Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2017
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Best Practices for Solidarity and Sustainability


This page attempts to provide a synthesis of policies and best practices for the transition to a world of solidarity and sustainability.

1. Local, National, and Global Citizen Movements
2. Education for Sustainable Development
3. Net Energy and Energy Return on Investment (EROI)
4. Financial Transaction/Speculation Taxes
5. Shift to Land/Resource Value Taxes
6. Guaranteed Basic Personal Income
7. Industrial Quality Standards and Best Practices
8. Transferring Subsidies from Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy
9. Fostering and Deploying Clean Energy Technologies



These themes and questions have emerged from conversation within the Great Transition Initiative. Together they form an initial framework or matrix for collaborative work across many sectors. This comprehensive "high dimensional" method pulls together hundreds of related facets taken from current conversations, proposing means for independent agencies and experts and concerned citizens to work together in an integral and consistent context that far exeeds what any one person or organization could do alone.

1. Local, National, and Global Citizen Movements

"The term Global Citizens Movement (GCM) refers to a profound shift in values among an aware and engaged citizenry. Transnational corporations, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) remain powerful actors, but all of these are deeply influenced by a coherent, worldwide association of millions of people who call for priority to be placed on new vales of quality of life, human solidarity, and environmental sustainability. It is important to note that the GCM is a socio-political process rather than a political organization or party structure." Global Citizens Movement (GCM), Encyclopedia of Earth, November 2007.



Occupy Rio+20 - People’s Petition
Source: Occupy Rio+20

We, members of the Occupy movement and civil society, highlight the critical window of opportunity at the Earth Summit to vastly scale up political, financial & public response to the environmental, social & economic crisis of our time, & to raise ambition to the level that science demands. We are exceeding 3 of 9 planetary boundaries (climate change; biodiversity loss; changes to the nitrogen cycle) and our economy has outgrown the ecosystems we depend on. We denounce debt-created money and demand urgent regulation for a steady-state economy. We vow to respect and protect the beauty and diversity of life on Earth, realising our interconnectedness with nature. Governments, corporations and financial institutions must wake up and dramatically prioritise people & the planet over abusive exploitation for short-term profit & “growth”.

In defence of our rights, freedoms & future, we call for:

1. A direct participatory democratic UN: inclusive rights-based global decision-making; open-source communications. Prioritise youth, women, marginalised voices & civil society formally in negotiations.

2. Ending corporate capture of the UN: end compromising partnerships & transfer of officials. Exclude business lobbyists from talks. Expose & prohibit the bullying & bribing of poor nations by rich nations.

3. Realisation of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by increased cooperation, commitment, funding & resources, strengthening the Millennium Goals (MDGs) & cancelling unjust poor country debt.

4. Peace & demilitarization, democratising the UN Security Council, a binding global arms treaty, SDG on peace & conflict, nuclear disarmament by 2030 & transfer funds to local sustainable development.

5. A Financial Transaction Tax, abolition of tax havens & a Global Carbon Fee on extraction of fuels, to transparently & equitably fund life-saving adaptation solutions, prioritising resilience & climate justice.

6. Ending fossil fuel subsidies now & extraction by 2020. Invest in non-nuclear Renewable Energy for All: global wind/solar/small-hydro/geo-energy; efficient stoves; zero carbon global electricity by 2030.

7. Outlawing Ecocide as the 5th International Crime Against Peace: prosecute destruction of ecosystems e.g. tar sands, oil spills, mountaintop removal, fracking. Protect the commons & Rights of Mother Earth.

8. Zero deforestation of Amazon rainforest by 2015 & globally by 2020. Rejection of pricing & trading nature, including forests, water & the atmosphere; and rejection of offsetting damage/destruction.

9. Food & water sovereignty & security. Ban land grabs. Protect Indigenous peoples’ land rights. Switch support for biofuels & industrial, chemical & GM agriculture to small organic farming & permaculture.

10. Indicators beyond GDP: measure wellbeing, participation, environmental health, socio-economic equity, gender equality, employment, provision for needs/services, protection of rights, & peace.

