Episode #27 No More Rat Race: Creating a world without bullshit jobs with renegade economist, Della Duncan
Renegade Economist and Right Livelihood coach, Della Duncan, has spent most of her professional life exploring the ideas that might transform our culture into the more beautiful, flourishing – fun, joyful, – safe – world our hearts know is possible.
In this deep-dive interview, we explore the furthest edges of what our world might look and feel like if we were able to reconfigure our economy so that every transaction was predicated on the flourishing of the human and more-than-human worlds. From Manfred Max-Neef to the Post Growth Foundation, we explore the ideas at the cutting edge of human potential.
Upstream podcast – radio documentary series (including UBI)
Helena Norberg-Hodge World Localisation Day
No Impact Man: https://colinbeavan.com/search-no-impact/
How on Earth? – How to flourish in a post-growth world
How on Earth? YouTube
Anand Giridharadras – Winners Take All
Christian Felber – Change Everything
Stewart Brand– The Long Now Foundation
Manfred Max-Neef – Human Scale Development
Manfred Max-Neef – Economics Unmasked
7 Fundamental Human Needs – based on Max-Neef’s work
Manda: [00:00:14.70] My guest this week spends most of her time working in that world of what is and what could be. An existing friend of the podcast, Della Duncan, is the host of the absolutely outstanding upstream podcast, which definitely ought to be on your Must Listen list. She’s a student of Jana Macey’s work that reconnects, and she herself is working now as a right livelihood coach, which she’ll talk about in more depth later in the podcast. Mainly, though, she was one of my most inspiring teachers that Schumacher College when I did the Masters in Regenerative Economics. And it was this angle that I wanted to explore today. If our economic system is our value system, how can we shape it differently? So with that in mind, people of the podcast, please welcome Della Duncan. So, Della Duncan, welcome back to the Accidental Gods podcast. How is lockdown dribbling? End of lockdown working for you?
Della: [00:02:07.61] I am based in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California and we’ve had a different experience than other parts in the U.S. So I haven’t I haven’t felt that it’s been such a pandemic as elsewhere. And my sense right now is that we are reopening a little too quickly, a little too soon from folks I’ve spoken with. There’s actually a resurgence of covered cases in California. So I am seeing our restaurants and bars and places reopening and just wondering what that impact is going to be on our health. So it feels a little strange for me. And I’m definitely feeling concerned for health of folks, but also. Yeah, the health of people’s businesses and mental health as well. So just holding a lot of concern for others and the local economies here.
Manda: [00:02:57.05] I listened to a podcast with Daniel Thorson, who had his 75 days of silent retreat and then kind of emerged into the middle of Covid. And he was talking about that extraordinary experience of coming out of 75 days of silent retreat into a world where there was a culture war going on.But he didn’t know what the rules were. And he had this three hour interview with The New York Times. And just before he went in to do it, he noticed that somebody said that Republicans didn’t think wearing masks was a good thing. So he said at least I had one anchor in this sea of unknowing of what it was okay or not okay to say. And in Britain, I don’t think the coronavirus has as much been part of the culture war. Has it felt like that in California. Are you sufficiently insulated from the more crazy aspects of people who say it’s not happening?
Della: [00:03:53.25] From what I’ve seen in the political space, such as the U.S. president and vice president and folks choosing not to wear a mask, the way that I make sense of that is toxic masculinity. This kind of sense of ‘I don’t need to. There’s nothing wrong with me.’ Maybe even a little social Darwinian aspect to it. Like it’s I’m a human or, you know, I’m somehow a superhuman and I don’t need to.
And so that is concerning. But I would also say that I don’t know if the Republicans in general would refuse to wear masks, because I think there’s so many intersections between this and I think those who are older or immunocompromised certainly are more worried, regardless of whatever their political affiliation.
But then I feel a lot of sadness for folks who have to choose between their business and their livelihood or their health. And I’ve been seeing that more, though, in the neoliberal countries where health care isn’t a right and also where we’re not getting enough support from the government to keep businesses open and support people while we’re locked down.
Manda: [00:05:11.70] I read that in 2016, both the U.S. and the U.K. had modeled the pandemic and that in the U.S. by month five in the model (and I assume this was under Obama) they had nationalized the health service, which clearly is not going to happen under the current government. But also, something popped up on my Facebook feed the other day where some poor old bloke in his late 90s had survived the virus and the whole hospital had gathered to applaud him as he tottered out at the end of it. And then he had a $1.1 Million bill. That’s functionally insane. Because he’s not going to be able to pay it. What is the point of sending that kind of bill to somebody?
So using that as a kind of a springboard, you are regenerative economist, and at the beginning of this lockdown, I had real hope that we would see a change in the way that neoliberalism worked because they’d suddenly found the magic money tree. It seemed as if – at least in the UK – the government was doing some things that were not entirely stupid and potentially quite useful and could have helped to rearrange the way that we think of money and the way that we use money and the way that we value each other. And it looks like that may not be going to happen now. But in the spirit of season Three and wanting to understand how things could be – in the last couple of months was there a point where you looked forward, and thought that if we use this as a pivot point, we could get to somewhere else? And if so, can you maybe flesh out where that somewhere else might be?
