What if Karl Polanyi was right?

Addressing societal needs thanks to material circularity as-a-tool.

Karl Polanyi — Source: The American Prospect

Social norms directed by market prices

Polanyi pointed out that prior to the market economy, reciprocity and redistribution — as main means of exchange — existed between the people. With the emergence of industrialisation, relationships between humans changed under highly influential centralized institutions promoting the self-regulation of market economy. In other words, our daily decisions are no longer taken based on our natural social skills — our ability to build personal and communal relationships — but merely on prices. He argues: “To allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment… would result in the demolition of society.”

Reciprocity and redistribution

“Man’s economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships” he added and thus the economy should be embedded in our social, traditional and cultural web of interactions, primarily as a tool — among others — leading to our mutual well-being, and not dictating our individual and collective decisions as we know it too well today. He noticed that pre-modern societies of China, the India Empires, Kingdoms of Africa and Greece — to name a few — functioned on the principles of reciprocity and redistribution. Lands and labour were not determined by market prices but utilized according to rules of tradition, redistribution and reciprocity, the basis of human nature. The redistributive economy was about a group of people producing for a centralized entity and then redistributed to the said community according to the needs of their members. In the economy of reciprocity, the allocation of goods was based on the reciprocal exchanges between social entities i.e. a positive action from one group triggers another positive act from another group. Lastly, the house-holding economy starts with the family as the unit. The family produces for their own use and consumption. A highly distributive approach, but quite the opposite of our current models, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

From an economy of having towards an economy of being

At present, we have an opportunity window: to rethink about our humane relationships and how they could be realigned with the understanding of how systems work. Why is that? On one hand, we are in the middle of an unprecedented technological transition that will — once more — change our behavioral patterns, from cryptographic means of exchange to machine-led decisions. On the other hand, we have come to comprehend that technologies will not be enough to design a safer space for humanity on this planet. Relying solely on them is highly risky. We have no choice but to rediscover our collaborative patterns: to rebuild our interrelating connections, and to link us back with these wider interfaces, i.e. the fading biosphere to start with.

Our world is distributive by nature

And this is precisely where an opportunity window is: an economic model based on services enabling resources to disappear behind customer experiences might be our chance to rethink our basic social patterns!

Designing for beings

Higher resource prices or taxes might become good news. When we have no other choice than facing a surge in price, we always look at what could be alternative solutions, here, designing better our human capital.

Endless means of exchanges

Another factor that could help humans recover their social web is the rise of new forms of exchanges between them. Whether you choose to access your experiences using the latest technologies, local bank notes, cryptographic ledgers, barter or even gifts, there is a resurgence of these new and additional forms of exchanges between two entities willing to agree on a defined consent (deal, agreement, etc.). Imagine that these forms could become endless and highly diversified. All these practices being acceptable as in line with a value-based system of exchange preserving local rules or customs. And how about embedding them into well-designed crypto-currency ledgers as a guaranty to value humans? And why not since we are thus becoming a key circular component maintaining a material resource-scarce economy?

Regenerative at all levels

Our next economy will have to be regenerative and equitable, as a non-negotiable solution to our environmental, societal and economic challenges. The circular economy is considered to become our next economic model. It focuses on the decoupling of our needs for resources versus economic growth. As Kenneth Boulding’s famous quote — “anyone who believe in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist” — reminds us that, even in 2018, that infinite growth is not possible unless this ‘advancement’ becomes a guaranty of value creation for the planet, for the people and for their economy. Believing that the circular economy will be implemented at scale, without taking into consideration how people perceive the preservation of what they value most, might not lead to the expected outcome.

The Circular Humansphere or how humans will preserve conditions conducive to life #CircHumansphere

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