Mark Dick, a GP from Ballymena, introduces his book Towards Oikos.
Two of the biggest existential threats to humanity are potential conflict arising from poverty/inequality and global ecological damage. (Nuclear weapons are a third existential threat for human-kind which, although of extreme importance, will not be addressed here.) To address these threats, humanity needs a social foundation of well-being that no one should fall below, and an ecological ceiling of planetary pressure that we should not go beyond. Between the two lies a safe and just space for all, as described by Kate Raworth in her concept of ‘doughnut economics’.
Economic thinking needs to change from the goal of ‘Gross Domestic Product’ growth and consider a different set of metrics and standard of living. The self-contained market economics of the 20th century needs to become an embedded economy in the 21st century, which can further tackle inequality. Human nature needs to be nurtured away from rational economic man towards more social, adaptable human beings that are able to live within limits.
The world needs to get savvy with systems and move from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity. Local and global economies need to be transformed to make them distributive and regenerative by design. Creating a global knowledge commons requires start-up funding and new forms of open-source licensing to allow everyone to make better decisions.
Runaway climate change can only be tackled by moving from “growth will clean it up again” to being regenerative by design. We must become generous and give back to living systems, for example, in the carbon cycle, the phosphorus cycle, the nitrogen cycle and the water cycle. As Raworth says, we have an economy that needs to grow, whether or not it makes us thrive. And what we really need an economy that makes us thrive, whether or not it grows.
All nations need to consider some radical ideas. A universal basic income, a shorter workweek, a global progressive tax on capital and open borders would be a good start. A wealth tax and reform of international banking standards, and removing tax havens to improve financial transparency would all greatly facilitate necessary pre-distribution and redistribution.
Ecologically, action is required at every level: walk, bike, use public transport; reduce, reuse, recycle; fly less; eat less red meat; cut all greenhouse gas emissions; more renewable energy generation and research; carbon pricing; and international pollution standards. The plight of over a billion extremely poor people needs much attention: focusing on the poorest of the poor; promoting effective transparent governmental institutions free from corruption; empowerment of locally made decisions, ending the violation of human rights; separating development aid from military aid; emphasising better education, nutrition and health care for women and children in developing countries.
Change has to be entirely inclusive and therefore involve a reformed, reinvigorated United Nations forum to direct global economies that offer a fairer standard of living for all. This care for all is reflected in the title of my book, Towards Oikos.
Oikos is the ancient Greek word for family, family property and the household home. The biblical word used for the ‘world’ is most often the Greek ‘oikoumene’; and not simply in its’ literal meaning as the “whole inhabited earth” but, for believers, as the “whole household of God”. It is also the root of the word ‘economics’, offering us a vision of a larger human family and the environment in which they are embedded. It is in the pursuit of this holistic vision of Oikos that humanity can aspire to the best intentions of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come.