Act: Inspiration

Keystone Attitudes and Policies of Enough

November 7, 2019

Welcome to the third blog post in the Enough is Plenty Series from Anne Ryan, hosted by Feasta.

In the previous blog post, I asserted that states and international governance bodies need to make systemic or upstream interventions to foster stability and security in economy and society. where they have high leverage potential. Then, governance needs to continue to respond intelligently to what arises.

In Enough is Plenty, I conceptualised some of the high-leverage interventions as ‘keystones’ or keystone policies. I examined Carbon Caps with Sharing built in, such as Cap and Share ; structural support for Intelligent AgricultureBasic Income; and Land-Value Taxes.

These policies are not the only ones that could be implemented, but they would be good place to start and are all do-able immediately in our present context. Others, such as the implementation of non-debt money systems, require a bigger stretch of the imagination for most people. The principles or attitudes behind these keystone policy frameworks are stability, sufficiency for all, equity, and an emphasis on the health of the whole system; these should be the primary goal of all governments, lawmakers and citizens when advocating or implementing policies.

Healthy ecological systems always have keystone species. Biologists take the idea of the keystone from architecture, where the keystone is the tapered stone at the top of an arch. Without it, the whole arch would collapse. In the natural world, certain species function as keystones in their ecosystems. For instance, alligators in the Florida Everglades create ‘gator holes’ which fill up with water and provide a habitat for a diversity of smaller creatures. If the alligators disappear, then all those smaller creatures also die out. Green cover crops are keystone species for soil health, and soil in turn sustains all food production. We need keystone policies that are underpinned by a vision of a rich social, personal and economic habitat for people. The role of politics is to design institutions and policies that enable people to co-operate and that facilitate citizens to act for the common good. The policies mentioned above function in this way. If key principles are observed or key attitudes developed, many structural problems can work themselves out in practice.

To summarise keystone attitudes:

  • Deep stability, rather than control, is the overall attitude.
  • Equity, sharing and a fair apportioning of resources are core principles.
  • Unlimited creativity, innovation and imagination are encouraged within the broadly defined parameters that provide security and stability.
  • Whole-system performance is what counts. The emphasis is on creating virtuous circles where every inhabitant gets the nourishment it needs, from a rich collective environment.
  • Systems are designed for resilience. That is, they are designed so that they are capable of persisting in the face of human error, acts of aggression or events such as drought, floods or earthquakes. If one part of a system is destroyed, the other parts are not so badly affected that they cannot keep going.
  • The goal is to provide the richest possible choices to maximum numbers of people, as distinct from unlimited choices for small numbers of people and poor quality choices for most.
  • Systems are democratic in the sense of being structured to facilitate meaningful participation by maximum numbers of people. Great things are possible when we increase participation.
  • Simplicity is a core aim. Policies are easy to understand, administration is straightforward and the system is thus protected from fraud. But simplicity is not to be confused with being simplistic or simple-minded.

Policy frameworks based on good principles can also show people what is possible, so that we can tell ourselves new stories about human potential. They can activate imagination and a sense of possibility. Good policy can revive people’s sense of themselves as ecological and moral beings, connected to others in a healthy system. Many cooperative communities and enterprises currently – and very diversely — represent some of what is possible. The challenge is to bring such possibility to all people of the earth. As Brian Davey puts it:

There is much to re-discover and respond to with design appropriate to each unique place. This precludes blanket solutions decreed at national or international level made in a deal between a politician and a multi-national company and requires tens of thousands or millions of designs to match each place – an intrinsically democratic kind of regeneration that big politics cannot order from above – although it can destroy from above.

The choice to live by such keystone attitudes is a moral one. It is also political in the broadest sense of the word. Party politics and parliamentary democracy are only a tiny part of politics. And politics is also much more than ‘voting’ with our consumer power to influence the market, because the market as we know it now cannot provide the security and depth of change that we need: they are currently not for sale.

Politics and morality are about public, collective choices. Political and moral concerns include the values, culture and mindset that underpin the overt laws or rules that govern society; these could be seen as human intelligence in its broadest sense. How can we create the cultural value-base out of which we might all – citizens and governments – make morally and ecologically sound choices? How can we develop human capacities for cooperation, sufficiency, sharing and imagination, which have declined as a result of the dominant modern cultural obsession with accumulation and untrammeled growth?

I’d love to hear your responses.

Featured image: beaver dam. Beavers are a keystone species, and these dams have been shown to be beneficial to a myriad of species including amphibians, salmon, and song birds. Source

Anne B. Ryan

Anne B. Ryan is a coordinator of Basic Income Ireland and a former chairperson of the Feasta board of directors.

Tags: building resilient economies, Economic policy, new economy, systems thinking