Della: [00:06:54.84] I would say that at the very beginning of the pandemic, I really saw this as a potential disruption to our business as usual and where we could work towards a new way of living in the individual choices of gardening and people doing kimchi and baking bread and just having more fun as families. I loved all the videos of families getting together.
And then also politically, there were more calls and renewed calls for policies and ideas that really hadn’t gotten a lot of traction, such as a universal basic income, universal services, things like that. But now it just feels like the lockdown and the pandemic just dragged on and on. And I really do worry about this effect on people’s mental health. And I worry about the effect on small businesses and and how they’re surviving. I’m just seeing more and more and hearing about more and more small businesses that are closing or going out of business. And I’m worried about that. And I know that Helena Norberg-Hodge is putting together the World Localization Day for this Sunday. And I hope that renewed interest in localizing our economies comes through that, because I really do think that’s an answer to our regenerative economies – making our supply chains shorter and really supporting our small, local and independent businesses. But I’m not seeing enough interest both politically and individually in that. So if I look right now at the choices that we have, I do see the concern as we reopen. Now, I know this happens differently in different places. But as we reopen, what are people deciding to keep from their time in in the quarantine time? And what are people choosing to do differently? But again, both as individuals and politically, and I just really hope that we don’t return to a business as usual.
And we do have degrowth and we have localizing our economies and more regenerative economic system. So one point of hope, for example, is I believe it’s France decided as they reopen, they’re not going to reopen domestic airline flights. And this is helpful because they decided that anywhere where people could take the train instead, why not take the train instead of flying? So they decided to just simply not open domestic flights. And I think that type of thing is really helpful. So if there’s other things that we could choose not to reopen that are either really carbon intensive or exploitative for people or the planet, then that would be really helpful. But, you know, I wonder how much people have the capacity to focus on that and to be active. Do activism around that right now. I’m just worried about people’s collective capacity right now because of the emotional impact and also the financial impact of the lockdown.
Manda: [00:09:03.68] Is that where the worry arises?
Della: [00:10:08.50] That and particularly in the United States, what’s happening right now is both the pandemic is revealing structural racism by black and brown people being disproportionately affected. And then also in the pandemic, we’re seeing more authoritarian policing around the world.
But in the United States, the kind of acute examples of the black people being killed by the police and people being inside and really watching this are really activating the anger and frustration. And then people are really calling for justice on that.
So we’re having multiple levels of frustration, anger and mental health issues, stress that are compounded. So I do hope that we know that that’s connected. We know that structural inequalities and racism are connected to ecological justice and reopening in terms of our regenerative economies. A regenerative economy ought to be both more equitable and sustainable. So I guess the hope would be that in our calls for reforms, both for police and also for other systems that have racism embedded in them, that we can also call for those ecological reasoning for it to be more sustainable as well. You know, for us to unite in our causes, to have it be a just transition, both ecologically and in terms of social justice.
Manda: [00:11:34.90] So if we pretend for a moment that a different person was running the States. And the the extraordinary inequities that are deliberately built into the system are available to be returned. How could you imagine living if everybody pulled together and everybody moved towards a more just system? Because I’m thinking things like the small businesses around here that are folding. Some of them were beautiful and lovely, and I could imagine them in a regenerative future, but some of them were definitely part of the extractivist consumumption-based economics. And it’s terribly sad that those people are out of a job but selling bits of plastic that were put together in China so that people can have them for a few months and then throw them in the garbage is not part of a sustainable model. So, we need to find ways of helping these people to transition to something that enables everyone’s to turn towards life. If we could do that without necessarily going into detailed specifics, can you create a vision for the people listening of a world as it could be?
Della: [00:12:58.87] One thing when I think about the world as it could be, is that it’s very contextual. I hesitate to create kind of a one economy model for all of the world or even for all of us. I really would like to think of a thriving and flourishing economy on a very local scale. So, what it would look like for where you are might be different from where I am.
Manda: [00:13:26.66] But the values would be similar.
Della: [00:13:30.23] Just to say that the visual look of it would be contextualized based on what are the things that the people are interested in there, what is the local history and culture and heritage? And then also what are the local industries, for example.
But I do think that the overall guiding principle, that value that you’re talking about would be turning towards life. And I think it would be in every decision and every moment, the question woudl be whether this is life sustaining? Is this life thriving or is this life destructive? So asking how do we turn towards life in this moment?
So if we do have a local independent business like you’re describing, that is somehow extractive or exploitative in some way for people on the planet, how could those folks involved with that turn towards life? What could they change about their business that would make it more sustainable, equitable and regenerative? So, it would be a turn towards life in the local governance. It would be a turn towards life if any conflicts arise. It’s a reorientation towards life. So, life driving, life flourishing as the goal of the economy and of the ways of being.
It also, though, requires another value which is systems thinking. In this wake-up moment we need folksto have the capacity to think systemically. So part of what you’re saying about this local business, for example, that’s not considering the waste or it’s not considering where it’s coming from. Systemic thinking would help that. It helps us to see the long term, both in terms of time and in terms of space relationships that are embedded in different products or different services.
