failing us today.
So, while we are undoubtedly better organised and thus more civilised, we are not necessarily wiser or happier than our ancestors. The 20'Th century comes to prove that industrial and economic development under capitalist principles do not bring equality and happiness. Instead, the 20'Th century was perhaps the bloodiest and most brutal stage in human development, with millions of individuals killed by war, famine and so called natural disasters. Some may argue that such is the price of progress and that statistically our overall way of life has improved, but I like to think that society's success is not about how well some of us are doing compared to centuries ago, but about how well some of us are doing compared to others. It is in this comparison that we find the most brutal inequity in contemporary society. The discrepancy is enormous.
Ask yourselves: Are we really doing that good as a species if most of us are prepared to let millions suffer and die in unimaginable conditions, just as long as we preserve our privileged way of life? Do we really deserve these privileges? Why? What makes us so special? The luck of having been born in favourable conditions? Is luck something we can take credit for and consider it as a merit upon which we build our argument for privilege?
Human society has always been uneven and perhaps the oldest and most relevant conflict in human history is that of social classes. In other words, the conflict between those who possess wealth, power and privilege and those who don't. It is this conflict, this dynamic, that has fuelled almost all social, economic and political actions of humanity. The rules are simple: Those who possess power and wealth try to maintain it and those who don't try to obtain it. Inevitably, the two categories come into conflict. It is this conflict that has taken many forms throughout history, from wars and revolutions to political and social movements and even religious movements. Masquerading behind all these events is always one basic human desire: the desire to possess, to own.
In the before mentioned work, Machiavelli describes in almost manual-like fashion how one can obtain power and maintain it. "The Prince" has stood the test of time as one of the most influential works describing the dynamic of power and thus unveiling the more taboo aspects of human nature. As much as some may oppose Machiavelli's conclusions it is undeniable that history has proven him right, and continues to do so, to this day.
So, what is driving all this human ugliness, which threatens to plunge us all into chaos?
Is power in itself an end or just a means to an end? It can be argued that the thrill of power is the end game of some individuals. However, power comes with undeniable benefits for yourself and your heirs. These advantages are largely material.
In a world where almost everyone thinks they must accumulate as much as possible to survive and be prepared, individuals have completely lost touch with the physical reality that determines them and their environment. Instead, they have replaced this reality with a virtual one, playing a seemingly endless game where someone else is making the rules, changing them as they please.
This game cannot be won by most of us and even if we win, the zero-sum nature of it means someone else has to lose. In essence, what modern capitalism dictates is "kill or be killed", just as in prehistoric times. Even in business ventures that are designed to bring benefits to all parties, in actuality, one party is winning while the other is losing. One is slowly climbing while the other is slowly declining. There can be no balance while speculation, monopoly and corporate bullying are considered normal practices.
All these problems derive from a single concept: the concept of possession. It is this animal like instinct of man that drives him to have, to own and thus become superior to others. It is, sadly, the standard by which most of us measure success. But do we really understand that our so called success comes increasingly at the cost of someone else's failure?
The question then becomes: Do we really need to have someone else fail in order for us to succeed? Is this "survival of the fittest" mentality appropriate and more importantly practical? I submit that it is not. At least, in most aspects of the economy it is not. We need to start thinking and planning long term. We need to see beyond the immediate results of our actions.
Let's now go back to the problem of materialism and possession. Material possession translates into property over objects, terrains and natural resources. These most ancient forms of property are still the most prised, even today. I would argue that today they are even more important, since overpopulation and the limitations of the natural capital make resource distribution a critical problem. It is on these material resources that our basic, physical wellbeing depends on. Without them, we cannot survive. Therefore, it makes no sense that some individuals are allowed to possess and control these resources, in vast amounts, while others are deprived of their most basic needs, like clean water and clean air.
What gives some the right to take more than they could possibly need, to destroy and to waste while others have nothing? In this context, the notion of possession and property becomes absurd. And yes, we humans have a mind perfectly capable of the absurd, since not so long ago we believed we had the right to own other persons. Even today, governments believe they have the right to tell individuals what they can and cannot do to their own bodies.
The time has come for me to enunciate the basic and singular principle of my new doctrine:
"No human being has the right, both given or self-proclaimed at any time, to own anything outside themselves"
The use of what is essential for the individual and his survival becomes a birth right. Here we must include both physical, emotional and mental needs, as science proves and will continue to prove their essential role for the thriving of an individual. Naturally, one's freedom to obtain that which is essential to him must not prevent others from doing the same.
