My take on the sustainability of economies
Originally published on "Wirtschaft und Mensch" on Jan. 7th, 2018
Q: What is your definition of a sustainable economy?
A: There’s actually several answers to this question.
First of all, in my view, the economy worth being called sustainable is one that has no generally detrimental effect either on its participants nor on anything else. In other words: An economy, which by its existence and mechanisms hurts, in the long run, those who are part of it, is not sustainable. Because a system, which negatively affects its own building blocks, is doomed to fail sooner or later. But at least as importanty, an economy which can only function if the universe it feeds off from is being consumed, diminished and / or eventually destroyed, cannot be seriously called sustainable. By its very original meaning, sustainability requires the ability to permanently exist – basically, without any limitation on time or resources.
Q: What is the most important human need that the economy should account for?
A: Mankind does not exist on the basis of just one single need. There is a whole range of needs, and they build up upon one another. In abstract, however, I would say that the need to have certainty about one’s own future is what an economy must address first and foremost. Why? Only individuals whose future appears to be worth living for will ensure that an economic system is one people would put long lasting efforts into. Once people realize that their participation in an economy would lead to the destruction or impairment of their own future, they would stop supporting such a system.
Q: In your opnion, do positive examples already exist?
A: Maybe the question should be, if such positive examples STILL exist. I would say, yes, they probably do – in some remote tribal cultures, which we have not yet discovered. All other known and existing economic systems, be they capitalist or communist or whatever, do not qualify to deserve being called sustainable. I am not saying that they cannot be reformed and shaped in the right format or pushed in the right direction, but my hunch is that they’re still far from that. There are good ideas and concepts on the table. The most promising, in my view, is the so-called „cradle to cradle“ (C2C) approach. It is, as far as I know, the only approach which adapts the concept of nature all the way thru, i.e. that everything is always at a certain stage of circulation. Everything circulates. It never disappears. It only changes shape, maybe also value, but the concept thinks something from beginning not to its end, but to its next beginning. It is, in a way, recycling 10.0. If we understand that whatever we touch we should only change in shape and composition if we actually manage to re-use it over and over again we actually may have a chance of surviving in the long run on this little planed called Earth. This is my idea of true sustainability.