So we would if we could wake up and see systemically, we would think all the way from where this product or thing came from and all the way to where it’s going. And what are all the impacts on both humans and the more than human world? So to think systemically and then in Buddhist terms, this would be interbe-ing: to be recognizing our inter being. That would be another value that I think would be helpful.
The other one is this idea of balancing. So when I think about this vision that you’re asking me to think about. I don’t see it as one static vision. I don’t see it as we finally have balance. As if it’s a noun. I see as it as balancing. That it’s actually more about having feedback loops that are faster and faster, that help us correct when we’re noticing that there is suffering inherent in the system. There’s a group of people that are suffering or somehow the system is inequitable or it’s actually causing a knock-on effects on an ecosystem or on an Other than Human Being. It would be having local localized economies that are balancing and they’re returning towards that life thriving and life supporting system when they go off track. Because we will go off track. We will make decisions that are unhelpful. We will have problems that arise. And it’s in our ability to be mindful and recognize them and then to respond appropriately when we notice them and to come back to that ‘turning towards life’ and using systemic thinking also to do that.
Manda: [00:16:52.97] One of the things that I run up against, if I’m discussing this with people who are perhaps not fully committed to a regenerative world, is the concept that we’re all gonna end up basically moving back to the Stone Age. Because the only way to be sustainable is to be living in mud huts, eating grass and clothing ourselves with a fabrics made from nettle fibres. And that’s not attractive. And it seems to me that one of the biggest obstacles that we face is building a sense of a future that is attractive and is still exactly, as you’ve described it: it’s sustainable, equitable and regenerative. And it has the feedback loops and it has circularity built in. Without being specific, but from where you live now, let’s take us forward 10 years. The feedback loops are in place. We don’t know where the technology is taking us. So that’s a little harder. And we have Yuval Noah Harare or Sam Harris as possibly opposite poles of what could happen. But leaving technology aside and looking at humanity and our relationship with each other and with the More than Human world, what’s present and what’s been let go of in this new future?
Della: [00:18:28.38] So if I were to imagine that humanity in ten years and you said, ‘don’t let technology take us’. And I would really reframe that as ‘let’s go back to E.F. Schumacher’s appropriate technology. Let’s not let technology take us anywhere. Let’s take technology to where we want to go. Technology is simply a means is a tool. And if it’s bad or good, depending on both our intention and then the impact of that technology.
So if there’s technology back from the Stone Age, that’s beautiful and amazing, that’s still useful for our human and planetary flourishing, great! There’s nothing wrong with that simply because it’s old. And I think actually returning to a lot of ancient wisdom and knowledge is a beautiful thing. And yet there’s advancement in technology that’s also very helpful and beautiful. So it’s all about our intention behind the technology, how we use it and what the impact of that is. So I will say that and I will also address this question of whether we woudl return towards the Stone Age or what in 10 years? It allows me to go to the place of questioning progress and development. What is it? And again, we just have to change the goal of that. That progress is not simply more GDP, more income per person, more material and financial wealth. So what is it? It’s greater happiness and contentment and well-being.
So in this case, it’s interesting when people return towards workout routines from Stone Age peoples or diets. It’s actually saying there may be good reason for some of the diets and ways of living that actually did bring more human health and flourishing. And another example of this is when I was in Bhutan, there was a community where they were largely un monetised. So there was no financialization of their economy. And when a young couple wanted to come together in partnership, the community came together and built a home for them. They didn’t have to save up money for a down payment and enough to go to a bank. The community came together and built it for them, and then they had a home. We could look at that as going back to a past or whatever. But actually, there’s certain values inherent in that and technologies of participation and non monetized economy and in cooperation, that ‘barn-raising’ sense. It’s actually quite beautiful. And we could absolutely draw from that in our modern, regenerative, equitable economies.
But today, we’d have maybe more resources and things that would be helpful. I was actually walking down the street yesterday and I saw this beautiful old house in the Lorenzo Valley next to the San Lorenzo River. And yet it had a really mad metallic roof – a hard, corrugated, metallic roof. And I looked at it and my first instinct, was, ‘That’s so bad. I wish that was wood because it would look so much where idyllic if it were wood.’.
And the person I was walking with said, ‘Yeah. But the wildfires! That’s actually the fireproofing needed so that that house won’t burn when it comes to fire season in the fall, you know.’ So it was interesting because in my return to the past, I wanted us to all be in these beautiful wooden little houses and instead of a shrine of a shire-like environment. But the technology that we’ve adapted for that roof allows us to stay safe. And unfortunately, we have to do that because of climate change and because of the wildfires that are getting more significant. But that was an interesting example of use of technology to be helpful, and yet my tension with wanting to live in the ways of the past.
Manda: [00:22:28.64] Because because our conditioning tells us that that houses that look older so are very beautiful and they are. But you’re right, practicality also works. And then if we were looking at the circularity, we’d have to work out where the tin came from lately on the roof and how it had been mined and what might happen to it when its life came to an end.