This is what democracy looks like. This is Harmony with Nature. This is the Future We Need for a just, resilient, thriving world. Join Global Days of Action on June 5th & 20th to raise our voice to challenge & bring hope to Rio+20.

A high priority of global citizenship is education, either informally through personal contacts and public means of communication such as the internet, or more formally via programs sponsored by educational institutions. At a time when both developed and developing nations seem to be engulfed in political and financial corruption, education in noviolence is especially important. If a global revolution is coming, let it be a nonviolent revolution!

If a global revolution is coming, let it be a nonviolent revolution!

2. Education for Sustainable Development

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) worldwide - at all levels - is a high priority. UNESCO has a worldwide program, but universities and other educational institutions must contribute. The family is the best school of sustainable human development.



ESD best practices should include practical (and field tested) means to advance public policy for sustainable development. It is hoped that ESD will overcome the ambiguity of the term "sustainable development" to make it clear that infinite growth in a finite planet is a practical impossibility in the long-term. What really matters going forward is "sustainable human development."

The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences
A Guide for Individuals and Communities

The Essential Principles of Energy Sciences
A Guide to Teaching Energy Literacy

3. Net Energy and Energy Return on Investment (EROI)


At each point in the energy supply chain:

(in energy units, eg., MegaJoules)

(dimensionless ratio)

Thus, Net Energy and Energy Return on Investment (EROI) -- or Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) -- are conceptually the same measure. Generally, EROI is closely correlated with "financial return on financial energy investment" -- a measure of financial return in dollars -- as long as "constant [year] dollars" are used.


"Energy Return on Investment (EROI) refers to how much energy is returned from one unit of energy invested in an energy-producing activity. It is a critical parameter for understanding and ranking different fuels. There were a number of studies on EROI three decades ago but relatively little work since. Now there is a whole new interest in EROI as fuels get increasingly expensive and as we attempt to weigh alternative energies against traditional ones. This special volume brings together a whole series of high quality new studies on EROI, as well as many papers that struggle with the meaning of changing EROI and its impact on our economy. One overall conclusion is that the quality of fuels is at least as important in our assessment as is the quantity. I argue that many of the contemporary changes in our economy are related directly to changing EROI as our premium fuels are increasingly depleted." Charles Hall, Introduction to Special Issue on New Studies in EROI (Energy Return on Investment), Sustainability, Volume 3, Issue 10, 7 October 2011.


As the time window of opportunity may be shorter than expected, it is imperative to work out short-term energy strategies in conjunction with long-term strategies. A 2009 study by Richard Heinberg and the Post-Carbon Institute includes a comparative analysis of 18 energy sources according to 10 criteria, as follows:

Searching for a Miracle: ‘Net Energy’ Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society
Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute, September 2011

Energy Sources

1) Oil
2) Coal
3) Natural gas
4) Hydropower
5) Nuclear
6) Biomass
7) Wind Power
8) Solar Photovoltaics
9) Active Solar Thermal
10) Passive Solar
11) Geothermal Energy
12) Energy from Waste
13) Ethanol
14) Biodiesel
15) Tar Sands
16) Oil Shale
17) Tidal Power
18)Wave Energy

Criteria for comparative analysis:

1) Direct Monetary Cost
2) Dependence on Additional Resources
3) Environmental Impacts
4) Renewability
5) Potential Size or Scale of Contribution
6) Location of the Resource
7) Reliability
8) Energy Density
9) Transportability
10)"Net Energy" or "Energy Returned on Energy Invested" (EROEI)

The tenth criterion, "Net Energy" or "Energy Returned on Energy Invested" (EROEI), is critical: "This measure focuses on the key question: All things considered, how much more energy does a system produce than is required to develop and operate that system? What is the ratio of energy in versus energy out? Some energy “sources” can be shown to produce little or no net energy. Others are only minimally positive."

A summary of the results is as follows:

Comparison of Fuel Sources, Post-Carbon Institute, 2009


"The present analysis, which takes into account EROEI and other limits to available energy sources, suggests first that the transition is inevitable and necessary (as fossil fuels are rapidly depleting and are also characterized by rapidly declining EROEI), and that the transition will be neither easy nor cheap. Further, it is reasonable to conclude from what we have seen that a full replacement of energy currently derived from fossil fuels with energy from alternative sources is probably impossible over the short term; it may be unrealistic to expect it even over longer time frames.

