An Overview of Prout
by Nada Khader
Presenter at First US Social Forum 2007
I have been working on social justice issues since September 1995. My personal experience with community organizing in the United States around issues of social, economic and racial justice has revealed the various obstacles in our path to becoming a serious, powerful, unstoppable force for progressive social change. It is difficult for our voices to obtain meaningful mainstream media coverage in ways that give us space to articulate our full analysis of current events. The 501c3 proliferation has also weakened our ability to engage in substantial political work that needs to happen in order for progressive candidates to be elected and given adequate exposure.
A decreasing quality of life and a decline in real wages since the 1970s have made ordinary folk more concerned about meeting their family's needs as opposed to attending community meetings and events. Our capitalist framework has also atomized people where we feel compelled to behave primarily as individual consumers as opposed to a surge of powerful collective catalysts of progressive change. I remain optimistic that we will find the strength and wisdom within ourselves to work collaboratively on meeting the pressing issues of our time, and that we will start with a fundamental re-examination of our economic system as the starting point needed in order to move forward into a brighter future.
Introduction to the Economics of Liberation: An Overview of Prout
I attended the first ever US Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, in June 2007 to be with thousands of others who believe that serious progressive social and economic change is necessary in the very short term in order to help heal our planet and ourselves from decades of environmental destruction, harmful exploitation and abuse of our natural resources. I presented a workshop at the forum on PROUT, an alternative economic model that is based on worker-owned cooperatives, economic decentralization, regional self-sufficiency and a functioning world government in which to address international conflict and tension.
In my workshop, I showed a 28 minute video entitled "The Economics of PROUT" that was produced by Paul Narada Alister from Australia. I then facilitated a discussion about what we can all do now to move towards a more cooperative model of organizing human economic activity, including shopping from cooperatives, community gardening, supporting the co-housing or housing cooperative movement, buying locally grown produce as much as possible, setting up a bartering system to meet real human needs and so forth. It is with pleasure here that I present a synopsis of PROUT developed by the PROUT Institute of Australia http://pia.org.au/ with input from Dr. Sohail Inayatullah, Jayanta Kumar and Acarya Shambushivananda.
Nada Khader Board member, Women Proutists of North America, Turtle Island firstname.lastname@example.org Submitted by the PROUT Institute of Australia
Prout (an acronym for Progressive Utilisation Theory) is a social and economic system first proposed by the eminent Indian philosopher, Shrii Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (1921-1990). It is arguably the only socio-economic theory to emerge out of the developing world that has direct applicability to the developed world.
1. Prout draws on environmental, social and spiritual wisdom accumulated as a result of thousands of years of human struggle and experimentation.
2. A Proutist economy is based on the cooperative system. It is community based, decentralized and promotes an economic voice for women. Prout satisfies human needs by promoting the utilization and rational distribution of all resources, physical, mental and spiritual.
3. Prout also has a program for globalization based on the concept of political centralization and economic decentralization.
4. Prout has a theory of class and a historical analysis based on the concept of collective psychology.
The primary goal of Prout is to build healthy communities which, like living systems, need to be nurtured and cultivated. An economic system cannot be divorced from the people, the community and the bioregion in which it is embedded. Therefore Prout opposes the neo-liberal agenda of deregulation, privatization and free trade. These policies bleed wealth from local communities and the already impoverished 'third world' into a comparatively few centers of global economic dominance.
Prout advocates a constitutional guarantee that all persons have the right to obtain their minimum requirements of life, in particular food, education, health care, clothing and housing. After that, surplus wealth can be distributed as determined by the community values of the day. Prout also promotes a system of cooperative community budgets to determine the shares of annual aggregate income going to households, government and business.
New Definitions of Economic Progress
Per capita GDP is a defective measure of economic progress. It counts every new nuclear missile, tourist casino and cigarette sale as positive growth - as contributing to prosperity. It ignores tremendous disparities in wealth between rich and poor.
Prout recognises that human beings are not just Homo economicus. We have intellectual, emotional, cultural, social and spiritual needs in addition to the economically obvious physical needs. To satisfy these needs requires the management of many kinds of 'subtle' capital in addition to physical and financial capital. Satisfying these diverse needs underlies our productive activity and our community life. A healthy community with a healthy economy requires ...