I’m thinking that Bhutan sounds amazing and not being monetized and no financialization of the economy sounds extraordinary. I’m remembering a friend who is a violin maker and who went to the Mennonites, I think, in the States. And he used to go a lot to Europe, to Germany and Norway. And he said that amongst the Mennonites, he had the most culture shock he’d ever had, because every decision was made on the basis of whether or not the action benefited the community. And nobody discussed the cost at all. And he was just not used to being around that way of thinking. And I’m fairly certain we probably won’t get to a non monetized economy.
But if we could get to an economy where money was used differently, it seems to me that we’d be at an advantage. Partly because I still get very stuck on the idea that eight white men own more of the dollars in the world than 50 percent of the poorest people. And I think the day we all turn around and go, ‘You know what? Dollars are not worth anything anymore. We have a different currency that works for us. Sorry.’ Is the day the power balance changes. Making that happen would be harder.
But if we were creating our interesting future – and you’re absolutely right, technology is a tool. I was really meaning I didn’t want us to get lost in to what technology may or may not do within 10 years, because that’s fairly unknowable. But let’s assume that we’ve brought our values to it and our intentions are to be regenerative, to flourish, to make sure that the more than human world flourishes. As an economist, can you envisage ways of managing the financial systems that are regenerative? So I’m guessing, for instance, that the financial markets, which currently seem to control people’s behaviours, wouldn’t exist. Certainly, in my future, they wouldn’t exist. But I’m wondering, would they exist in your future?
Della: [00:25:06.71] One of the most inspiring books and ideas that I’m contemplating right now is a book called ‘How on Earth? A Not For Profit World by 2050‘. And it’s written by Donnie Macluran and Jennifer Hinton. And it’s all about imagining what if there were no businesses, as in profit maximizing businesses? Businesses that really are exist to create profit and really just imagining all non-profits. So what that does is it flips money and profit as a means to an end and not an end in itself. So that means that the making of money, whether through a business or individually, is only in service for social and environmental good. So I love thinking about this. I love imagining this. This is the world that I imagine. This where we wake up and all of a sudden anything that was a business – let’s take a pizza place. Let’s take Amazon like anything – instead of working to get a profit, what they would do is they would work towards paying their workers fair and living wages.
They would work on ethical and sustainable supply chains and good quality products that serve people on the planet and any profit after that, so after rent is paid, expenses for the materials are paid and wages are paid – anything after that would 100 percent go to a social mission driven organization, whether it’s social or ecological. So that would both serve the fact that people and businesses would be no longer profit oriented and instead would support mission driven causes. But it would also support all of those of us who are working in non-profit or charity spaces, who have to be in this rat race of finding funding to do our work.
And we either have to compromise our work to reach the grant goals or the recording or the, you know, all of that type of thing – or ask for donations. And we know from Anand Giridharadras’ book ‘Winners Take All‘, that the foundations and the whole grant system are really set up to serve the status quo. And that a lot of foundations would never support or fund projects that actually would disrupt or change the economic systems so that those billionaires and millionaires and wealthy people wouldn’t still benefit. So this idea of a not-for-profit economy would also serve that and would make the social and environmental good projects more sustainable and more able to do what they need to do.
Manda: [00:28:02.09] So do we have rent caps? Because otherwise it seems to me that that’s the people who own the rents are still going to be extracting them. That was one question. And the other question is, is there any extra mechanism to ensure that the pizza place or maybe the car manufacturer is working in a way that is regenerative in this system? How do we how do we help them to find a regenerative way of pursuing their business.
Della: [00:28:42.34] Yeah, I think I think there’s a lot of things that would have happened. So, yeah, let’s let’s take a let’s take an example. I used to work for a rape crisis center. We struggled to get funding. Obviously, there’s nothing we could sell for that. So let’s imagine we sat next to a pizza place and we said ‘pizza place a hundred percent of your profits are going to go to us’. So I wonder if that simple change in the business structure would cause them to think, ‘OK, our our creation of this pizza business is no longer to serve the owner or the shareholders, but it is to end sexual violence in our community.’ Whether that would change the mindset. But I also agree with you that we need to know how could they also change that business so that the ingredients of the pizza are organic or regenerative?
So, yes, I would hope that that would change, too. So both the purpose of the business, but also the type of business could change. And I think that would take a mindset shift. And I think if folks can change their perception of progress and development so that they’re paid a living wage, they’re paid adequately. So they’re getting enough. So this goes into contentment and sufficiency level. If they’re getting that, then I would hope that they would then have the capacity to care that their business is supporting this rape crisis center and also that their business is regenerative, and equitable.
The question about rent is definitely an interesting one. There’s also the question about what is a living wage. Right. Because could the pizza place pay themselves exorbitantly and really never give anything to be the rape crisis center? So this would take, like I said, a revaluing of what is enough. And we know that income and and happiness are only correlated to a limited extent. They do go up a little bit. They go up together until a certain point and then they reach a plateau, where more money does not necessarily equal more happiness. So it would take a real felt realization of that. And I would hope that also would happen for the person who’s the owner who’s receiving the rent. If they also had an amount with which they were content.
