Unseen Abundance

3 05 2015

About 30 years ago some friends took me by boat to a remote island in Fiji. What stands out in my memory is the day one of the locals took us fishing. He waded out into shallow water and within about 30 seconds had a net full of bait fish. We then went out in his leaky wooden dinghy that had a concrete block tied to a piece of rope as an anchor. In half an hour he had caught enough fish to feed his extended family for the next few days. We went ashore and picked some breadfruit and paw-paws and he spent the rest of the day enjoying himself with his family and friends. There were things that he was desperate for such as sugar and I think to this day they wouldn’t have the internet – but still it was a very relaxed, easy life there.

It is valuable to learn whatever lessons we can from hunter gatherer cultures, but at the same not to over-glorify them. For example, that Fijian island had no doctor or hospital, a simple thing like fish hooks was in short supply and anybody with religious beliefs different to the norm would likely be marginalised or ostracised.

I think what we have in the world today has the potential to far surpass the ease of life on that Fijian island. With our highly productive technology and global communications systems we could, if we wanted, look after our much more complex survival needs in the same amount of time as the Fijian man. In saying this I am not suggesting the resource wasteful lifestyles of the affluent west represent a viable survival for the whole world population. What I am saying is that if we gave up our produce at any cost attitude and our belief that satisfying unending wants will make us happy, we might find that the abundance of time thus freed up could help us find the fulfilment we are longing for. Not only that it could also free up enough time and resources to devote our energies to things that really need doing. Things such as ending world hunger and poverty or cleaning up the environment.

I am bewildered when I hear economists telling us we have economic problems while being seemingly blind to the fact that our technological and organisational genius has created a world of such abundance that it renders the whole economic problem mindset obsolete. I am even more bewildered that we believe their assertions when the evidence in front of us tells us otherwise. The economist’s training has given them authority to convince us that if we don’t produce and produce and produce some more we are doomed. I am not blaming them – we have inherited an economic system that was developed in times when survival was a much more difficult and laborious undertaking than it is now.

The truth is that we have, with the grace of our organisational and technological ability, solved the age-old economic problem. If we wanted we could have more than enough for a comfortable life for every one in the world. Not a life of insane rushing around and rapid conversion of our precious resources into waste, but a world where we have an abundance of free time to pursue the things that really fulfil us.

Two of the main things preventing this economic utopia from being realised are; a misunderstanding of what really makes us happy, and the economic world view we have inherited from a time when there really was scarcity.

I think that to some extent we are faced with the choice of either having an economic utopia or having social and environmental devastation.

As far as solutions go; there are many. I like the simplicity of changing our attitude to unemployment; from a persistent problem to an evolutionary opportunity, from an economic indicator of something terribly wrong to a positive indicator that could revolutionise the world. Because unemployment in a world that is already producing a surplus is simply an opportunity for more free time for us all.

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