"The core problem, which is daunting, is this: How can we successfully replace a concentrated store of solar energy (i.e., fossil fuels, which were formed from plants that long ago bio-chemically captured and stored the energy of sunlight) with a flux of solar energy (in any of the various forms in which it is available, including sunlight, wind, biomass, and flowing water)? ...

"Based on all that we have discussed, the clear conclusion is that the world will almost certainly have considerably less energy available to use in the future, not more, though (regrettably) this strong likelihood is not yet reflected in projections from the International Energy Agency or any other notable official source. Fossil fuel supplies will almost surely decline faster than alternatives can be developed to replace them. New sources of energy will in many cases have lower net energy profiles than conventional fossil fuels have historically had, and they will require expensive new infrastructure to overcome problems of intermittency...

"How far will supplies fall, and how fast? Taking into account depletion-led declines in oil and natural gas production, a leveling off of energy from coal, and the recent shrinkage of investment in the energy sector, it may be reasonable to expect a reduction in global energy availability of 20 percent or more during the next quarter century. Factoring in expected population growth, this implies substantial per-capita reductions in available energy. These declines are unlikely to be evenly distributed among nations, with oil and gas importers being hardest hit, and with the poorest countries seeing energy consumption returning to pre-industrial levels (with energy coming almost entirely from food crops and forests and work being done almost entirely by muscle power).

"Thus, the question the world faces is no longer whether to reduce energy consumption, but how. Policy makers could choose to manage energy unintelligently (maintaining fossil fuel dependency as long as possible while making poor choices of alternatives, such as biofuels or tar sands, and insufficient investments in the far more promising options such as wind and solar). In the latter case, results will be catastrophic. Transport systems will wither (especially ones relying on the most energy intensive vehicles—such as airplanes, automobiles, and trucks). Global trade will contract dramatically, as shipping becomes more costly. And energy dependent food systems will falter, as chemical input and transport costs soar. All of this could in turn lead to very high long-term unemployment and perhaps even famine.

"However, if policy makers manage the energy downturn intelligently, an acceptable quality of life could be maintained in both industrialized and less-industrialized nations at a more equitable level than today; at the same time, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced dramatically. This would require a significant public campaign toward the establishment of a new broadly accepted conservation ethic to replace current emphases on neverending growth and over-consumption at both personal and institutional-corporate levels."

These conclusions are confirmed by many independent analyses done as far back as the 1970s and as recent as January 2012. The data is noisy, but the signal is always strong and always the same: barring a technological miracle (or an "act of God") it does not appear possible to replace fossil fuels with any or all of the renewable ("clean") sources and maintain the same rate of energy flow through an industrial economy. This brings to mind the applicability of the precautionary principle to the energy availability situation worldwide.


With proper funding, it might be possible to use biophysical input-output analysis to explore energy policy tradeoffs going forward. For a given year, let

X = n-dimensional total production vector ($)
U = n-dimensional final demand vector ($)
A = NxN matrix of direct inputs (i.e., aij = input from industry i to industry j)

Note that the n industries include the energy extraction, production, and delivery sectors, as well as the pollution abatement and environmental remediation sectors. The basic Leontief equation for total required production is

X = AX + U
X - AX = U
(I-A) X = U
X = (I-A)-1U

Let, for a given energy resource r,

Y = n-dimensional industry energy input vector (i.e., production energy intensity vector, y=1,...,n, in joules/dollar), and

Z = n-dimensional public consumption output vector (i.e., consumption energy intensity vector, z=1,...,n, in joules/dollar)

Then, for the total economy,

Ey = X . Y
is the total amount of energy resource r (in $ . joules/$ = joules) required by the economy during the year, taking into account both direct and indirect inter-industry energy flow requirements; and
Ez = U . Z
is the total amount of energy resource r (in $ . joules/$ = joules) used by consumers of all products during the year.