But, one of the blindspots to this idea, or one of them, which people are brought up to me, which is really good is – What about what about government? What is our collective our commons responsibility to social and environmental good. So should a rape crisis center be only reliant on this pizza place? Or should the public have to do anything for that? What nonprofits or what social and environmental organizations should be funded by the government? And what should be funded in this more not-for-profit business model? That I would say would need to come from a more participatory democracy type of thing. And again, could be contextualized by place.
Manda: [00:31:59.38] Can you explain for people what a participatory democracy is? Because that’s not something that we’ve explored on the podcast yet.
Della: [00:32:05.74] I’m just imagining a town or a city and if you imagine the non-profits or charities that exist there. Let’s imagine there’s one that supports adults and children with disabilities. There’s a rape crisis centre. There’s one that supports environmental conservation work. And there’s one that supports archery for children in low income communities, something like that. Now, what if the community were able to come together and participatory democracy can look like participatory budgeting or something similar. It’s just a way for more democracy so that democracy isn’t just voting every, let’s say, four years, for example. It’s a more engaged civic responsibility where being a part of decisions is actually expected of people. So that could look like the local government doing participatory process, getting feedback from the public as to which of the non-profits in the community should be funded by public money and which ones should be funded by this not for profit business model?
Sometimes people are using technology so that you can vote like you could ranks programs by popularity. And so we could use technology to make these decisions. But basically, it’s just simply getting more public buy-In more often. So that we’re having participatory democracy and not just representational democracy – which is voting for a representative who then makes all the decisions for you.
The community then might say we have taxes at this rate. These are the five non-profits or areas in our community that that people have come together to do this work. We want to support the people and children with disabilities, the Rape Crisis Centre and the environmental conservation. But the after-school archery and arts and crafts programs, let’s utilize an existing business’s profit to support and run those. You know, maybe if they get a lower amount one year, it’s not as critical as it is to a rape crisis centre or environmental conservation, for example.
But what I’m saying is that a community would have the opportunity to say that or they might say, ‘Actually, all of these are important. We need to raise the taxes because they’re all very important to our community’s health and well-being.’
Manda: [00:34:32.90] This is it sounds like a kind of neoliberal Marxism. It’s really interesting. And I’ve been looking at that book while you were talking, and it doesn’t seem to be out yet. Or am I not looking at the right one?
Della: [00:34:46.34] So it is not out yet. But what happens is there is a place on the Web site where you can download the PDAF of the book in a draft copy.
Manda: [00:34:59.75] I will put notes in the show notes so people can go and look. Because we’re touching up against the concept of money. The concept of profit. The concept of taxation. And it seems to me there’s two possible ways to get there. And one would be to look at something like Christian Felber’s work with his book, ‘Change Everything‘ where taxation becomes proportional – or inversely proportional – to the commitment to life of the company. So you have a car company that has no circularity, that has a huge disparity between the highest paid and the lowest paid, where the women do all the cleaning and the men are all in the boardroom and where they’re producing cars that are gas-guzzling CO2 nightmares…it would be taxed very, very heavily compared to a similar car manufacturer, which has, let’s say, a 20 to one ratio between the top pay and the lowest pay where they have racial and gender and ability, equalities throughout, and where they’re endeavouring to produce cars within a circular economy that minimize fossil fuel use. And they would be taxed minimally. And in that way, you use taxation as a way of encouraging behaviour within what is still essentially a capitalist system.
And listening to you, we’re still talking about a profit-based system where having a job is what enables you to participate in this. And it seems that we’re a long way from the ideas of a universal basic income or universal basic services.
And you’ve clearly been thinking about this a lot. And so I tend to end up on the side of universal basic services with a small universal basic income, and absolutely rigid rent caps as a way of freeing people up from having to do work that they possibly hate. It may be the people working in our nominal pizza place, don’t really enjoy it. And I certainly know a lot of people during lockdown who seemed to be coming to the realization that they loathed the jobs they did and that they were completely unnecessary. And that was where my hope that things might change was arising was people deciding that they didn’t want to go back to working in a call centre in the middle of Birmingham because it’s completely pointless and they hated it and instead they could and volunteer Able Pearson’s farm in West Wales instead.
That doesn’t seem to be happening, but I wonder if we could push it that way. So this is a very long way round of saying, do you prefer the model that produces a not for profit world by 2050 as opposed to a universal basic income, universal basic service model? Do you prefer that? And second, are we going to use taxation as a way of encouraging people to move towards flourishing? Or are we hoping that the values are somehow intrinsic?
Della: [00:38:03.66] So to the first question. I’ve been able to look into universal basic income and did a two-part radio documentary on this and got to speak with so many wonderful people on the. And I really did appreciate what happens for people when you when you decouple income and productivity. It frees people. Maybe your listeners already you know, this, but when people receive universal basic income in the studies that have been done, they may stop working for a short period of time, due to the burn-out or just finding themselves again, but almost every single time, a hundred percent of the time, people find a way to then contribute to society meaningfully.
