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Beyond Sustainable Economy: A Social System Based on Aparigraha

Published: 27.07.2017

Something for all

In a healthy society there are no extremes. Nobody should have to worry about basic needs of life. It is a birthright. It is the responsibility of governments to provide every single individual with food, shelter, education, information, health education, self-healing methods and access to medical care. And above that some money, which is needed for other basic things according to the individual's choice, and to give him or her opportunity. Independent research should advice the quantity of money needed for groups and for each individual. By these few simple things, if well organized, and if corruption is exposed and expelled, the suffering of poverty could be abolished in the world, and a nation has shown the true practice of aparigraha.

Redefining poverty

In the present global society, mere existence as fundamental right is no longer enough. Above the conventional rights as defined by the UN, every citizen of the world should have continuous access to external sources of information, especially internet, and thus have access to a wide set of programs for self-education. In this way every world citizen can collect the information he or she needs and wishes for and develop him or herself according to his potentials. Moreover internet saves trees, fuel needed for transformation, and the information available is common property, often as free as the air we breath, and thus gives no rise to parigraha in the sense of collecting books, piles of paper, and unnecessary consumption of material energy. Self-education, either guided by living teachers or individually (autodidactic) is the basis of unfolding of the own potential which is unique for each individual. Governments should take care to provide the necessary information about laws and rules even for illiterates, so that local (and large scale) corruption will be minimized. Freedom of expression through means of communication should be guaranteed.

At the same time we should take care that poverty is only one of the reasons for human suffering. Money alone does not make happy, and many times too much money makes unhappy. Also we must prevent to stigmatize poverty as something that is "low" or "wrong." Dignity is of much more value than wealth.

How to finance such plans? Because there are hundreds of millions of poor people in the world, even small measures will cost huge amounts to the state. Companies and the rich are usually, for whatever reason, very reluctant to give to the poor. Nevertheless organized giving and sharing is real aparigraha and is the solution in the present world situation with its already long history of making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The poor could be self-confident and proud of their aparigraha, but the government should take care that none of its subjects has reason to complain. In the social security systems of especially some countries in North-West Europe poverty has been (almost) eradicated - as well as extreme wealth. This has been accomplished by fully democratic and open means. Sharing, compassion and real aparigraha have become the basis of European morality during the 20th century, and  If Europeans can do that, why not the rest of the world? In a country like Holland, industries like textile industry have been purposely decreased for the benefit of developing countries. The Dutch, for example, which inhabit the second densest populated country in the world known as The Netherlands, have in the last decades consciously and purposely given back industrial and agricultural land to nature, and lands suffering under pollution have now become healthy natural areas again. No action is undertaking without a thought (and its legal precipitation) about nature, social welfare and human rights. This goodwill system has not been able to expel hypocrisy and misuse of course, but a lot of good things that could be examples for the world at large, have been accomplished. I can think of no argument of any nation or government or lobby to willfully maintain poverty, illiteracy and unnecessary suffering for any citizen and environmental degradation of whatever country - even if this would be to some extend be at the cost of (excessive) wealth.

Maximum to benefit

Internationally it should be discussed and recognized that unbridled self-enrichment of individuals and companies does not serve humanity at large. Paradoxically India, with his hundreds of millions of poor and uneducated people is home to some of the richest man in the world. This is a shame for the nation. Such tremendous amounts of money also give huge material power to monopolize, to grasp more and create more poverty. It is the same old story once again, but Europeans have proved that it can be organized differently.

Therefore a social tax system should be implemented which is progressive, as is already existent in many developed countries, and this should ideally ultimately be on global agreement, or include a group of nations as large as possible. The money acquired should entirely be used for the raising of the poor, positive education and as a matter of principle be supportive to a greedless and ecologically harmonious society and for restoration of harm done to the living environment as far as still possible. 

I think the Europeans would agree to such an idea. Their governments are in favor of setting some rules. America is usually against international binding rules, but that should not withhold the others. America is also an intelligent think-tank of new ideas, which many times have proven to be of benefit to all.

Of course such a system will never be perfect, and we have to tolerate a small margins of misuse. But it is our responsibility to keep that margin small and to work to make it smaller. Every labor a person performs within such a social system will lift him immediately and significantly above the so-called "poverty line," but in no circumstance can he ever fall below the poverty line. This can be constitutionally established. But wealth based on and leading to hoarding and accumulations of unnecessary goods and comforts and exploitation of energy resources should be discouraged. The rich of mind need no excessive wealth - wealth is an illusion pursued by the poor of mind only - ultimately leading to their distress and deterioration of character. Only the really compassionate and generous can safely carry the burden of wealth.