One problem with input-output analysis in economics is that the interindustry coefficients are in dollars of input from industry i to dollars of output by industry j. Given the volatility of monetary issues (inflation, deflation, politics, etc.), data in dollars are always problematic. From the perspective of biophysical economics, it would be preferable to use coefficients in physical units, i.e., the ratio of units of industry i input to units of industry j output. This would allow for analysis of technological tradeoffs with much of the "noise" filtered out. Dollar conversions can then be applied to translate EROI results (in biophysical units) to financial return on investment in dollars. While input-out models provide a static "snapshot" model of the economy at a given point in time, the biophysical coefficients could be formulated as functions of time in order to take into account the time required for technological changes to be implemented.

Given the technological complexities and social risks of a transition from a high-EROI to a low-EROI economy (as painfully experienced, for example, in Cuba during the early 1990s and North Korea during the early 2000s, both due to unanticipated oil shortages) it is arguably reasonable to spend significant effort (and dollars) in developing better analytical tools to ease the pain.


The input-output method of analysis is static, i.e., it is based on a "snapshot" of the economy at a given point in time. It is most useful when detailed (and short-term) comparative evaluation of specific energy sources and technologies are required -- oil versus coal, oil versus wind, oil versus solar, etc. Even in such cases, the data refinement effort pursuant to make the interindustry coefficients time-dependent may or may not be possible.

A broader analysis may be required in order to include long-term dynamic interactions between social, economic, and environmental variables in conjunction with plausible energy transition scenarios. Then analysis at a higher level of aggregation might be indicated, and it may be more expedient to use simulation models such as Limits to Growth -- with "resources" more specifically reformulated as "energy resources" -- to examine the repercussions of the transition from high-EROI to low-EROI economies and lifestyles. There is a need for "Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil." This is the kind of analysis that will be attempted with SDSIM 2.0.

The social-economic-ecological system is too complex for any single method of analysis, or any combination of existing methods. The best practice is to start with the policy questions or issues to be addressed and use the method(s) that would yield the best insights for consideration by citizens and policy makers. In this regard, the recently emerging method of behavioral economics is promising and may be useful to capture changing patterns of human decision-making during the transition from high-EROI to low-EROI societies.

Another good practice is to recognize that modelers are scientists, not policy makers or problem solvers. Modelers are scientists using models and simulation experiments to test a hypothesis under "controlled" conditiones that may or may not to amenable to replication in the real world. There must be constant dialogue between scientists and decision-makers. But conflating science and decision-making generally exacerbates confusion and seldom leads to practical solutions.


4. Financial Transaction/Speculation Taxes

Financial transaction/speculation taxes are a disincentive to excessive greed in pursuing financial transactions of dubious social value, such as the so-called "financial derivatives."


The following section is about reforming tax codes so as to protect the integrity of the human habitat. The following is a excerpt from one many recent reports calling for taxing financial transactions to support the transition to clean energy:

Reclaiming Power: An energy model for people and the planet, Friends of the Earth,
2 December 2011.

"New research by Friends of the Earth presents an alternative energy model that would tackle climate change and enable everyone to gain access to energy.

"Our current energy model is not working:

  • Our dependency on fossil fuels is driving dangerous climate change
  • Our traditional energy model fails to serve 40 per cent of the world's population adequately
  • 1 billion of those without electricity will never be reached by expanding national grids

"The alternative:

"Friends of the Earth proposes an energy model based on a system of global feed in tariffs whcih guarantee cash back for local renewable energy generation. This model would help to:

  • Tackle climate change by shifting energy away from polluting fossil fuels
  • Deliver low-carbon, decentralised energy
  • Address poverty and development through universal access to clean, reliable, affordable energy
  • Rapidly lower the cost of renewable energy technology, making a low-carbon transition easier and cheaper worldwide

"This mechanism should be publicly funded by rich countries who have committed to help developing countries adapt to climate change

"Sources of funding could include:

5. Shift to Land/Resource Value Taxes

There are taxes that focus on depletion of natural resources ("depleter pays principle") and/or the deterioration of natural resources ("polluter pays principle"). One key tax reform proposal that deserves further consideration is the "Land Value Tax" (LVT), originally proposed by American economist Henry George in 1879. The underlying concept is to shift tax burdens from earned incomes to unearned incomes via taxes on the usage of land/natural resources.

