We have been talking about escalating ills such as poverty, disease, income inequalities, & climate change for decades now. While the shrillness of the protests & discourses has risen, the measures we have taken to save us from ourselves are paltry.
We need to wage a war. A war against human greed, which perhaps is the single biggest cause of most of the ills buffeting us. By taking more from nature than what we need, hoarding more than what we need, owning & possessing more than what we need, desiring more than what we need, we are destroying the world & ourselves. And the one big reason driving all these is plain & simple human greed. Needs have limits. But greed keeps growing if left unchecked. For centuries, religion & philosophy have cautioned us against runaway desires & wants. Modern scientific progress & successive industrial revolutions in the last few centuries have fueled human greed immensely. The benefits of modern progress & development won’t matter if the monstrous growth in human greed is left unchecked. Even if we don’t bother about our children’s and grandchildren’s future, the quality of our own lives are being threatened by the ills caused by human greed.
Can we take a few radical steps to save ourselves? Yes, if we think & act boldly.
- Ban advertising
Advertising abets consumption. Clever & ubiquitous advertising abets over consumption, aka greed. While capitalism is perhaps the best known model of growth & development we know of, its cancerous growth has largely been fueled by advertising of all kinds – through newspapers, magazines, TV, social media etc. Mobile devices & social media are now revolutionizing advertising further. We are fast becoming easier prey to bewitching advertisements & modern persuasion techniques employed by businesses. Our consumption and greed can only grow further & faster. What will happen if we ban all forms of advertising, except word of mouth? Trade & business will slow down, of course. The advertising industry will die. Some industries like media & entertainment, which largely thrive on advertising, may have to rejig their business models. The pace of growth & development will slow down. The benefits of scientific progress & innovations may not spread fast. Critical products & services, like life-saving drugs, may not reach needy people fast enough. But more effective governments and public administration systems can step in to manage a new world of zero advertising. Technology driven word-of-mouth (email, internet, social media etc.) can take over the basic function of advertising, ie., spreading the word, without spreading greed. Advertising is perhaps the biggest catalyst driving over-consumption. We should ban it. No half measures.
2. Impose high consumption tax
Unscrupulous consumption must be taxed heavily. Over consumption can be easily identified in rich & poor countries. Why should a single person or family need many houses, a fleet of cars, and so on? A progressive & evolving standard of consumption can be drawn up, perhaps unique to each country to start with. The consumption tax should be high enough to act as a severe deterrent, along with severe penalties. What happens if we have a high consumption tax, say, for buying more than 2 cars or spending more than a preset amount on housing? It will certainly slow down business & trade. Prices may come down. Cost of living will reduce. Human greed will come down. The downside is that reduced greed may not drive innovations, growth & development as fast as before. But do we need such a greed driven growth & development? We can, and need to, adjust to a slower pace of consumption & progress, as we did a few centuries before.
3. Reduce pace of economic growth
Why do countries want to grow faster & faster? India & China are not happy with 7-8% pa economic growth. Developed countries are not happy with 2-3% pa growth. Simple reason why every country wants to grow faster is to satisfy ever-growing human greed. Massive industrialization and fast improvements in quality of life in the west have fueled human greed in developing countries, which now are clamoring to claim their own share of the spoils. The ongoing race among countries to grow faster & faster will ultimately destroy us. We need to slow down. Can all countries grow a few percentage points slower? What will happen if China & India choose to grow at 5% or lower? The ensuing social & political disruptions may be difficult to manage, but still can be done with the right leaders at helm. We may find it difficult to live with lowered expectations. Business & trade will slow down. Incomes will go down. Buying that car and apartment may take a longer time. Scientific progress, innovations & human development may slow down. Governance & administrative mechanisms have to be improved to redistribute welfare and benefits equitably. But, look at the upsides. The pace of our lives will slow down. Reduced stress will lead to lesser lifestyle ailments. We may even begin to savor life, ourselves & the world better. More importantly, we would have saved the world from caving in on ourselves.
4. Shame & punish uber-consumers
Even as we embrace the above 3 steps, we will have dissidents. In a democratic setup, we may not be able to force all people curtail their greed. Consumption habits & behaviors may need a long time to change. We may still have the über rich who, despite a high consumption tax, may not be able to control or limit their consumption. Such a stubborn minority can even reverse the difficult steps taken for larger public benefit. Such people must be publicly shamed & punished into behaving & consuming responsibly.
5. Educate & institutionalize
Despite strict measures, human greed can be strong enough to persist in murky corners. It can hide or lie low for 1-2 generations and erupt unexpectedly later, quickly reversing the situation. Greed catches on like a social wild-fire. We don’t want the next or later generations to step backward. Adults & (especially) children have to be educated, almost indoctrinated, on the above measures. Governments, businesses & other social bodies need to institutionalize these ideas to avoid reversions.
Are these ideas utopian? No.
Are they doable? Yes.
Will the present governments & businesses support it? No.
Do we have leaders who can do this? No.
Do we need a revolution? Yes.
Who, when, how ???