Politics

Personal and community action is the driving force of change. But our decisions take place within legal, political, and economic ‘structures’ that make some lifestyle choices easy and other lifestyle choices difficult. We live in a society that is structured to promote consumer lifestyles, and this makes choosing simpler lifestyles much more difficult than it needs to be. In many ways, the structure of consumer society is locking us into high consumption lifestyles. To free us from those structures, we need the help of our governments.

  • Relocalise food production: Establish community gardens in every suburb and permit people to cultivate their nature strips. Subsidise relocalisation.
  • Bike lanes and public transport: This issue is a perfect example of why a politics of simplicity is needed. Our governments must invest much more in good bike lanes and public transport, otherwise many people can be locked into driving.
  • Product Labeling: If we are going to ‘vote with our money’ we need to know about the products we buy – where and how they were made, and what is in them. Governments should require sufficiently detailed product labeling.
  • Working hour reductions: Many people are locked into 40-hour-per-week jobs even though they would prefer to work shorter hours and receive less money. This locks people into over-consuming lifestyles. In Holland there is a law that allows employees to reduce their working hours simply by asking their employer. The employer is required to accept this request unless there is a sufficiently good business reason to deny it (which happens in less than 5% of cases). By protecting part-time employment, Holland has produced the highest ratio of part-time workers in the world.
  • Price carbon and invest in renewable energy: We need to break our addiction with fossil fuels. Our governments should begin by pricing carbon and investing heavily in the most suitable renewable energy. Abolish fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Protect nature: Governments must help protect nature; markets are failing.
  • Post-growth economics: Perhaps the most important overall goal in the politics of simplicity is to overcome the belief that a bigger economy is always better. This is especially important due to the ecological ‘limits to growth.’ We need our governments to focus on promoting ‘quality of life,’ even if this doesn’t produce the most economic growth. We should start measuring national progress using ‘alternative indicators’ such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and pay less attention to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Reduce poverty and economic inequality: Poverty and economic inequality are socially corrosive. If we are to eliminate poverty without relying on limitless growth then it is necessary to distribute wealth more equitably. Highly progressive tax rates and a Basic Income Guarantee would be a good start. The Simpler Way is about ensuring that everyone has ‘enough’ to live well.
  • Vote progressively: All this depends on a citizenry that puts pressure on political parties from the grassroots up. We must vote and live progressively.
  • Responsibility: Recognise that the less our governments do to respond to today’s challenges, the greater is our responsibility to address them ourselves.
  • For more reading on the politics of simple living: See the Simplicity Institute’s publications page here.

17 Comments

  1. Magnificent site. A lot of helpful info here. I am sending it to a few buddies ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thank you on your effort!

  2. Just to back up my claims heres a few quotes from some famous people concerning the banking system
    “Capital must protect itself in every way. Debts must be collected, mortgages foreclosed as rapidly as possible. When through the process of law the common people lose their homes, they will become more docile and more easily governed through the strong arm of government applied by a central power of wealth under leading financiers. People without homes will not quarrel with their leaders. This is well known among our principal men now engaged in forming an imperialism of capitalism to govern the world. By dividing the people we can get them to expend their energies in fighting over questions of no importance to us except as teachers of the common herd. It is thus by discreet action we can secure for ourselves that which has been so well planned and so successfully accomplished.” – U.S. Banker’s Association Magazine, 1924
    “For more than a century, ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as ‘internationalists’ and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure – one world, if you will. If that MyTelegraph: Log In Don’t have a profile? ’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it. ” – David Rockefeller, Memoirs, 2002
    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a monied aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power of money should be taken away from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs.” – Thomas Jefferson
    source Great quotes on banking money freedom and liberty from My Telegraph friday 20th april 2012

  3. There is one fundamental change that could initiate a change to the simpler way.Take the power to issue and control the money supply away from the central banks you could even go as far as to localise it.At the moment the private cabal of banker families with their other investments in the media,energy,water,food,etc and their control over our elected representitives will do all they can to ensure that change will never happen,instead these people are working towards total control of all the worlds people.
    The only solution i can envisage is a political awakening of all people to the control these people have,we need to make the next election about a single issue ‘who controls the money supply’we need to badger our MPs get them to ask the questions that will expose the biggest scam going.
    The scam being that they create money from nothing then loan it to the government and charge them intrest,the trillions of pounds of debt around the world are a lie, you cant charge intrest on nothing!!!! But our governments are complicit in this lie and charge us taxes to pay this debt,millions are being forced to work longer hours and later into old age so that the worlds wealth can be concentrated into the hands of about 5000 people.Stop this and you will bring about the most important change in history and it would certainly help the simpler way cause.
    I believe that the simpler way is the only viable way forward but you have to make the conditions right to allow it to happen