An International Declaration on Individual and Common Rights to Earth
Originally composed and declared at a meeting of the
International Union for Land Value Taxation held in 1949

We hereby declare that the earth is the common heritage of all and that all people have natural and equal righs to the land of the planet. By the term "land" is meant all natural resources.

Subject always to these natural and equal rights in land and to this common ownership, individuals can and should enjoy certain subsidiary rights in land. These rights properly enjoyed by individuals are:

  1. The right to secure exclusive occupation of land
  2. The right to exclusive use of land occupied.
  3. The right to the free transfer of land according to the laws of the country.
  4. The right to transmit land by inheritance.
These individual rights do not include:
  1. The right to use land in a manner contrary to the common good of all, e.g., in such a manner as to destroy or impair the common heritage.
  2. The right to appropriate what economists call the Economic Rent of land.
The Economic Rent is the annual value attaching to the land alone apart from any improvements thereon created by labor. This value is created by the existence of and the functioning of the whole community wherein the individual lives and is in justice the property of the community. To allow this value to be appropriated by individuals enables land to be used not only for the production of wealth but as an instrument of oppression of human by human leading to severe social consequences which are everywhere evident.

All humans have natural and equal rights in land. Those rights may be exercised in two ways:

  1. By holding land as individuals and/or
  2. Sharing in the common use of the Economic Rent of land.

The Economic Rent of land can be collected for the use of the community by methods similar to those by which real estate taxes are now collected. That is what is meant by the policy of Land Value Taxation. Were this community created land value collected, the many taxes which impede the production of wealth and limit purchasing power could be abolished.

The exercise of both common and individual rights in land is essential to a society based on justice. But the rights of individuals in natural resources are limited by the just rights of the community. Denying the existence of common rights in land creates a condition of society wherein the exercise of individual rights becomes impossible for the great mass of the people.



MISSION – "The Earth Rights Institute (ERI) promotes an approach to development that is ecologically, socially, economically and culturally sustainable. Through initiatives in education, research and advocacy we act to end wide-scale poverty worldwide, secure a culture of peace and reverse environmental degradation. We insist on the importance of empowering communities of the global south to manage and direct their own development, conceiving strategies and cultivating expert knowledge at the local level. Instead of training experts in methods and theories originating in a foreign context, models for local development should be taught in a local context. Ultimately, theoretical and practical study of improving the lives of people of the Global South must be anchored in the Global South."

EDUCATION and RESEARCH – ERI’s Living Labs, located in sub-Saharan Africa, provide the opportunity for hands-on education in sustainable development. We create a space of exchange between villagers, students, researchers, professors and experts from both Africa and around the world. Our EREV program offers fully accredited academic study abroad semesters in sustainable development and microfinance. This program joins teams of Senegalese and international students for a semester long program in which students work with local communities of a partner eco-village to design and implement development projects. We now offer a summer program through the University of California Los Angeles. For more information visit Earth Rights Ecovillage Institute.

BUILDING ECOLOGICALLY SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES – Much of our work focuses on the promotion and implementation of the Eco-village, a model of development which encourages communities to minimize their ecological footprint through conservation and effective use of natural resources, such as permaculture and Jatropha plantation. Eco-villages are a model that supports healthy human development. In accordance with the social norms and values of each community, eco-villages govern by consensus decision-making, based on an active choice to respect diversity.

ADVOCACY - ERI participates in and organizes awareness and advocacy campaigns that promote a healthy and sustainable world for all its inhabitants. ERI advocates a fair market economy, and is concerned in large part with land rights and land value capture/taxation policies that promote easy access to land and ownership, fundamental elements of sustainable development policies.