And some of that is monetised and some of it’s not. So this does take a revaluing of what we call work and including, what feminist economists would say is also work such as care, work and parenting. So it does take that. But what I’m saying is that people do return to some sort of contribution because contributing to society into the world is a need that we have. So I really appreciate about that, about universal basic income. I did have a conversation recently, though, with Gopal Dyaneni, who’s one of the co-founders of Movement Generation in the Bay Area. And when I spoke with him about universal basic income, he brought up the universal basic services that you shared. So instead of a universal basic income, having universal access to universal basic services such as education and health care.
But he also brought up an interesting point about having universal access to commons. And in this, he’s talking about access to land to be able to grow food, access to parks for recreation or beaches or forests. I’m actually shocked sometimes when I travel around the world how some places, almost all of the forests are private. I remember being in Belgium and they’re all for hunting and they’re all privately owned or even in the East Coast in some places, there’s all this wilderness, but it’s all privately owned. So having universal access to commons is another one that I found really helpful. So there are beautiful proposals for progressive universal basic income that I think would be very helpful.
Della: [00:40:32.16] I do work as a Right Livelihood coach. So I do work with individuals on how they can find work that they find meaningful and that and valuable and how they can work with greater integrity. And one thing that I do ask them is, ‘How much money do you need?’ ‘What is your need?’ Because I did say that happiness and income are correlated up to a certain amount. So asking them what is it that they need? And then once I do that, I ask them, ‘What are the ways that you could meet your needs in a non monetized way?’ Because sometimes people don’t explore that. Sometimes people say, ‘Actually, yeah, I could be gardening more and that could be helping with my food.’ Or ‘I could join or start a babysitting co-op or collective so that we’re taking turns watching each other’s kids in the neighbourhood and not paying for childcare.’ Or ‘I could do some sort of work trade, for either food or some sort of services.’.
So there are non-monetized ways that we can meet our needs. And actually, there’s a lot of like buy-nothing groups or, you know, trade groups and all of that. So it’s very beautiful. There are a lot of ways that we can meet our needs in non-monetized ways.
This being said, I’ve also come to appreciate that there are some people who are entrepreneurial. That actually they love starting projects, starting businesses. They love the marketing, the sales. There’s an art to that. There’s a communication to that. And when I think about it, I do think there are some things that maybe could still be on the market. That there are things that could still be monetized. Maybe we want access to glasses to be able to see to be part of vision care. But what about sunglasses? What about certain excess goods that are maybe not necessary but make life beautiful? Maybe those could still be monetizable. But like I said, there are people who are entrepreneurial. What if they were able to sell them and make enough to live a healthy and sustainable life? But any sort of profit, meaning excess, meaning beyond that which makes them happy where it starts to get greedy or unnecessary, that is then given to people doing work that is much more for social or environmental good. So they’re supporting that.
So, one example is in San Francisco, there’s a bar called The Interval. And it’s a really hip bar, beautiful, like really good small batch and craft cocktail type of thing. And they pay their employees well. Their ingredients are locally and independent and beautifully sourced. And yet a hundred percent of the profits after they pay their workers and their rent, that goes to the Long-Now Foundation, which does conservation work. It’s Stewart Brand’s Research and Environmental Conservation foundation. So that’s an example. Those folks who run the bar – I don’t know if they’re happy. I don’t know if they love it. I don’t know if they’re happy to be in quarantine and not working. But I do know people who actually do love running a bar or bartending or food service or sales of some sort. And so if they can do that, great. If they can meet their needs, their financial, monetary needs: great. And meet their needs in other ways: great. And if they generate a profit, that then goes to an environmental conservation and research organization: great.
Manda: [00:44:04.38] That makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting how fast I get to it. Are sunglasses sustainable? But let’s assume that we can make sunglasses in a way that is both circular and regenerative.
Della: [00:44:18.27] I am assuming that completely: regenerative and circular economics are crucial. Regenerative being that we are replenishing the natural resources that we’re taking out. Also that in that extraction of resources, that the people are fairly compensated, they get a living wage. They’re extractively mining or destroying communities or destroying ecosystems, of course. So I am assuming that whenever I say supply chains, I’m thinking about that regenerative and circular supply chains and all of that.
There’s a beautiful film called No Impact Man with Colin Beavan. (It’s also a book.) And in that film, Colin tries to live for a year with his family in New York City without any impact on the planet. And he does all these really entertaining things to just live with less and less impact and try to have no impact.
And of course, he realizes he can’t have no impact on the planet. We’re inter-beings, we have impact. Even if he died, he would his body would have impact on the planet. So instead, he realizes it’s about having a positive impact. It’s about having an ecological handprint as well as our ecological footprint. So in your idea of what you said pre-interview about, ‘How do we stop cutting trees?’, there are ways that we can do agriculture, we can do agro-forestry, we can we can work with ecosystems that actually make them even more healthy and vibrant and regenerative.
Humans are not necessarily this evil thing that just destroys everything. We actually can work with nature through our technologies are appropriate technologies. So I absolutely feel that we could we could have the things that we would like, such as sunglasses in ways that actually are regenerative and part of circular economies. And I am totally applauding and I love the people who are those inventors and ecological systems designers and ecological product designers.