  4. Thanks Samuel. Yes, hard to get into details; I’m just trying to throw out some comments as food for thought.

    Good point re-the 20 hour week scenario – hopefully people would use the greater free time to build local economies. But they won’t do this (and the state won’t pass these laws), unless we have FIRST started building them, under the very difficult conditions we face now. We need to do this because a) they are necessary for a sustainable/just world b) the state won’t build them for us c) even if the state wanted to, it couldn’t because to function well these local economies require different values/ideas/priorities to those most people currently hold d) starting to build them is the best means to educate/inspire people with our vision. As Trainer says ‘the fate of the planet depends on whether initiatives such as the Transition Towns movement can provide many impressive examples of sustainable, just and pleasant ways showing people in consumer society that there is a better way.’ Maybe once we have built a mass movement (of connected local economies) and started to change the culture, the state will play an enabling role; but it is very far from doing that now…in fact, our ‘leaders’ are enthusiastically taking us in the opposite direction (market driven globalisation). Of course, none of this will happen overnight; we are talking about years and years of patient and slow building and educating (aided by a strong jolt from ‘peak everything’/ fin crisis!).

    Yes you are right about the market. We can have a market sector and, I agree, we can still have money (though the ‘life without money’ crew disagree…). But this sector MUST be tightly regulated/restricted…otherwise you will have a growth economy. This sector will largely about small businesses doing their thing to earn a stable income; not investing capital to make more capital ad infinitum. In other words the whole modus operandi of capitalism (in both an economic and cultural sense) has to end.

    I always harp on about Trainer but another great author is Saral Sarkar’s. His book ‘Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism: A critical analysis of humanities fundamental choices’ is wonderful. I recommend it to people.

  5. Jonathon, thanks again for presenting an important perspective. I think you’re oversimplifying things, but hey, you make sophisticated points very concisely, so it’s hard to complain. Furthermore, the website’s structural changes suggested above obviously oversimplify things too, so I guess in this forum we can do little more than try to provoke thought. The full ‘demonstrations’ will have to wait for essays or books. Or better yet – lived experience!

    If we have a culture enlightened enough to enforce a 20 hour working week through legislation, then what do you think this culture would do with all its free time? People wouldn’t spend it watching TV or talking about Paris Hilton. I’d suppose – or I’d hope – they’d be building the local economies you (and me) are advocating.

    What interests me about the question of political restructuring of the economy is that there are undoubtedly some people who would like to be building local economies today, but the structure of the existing economy essentially locks them into long working hours, long commutes, etc. Political action – real change, not merely tinkering reforms – has the potential to unlock people from those structures and open up space for local economies. It may be (as noted earlier) that truly progressive political change is unlikely. But a cultural revolution in attitudes toward consumption also seems unlikely. It’s a question of strategy as to how we direct our energies. We seem to be in agreement that engaging the community is our best bet, presently. I’m uncertain about how exactly the next few decades are going to play out, however, and if we are in for some turbulent times, and I’m sure we are, then who knows what could be possible. Few people thought the Civil Rights movement was possible before it happened. Just perhaps a Simplicity Movement might surprise us too. Heres hoping.

    I’d also point out that Trainer does not argue against all market exchange. People are always going to exchange things, and money can be a useful mechanism to facilitate exchange. So the fact that an economy involves market exchange does not mean (in my view) that it couldn’t be a steady-state economy. Furthermore, it’s important to acknowledge that we’re not going to get from here to there overnight. Transition is the key word. Partial steps down the way can be a catalyst for further changes, both social and perhaps political.

    Thanks again for the comment. These are really important issues to be thinking through for anyone interested in steady-state economics / The SImpler Way. Given the magnitude of the changes we are talking about here, nobody could possibly have all the answers – certainly not me. It’s very helpful to be throwing ideas around like this.

  6. I think we need an entirely new economic system – and Economy B. Reforms to the current economy can’t go far enough. Take the proposal above to reduce working hours. Suppose, in the best case scenario, a simpler way movement forced governments to reduce the working week to 20 hours. What would be the impact? Well firstly there would be a huge about of capital flight i.e financial capital and foreign companies would leave the country for more profitable investment outlets. This would cause unemployment and probably lead to recession. Its true that this would occur if we got an economy B (co-operative, non-market, democratically planned etc) going. But in that case, people would have a new economy to move into – one run by us at the local level. They wouldn’t have this is the first case. Secondly, if governments implemented the above proposal it would still be a market economy, in which ‘capital accumulation’ operates and buisnesses would be under pressure to increase production/consumption’ at all costs…i.e it would NOT be a steady state economy.

