Create, or Help Create, Dignified Livelihoods That Do Not Depend on Sales

EDITORIAL, 13 Dec 2021

#723 | Howard Richards – TRANSCEND Media Service

This is the key, selon moi, to solving the problems of the third decade of the twenty first century.  Achieve dignified livelihoods for all and the chief obstacles to saving us from the six threats to humanity addressed by Project Save the World fade away.  For those not familiar with Project Save the World, the six threats are:  War and Weapons, Global Warming, Famine, Pandemics, Radioactive Contamination, and Cyber Risks.   One could compose many other six-threat lists.  They would all leave us with the question, “Where do we start?”

If I were to choose a one-word answer to the question, “Where do we start?” instead of the twelve- word answer stated in the title of this Editorial, I would choose “Patriarchy.”  Why “Patriarchy”?  Briefly¨: because some feminists  — and I believe that among feminists they are the ones who most frequently rely on the term “Patriarchy”– find that the social and historical construction of the kind of human relationship (exchange relationships, as distinct from kinship relationships) that is at the root of our problems today began approximately twelve thousand years ago after the agricultural revolution.   That was when matristic female-centred cultures were replaced by warlike and exploitative male-centred societies.

Seen in this light, “Create, or help create, dignified livelihoods that do not depend on sales” is equivalent to saying “Welcome home! You no longer have to sell yourself in the labour market so you can get money to rent a room, so that you will have a legal right to sleep somewhere.  Now you are one of us, a sister, a brother.  The positive gift economy has arrived.”

But before going farther, after declining to adopt the Project Save the World approach that assures us that there is no root problem, that we can be comfortable with the mainstream liberal worldview that all right-thinking good people share and get on with solving particular concrete  problems, and after offering both twelve-word and one-word names for the root problem, why did I not choose for my one word answer to the question “Where do we start? “capitalism” instead of “patriarchy”? “Capitalism,” after all, has the merit of allowing no possibility of stereotyping almost half of humanity as sex-hungry violent emotional babies and excluding us from the conversation.

Frank Jacob recently made an eloquent case for zeroing in on capitalism as the root problem.  He wrote an introductory chapter for a multi-authored book recently published by the Institute for Political Studies in Belgrade, titled “The Five Lies of Capitalism.”   The five lies of capitalism are Peace, Freedom, Equality, Access, and Future.  Access refers to the lie that anybody and everybody can advance through merit to occupy a top position in society.  Future, the most dangerous lie, refers to the lie that capitalism is physically compatible with the indefinite continuation of human life on planet earth.

Jacob proves his case.  Capitalism claims to create peace, but it is not true.  Neither does it keep any of the other four promises Jacob mentions.   The other authors of the book concur.   Some of them are female.  Others are male. If I were also to write a concurring opinion, I would mention Immanuel Kant and Thomas Paine.  For Immanuel Kant, the ethical and legal foundations of capitalism, literally the  Weltbürgerrecht, constitute and define peace.  Always obeying  categorical imperatives featuring absolute respect for property rights and absolute respect for personal freedom, is identical to perpetual peace.  Thomas Paine, the great pamphleteer of the American revolutionary war, touted the new American republic as a peace-loving  alternative to old Europe`s warring empires.  Paine: “Our plan is commerce.”    Generally, Jacob deconstructs façades that lie:  The voluntary exchange of property among willing sellers and willing buyers defines capitalism and excludes violence. Wars are always and everywhere caused by radicals. Freedom, Equality, Access, and Future are lies too.  Jacob summarizes:   “Capitalism is evil, yet still alive”

But wait-a-minute.  We may be sliding down a slippery slope into a deep swamp where nobody wants to drown.  Capitalism did not destroy pre-existing peace, freedom, equality, access, and sustainability.  Its advocates predicted that it would achieve what previous social formations did not achieve, including peace, freedom, equality, access, and sustainability.  It did not.

If we could make an impossible calculation, adding up all the evils of capitalism on one side of the ledger and all the good done by capitalism on the other side of the ledger, surely the sums on both sides would be, respectively, awesome and awesome.  And from a practical point of view, trying to estimate what it might be possible to accomplish given the mentalities and the powers now entrenched, this impossible calculation would prepare us to regard the following advice from Buckminster Fuller as worth considering:  “You cannot transform existing reality by fighting existing reality.  You can only transform it by creating a new reality that makes the old reality obsolete.”

Creating dignified livelihoods that do not depend on sales is a way (indeed, it includes innumerable ways) to create a new reality that makes the old reality obsolete.  It invites the capitalists into the game, instead of stereotyping every one of them as to blame for every sweatshop in Indonesia, and for every time striking workers were murdered by the police or by the army.  It paves the way for other structural changes that are now unachievable.  As my anarchist grandfather used to say, it builds the new society in the shell of the old.

