Quaker Institute for the Future launched the "Towards a Moral Economy" project in 2005, to address the concerns of Friends about the human prospect in a world of unbridled economic growth. The central effort of the project to date has been the writing of a book, by a team anchored by Peter Brown. On February 15, 2008, we celebrated the reaching of an agreement in principle with Berrett-Koehler Publishers for publication of the book, provisionally titled Right Relationship: The Hands-on Guide to Building a Whole Earth Economy. The tentative schedule calls for a final manuscript by early June 2008, with publication planned for early 2009.
Reaching agreement with a publisher is a major breakthrough after over two years of manuscript development. The book development process began in earnest in January 2006, with a weekend retreat at Peter Brown’s farm near Montreal. Additional retreats were held in June 2006, January 2007 and June 2007. Participation at these meetings, conducted in the spirit of Quaker process, included a core team of six primary authors and about ten additional participants, mostly Quaker. A draft manuscript was distributed to several reviewers at the beginning of October 2007, and review meetings were held in College Park, MD, Wilmington, OH, Auckland, NZ and Montreal, QC in late October and early November. In addition to the meetings, we received comments from several individual reviewers. Peter Brown will oversee revision of the manuscript according to the agreed schedule with the publisher, responding to comments received through this review process and to suggestions from the publisher.
II. An overview of the book
The frame of the book is the concept of right relationship. There is a growing incoherence between the human economy and the integrity of Earth’s biotic and social systems. From the standpoint of both human well being and the well being of all Earth’s life communities, this is wrong relationship. We are faced with a choice: bring the economy into right relationship with biotic and social integrity or suffer the consequences - the increasing destruction of the Earth’s life support systems and social structures.
The following excerpt from the draft shows how the book presents right relationship.
The great collective challenge now confronting the entire human species, and most others as well, is the accelerating disintegration and looming failure of key planetary life support systems. These rapidly changing circumstances urgently require new learning, new thinking, and new adaptation. But, by itself, the exercise of human ingenuity is not adequate to this environmental challenge. New learning, new thinking and new adaptation must be envisioned in the larger context of right relationshipto work out in a fully coherent way for the common good, and the well being of the whole commonwealth of life, . This pivotal idea is a scientific and ethical understanding of ecological coherence and social equity. This centers on how humans see themselves in Creation. We now know that humans are part of a vast, expanding and creative universe. People and the other life with which we share heritage and destiny, are both products of these processes, and the agents of their flourishing. All living beings are finite players in an infinite game.Asking the following five questions and answering them in an ecologically and socially coherent way provides the conceptual framework for changing the way the economy works.
Right relationship with Creation is a choice. The moral development of social equity and ecological integrity is a decision by persons on how to live, and by communities and societies on how they collectively arrange their economies. It is quite possible to choose against right relationship, against life's flourishing, against ecological coherence and social equity, against the common good and the public interest. Many people do just that, as have some societies at various times. The cunning of neural plasticity can serve the pirate mentality as well as the mind of mutual aid. For example, in the economic and political life of some jurisdictions, a combination of quick learning, innovative thinking, and shrewd adaptation is now blurring the distinction between criminal, corporate, and government behavior to such an extent that whole societies are being skewed into a vortex of moral regression and ecological incoherence. The choice for right relationship at the level of public policy is critical to the human future. The scale and intensity of human activity is now such that the question of right relationship is a survival question. Deciding for a policy of basic equity, and for a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship, are ethical choices that will give human communities a coherent and resilient prospect within the commonwealth of life.
Relationships that close down trust and cooperative reciprocity at the social level, and ecosystem resilience and biotic well being at the ecological level, degrade moral integrity and adaptive coherence. Cooperative reciprocity involves interacting with others in a manner that satisfies the goals of the interaction in ways that are mutually beneficial and in aid of the common good. Ecological resilience is the ability of life systems to respond to evolving circumstances and disturbances in a way that maintains or restores the integrity and function of the system. These two dynamics, until recently considered by many to be widely separate, function as a whole. Speaking from the standpoint of the human future, and of the well being of the commonwealth of all life, the identification of right and wrong relationships in economic adaptation is a central task for human survival on a flourishing Earth. Fortunately, humans have a history of moral development, and a long religious heritage of ethical concern, to which can now be added the critical knowledge base of science. Together, these intellectual foundations in science and ethics enable the recognition and clear identification of right relationships. That identification process becomes a guidance system that orients new learning, new thinking, and new adaptation.