    So build those new nice local economies…that’s what I say!

  7. How much non-local is acceptable is an ongoing discussion here in Alaska. Do I limit my fruit consumption to berries, arctic kiwi, and crabapples? Or do I spring for the occasional avocado, non-local apple, and even some citrus? I can be aware and choose my limits but there are many climates where a lot of the foods we have become accustomed to cannot be produced or at least not sustainably produced.

  8. Good point Mac, but I presume your point is implied in the original statement. The point is to support local food production rather than agri-business, but it’s good to clarify this.

  9. On relocalizing food production: I don’t think asking for subsidy is the way to go. What I think would be a better idea, if we were to ask governments for anything, is to cut subsidies for big agriculture.

    Imagine that we have a 10% subsidy for big agriculture. Then, if relocalization gets a subsidy so its costs are cut by 10%, to match a 10% cost subsidy to big agriculture. Then, prices would be fair, in a sense, but the government budget would have to increase to pay for relocalization.

    We could instead cut the subsidy to big agriculture, so they get nothing out of the pockets of taxpayers. Then relocalized and big agriculture both have a fairer share. And my guess would be that big agriculture’s share would shrink to zero.

    And on another note, local is not always the best option. Imagine growing avocadoes in Canada. You would have to use so much energy to keep the trees alive that it might cost the Earth less to ship them from Mexico! If we relocalize, we all have to be prepared to live on seasonal food and with fewer options for the table. Most people living simply would not have too much of a problem with that, though.

  10. Thanks Richard and Samuel. Yes I think we are all basically in happy agreement. Seems we are all content to let Julia and co slug it out up top, while we forment the revolution down in the gardens :) .

    Samuel, just on the transition towns thing, there is a great debate between Trainer and the friendly founder of TT, Rob Hobkins. You seen it? I think its worth a read. I am in the Trainer camp that the momvement needs a more explicitly anti-capitalist vision, rather than just focusing on ‘resilience.’ But I won’t go on another rant here. I am totally aware that if the movement took this stance they would be, as least in the short/medium term, marginalised and loose a lot of their popularity; but that’s what I stubbornly think is required.

    Here is Ted’s last response in that debate (u can follow links to Rob’s etc) http://transitionculture.org/2009/09/29/further-musings-from-ted-trainer/

  11. Richard and Jonathan, it should be clear that I’m basically in agreement with you both, and Ted, that the best path is that of localisation, participation, and cooperation, with the aim of creating highly self-sufficent, zero-growth economies. It just seems that I am more tentative in my position here, in the sense that I am more willing to leave open the possibility that ‘top down’ political action may also be required, given how much needs to be done in so little time.

    As a matter of ‘strategy’ – a keyword in this debate – I think we should be dedicating our energies to getting active in our communities, rather than running for parliament. But if the Simpler Way ever entered the cultural mainstream, which is what we are all advocating and hoping for, then it seems to me that this could put sufficient pressure on governments to assist us in the transition. In our age of growth fetishism, this seems unlikely, and perhaps it is, but if the Simpler Way ever entered the cultural mainstream, we’d already be living in a very different world, and I am hesitant to limit, in advance, the possibilities of what we might be able to accomplish in such a world.

  12. Thanks Jonathon for nicely articulating much of what I intended to put in my response to Samuel. For the reasons you’ve set out, I believe that the cultural and political revolutions have to evolve simultaneously. As we restrain our consumption we must also prefigure the social and political structures that will best support the Simpler Way. I agree with Ted Trainer that the new society will have to be one of highly self-sufficient localised communities with small zero-growth economies. Organisation of such a society will require high levels of citizen participation, mutual aid, and decision making at a local level. This is incompatible with centralised top-down government, yet happens to perfectly align with anarchist principles of organisation. The cultural and political aspects of the Simpler Way are so closely intertwined, we shouldn’t consider them as separate consecutive stages of an incremental reform process.

  13. Jonathan, some excellent points – thanks for taking the time. I think this is an important debate to have, for the matter is not settled. For now I will only reiterate that this website is based on the “doing it ourselves” approach, but it was decided that the political question shouldn’t be closed off, because not everyone involved in radical transition is an anarchist. Furthermore, I feel that putting our minds to the question of ‘top down’ political change can help us strategise and envision a better world, even if our energies remain dedicated to grassroots action.

    Trainer presents a very powerful case for the localisation, participation, and cooperation approach to societal change. His essays on the weblink you post are a good place to start, and I would encourage readers of this website to study them carefully.