To learn more about Land Rights issues and how you can make a difference sign up for the Earth Rights Institute Land Rights online program


A supply and demand diagram showing the effects of land value taxation. If the supply of land is fixed, the burden of the tax will fall entirely on the land owner, with no deadweight loss.
"Most taxes distort economic decisions. If labor, buildings or machinery and plants (factories) are taxed, people are dissuaded from constructive and beneficial activities, and enterprise and efficiency are penalized due to the excess burden of taxation. This does not apply to LVT, which is payable regardless of whether or how well the land is actually used. Because the supply of land is inelastic, market land rents depend on what tenants are prepared to pay, rather than on the expenses of landlords, and so LVT cannot be directly passed on to tenants. The direct beneficiaries of incremental improvements to the surrounding neighborhood by others would be the land's occupants, and absentee landlords would benefit only by virtue of price competition amongst present and prospective tenants for those incremental benefits; the only direct effect of LVT on prices in this case is to lower the unearned increment (reduce the amount of the socially generated benefit that is privately captured as an increase in the market price of the land). Put another way, LVT is often said to be justified for economic reasons because if it is implemented properly, it will not deter production, distort market mechanisms or otherwise create deadweight losses the way other taxes do." Source: Land Value Tax, Wikipedia


The Georgist News
Serving the Earth Sharing Community
The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation
New York, New York, USA

Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World

Author: Martin Adams. Publisher: North Atlantic Books

Synopsis by the author: "What if we lived in a world where everyone had enough? A world where everyone mattered and where people lived in harmony with nature? What if the solution to our economic, social, and ecological problems was right underneath our feet? Land has been sought after throughout history. Even today, people struggle to get onto the property ladder; most view real estate as an important way to build wealth. Yet, as readers of this book will discover, the act of owning land—and our urge to profit from it—causes economic booms and busts, social and cultural decline, and environmental devastation. Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World introduces a radically new economic model that promises a sustainable and abundant world for all. This book is for those who dream of a better world for themselves and for future generations."

Assuming that land/resource value taxes are set high enough that they yield as much public revenue as property/income taxes, how is this revenue to be distributed back to all citizens?

6. Guaranteed Basic Personal Income

True Freedom Comes With Basic Income

Scott Santens

Originally published in Medium, 5 December 2016

Photo by Ira Gelb / Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

“I can’t not do this, because I need the money…” — The thought underlying all exploitation which can be eliminated with one BIG idea

I attended a national economic conference in New York in 2015, and in one of the presentations, the speaker presented the following claim: human trafficking is not so much a criminal issue as it is an economic vulnerability issue, and therefore the best tool we have to strike at the very root of the problem, is a universal basic income.

This idea of a basic income guarantee—an amount of money given to all without any conditions aside from mostly citizenship (and perhaps age)—is an idea that has been around for centuries and yet only recently is really starting to noticeably catch fire in the minds of the public at large. It is being referred to in such terms as “an idea whose time has come”, “an end to poverty”, and “venture capital for the people.” Fast Company has dubbed it a “bipartisan world changing idea.” The New York Times has even asked, “Why Not Utopia?” in light of growing warnings of structural unemployment due to accelerating technological advancements like self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. Outlet after outlet is beginning to seriously discuss this policy once considered outside the Overton Window of political possibility.

So what’s all the fuss? Is basic income really that powerful of an idea?

The short answer is yes, it really is that powerful of an idea. It’s such a powerful idea for the same reason it has even been suggested in a conference full of economists as the best tool for reducing human trafficking. That reason is actually quite simple, but very far reaching. As long as we face starvation and homelessness, we are at the whims of others.

This is the face of economic vulnerability and it lies at the very heart of a great deal of systemic issues. Think for a moment about what difference it would make in your own life, to be guaranteed $1,000 would always appear in your bank account, at the beginning of every month, for the rest of your life, no matter what you did. How would that money change your life? How would it affect the decisions you face every day? How would it affect your relationships with others from your boss to your spouse? How would it affect your choices?

Consider that word: “choice.” What is choice, really? When it comes to any real choice in life, what it all boils down to is the ability to simply say “No.” Without that ability, nothing is truly voluntary. All work isn’t voluntary. All relationships aren’t voluntary. All market exchanges aren’t voluntary. The choices we make that we think are choices aren’t truly voluntary whenever the option to say “No” is off the table. Therein lies the full potential of the idea of a universal basic income and it lays bare the lack of power many of us are under the illusion of having. Having a basic income creates the ability to look someone in the eye who holds more power than you, and firmly say, “No. Not today. Not until things change. These are my terms. Take them or leave them.