My co-authors and I have found it useful to work with the neologism “Basic Cultural Structure”  (BCS).  The BCS of the modern world can be regarded as one of the consequences of patriarchy and as a cause of capitalism.  (See Nancy Hartsock, Money, Sex and Power, 1984)  Its  centrepiece is what André Orléan calls “séparation marchande.”   Orléan echoes and develops in detail the famous passage in The Wealth of Nations, where Adam Smith writes that to satisfy a basic need like food, it is useless to appeal to one`s own needs.  It is useless to appeal to the human feelings of the baker.   The only thing that will move the baker is his own self-interest: a sale.  Money for bread.  Bread for money.

These two main features of the BCS – (1) separation, (2)reliance on sales to get money  to live– already imply the two main findings of J.M. Keynes General Theory: (1) A chronic insufficiency of effective demand (the fact that we need to sell our labour power for a  wage sufficient to lead a human life and support our family, does not mean there is effective demand for our services in the labour market),  and (2) the weakness of the inducement to invest.

With just these few considerations, without going into more detail here, the answer to the following questions is perhaps already becoming clear.  The questions are: “Will a day ever come when there are enough  investors who find it profitable to hire people, and to pay them good wages out of the revenues generated by the sale of the goods or services  that the people hired contribute to producing?   Can this approach create sustainable dignified livelihoods for everybody?”  The answer is: “Not bloody likely!”

Therefore: Dignity for all requires flows of resources that do not always come from selling what the employees produce, using some of the funds generated by those sales to pay wages.  It requires thinking and acting outside the box of the BCS, as is done, for example, at the showcase sites of South Africa´s Community Work Programme (CWP).     Here is a second example:  I review my budget and I find I have no surplus time, but I do have a thousand South African Rands every month that I do not need.  I donate it to a non-profit.  My donation combined with donations from others creates a dignified livelihood for somebody.

How many examples would it be possible to give?  The concept of unbounded organizing coined by Gavin Andersson, offers answers to many questions and this is one of them.  The answer is: an unlimited number.

To get an unbounded approach off the ground we need ethics (an ethic of caring and sharing).  We need psychology (consider Lindner`s and Hartling`s studies of dignity and humiliation; consider assuring normal moral development at least up to Kohlberg`s stage three;  paying attention to Maslow`s higher needs, not just to paying enough money to keep  the lights on and pay the rent; Viktor Frankl`s meaning and purpose:  Erikson`s insights on identity….).   Ongoing conversations and learning on such “soft” topics make unbounded solutions “outside the box” feasible. (For examples see

The key economic change is, as Keynes said, not so much learning new ideas as freeing ourselves from the grip of old ideas.  It is emancipation from the illusion that economic development, investor-friendly politics, or education, or microcredit, or law and order, or everyone becoming an entrepreneur, and/or mass therapy curing addictions that make many people unemployable,; and so on and on …  will somehow magically create revenues from sales large enough to pay dignity sustaining wages (or mini business profits) to everybody in the world who needs a good job.

We also need to be sure that sharing property income, and sharing surplus from other sources, is empowering.  It must build character not feed decadence (i.e. be morally uplifting instead of corrupting, cf. Aristotle and his contemporary followers like Alasdair McIntyre and Martha Nussbaum).  Means become ends.  Means that humiliate or corrupt cannot be expected to achieve dignity.

The answer to the questions, “Is racism going to end while the total number of decent jobs is inflexible, so that more good jobs for people  of one ethnicity necessarily means fewer good jobs for people of other ethnicities?” ; “Will sexism end while more good jobs for one gender necessarily means fewer good jobs for other genders?” ; “Will narco-cultures and organized crime profiting from vice disappear while legitimate dignified livelihoods are still impossible for many people ?”;  and “Can global warming be reversed while not  burning coal or burning coal  is an issue of ecology vs. jobs?”   is also “Not bloody likely!”

Howard Richards` new book, Economic Theory and Community Development, will soon be available from the publisher, Dignity Press, and from Amazon and other major booksellers, as a print book and as an e book.


Prof. Howard Richards is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is a philosopher of social science and Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, USA. He was educated at Redlands High School in California, Yale, Stanford, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Toronto, Harvard and Oxford. He currently teaches in the University of Cape Town`s EMBA programme. His books include: The Evaluation of Cultural Action; Letters from Quebec; Understanding the Global Economy; The Dilemmas of Social Democracies; Gandhi and the Future of Economics; Rethinking Thinking; Unbounded Organizing in Community; and The Nurturing of Time Future. His new book, written with the assistance of Gavin Andersson, Economic Theory and Community Development: Why Putting Community First Is Essential for Survival, is scheduled to be published in July of 2021.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Dec 2021.

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