    You mentioned that Transition needs a more radical vision. I wonder whether the problem is not so much that the vision of Transition is insufficiently radical, but that it is hard to realise the existing vision of Transition. Most Transitioners I know (including myself) envision a VERY different world – merely reforming consumer capitalism is not enough, something fundamentally different is required. But the fact that we haven’t been able to create it yet doesn’t mean the vision isn’t radical enough. It’s hard to make an impact without a critical mass of people, but numbers are growing everyday and I would expect this to continue.

  14. Really good discussion here. I’m with Richard but thanks Samuel for raising these valid concerns.

    Samuel, the central reason why I don’t think we should worry about ‘top-down’ reforms is that, at least at this point in time, they cannot and will not go far enough. Trainer (and others) have convinced me that we cannot ‘reform’ consumer/capitalist society to make it sustainable and just; we have to replace it with a society driven by very different systems, structures and values. I know this sounds very dogmatic and/or leftist and/or extreme but there are good reasons for thinking so. Trainer outlines this well in the many articles on his (http://socialsciences.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/).

    One of the biggest barriers to sustainability is the market/capitalist economy. Most greens think governments could regulate to make this a ‘steady-state’ economy without growth; but, to my mind, that’s a false hope. This is not an economy with growth; it’s a growth economy! At the micro level, businesses must ‘grow or die’ due to the competitive struggle with rival firms. If there is no growth you get rising unemployment (which no politician can stand) Also, the simple fact of interest on bank loans creates a need for higher production/consumption in order to pay off debt. There are other factors….

    Think about the vision outlined in the essay by Ted in the (excellent) document on this site. If you accept that, then we are talking about revolution because that is a description of a socio-economic system very different from our own! Such a society will not be achieved via top-down reforms from (yes!) capitalist governments largely hostile to such change. The scale of change is simply too huge, not to mention threatening to powerful interests. But even if they were willing, Trainer argues, and I tend to agree (though happy to discuss further cause im not sure ) that such a society cannot be imposed by force. It requires ordinary people to be willing/enthusiastic participants that actively enjoy cooperating, sharing, living frugally (not affluently!) and being active citizens – i.e values that are very foreign to those dominant today! This can only come through a grassroots process.

    For these reasons, to my mind, we should not put our scarce energies into winning government reforms. The transition needs to be primarily about ordinary people trying to build totally new local economies, in the towns and suburbs where they live.

    This doesn’t mean we cannot work with local governments who may be willing to assist us, as they often will. It may also be the case, as Samuel points out, that once we have achieved the ‘cultural revolution’ (and economic/political revolution!) national/state government will constructively facilitate the change. But, to my mind, that is a long way off. We have a lot awareness raising and local economic development to get done, before we can hope for that. Transition Towns has made a wonderful start, but I think they need a more radical vision.

    Sorry for long post but this is important I feel.

  15. Richard, you raise a point that deserves very careful consideration, but I would caution against expressing the point so unreservedly. It may be that governments won’t help us on this transition, but it may also be that a critical mass of people will never voluntarily embrace the Simpler Way in their personal lives.

    This website, as you will have seen, is based primarily on the vision of localisation, participation, and cooperation, which is an expression of the Simpler Way. But that does not mean we should abandon entirely the question of top-down politics. After all, if the Simpler Way were to enter the cultural mainstream in a significant way, a case can be made that this cultural revolution would come to reshape political and macroeconomic policies and priorities. It is worth thinking about what those policies and priorities should or could be, even if (as a matter of strategy) one continues to dedicate one’s time and energy to grassroots action rather than political campaigns.

    Solutions to our current problems can be seen by making optimistic assumptions about the emergence of progressive consumption practices; other solutions present themselves when making optimistic assumptions about progressive state behaviour. It may be that the anarchist approach is the most fruitful, but reasonable people can disagree about that. For the purposes of this website, there is value in keeping the discussion open.

  16. Governments won’t help free us from the capitalist structures of which they are an integral part. As Ted Trainer has pointed out in a number of his essays and in his book “The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World”, the Simpler Way is an Anarchist vision of localisation, participation and cooperation, in which there is no place for centralised government. To be free we must build highly self-sufficient communities founded on anarchist principles of self-government, mutual aid, and decision-making by direct face to face democracy.

  17. I agree that we need the help of our governments. At least, it would be a hell of a lot easier if we had their help. We just mustn’t wait for them to get on board, cause they mightn’t ever wake up.

    “We must vote and LIVE progressively.” Right on. No time to wait.

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