Is there an alternative model for growth?

Ever since the time Adam Smith spoke of “the invisible hand”  and particularly with the demise of communist states the world over, free-market capitalism and globalisation have been touted as the key vehicles to promoting global economic growth.

Just as society cannot function without laws for its citizens, it’s amusing to think that markets left to themselves can deliver equitable, fair and just growth to all, as well as safeguard valuable common assets like our air, water and land and indeed cultures and traditions. Markets have failed miserably, as we have seen from the crippling financial crisis that has arisen due to largely unregulated markets for subprime debt and its derivatives.

Similarly, we are witnessing ecosystem collapses of large magnitudes due to the unregulated use of common assets and lack of accountability for environmental impact. In Paul Hawken’s words,

The failure of those making the case for globalised free trade is their inability to adequately address the results of rapid economic change in human and ecological terms, how it creates prosperity and misery and ecological degradation, roughly in equal measure, incomparable though they seem.”

This is not to say we need to move away completely from free markets or that we have to switch to communism, that would be swinging from one extreme to another.

We’re asking, is there a vision for alternative growth? One where companies in the name of free trade, cannot freely corporatise commons such as air, water, food, seeds, and yes, even the human gene pool, that belong to local communities, to humanity and to future generations.  Commons also include indigenous cultures, languages and traditions as well as the right for self-determination.

Here is one attempt to formulate an alternative vision by an institute called PROUT or “Progressive Utilisation Theory” at http://www.proutinstitute.org


Alternative visions are crucial at this moment in history. PROUT’s cooperative model, based on cardinal human values and sharing the resources of the planet for the welfare of everyone, deserves our serious consideration.”
                            ~ Noam Chomsky, professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; author of more than 70 books on linguistics, politics, and cognitive science; recipient of the 1988 Kyoto Prize

In a well-known poem, W.B. Yeats observed that, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”  The dominant political ideologies of the modern era—capitalism and communism—have led the world into increasing disruption of the balance of planetary life. Humanity lacks a unifying and viable ideology to give it a center, to maintain the balance of collective living.

Gregory Bateson once noted that, “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way man thinks.” It is the philosophical paradigms which frame humanity’s values, motives, and social policies that have led us to global koyannisqatsi.* Communism and capitalism share blame, as both are based on premises which are foreign to “the way nature works“.

*Koyannisqatsi: Life out of Balance, is a 1983 film directed by Godfrey Reggio. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi means ‘crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living’, and the film implies that modern humanity is living in such a way (Wikipedia)

Ecological writer Edward Abbey posed the question, “What is the nature of industrialized civilization?”—to which he answered, “Ask any cancer cell.” If we are to cure the cancerous nature of industrialized civilization and restore the balance of life we must adopt an alternative to the obsolete political paradigms that are unbalancing life and leading the planet to ruin.

The Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT) is a comprehensive political philosophy that offers a progressive alternative to capitalism and communism. While PROUT shares much of the outlook and practical program of green, deep ecology, and decentralist philosophies, it is more multi-faceted in its scope, and more grounded in a spiritual worldview. Its intent is to foster the holistic development of a liberated, unified society. Some basic PROUT concepts are presented below.


PROUT rejects both philosophical materialism and philosophical idealism. Materialism denies our spiritual longings; idealism stifles material development. Individuals attain fulfillment through spiritual attainment, but spiritual endeavor cannot flourish in the absence of social justice and material progress. So a proper blending of spiritual attainment and equitable material development is needed for deep fulfillment in human life.

Upon attaining a spiritual outlook, people realize that all are children of the cosmos, and that all people have the realization of transcendental truth as their ultimate goal. This universal outlook can give rise to a profound sense of planetary unity and cooperation.

A liberated society can only arise out of the liberated consciousness of individuals. And the liberated consciousness of individuals depends both on individual effort to develop inner awareness and upon a social environment that supports this effort.


History is the expression of a people’s collective psychology—it flows out of their aggregate ideas, values, urges and sentiments. Many factors contribute to shaping a people’s collective psychology, such as gender roles, historical legacy, mass culture, religious dogma, spiritual experience, race relations, cultural mythos, and —most significantly—social class.

PROUT seeks to resolve the perennial problem of class dominance, in which either warrior, ecclesiastical, or merchant elites dominate and oppress the subordinate classes in society. Unlike Marxism, PROUT rejects the idea that a classless society will arise and end the historical pattern of class oppression. Social classes will not wither, as class identity is deeply rooted in people’s socio-psychological experience. PROUT solution to the problem of class tyranny is for moral and universal minded leaders to be brought— through popular acceptance—into positions of social influence. If any social class becomes oppressive, these moral leaders would promote and help guide a change in social leadership. Classes may come and go in positions of social prominence, but they would not be allowed to stifle the innate vitality of the collective rhythm of historical development.

The pattern of movement of history is both systaltic, progressing in punctuated surges followed by relative stability; and it is directional, advancing towards freedom of intellect and spirit. Society is destined to attain ever more subtle forms of collective expression, propelled in its evolution by the thirst of its members for spiritual realization.


