Why Sufficiency for Sustainability? What is to be done?

 

First, consider three key concepts:

 

Sustainability has at least four components:

  • Economic – distributing income so as to achieve at least a basic income for all.

  • Social -  maintaining the social fabric avoiding collapse through a just distribution of income and wealth in the face of globalization and technological change including artificial intelligence (AI)  consistent with physical limits to growth at a global level

  • Political – assuring that political institutions can enforce rules of the game consistent with ecological constraints, meeting human needs, and preserving democracy.

  • Ecological - preventing economic activity from overshooting planetary ecological boundaries.

Sufficiency is a closely related fundamentally economic concept linked to a perception of equity in the distribution of income and wealth: enough vs more. It involves raising the consumption of the poor to a level sufficient to meet basic human needs on a planet with limited resources and moving toward a population of 11 billion people this century.

Achieving basic needs for all (sufficiency) is a value in itself, but it also is a means to achieve all four components of sustainability while preserving and enhancing democracy, promoting social and political stability, and avoiding populist and authoritarian "solutions".

 

Innovation requires ideas that are replicable at an economical cost and satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products and services. Of particular interest is innovation taking advantage of exponential technologies, for example clean sources of energy (e.t. wind and solar power), robotization, artificial intelligence and information and communications technologies that underlie rapid advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology. In principle such technologies can be harnessed to achieve sufficiency and sustainability objectives, though they may also pose threats to both sufficiency and sustainability unless guided by adequate incentives and value change.

The S4S Network

We are a global network of specialists working in one or more of these fields and welcome contributions from others. We have a Sufficiency for Sustainability Forum on LinkedIn that anyone with a LinkedIn account can join, a Facebook page to which anyone on Facebook can post (Sufficiency4Sustainability) and a Twitter account (@sufficiency4su1), and are considering creating both a blog within this website and a YouTube channel.  

 

Related topics

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other exponential technologies are already destroying increasingly sophisticated jobs and advancing at an increasing exponential rate governed by Moore's Law and related laws that have to do with the power, speed, and price of computing and communication, but these technologies may also alleviate some ecological constraints related to scarce natural resources. For example, AI could enhance human capabilities to attain ecological sustainability and survive other threats to humanity. 

  • Universal Basic Income (UBI) is advocated by analysts coming from all points on the political/ideological spectrum. UBI separates a basic income from the need to work, promoting social and political stability, while freeing people to pursue activities that do not find sufficient remuneration in the labor market.

  • Fiscal and other public policies to promote a more just distribution of income and wealth, and reduce "over-consumption” are needed. Such policies can finance UBI, increase the progressiveness of  taxation, and regulate economic activity that threatens social, political, economic, and ecological sustainability. 

  • Value change is necessary to develop social acceptance and political support for public policies that favor sufficiency and sustainability. Values are important, and we need to think about how that kind of change can be accelerated.

  • Alternative economics rejects much of the dominant teachings of economic analysis, changing the primary objective of economic agents and public policy from more to enough for all . Steady state  and degrowth economics fall in this category. 

 

Objectives

The S4S network seeks to promote thought, communication, and action across the three main concept areas. While each of these areas has its own networks and associations, they do not always interact. If we are to develop and promote policies to achieve sustainability, sufficiency is a necessary condition (economically, socially, and politically). Innovation can help achieve both sufficiency and sustainability. A broad approach that considers all three areas is likely to be more effective than any one alone. Current economic trends, driven by technology, are resulting in a move toward populist and authoritarian political systems to maintain an unjust distribution of income and wealth, working against political, social, economic and ecological sustainability. Public policies and value change can help orient innovation to foster sufficiency and sustainability

What benefits and services does the S4S network offer to Associates?

  • The network facilitates contacts between Associates to share information on their (individual or organizational) projects in order to strengthen these projects.

  • Associates can access read and view suggestions in the eight related but not always associated areas to

    • enhance their awareness of the possible connections between these areas and

    • suggest additional read and view recommendations.