An expanded definition of economic resources: Future economic theory and practice will have to come to terms with a much broader definition of economic resources to satisfy the spectrum of human needs. Sarkar's second PROUT principle states that "There should be maximum utilization and rational distribution of all mundane, supramundane and spiritual potentialities of the universe." Australian PROUTist Jayanta Kumar explains that this principle begins the process of defining resources and capacities as wider than the purely physical. An equal footing is established for comparing subtle and economic values. For instance, the aesthetic value of a forest is no less important than its economic value as woodchips. In fact, Sarkar's fourth fundamental principle establishes the subtle value as more important.
Kumar further explains that maximum utilization is not the same as indiscriminate use or exploitation. Utilization means proper use and implies the opposite of abuse and non-utilization or resources stagnation. When people are starving, the production of materials for war is clearly misutilization. In similar circumstances, the hoarding of produce for trade advantages is criminal non-utilization. Maximum utilization of physical resources provides the means of properly generating the basic social requirements and amenities. Economic growth, properly directed, is not a goal but a necessary condition for a society expanding through improvements in the quality and span of human life. Economic development implies proper balance and distribution in this growth process, and maximum utilization of subtle resources implies full consideration of peoples' development and expression in the midst of this economic development.
Rational distribution refers to access to subtle resources as well as an equitable and constantly adjusted income policy. Minimum requirements must first be guaranteed to all and then the surplus can be distributed to merit, provided that the differential gap is progressively closed and the minimum level adjusted upwards. Some socialist countries succeeded in cutting the tails of income distribution - the extreme highs and lows - but failed to maintain constant adjustment and so disparity has grown again. It should be noted that this principle extends to include the requirements of the animal and plant worlds; their requirements as independent life forms and not simply as functions of human existence. This principle thus includes the existential value of all living creatures. (From New aspects of Prout, by Jayanta Kumar, Proutist Universal Publications, Denmark 1987, Copyright The author 1999)
· Under a PROUT economy, with the development of technology for the general welfare of all as opposed to profit-maximization, people will be able to work fewer and fewer hours a day in order to support themselves and their families. They will have more time to pursue sports, poetry, hobbies, personal development as well as more time to spend with families and friends.
· Multi-bottom line accounting: Prout supports the introduction of triple- and multi-bottom-line accounting to ensure efficient management of the full spectrum of resources, in that we must take into consideration the impact of our economic activity on people, the planet and the economy. Furthermore, PROUT is based on Neo-Humanism which is a system of ideas that does not see humans as the center of our eco-system; rather PROUT is aligned with Indigenous traditions from around the world where we see ourselves as part of a web of life where animals and plants and other inanimate entities have as much right as we do to flourish in good health and prosperity. Both capitalism and communism are based on a materialistic outlook and do not necessarily support the notion that plants and animals have existential value separate from any utility value that we may ascribe to them.
· New economic indicators: To measure social and economic progress, Prout embraces alternative economic indicators such as those developed by the Calvert-Henderson group and others. The Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, first published in 2000, are the result of a six-year study by a multi-disciplinary group of scholars from government agencies, for-profit firms, and nonprofit organizations who see the need for more practical and sophisticated metrics of societal conditions. Please see http://www.calvert-henderson.com/overview.htm for more details.
· Resource taxation: Prout supports shifting the tax base by gradually replacing personal income tax with a rational system of taxes on finite natural resources.
Economic democracy in Prout is achieved through 1. Economic decentralization; 2. A cooperative based economy; and 3. A significant voice for women in economic planning and decision making. Local communities can solve local economic problems more easily because they are closer to the source of the problem and by definition the problems are on a smaller scale. Economic decentralization also decentralizes population and so contributes to sustainable population centers.
Sarkar argues for five principles of economic decentralization:
1. Local people should have control of local resources.
2. Production should be guided by local consumption needs and not the profit motive.
3. Production and distribution should be organized through the cooperative system.
4. Local people should have employment priority in local industry.
5. A community should not import what can be produced locally.
Three Tiers of Enterprise
Prout divides the industrial system into three sectors:
1. Most businesses, especially those producing the essential requirements of life, are best operated as cooperatives. For example, the agricultural and housing sectors fall into this category.
2. Businesses too small for cooperative management and producing non-essential goods are private enterprises.
3. Very large-scale industries and key/strategic industries are public utilities. Key industries operate on a no-profit, no-loss basis.