The British economist, E.F. Schumacher, spoke of the need for “an economics as if people mattered,” pointing out that present day economic systems lack concern for human welfare. PROUT shares Schumacher’s sentiment, and extends it to call for “an economics as if living things mattered.”

Worker owned and managed cooperatives should be the predominant unit of enterprise. Businesses too small to be cooperatively run would be in the privately managed, and large-scale industrial activity that has a strategic significance would be handled by key industries that are overseen by governmental commissions.

Earth’s resources are the common heritage of all people. So they should be developed and used to meet human needs and to facilitate human fulfillment. Production for consumption, rather than production for profit, should be the guiding economic principle.

The basic necessities of life should be guaranteed to all. This guarantee can be implemented by insuring both adequate income and the availability of goods. To insure income, employment would be considered a fundamental right. To insure the availability of commodities, strong locally based economies would be established, guided by a system of local planning. The minimum amount of basic necessities guaranteed to citizens should advance as productivity increases.

As much as possible, economic planning should be decentralized. Developmental activity should be coordinated within regional socioeconomic units. This would give people local control over their resources, labor and capital—thus ending economic exploitation by outside interests. There should be no drainage of capital from the socioeconomic units.


PROUT sees need for a higher quality of participation in the democratic process. A properly functioning democracy depends on an electorate possessing three qualities: (1) proper education, (2) socioeconomic-political consciousness, and (3)high ethical standards. Also, democracy is inevitably corrupted when economic power is concentrated in the hands of huge corporations; so democracy can only work well when economic power is locally and democratically controlled.

For a benevolent and ethically conducted government, leaders must be morally principled and dedicated to selflessly serving society. To further insure good government, in addition to executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, there should be an audit branch with sufficient authority to monitor
the ethical standards of governmental bodies.

PROUT agrees with Einstein that, “Man’s desire for peace can be realized only by the creation of a world government.” There should be gradual evolution of a world federation that would have adequate authority to insure global peace, protect the rights of minorities in its member states, assure the fair distribution of global resources, and protect the health of the world’s ecosystems. In addition, there is need for a neo-Magna Carta which would set out basic tenets of the planetary federation’s constitution. The neo-Magna Carta would: (1) guarantee the right of existence for all plant and animal species, (2) require each country to guarantee work at adequate pay for its citizens, and (3) establish the right to education, use of indigenous language, expression of local culture, and spiritual practice. If the expression of any of these rights were to conflict with cardinal human values, only then should their practice be curtailed.


PROUT views human society as being one and indivisible. Discriminatory distinction based on gender, race, class, nationality, religion, caste, and lifestyle unnaturally separates people. Divisions in the human family only serve those who oppress and exploit. To create a strong and united society, humanity must reject all its prejudicial sentiments and accept only universalism.

While affirming that humanity is inherently one, PROUT also appreciates that cultural diversity must be supported. Each human group requires a locally adapted means for expressing the subtleties of their ideas, feelings and social rhythms, and for developing an locally controlled and ecologically sensitive economic system.
Bioregionalist Peter Berg has drawn attention to the erosion of indigenous culture due to the spread of global monoculture: “Global monoculture dictates English lawns in the desert, business suits in Indonesia, orange juice in Siberia, and hamburgers in New Delhi. It overwhelms local cultures and ‘raises’ them regardless of the effects on cultural coherency or capacities of local natural systems.”

PROUT adds to this critique the observation that suppression of indigenous culture saps a people of their psychic vitality, leaving them in a submissive state. With their self-confidence crippled by cultural imperialism, they become easy prey for economic imperialism—a process called psycho-economic exploitation. To insure that each human group is able to stand with equal dignity, possessing economic and cultural autonomy, regional socioeconomic units should be established based upon their distinct cultural legacy and characteristic economic potential. These socioeconomic units will not have their outlooks narrowed by jingoistic nationalism, but will embrace humanistic patriotism. In this way, the spirit of the socioeconomic units will be universal, but the application of the spirit will be regional.

There is a story about an incident in the early life of Buddha that is fitting to our present situation. One day when young prince Siddhartha was sitting in contemplation in the palace gardens, he saw a swan that was flying overhead get shot with an arrow. He rushed to where the swan fell and found that it was still alive.
He immediately began nursing its wounds, struggling to save its life. Shortly, his cousin ran up, bow in hand, and told Siddhartha, “The bird is mine, for I have shot it.” Siddhartha looked up and replied, “No, the bird is mine, for I have given it life.”

In the same spirit, this world does not belong to those who foul the water and air, who threaten humanity with their terrible weapons, or who exploit the life force of others. The earth and humanity belong to those who struggle selflessly to give it life. Underlying PROUT philosophy is this spirit of love.



Many thanks to Betty L. Khoo-Kingsley, the author of “Cancer Cured Naturally”  for forwarding the PROUT article to me.

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