Manda: [00:46:42.66] And if we’ve done the work of connecting ourselves on a spiritual level to the More than Human world, then we can begin to ask the question, what do you need of me? And I am sure there are very creative things that we could be doing. If nothing else, we and future generations could probably spend the next century or two cleaning up. I discovered the other day that plastic rain is the new acid rain. That there are actually micro particles of plastic raining out of the sky now. So we need somehow to clean that up.
And when we talk about access to forests, one of the things that I found really quite distressing as lockdown eased here – I hadn’t realized how quiet it had become until a squad of 30 motorbikes decided that that racing round the village lanes again was a fun thing to do. And that was one of those despairing moments where I realised they haven’t got it. I’m not sure that going as fast as possible on a motorbike simply for the fun of doing that, not because you absolutely need to get from A to B is a regenerative act.
MaAnd when you said access to forests, the image that went through my head was 30 motorbikes burning through some virgin forest somewhere. But we are assuming in this amazing future that we’re building, that we’re creating a future in which turning towards life, where one’s actions are flourishing, sustainable, equitable, regenerative – where our handprint is creative in the world, has become a spiritual need almost. It’s certainly self-reinforcing. And where the opposite of that – actions that are destructive either to ourselves, other people, or the More than Human world has become taboo not just as in socially taboo, but internally taboo, such that we wouldn’t consider doing them.
Because otherwise I don’t see how this system works. We have to have a social and personal and spiritual consensus that regenerative is where we’re heading.
Della: [00:49:02.63] I agree with that. So I do think it is a need to turn towards that. I would also like to invite people to feel it in themselves to sense what it would feel like to turn towards life? What would that regenerative economic system look and feel like?
And I would hope that they would feel that it isn’t a lack or a scarcity or that they’re giving up. And then instead, it is a joy and that they’re actually turning towards something. So I do have to say it is a thinking about happiness differently, possibly differently. And this reminds me of the definition of happiness in Bhutan. The former prime minister, Jigme Thinley said, ‘True abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer and comes only from living in harmony with nature, serving others and realizing the true and brilliant nature of our own minds.‘ Now, I know that might not be everyone’s definition of happiness, but I invite people to try that on to see how that feels for them. And if it does feel good, then to turn towards that.
So this this is also reminding me that we’re not speaking about truth with a capital T. We’re not trying to indoctrinate or say that other people’s views are wrong or bad. We’re just saying if human and planetary flourishing are the goal, if we want to sustain life, if we want a thriving people in planet, then to choosing to turn towards life in this way, choosing to turn both personally, spiritually, inside our minds and also systemically for more regenerative and equitable futures, is what will bring that better world. Now, we have to choose that and we know that we could choose otherwise. And it’s not about what’s right or wrong. It’s that if we want this human and planetary flourishing, this is the way to go. This is the way towards that.
Manda: [00:51:01.95] Thank you. And I am therefore thinking that in the future that we’re building the rape crisis centre funded by the pizza hut won’t actually be necessary because rapes will not be happening. That would be a really good thing to aim for.
Della: [00:51:16.89] Let bring that up, yes. That is the goal of a lot of these non-profits is that they don’t need to exist in the future. For a lot of them. For some of them – supporting adults and children with disabilities, that might be something for which there’s always a need, although, of course maybe that’s not an access thing or an extra thing. So maybe it’s actually part of our holistic education model, or community model.
Manda: [00:51:49.51] As we’re drawing to a close, I can imagine people listening, I hope, thinking forward to our future and thinking that feels and sounds like a future I would like to live in. For individual people listening, how do we begin to make the transition from having a mortgage to pay, having the realities of living in the current financial and economic system, and we want to move towards the more flourishing future that our hearts know is possible. Are there steps that people could begin to make here and now that would help us collectively to move towards that?
Della: [00:52:30.42] Yes. So one thing that I will invite folks to do is to check in with framework inspired or brought to us by Manfred Max-Neef, the Chilean economist. And this came up for me when you were speaking about the people riding the motorcycles to the forest. So what Max-Neef offers us and what I invite listeners to think about is what are your needs? What are your needs as a human? And what are your needs right now? And then what are the ways that you satisfy those needs? What are the ways that you satisfy those needs successfully? That actually works for you. You’re feeling a need for connection and you ask for a hug. And now you have a hug and your need for connection is met. But what are those Pseudo-satisfiers? So what are those ways that you try to meet the need but you don’t really?
Now, this is individual and I’m not judging anyone. But for me when I’m feeling the need for connection. And I turn towards a tub of ice cream that does not meet my connection. I’m not shaming or blaming anyone. There may be other needs that are met with a tub of ice cream, but not a need for connection. So what are the needs? What are the ways we pseudo-satisfy then? What are the we violate some of our other needs through our actions or behaviours? And what are the ways that we violate other people’s needs, their actions and behaviours? And what are the ways that we try to meet our needs in which we actually violate the planet’s need?