In the 1940s, conservation biologist Aldo Leopold, reflecting on what he had come to see as the next stage in human moral development - “the land ethic” - wrote the following: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Many volumes have since been written on the philosophy of ecology, but this simple statement, with its emphasis on the aesthetic factor in moral awakening, has become the touchstone of the ecological world view. Replacing the term “stability” with “resilience” reflects more current understandings while remaining true to Leopold’s perspective. With only a slight alteration, Leopold’s statement applies with equal cogency to the domain of human relationships. Thus: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, resilience, and beauty of the human community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” The “integrity, resilience, and beauty of the biotic community” is characterized by reciprocity, recovery, and exuberance. The “integrity, resilience, and beauty of the human community” is characterized by social cohesion, adaptive capacity, and soaring of the human spirit. Together, these two statements function as a practical guide to the creation of a moral economy. In fact, they can be combined: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, resilience, and beauty of the commonwealth of life. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
1. How does the economy work? Key concept: The human economy is a subset of Earth’s biophysical processes deriving from the evolution of the Universe, and is ultimately governed by its fundamental laws. An economy in right relationship with the earth and the cosmos must base its policies and practices on redefinitions of key concepts such as wealth, money, efficiency, comparative advantage, and waste. (see eco-economics)
2. What is the economy for? Key concept: The economy is for basic provisioning and the maintenance of the creative processes of social and ecological systems. An economy in right relationship with humanity and nature encloses the spark of competition within the engines of social and ecological cooperation.
3. What is the right scale of the economy? Key concept: The economy must be sized within the biosphere and its capacities for biotic renewal and waste assimilation, consistent with basic provisioning and flourishing biodiversity. An economy in right relationship is respectful of human dignity and ecological integrity.
4. What is a fair basis for distributing the benefits and burdens of the economy? Key concept: A fair allocation of the economy’s benefits and burdens is keyed to minimum conditions of respect and reciprocity. This applies to persons, human communities, and all other life communities. The maintenance and flourishing of Earth’s whole commonwealth of life is central to a human economy in right relationship.
5. What forms of governance are suited to a flourishing and dynamic whole earth economy? Key concept: Current governmental systems evolved when most consequences were thought to be proximate in space and time. Global biophysical systems have been stable for the 10,000 years in which civilization has evolved. Human actions are now global and reach forward in time for millennia. There is a mounting disconnect between the rapidly increasing velocity and momentum of human generated changes in earth systems and the ability of government institutions to respond. Global federalism, trusteeship, and economies grounded in earth systems are essential for an economy in right relationship with a prosperous earth. With these questions addressed, the final chapter of the book plants the seeds for a transformational effort for developing an economy in right relationship with the earth’s commonwealth of life:
6. How can we get there? Key concept: There are four urgent tasks for bringing about a right relationship between the human economy and Earth’s commonwealth of life:
- Grounding and clarification. Unless there is a sense of the awe for the cosmos and an ethic of humankind’s appropriate place and relationship to that cosmos underlying the way we live, humans will continue to degrade all life’s prospects.
- Design.There is an urgent priority for the necessary institutional changes and processes to be developed with the benefit of history but thoroughly and thoughtfully adapted to the present. Models, pilot schemes and operational techniques need to be developed to implement as the demand for change intensifies.
- Witness. Everyone who wants a future for their children and their children’s children, and an earth that supports life’s commonwealth, needs to demand these changes.
- Non-violent reform. Quaker history contains many examples but the template for abolishing slavery is the most well known. This model was used by many reformers in subsequent centuries and can serve as the basis for the transformational effort called for in the book.
The book lays out steps that will be required of millions around the world: grounding and clarification, design, witness and non-violent reform. However, the book alone will not be enough to invigorate the transformation needed to right the relationship of the economy to earth’s life systems. Because a collective response is needed, people must be reached not only as individuals, but also as part of a larger movement. We hope to contribute to an effort that will give rise to a mass epiphany sufficient to transform the human economy, where the starting point is growing consciousness of the crises humanity is facing. We are aware that a common response to ecological breakdown is to urge people to adopt more “sustainable” practices, get involved in the political process, and join and support NGOs. While these recommendations are important, they do not go far enough. The behavioral changes they induce may be superficial and problematic. They generally omit the critical importance of broader public policy responses.