Depriving another person of that which is essential is a crime. However, it must be said that we do not possess the air that comes into our lungs, the water that we drink or the food that we eat. The body uses that which is essential and expels mater and energy back into the environment, after use has been complete, thus returning that which has been borrowed.
Indifferent to status and location, we all come into this world as naked individuals of no material possession or rightful inheritance by merit. While genetics ensure that we are in fact not all born equal, it does not give any of us the right of possession over anything outside of our own bodies. Therefore, to think that we are entitled by birth right, inheritance or acquisition to possess that which is not a part of us is absurd.
The whole notion of property is unnatural and goes against the very laws of the Universe. Nothing in nature, apart from humans, acts as if it possesses anything else. While various species may inhabit and defend territories, they do so for the purpose of survival and reproduction, not the accumulation of material objects to use or dispose of as they see fit. You do not see lions defending territories of hundreds of miles just to enjoy the scenery undisturbed. Such a territory would be beyond the physical capabilities of their bodies to maintain and defend, while also being unnecessary. Furthermore, you do not see wild animals killing for sport, but to survive. All the species seem to strictly respect their condition, given to them by their own nature through the act of birth. We can therefore affirm that life seems to only use what it needs while giving all it can in return. After death, the living bodies themselves are offered back to nature, making obvious the point that even ownership of our own bodies ends after death.
This system creates a well-established balance which is at the core of nature's beauty and diversity. The only species on earth that deviates from these laws are humans. While we are undoubtedly special in our intellectual capacities, we are not different in our basic nature.
Humans have evolved in society, generating rules and laws that were first designed to help small groups survive, then thrive. At some point down our evolutionary path we decided that thriving is not enough and that being above other individuals is more important than living in harmony with nature and our peers. In that moment, our ancestors decided they can dominate nature, dominate others and even possess them, taking away all their natural rights. At that point, the human species took its first steps towards becoming unnatural. At that point in time, humans decided that their intellect gives them the right to revolt against the Universe itself, inventing new rules and even religions that reflected their new beliefs.
I think this is part of the reason why humans have associated gods to certain specific traits of human nature, in the attempt to justify their own behaviour as driven or determined by a higher power, absolving them of responsibility and controlling the weak of mind trough fear and superstition. This made rulers and rich individuals feel special and important.
The interesting fact is that the argument of our minds defining us as individuals and making us who we are, is both the argument for what makes us special and why we cannot truly own anything outside ourselves. From the mental point of view, property is an illusion.
Since we are all born into the human condition, our only birth right other than that of basic needs fulfilment should be that of self-determination. Possession generates an unnatural competition for resources which, if used efficiently and indiscriminately, are more than sufficient for all of us. Therefore, placing the right of self-determination of unique minds next to the perceived right of property makes no sense. If we identify our individuality with our mind, then our entire perceived reality happens at an individual level, in our individual minds. If the idea of property cannot transcend the status of mental construct and manifest itself directly into the physical world, somehow giving us direct control over objects and resources, then it is an illusion. We do not have the right of property over anything outside ourselves. Therefore, nothing outside ourselves can truly and objectively be ours, as it is not and can never become a part of us. Such connections are also mental illusions. Ownership and power are mere illusions, shared by one or more individuals of the same group. Basing our entire economical system on the core philosophy of individual ownership is admitting to be delusional. Mass delusion is what drove mankind to believe that they are owners, from the earliest of times. It is time to wake up and realise the only thing we truly own is that with which we are brought into this world. It's the same thing that we have at the very end, when we leave this world. During this entire period, our minds learn and adapt, shaping our only true possession: ourselves.
It is ancient hermetic philosophy that states, as one of its core principles, that the entire Universe exists in the mind of the Creator, of which we are all a part. The same philosophy states that there is a correspondence between small and big, inside and outside, micro cosmos and macro cosmos, man and god. Therefore, it can be argued that even our free will is an illusion or at best a temporary "gift", given to us by the Creator. The argument for possession becomes even less credible if you consider such ancient philosophical ideas. Ironically, it is from these ancient ideas that modern religions have been shaped. Ultimately, trough institutionalised or otherwise organised practice, religious men, corrupted by material desires, ended up ignoring perhaps the most important laws of the Universe.