  • The network can strengthen the projects of its Associates by providing feedback or maybe even co-commitment to those projects and/or achieving their goals.

  • The network, enhanced through the use of print and electronic media, can help build links between those working in these eight areas to design public policies to promote sufficiency, sustainability and innovation, and develop the necessary political support to implement such policies.

Recommended basic reading

Sustainability

  • Daly, Herman (2015). “Economics for a Full World.” Revised version of a paper presented at the Blue Planet Prize award ceremony, Tokyo, November 2014. This paper sums up much of Daly's (perhaps the leading ecological economist) work, using the distinction between an "empty" world (in the past) where the demands of human economic activity on natural resources, ecosystems and "sinks" for undesirable byproducts of economic activity did not exceed the earth's regenerative or absorptive capacity to today's "full" world in which they do. Easy to read, with easy-to-understand didactic graphics. 

  • Ehrenfeld, John R. and Andrew Hoffman. (2013). Flourishing: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Introduces the concept of flourishing rather than increasing GDP, and explaining why we need change socially accepted values to move from "more is better" to sufficiency or "enough for all" as objectives of economic activity.

  • Raworth, Kate (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. A thorough review of the history of economic thought and focus on sustainability in all its dimensions. Raworth sums it up in a sentence. "We have an economy that needs to grow, whether or not it makes us thrive. We need an economy that makes us thrive, whether or not it grows."

Sufficiency

  • Reddit (updated continuously). Basic Income FAQ/wiki. The most concise (one  long web page) statement of what basic income means, the arguments for and against from a wide variety of political perspectives, a list of supporters across the political/ideological spectrum, how to finance it with minimum distortions, and many links to other publications. 

  • Skidelsky, Robert and Eduard (2012). How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life. New York: Other Press,. Lord Robert Skidelsky is an economist and leading interpreter of Keynes. Edward Skidelsky is his son, a philosopher. In investigating the concept of sufficiency, it is useful to look back at how philosophers (and economists, once known as moral philosophers) have defined "the good life", and that is what the Skidelskys do in this important book. The starting point for this fascinating review of thinking on the topic is a 1930 essay by Keynes  (1930), entitled  "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren".

  • Wickipedia (updated continuously).  Basic Income. Covers a wide range of topics with many links to topics mentioned.

 

Innovation

  • Two books by Diamandis, Peter (Co-Founder of Silicon Valley's Singularity University) and journalist Steven Kotler  (2012) Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think. New York: Simon and Schuster; and (2015) Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. New York: Simon and Schuster. These books offer a more optimistic view of the future, based on what they call exponential technologies, but fail to ask the questions of growth of what, for whom, and why within the environmental constraints of Daly's "full world." Nevertheless they are well written and present persuasive arguments regarding what technology is likely to be able to offer to buy more time, develop technologies to substitute for scarce natural resources, reduce pollution, and decrease the need for degrading forms of labor.

  • Kurzweil, Ray (2005). The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York: Viking Penguin. This is the classic on AI and explains exponential technologies that underlie it. 

  • Naam, Ramez (2013). The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. Hanover: University Press of New England. Charts a course to supercharge innovation - by changing the rules of our economy - that can lead the whole world to greater wealth and human well-being, even as we dodge looming resource crunches and environmental disasters and reduce our impact on the planet.

  • Urban, Tim (2015). "The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence." Wait But Why, January 22. A concise explanation of what is happening in AI. See also his longer blog post, "The AI Revolution: Our Immortality or Extinction." Wait But Why, January 27

For additional reading and viewing recommendations go to our Read and View pages. 

 

 

 

 

To participate in discussions on S4S topics, go to our LinkedIn group, Sufficiency4Sustainability Forum

About Us

Associates in the Sufficiency4Sustainability network are exploring how innovation,  changing values, and public policies can achieve economic, social, political and ecological sustainability while meeting the basic needs of all on a planet with a population approaching 11 billion by the end of this century.

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Email: peter@sufficiency4sustainability.org

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