When a particular quantity of profit is reached, a progressive tax would at some point reach 100%.  This could only be functional when humanity at large has left material egoism or greediness completely behind as a psychological habit - and that may still take centuries or longer to accomplish. No system can change human psychology overnight of course, only insight and religion can do that gradually. At the moment material desire, whether we like it or not, is still the strongest motor of progress, and will remain so for some time. Therefore I think that such a tax system should never reach a compulsory amount higher than (say,) 90%, so that nobody would be forced to zero profit. Of  course implementing a plan like this is complex, because persons or companies might choose another country and deposit their money in some tax paradise. Many will not like the idea of any limit to gain and freedom. But it puts a limit to greed, parigraha - and that has become an absolute necessity if we do not want to overburden or even lose our planet. Moreover, in the long run, this serves the total economy, because even the poorest will become consumers. In a country like India this can be understood. Traditionally the wealthy donate huge sums for building temples, for charitable projects and other noble purposes. This generosity can become the general tendency of the society, if we can democratically agree on a system that implements rules. Freedom of enterprise and making profit is essential in our society where materialism and selfishness are predominant. For many this is the only stimulus. In (still remote) ages to come, compassion and altruism may be enough developed to make such laws and regulation unnecessary, but at present there seems no other way. Further profit would go to charitable funds or projects under democratic control (i.e. full openness of books and activities).


Though democracy has increased tremendously in the last few centuries and even in the last decades, and most industrialized countries promote and defend democracy, the power and behavior of big private companies is largely outside our democratic control. As consumers we decide freely what to buy, and that is our "vote" for the company. But we have hardly any control over the ethical, environmental, and social behavior of such a company. Naturally companies will show a smiling face, but what is behind the smile is difficult to know. Companies can be screened concerning their behavior according to strict laws and rules, as already happens in many economically developed countries and the results publicized. One could think of a parigraha-aparigraha balance index, as well an index for correct environmental and humane behavior. Therefore globally acceptable and accepted laws, rules and regulations, could be developed by intellectual commissions independent of politics and business interests, based on awareness and genuine care for human well-being and all beings on the earth. On local level even more may be done if the people themselves take initiatives - within the global framework Nor should companies and individuals have the right to exert power by lobbying, bribing, "personal contacts" or "family relations" other then the normal one man - one vote democratic procedure. All lobbying can be done through the free press, public discussion and democratic decision taking.

List of industries and their scores

An informal, non-binding, but intelligent scale could be made of industries and products and investigate their value for human welfare, including general benefit, and environmental, social and ethical impact. This will lead to more wisdom in our choices. Also - and as always regrettably - the legal possibility to punish companies (such as by black-listing and publication) for wrong behavior should be developed.

Rules and regulations

In the present state and stage of development of humanity its seems that we need rules, regulations, laws and systems, even religions to keep ourselves within limits. We can design an (undogmatic!) highest value system and base our laws, rules and regulations on it. This has been done many times in history, but in our days of transition we need to think and develop our thinking for the future, hoping that generations after us will live with less tensions, insecurities, struggles and fears, and better opportunities, so that they can occupy themselves with the development of more useful aspects of their being.

Compulsory self-limitation

Some products should be limited by strict rules. Cars, for example, are responsible for almost half the world's green house gasses. This simply means that not everyone can have a car. Just as in the case of weapons, there should be a license system for cars, quantity of fuel use per motorized vehicle, further restriction of car use in pollution prone areas such as big cities. At the same time research should be done to good alternatives. Especially not yet fully developed countries like India and China and Africa should meditate on this, and global agreement should be reached in which these countries sacrifice the desire to equal the industrialized countries in their present stage of exaggerated wealth. This is true national aparigraha. In the case of cars this should be maintained at least until a pollution-free car is invented and marketable - and even after. This should not just be on basis of promises or good intentions, but be fixed in international agreements. The concerned countries naturally won't like the idea, but the earth and the global community would be extremely grateful if these great as well as large communities would introduce the practice of self-sacrifice into economy. An aparigrahic economy does not resist sacrificing more than other nations. We all know that, realistically, the earth will not be able to bear universal use of fossil fuels and a consumption pattern based on addiction to greediness.

The world over there are activities which harm global well-being and cleanliness, no country in the world excepted. The scope of this article doesn't allow us to work out other examples, but if we want to, it can be done.


Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Aparigraha
  2. Environment
  3. Greed
  4. Parigraha
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