- Sustainable practices often include things like more efficient cars and light bulbs. Yet, efficiency gains often cause more consumption, not less. A car that gets better mileage is often driven further. What a person saves on their electricity bill may be spent on a new hot tub. There is also the problem of aggregation – the collective ecological footprint. Even if everyone did all these things, would it get us to a point where we are living within the earth's biophysical limits? The question is se ldom asked, let alone answered. By framing the choice to adopt sustainable practices within the concept of right relationship, as described above, we hope to invigorate a more spiritual response –- one where people will feel joy and fulfillment in living in right relationship with the commonwealth of life. The hope is that this deeper commitment will trigger people both to adopt a comprehensive new concept of quality of life for themselves, and also to advocate for collective action to respect nature’s limits.
- The political processes are, particularly in the United States, saturated with money and firmly fixed to the treadmill of relentless growth. As a consequence it is frequently difficult even to get responsible legislation introduced, let alone passed. The problem is made even worse by the concentrated ownership of the media. So, change through politics is only possible with strong pressure. The process must begin deep within the human spirit, with a new perspective that we hope the concept of right relationship will invigorate. As this tide of new thinking grows, it will eventually reach the political process.
- Some NGOs are especially effective, but many are caught in the trap of needing to maintain their budgets and are consequently fearful of biting the hand that feeds them. We are advocating the kind of fearlessness that powered the anti-slavery and civil rights movements.
- Global federalism.
- The development of an analytical capacity, connected to that federation, to understand the earth in whole systems terms--and to relate its finding to the understanding and conduct of global macroeconomic policy, in a way that insulates science from political demagoguery.
- One or more trusts to protect the global commons for the long run.
- A vastly strengthened global court. The book calls upon people everywhere to join in this eleventh hour campaign to bring to fruition the means to secure life's prosperity.
To complement the book launch, we are engaged in an outreach/action campaign among both Quakers and non-Quakers, to include face-to-face meetings with small groups, study groups, presentations at conferences, mailings, listservs, blogs, and other web-based communication. The purpose of the campaign is to attract partners who share the concerns and objectives of the book, and to develop MEP actions in concert with those partners. An initial book marketing and campaign plan has been prepared and an administrative team assembled. The organizations mentioned below are just the beginning. The MEP campaign welcomes interest and participation of like-minded organizations not mentioned here.
Level 1: Quaker environmentalists. We have begun a database of Quaker environmentalists in North America, Britain, and elsewhere in the world. QIF: Quaker Institute for the Future is sponsoring the book project and has strongly invested in its success. The book writing team has already created a worldwide blog, Towards a Moral Economy, with postings in English, French and Spanish and a February 2008 readership of about 1000, increasing steadily as well-known ecologists and Young Friends (age 15-30) participate. Readers/contributors include membership of US-based QEW Quaker Earthcare Witness and QEAN Quaker Ecology Action Network in Canada, who eagerly await news of the book. We hope the QEW bi-monthly publication, BeFriending Creation can publicize the book and its message. One of our members participated in the founding of the new Human Security project of the UK-based Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) on world environment, peace and social justice issues. We hope these groups will be interested in using the book and its message in Friends Meetings study groups, and to help carry the message beyond through their worldwide Quaker and interfaith connections.