So, for example, if I am having a need for connection or for a sense of ease and I smoke a cigarette, we know that smoking a cigarette actually does not satisfy our need for ease. It actually makes us more anxious. And it would actually violate our need for health. So there’s that example. What about if I have a need for adventure? And so I hire someone to take me on a safari tour to shoot an endangered animal. That is a way that’s meeting my needs for adventure. But it’s completely violating their needs and the planet’s needs, for example.
So I’m just asking that of like the for example, the people driving through the forest, that there is probably a need that they were trying to meet. Probably a community connection, adventure, fun. If it is violating the planet’s needs or the community’s needs, what are the other ways that they can meet that need? That would be more helpful.
So I invite your listeners to think about that. I also invite your listeners to connect more and more with the More than Human world, to get more in touch, to really listen. Utilize whatever is left of this quarantine, whatever is left of this more quiet time that we have to listen deeply to the more than human world. Listen to what it wants. Listen to what it’s calling us as individuals and collectively. And to listen to how we can make these decisions, whether it’s through shamanic during or through simply being a nature and asking these questions and being with and being in relation, I invite people to continue to cultivate that relationship.
Then, I also invite people, as they said in the beginning, to really try to see systemically. So this goes back to the meeting your needs, individually, but also collectively. What are our systems? How can we stretch our mind to see who or what is impacted by our decisions, by our ways of living? How can we see ourselves as actually part of structural racism, for example? Or as part of climate change? And what are the ways that our actions can have ripple effects to create more human and planetary flourishing?
And then lastly, there is this beautiful dichotomy between the personal and the systemic. So I just want to encourage folks to just not simply think about your own individual lives – as in your behaviours and your consumption patterns, for example, although they are very important. It would be beautiful if folks stopped supporting Amazon and started to support more local and independent businesses and eat organically and fair trade. Of course, that’s all beautiful. And I hope that folks can do that.
And we also need to change our system. So how can people also be involved in our systemic change through political processes, through policymaking, through activism, through organizing? So I just encourage folks to both act personally as well as systemically in the areas that they care about.
Manda: [00:57:01.59] That is magical. It’s too late now, but I can imagine you and I having another podcast looking at how can we affect political change. And what does the politics of the future look like? Because participatory politics is a big subject in and of its own, and getting there will be very, very interesting. Let’s do that at some point. But not now. That feels like a really good place to end. And it feels really complete so that people have ideas of what they can do now. And they have a sense of a goal towards which we could forge our path. Is there anything left that you would like to offer people before we finish?
Della: [00:57:46.68] I guess if we were to give a teaser for that next conversation, I would say this is on my mind a lot. I remember learning how in Hawaii the taxes that were once paid from the people to the king were actually once thougth of as a gift to the Commons, the gift to the community. That it was people giving of their of the profits of their labour to the whole to the community so that others can have needs, that some of the Commons could be taken care of – were actually seeing as a joy or a gift.
And I eally think about that reframing of taxes. Of course, right now, where our taxes go is a whole separate issue. And, of course, they’re causing a lot of suffering. But I invite people to rethink taxes. And also government. I see so much right now that has a very anti-government feel. That government leaders are bad or government is bad. And I just I would love to see how people can start to see themselves as part of government.
Government ought to be our representation to help make our decisions that are good for the collective whole. So if folks are not feeling that, how can we get involved more either by running for office ourselves or getting politically involved or joining groups that do that kind of advocating for, and working with, government to create the change that we wish to see. So I do think that this question of how do we affect government change and how do we rethink what is government, what is taxes and what is democracy? I think these are really juicy questions for right now and beyond.
Manda: [00:59:30.03] And then we also need to rethink the media, because how we hear about what our government is and does and what the echo chambers are saying is a crucial part. The narratives that we build around this, and that are built for us is a really key part. Oh, lots of future podcasts. So, Della, thank you. I think that, as I said before, it feels really complete and beautiful. And I think we have built a vision for the more beautiful future that our hearts know is possible. We just need to get there now. That feels great. So thank you very much indeed.
Della: [01:00:06.57] Thank you, Manda
Manda: [01:00:09.03] So that said for another week. Huge thanks to Della Duncan for taking us places that really stretched my understanding of where we could go as a society, as a culture. I hope they stretched yours, too, because one of the real joys of making this podcast for me is being able to talk to really sharp, thoughtful people who can take us to places we haven’t been before. Who can open doors and show us ways of being that are enticing and inspiring. And my real hope is that that’s what we’re doing for you, that we’re showing a different future that we could attain if enough of us really worked for it.
Della: [01:00:50.82] And yet again, Della and I talked on after we ended the recording. Mostly this week about politics and how to reframe the nature of governance in a way that is genuinely regenerative and that works for us and not against us or against the rest of the More than Human world. And I am really looking forward to recording that as a podcast, too. So we will go with that, even if it’s an extra slotted in. In the meantime, though, there are links in the show, notes to Manfred Max Neef and to the 2050 book on how to create a Not for Profit world. And I really invite you to explore that Web site. It looks really inspiring, and yet another way of opening ourselves up to alternative possibilities.
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