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The Good Life for All - A Useful Utopia
by Alexandra Strickner
Email: marc1seed (nospam) yahoo.com
01 Jan 2017
What institutions and infrastructures are needed so all people can lead good lives? Good lives demand more than consumption paid with money. The commons-what belongs to everyone and is used in common-is an alternative to the growth economy.
THE GOOD LIFE FOR ALL – A USEFUL UTOPIA
By Alexandra Strickner
[This article published on December 14, 2016, is translated from the German on the Internet, http://blog.arbeit-wirtschaft.at. Alexandra Strickner, a member of Attac Austria, is the coordinator of the alliance "Ways out of Crisis" and of the congress "Good Life for All."]
What is fascinating in this seemingly general but very concrete utopia? With "good life for all," justice and equality as well as necessary and possible ways to social-ecological transformation are moved into the center of discussion. One central question is: what institutions and infrastructures are needed so all people can lead a good life? Which must be built and which must be reorganized r even eliminated?
A broad alliance of academia, unions, and NGOs convened the 1st Good Life for All congress two years ago. More than 700 persons grappled intensely with this complex of themes. The 2nd Good Life for All congress will take place in Vienna from February 9-11, 2017. Several theses on why the good life for all is a helpful utopia for realizing future-friendly alternatives will be sketched here
GOOD LIFE FOR ALL: MOVING THE QUESTION OF JUSTICE AND EQUALITY TO THE CENTER
For a few decades after the Second World War, the welfare state in Western Europe banished hunger and misery for most people and allowed a good life to become reality. This happened in a spatially limited area different for women and men and utilizing the raw materials and resources from the global South. The greatness of this civilization advance is now clear where hunger, social insecurity, increasing unemployment and poverty return in Europe and Austria. However, the deeper cause for increasing inequality lies in the capitalist economic system itself.
The announcement "a good life for all" tries to move the question of justice and equality and the increasingly unequal distribution of income, wealth, work, and resources to the center of discussion.
THINKING GLOBALLY AND IN THE FUTURE
The climate crisis and the limits of natural resources make clear that the "good life for all" must be understood globally and in the future. What is uppermost is a good life that is not realized at the expense of others and nature and doesn't assume exploitative trade relations. Thus solutions that seem climate-friendly are not viable when the production of goods harmful to the environment and the climate are merely shifted to another region or their change is postponed to the future.
GOOD LIFE FOR ALL MEANS A DIFFERENT LIFE AND ECONOMY
The demand for economic growth as an answer to increasing unemployment misjudges the really central challenge, the necessary change of the production method and lifestyles. Economic growth would accelerate climate change and resource exploitation. Enormous growth rates would be needed to check current and future unemployment in view of the strong robotization tendencies.
If all people are entitled to the right to a good life, "business as usual" is not possible anymore. More than ever, we face the challenge of reorganizing how, for whom and what we produce and consume. We must orient ourselves in goals and principles that serve the public interest in a social, ecological and democratic way.
This means reflecting together about quality of life, welfare, and prosperity. How do we want to live? What food do we want to eat? How will we spend our time and care for children and seniors? How can we guarantee that our good life is not lived at the expense of the good life of people in the global South or destruction of our foundations of life?
TRANSFORMATION PATHS TO A GOOD LIFE FOR ALL
Discussing the utopia of the good life for all and developing concrete initiatives often occur today. Replacing one theoretical "model" with another is not the answer. Concrete solutions in the here and now that are envisioned and developed together with long-term solutions are needed. Attac formulates seven transformation paths to the goal of a good life for all:
A financial management oriented in the common good: to break the power of the financial sector, a financial- and banking system oriented in the public interest and democratically controlled is necessary with banks that are "small enough" that could go bust without dragging the entire economy to the abyss and plundering public budgets.
Glocalization: An environmentally-friendly and socially just economy requires ecological and social cost truths and just global rules on trade and investment. Instead of even more economic globalization, an emancipatory economic regionalization is needed that manages without fossil sources of energy. Global trade should be carried out in a complementary and solidarity way on the basis of cooperation.
Food Sovereignty: Only democratic and self-determined agricultural policies as well as rural and ecological farming guarantee healthy and sustainably-produced food for all people. Agricultural- and trading policies should promote this form of farming and avoid structural surpluses. Patents on life belong to the past.
Energy Democracy: The liberalized energy market with profit-oriented energy businesses should be replaced by democratically controlled and well-interlinked public energy businesses. These could manage the energy turn to ecologically sustainable, renewable energy and affordable energy for all.
The Commons – What belongs to everyone and is used in common: Natural, social and cultural common property ("commons") like water, raw materials, land, knowledge and their social control are an alternative to the growth economy. The communication infrastructure and media are also parts of a public infrastructure that is publically and democratically controlled and monitored.
Humanly just work: Who works under what conditions must be oriented to the needs of existence-securing, fulfilling, self- and socially determined work. Work must be conceived and distributed in new ways. Support- and supply work should be given a high social ranking.
Comprehensive Democratization: A policy in the interest of everyone can only succeed in the interest of everyone through democratic joint-determination possibilities on all planes – in businesses, public services, budget decisions and EU guidelines. The further development of democratic institutions, forms and processes is part of comprehensive democratization. Breaking the power of corporations is central.
STEPS TO THE GOOD LIFE FOR ALL
A "good life for all" can only become reality if people begin locally – in a first step – living out alternatives and showing how a successful life is possible here among us without an excessive ecological footprint. Change "from below" is crucial. Transition town movements, public interest- and solidarity economy, an economy of sharing, repair- and second-hand shops, housing projects and food cooperatives are examples of initiatives from below. These base initiatives with their spontaneity and creativity are important places for testing new forms of economics, life, and democracy. The initiators of these projects are thinkers and exponents of a sustainable and solidarity society.
However, these initiatives are not enough for realizing the great and necessary social-ecological transformation. Nevertheless, a society without consumerism and growth pressure and with much more cooperation cannot simply be decreed from above. Therefore we must ask: what initiatives and infrastructures are needed so all people can lead good lives? Reflecting about infrastructures is necessary since needs cannot only be satisfied through consumption paid with money. The way to these infrastructures requires searching, experimenting, and openness for learning.
The necessary institutions, production methods, and routines of a solidarity society have a place for everyone and everyone has chances of realizing their life projects. At the same time, there are powerful forces and structures that hinder alternatives.
For the diverse concrete initiatives from below to unfold, the universal world market architecture promoting power concentration must be reconstructed – especially the trade- and investment agreements. An emancipatory economic regionalization is needed that limits the concentration of economic power and wealth and makes possible new possibilities for the democratic organization of a social-ecological transformation.
Pluralist cooperation and respectful dialogue between social movements, initiatives, unions, parties, academia and engaged persons are vital on all planes – local, regional, national and transnational. Inventing new social-ecological infrastructures to help these ideas and proposals break through is imperative. This ultimately means discussing the global distribution of prosperity and quality of life. The struggles necessary for this should not be avoided. The few for whom a life in luxury is possible today will not give up power and control over the economy and society without resistance.