Humans seem to generate emotional attachment to objects outside of themselves because they feel that those objects represent them somehow. Thus, they feel the need to own those objects. This behaviour arises from an untrained mind, unable to fully handle reality and accept the human condition, generating avatars and meaning outside of one's self, in the physical world. The human mind has always been in search of meaning. Property is just another way of attempting to give meaning, by imposing one's will and leaving one's mark upon the world. This is also why some lovers believe that their beloved somehow belongs to them, turning them in to the object of their affection. This is yet another form of declaring ownership based on delusional behaviour.
So what is the solution to all these property based problems? How are we supposed to manage our resources, land, infrastructure and information if there is no direct ownership over any of it? Will we not simply loose interest in maintaining and upgrading our world if we own none of it? One of the main reasons why capitalism has worked is precisely that of stimulating growth through ownership and potential profit. If we become mere administrators of resources and information, are we not losing our personal stakes in the growth and development of human civilisation? Not necessarily.
Not owning does not mean not profiting and profiting isn't a concept limited to ownership. Therefore, our personal interest and involvement can be maintained. It can be argued that, released from the rat race of having to continuously earn to satisfy your basic needs while knowing the fact that ownership is no longer an option, can free the minds of many valuable thinkers, allowing them to excel in the domains of their choice. When the only attainable value is in the work we do rather than material objects we produce, then all the emphasis will be placed on the efficiency and productivity of services, as both the only source of profit and the only way to spend your profit. We already know that a healthy economy is one relying on lots of quality services largely provided by the private sector. This system makes sure that everyone gets what they need while financial wealth goes around creating more and more equality. Therefore, if ownership becomes a thing of the past, money will have to be redefined as basically a direct or indirect instrument of exchange between various services. This can dramatically improve the perceived quality of life for everyone, since services will become synonymous to wealth, forcing providers to raise their standards an continuously improve their workforce.
Without the relative "safety" of material possessions and ownership rights, all organisations will concentrate their entire effort on providing for their customers. No other interest will make economic sense.
There are however a few questions that need answering before we can move forward.
First of all: If one cannot buy and possess products, how can one ensure one's basic needs? Simple: Food and drink do not need to be owned to be used. They represent basic needs and are therefore essentially free. One needs however to pay for the human labour included in their production, transport and preparation. Since the production of food is more and more efficient and cheap in labour costs and all the other materials/energies involved are unowned/renewable, the costs of food and drink will become very small. This eliminates speculation in the market and permanently normalises basic foods costs. Of course, items such as gourmet restaurant dishes will have higher costs since they involve more specialised services.
Second of all: If ownership is not possible, how will we acquire and interact with everyday objects such as clothes, shoes, phones etc.? The answer Is extremely simple: We will pay for all the services/work that went into making that specific product, as well as any attached "inventor/developer/founder taxes". Furthermore, we will pay a tax for all the non-renewable resources expended while making that specific product, if any. We must include here non-renewable sources of energy as well as unrecyclable materials. The cost of the services will be reimbursed to the producers, retailers etc. while the tax will be paid to government, to generate a fund dedicated to improving sustainability. Afterwards, the product is rented to us for use over a limited period of time, equal to the lifespan of the product. The price of the rent is equal to the value of the recyclable raw materials that the product is made of, divided by the number of years in the product's lifespan. Of course, products such as software, music and films, which have no physical component attached to them will not imply any such rent. Inventor/developer/founder taxes" may be applied, with payment up front or in multiple instalments. In order to make these taxes predictable and practical, special legislation must be put into place to regulate the values and prevent abuse. Products which require updates or any other form of post market services, will require further payments, as is the case today. Some products such as jewellery may be considered to have a lifetime or indeterminate lifespan. As such, the rent of using these products will be set to fixed portion of their value. In the case of a material product, after the lifespan has expired, we are obligated to return it to a recycling station were we are reimbursed the full value of the materials recycled, thus getting a large portion (if not all) of our rent money back. If a product is "sold" to another user during its usable lifespan, that new user will pay the remaining rent as well as an agreed portion of the services it took to produce the item. It must be mentioned that all rents must benefit the recycling facilities, who will use the funds to reimburse the returned used products.
This simple system of just paying for the work and waste involved in making a product and then renting its use according to recycling value of its components, has multiple advantages, such as preventing overconsumption and reducing waste in all aspects involved in the making and use of that product. Since an individual is only payed according to his direct contributions to society and has a limited financial resources, he will become more aware of the burdens of multiple rents and will be stimulated to recycle or pass on unwanted or unneeded products. Of course, a fine balance must be struck between the value of wages and the value of rents, in order to insure a decent lifestyle for everyone. Also, permanent corrections must be made to account for shifts in the market value of resources and services.