Level 2: Broader Quaker community, other Faith groups and environmental NGOs. We have begun a database for the broader Quaker community and interfaith organizations, with dates of major conferences in 2008-2009. We plan publicity in Friends' magazines and newsletters, along with presentation and discussion of the book and its themes at annual and semi-annual Quaker conferences. We hope to pursue similar opportunities outside the Quaker community, through eco-economics and eco-theology conferences, and via ecumenical and environmental organizations. In addition to the Friends World Committee for Consultation and yearly Friends Yearly Meetings, Quaker organizations include AFSC American Friends Service Committee, CFSC Canadian Friends Service Committee, FCNL Friends Committee on National Legislation, QUNO: Quaker United Nations Office, FAHE Friends Association for Higher Education, and FGC Friends General Conference which is composed of 14 Yearly Meetings and 8 Monthly Meetings in North America, operates QuakerBooks, with a store in Philadelphia and phone, mail, and website orders worldwide. Their annual sales are over $500,000. FGC has an annual Gathering that draws approximately 2000 participants. QuakerBooks operates a bookstore for this event and generates $90,000 to $100,000 in sales. FGC’s Friends Journal and Canadian Friend, both monthly publications, are distributed free to members; they have a regular section on Earth care, and other articles on environmental concerns and actions. Similarly, British Quakers receive both The Friend weekly and Quaker Monthly. The Economics Issues programme of British Yearly Meeting produces Better World Economics. We hope to rely on these journals, as well as a large number of Quaker newsletters, to publicize the book and the wider campaign. Our database includes contact information for over 200 interfaith, Eco-economics, Eco-theology and similar associations, along with environmental NGOs whose objectives are closely related to MEP. We continue to add to this database. Interfaith or faith organizations with a strong environmental focus include WCC World Council of Churches, CCC Canadian Council of Churches, NCC National Council of Churches USA, KAIROS, ROJeP Réseau oecuménique justice et paix, Sojourners, ICCN Interfaith Climate Change Network, NRPE National Religious Partnership for the Environment, NAE National Association of Evangelicals, the Global Christian Forum, CBTI Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, CMRP/WCRP Conférence Mondiale des Réligions pour la Paix / World Council of Religions for Peace, and the COEJL Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.
Level 3: Youth and the general public. We plan to use all the resources of the internet to reach the general public, including youth. Our blog is already exploring these possibilities. A key element of our outreach will be Young Friends’ participation in such social-networking groups as TakingITGlobal, GlobalVoicesOnline, WiderEarth, OneEarth, StepItUp, Facebook (which now hosts many local environmental groups), Meetup, ItsGettingHotinHere, Climate Project, UNEP Environmental Youth Alliance, Sierra Youth Coalition, Youth Environmental Network, Energy Action, to name only a few. A worldwide Quaker Youth Pilgrimage that will take place 18 July-15 Aug 2008 presents an opportunity to publicize the book and its core message. We are also investigating the possibilities of mass marketing via Amazon, Chapters/Indigo, podcasts, and joint campaigns with NGOs.
Concrete Action in 2008 and 2009
We believe that a successful campaign will require a focused effort at the outset. Accordingly, we are planning a symposium for the late 2008 or early 2009 on the core theme of the moral economy book: right relationship between the human economy and Earth’s commonwealth of life. Participants will include an international and diverse group of Quakers and non-Quakers interested in this transformational objective. Anticipated outcomes of the symposium include:
- A report on the symposium, including a compendium of essays and articles building on the book § A focused plan of action for moving forward with a transformational effort based on the book’s core message.
- A worldwide network of Quakers and non-Quakers committed to working in partnership and in concert to implement this plan of action Outreach in 2008 will focus on the FWCC and semi-annual and annual Quaker meetings, such as key Yearly Meetings and the annual FGC Gathering in summer 2008, aiming for advance publicity of the book, broad representation in the symposium and good contacts for ongoing relationships. Our initial outreach will be in the Americas and Europe, working closely with the Executive Secretaries of the FWCC, its Americas section, and its European and Middle East Section, with Friends Committee for National Legislation (FCNL), the AFSC and CFSC, the Quaker United Nations Offices (QUNO, with offices in New York and Geneva) and the Quaker Council for European Affairs. Beginning in 2009, we intend to have the book available for sale and discussion (with presenters wherever possible) at Yearly Meetings in America and Europe and at the annual FWCC Sections. In addition, we will have a major presence at the FGC Annual Gathering the first week in July 2009, at Radnor University in Virginia, with a well-staffed discussion table within the Bookstore, featuring MEP, with other QIF pamphlets and research paper publications, plus author readings and workshops during the week. We will use a similar approach at other Friends gatherings, such as the Europe and Middle East Section of FWCC, and North American and European Yearly Meetings, with the support of the Quaker Bookshop in London. We are still adding to our schedule of events to attend, and have a detailed plan for use of the internet for outreach and publicity.