Prout advocates a monetary system managed by a central bank run as a public utility with numerous cooperative banks providing ordinary people with their banking needs. Prout supports the development of a balanced economy, in which the agricultural sector, agro- and agrico-industries, manufacturing and the service sectors all develop in balanced proportion. The agricultural and manufacturing sectors of so-called developed countries are being decimated by free trade. This is a worrying trend.
A cooperative economy will encourage a large not-for-profit sector which contributes to the accumulation of social capital. It would also recognise the productive role played by mothers and care givers not employed within the formal economy.
In the long term, Prout envisages the establishment of a system of tiered communities from the local to the global level. The lowest level would be the block, a bioregion having about 100,000 inhabitants. At the global level, a world government is essential to solve pressing problems such as global warming and human rights abuses. However a world government cannot be imposed from the top. When local communities around the world have economic security, they will naturally see the advantages of a world administration. Prout promotes the concept of political centralization and economic decentralization.
It is very important to mention that PROUT is not a rigid ideology that is to be implemented the same way all over the world but is rather a set of principles that will vary considerably in its implementation according to time, place and person. Local cultural expressions and traditions, as long as they do not violate human rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html) are to be respected and encouraged. Schooling should always be in the indigenous language and all the languages of the world should be encouraged and promoted as part of our collective human patrimony.
This approach can make the notion of globalization work for all., a world where human beings are free to live, work and develop their potential wherever they choose to do so, as they merge their economic interests with the overall interests of the local area (allowing no scope for a group of people to come into an area, exploit the resources and local people, and siphon the profits outside the area).
How will it happen?
The contemporary world is threatened by three main sources of instability. First, economic instability arises from gross concentration of wealth which generates speculative bubbles, most obvious today in the equities, futures and foreign exchange markets. All speculative bubbles inevitably burst. The flip side of wealth concentration is institutionalized poverty encouraged by policies of the World Bank, IMF and the World Trade Organisation. So the second source of instability is social instability, which in the worst case is expressed as violence and war. A third source of instability comes from environmental degradation and climate change. Given these sources of instability, each of them potentially catastrophic, it is hard to imagine how 'business as usual' can continue much longer.
According to Prout, societies transform themselves through dialectical struggle. The existing order (the thesis) in decay is gradually or rapidly replaced by progressive ideas (the antithesis). The antithesis to capitalism is already emerging. Civil society including community, women's, workers, indigenous, artists and green organisations all over the world are setting the agenda where large business corporations and governments have failed.
An important lesson learned by political and social activists in recent decades, and arising in particular from women's experience of social struggle, is that social change requires personal change. Outer change must be accompanied by inner change. Keeping this in mind, Prout encourages three kinds of personal transformation:
· Universal outlook: the struggle to accept all women and men, regardless of social status, economic class, cultural or ethnic background, as equal members of one universal family. Prout is the application of family spirit in the social and economic arena.
· Ethical lifestyle: Personal ethics underpin all political and economic practice. A limited vision of ethics is contributing to the disintegration of contemporary society. To build a healthy society, Prout promotes the acceptance of cardinal human values, defined by Sarkar to mean the spirit of benevolence, a sense of aesthetics, rational thinking, dynamicity and equipoiose (please see http://www.gurukul.edu/pubs_journal_cardinalvalues.php for more details).
· Spirituality: This is the constant endeavor to maintain one's connection with Spirit, the well-spring of hope and the source of all that is sweet and subtle in human life. Many people consider the regular practice of meditation or contemplation to be helpful in this regard.
To conclude, PROUT offers an alternative set of principles to both capitalism and communism that can help us move towards this "other world" that so many of us are aspiring for. PROUT takes into account the various dimensions of human existence and does not neglect the rights of plants, animals and other inanimate entities. Today, there are PROUT conferences and workshops held all over the world, in Australia, India, Taiwan, Philippines or Maharlika, Europe, North, Central and South America. There is a PROUT Institute of Australia as well as a PROUT Research Institute in Caracas, Venezuela, (http://www.priven.org/) that is helping to document some of the issues facing the thousands of worker owned cooperatives that have sprouted up since the Bolivarian Revolution has taken hold in Venezuela. We face an exciting moment in human history where immense change must happen in a short amount of time; we must all work together to help our planet regain the balance and dignity that has been so long denied us. Let us boldly take the first steps into this new era.