Third question: If one cannot buy and own materials, how would manufacturing companies be able to acquire and use what is necessary to build their products? The answer is also a simple one: They will be intrusted with the use of these materials, just as individual citizens, renting them for the period necessary to build and sell their products. Upon the selling of a product, the rent obligation is passed on to the buyer, and the manufacturer is reimbursed in full, for all recyclable materials incorporated in their product. At that point, the responsibility is passed down to the buyer.
Naturally, there will be a small percentage of wasted materials during the manufacturing process as well as during the usage process of any product. These minor loses will, depending on the situation, be considered normal or not. For example, it is normal for a steel component to rust and degrade, therefore generating wasted material. However, depending on the case, that degradation may be considered normal or due to misuse. Also, when a manufacturer works with raw materials, it may be considered normal or not, that a percentage of the materials are degraded or lost during the manufacturing process. Depending on the case, this may be due to objective/natural reasons or due to negligence or outdated technology. In any case, the rent deposit system will stimulate all parties (users and manufacturers) to reduce waste as much as possible, in order to recuperate their money upon selling or returning the product to be recycled at the end of its predetermined lifespan. A manufacturer requiring 1000 tons of steel, for instance, in order to manufacture 1000 vehicles, will want to keep waste down to a minimum. If at the end of the manufacturing process, the sold 1000 vehicles contain only 950 tons of steel between them, they will be reimbursed only for that amount. The other 50 tons will either be considered wasted (and be taxed as such by the retention of the rent deposit), or will be returned as waste material, to be recycled and reused. It will be in everyone's interest to keep the cycle going, as blocking monetary assets in material objects no longer makes any sense. Naturally, all the processes need to be regulated, in order to prevent abuse or speculation of any kind.
Lastly: Can we still own ideas, trademarks, brands and other products of our mind? Can we still own intellectual property? The foreseeable answer is no. Once an idea is out there and therefore inside the minds of other individuals, it cannot belong to us anymore. It belongs to everyone who hears it and understands it. Of course, the fact that we do not own a published product of our mind does not mean that we cannot take credit or be rewarded for producing it, in the form of an "inventor/developer/founder tax". It just means that its existence and overall fate cannot depend on just the creator, once it's out there.
We must acknowledge the fact that some of the greatest breakthroughs and inventions of the last few decades occurred when capable individuals were willing to share ideas and collaborate in a free and unrestricted environment. Open source digital platforms and third party contributions have ushered in a new era of innovation in the digital and online environments. It must be stated that progress occurs significantly faster if we are allowed to build upon the work of others unrestricted, without having to worry about the ownership of new ideas. Again, even in this case, ownership becomes an artificial barrier and nothing more. While the need for innovation continues to exist, so must the prospect of potential profits, as a means of motivation. However, as stated above, ownership and profit are not synonymous.
Obviously, forgery or falsehood will still be a crime and brands will still exist and operate as before. The only difference is that they will not be owned and therefore in danger of being exploited for unfair personal gain. Special legislation will however ensure that the rightful founder receives a share of the profits. This right cannot be passed on or inherited. Furthermore, since the founder is never an owner of his creations, he cannot directly influence the marketing and commercial production. This will gradually improve the quality of the products since maximising personal profit at the expense of quality will no longer be an option.
A transitional period of 10-15 years will be needed to ensure a gradual passing from the current model to the new one. During this period, large accountable material assets such as buildings, land and vehicles will be evaluated first, determining their lifespan and "raw value", since the services for them have already been payed. Next, special legislation will be developed to evaluate intellectual property and develop just taxers and reward systems. Lastly, all newly fabricated products will become subject to the new laws. This will require special digital labels to be attached to each product, incorporating a list of all used materials and their quantities, as well as the determined lifespan of the product. Just like reading food labels today gives the consumer a detailed image of ingredients, calories and nutrients, so will these specialised labels determine the value of the materials incorporated and therefore the cost of using them. Knowing these costs in advance, any customer can easily manage his overall use of materials, therefore determining what he/she can and cannot afford to buy as well as what needs to be returned.
The advantages of this ideology as well as this economic system are extraordinary. Both from a practical and a spiritual point of view, this would be a major step forward in the evolution of humanity. If future generations are taught to value work and innovation instead of possession, they will become essentially free from the burden of materialism and expand their horizons towards knowledge and progress. It is finally time to end the long dark age of possession and enter a new age, where value is completely detached form the idea of ownership and associated strictly with the idea of active and interactive contribution to society.