That power only arises with unconditional access to the means of survival, which is what a basic income essentially is. As long as we are refused access to the resources required to live, we will make choices we would not otherwise make. We will do things to make money we would not otherwise do. We will say things where we would otherwise stay quiet and keep silent where we would otherwise be heard.

Italy recently acknowledged this in their call for a citizen’s income to reduce mafia power, to “remove oxygen from those who exploit the need to work and turn it into economic blackmail.” Living in a climate of perpetual shakedowns has made clear to Italians the need for the enhanced ability to decline. Without that ability, people have little choice at all but to accept exploitation as part of everyday life.

We are all making choices right now that aren’t really choices at all, and if we look around, we can begin to see them for what they truly are—compulsions. We are compelled to sell ourselves to others. We are compelled to put our trust in others. And we are compelled to hope in ways that are destructive.

The Compulsion to Sell Yourself

Sex work is known as the world’s oldest profession for a reason, and that reason is because as soon as money was invented, there was someone wanting to obtain sex in exchange for it, and also someone who needed money to exchange for food and housing. For thousands of years, to this day, that has remained true.

In a 1998 study of 475 people engaged in prostitution across 5 countries (including the US), 92% claimed they wanted to leave prostitution but couldn’t due to a lack of money or food. In other words, potentially only 8 out of every 100 prostitutes are voluntarily engaged in sex work.

“From the perspective of those we interviewed in five countries, prostitution might at best be called a means of survival: if one wants a place to sleep, food to eat and a way to briefly get off the street, one allows oneself to be sexually assaulted.”

That prostitution appears to primarily exist as a means of escaping starvation and homelessness is additionally supported by the finding that in the US, 84% of 130 prostitutes living in the San Francisco Bay Area when interviewed reported being homeless at the time, or were once homeless. This is not only reported in America. In the same five-nation study cited above, on average, 72% reported current or past homelessness.

There are those who will look at such numbers and claim they are false—that they are created to serve an agenda that wishes to abolish all sex work. So let’s assume for a moment they are inaccurate, and that the number is closer to 50% or even 25% instead of 92%. Just how low does that number need to get before it is entirely acceptable for that percentage of people to feel forced into sex work for lack of options?

Sex work is not a fully free choice. It is largely the means for those without means to obtain the requirements of life from those with means. And that’s exactly how it will continue to exist, until everyone is freely given access to the requirements for life.

However, sex work is also not the only way of being compelled to sell ourselves. This method of compulsion is also to be found in any job that involves accepting a rate of pay below which anyone would ever actually accept if not for the overwhelming fear of going without anything at all. The all too common belief that something is better than nothing, in a world that guarantees nothing, lies underneath every wage and salary negotiation.

For example, the movement for a higher minimum wage is gaining prominence in the national discussion as the “Fight for 15” wages on. But how many fast food workers would’ve ever accepted a lower wage to begin with, if they’d already been receiving a check for citizenship at the end of every month, along with everyone else, sufficient to cover their most basic needs? If every worker had more bargaining power as individuals, would we all be so willing to sell ourselves to so many for so little?

“The all too common belief that something is better than nothing, in a world that guarantees nothing, lies underneath every wage and salary negotiation.”

Exploitation is also not only about wages and salaries. It’s about time. How many people are working in jobs that aren’t offering them enough hours or anything resembling a sane work schedule that doesn’t vary by the week? These are manifested in the decline of full-time jobs and the rise of part-time jobs where 6.9 million workers in the US report working part-time not because they choose to but because they have to. It’s in the rise of zero-hour contracts and irregular work schedules where 17% of workers now report having irregular schedules.

All of this is essentially about working conditions. How many workers globally now work in jobs with conditions they would never otherwise agree to, were they armed with basic incomes they’d keep either way? How many workers would refuse conditions they personally deem insufficient if they were guaranteed a separate income stream independent of employment? When we consider a question like this, let us too consider being in the shoes of one of the employees who upon walking up to the doors of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh on April 24th 2013, wondered if it would collapse that day and walked inside any way. Is someone more likely or less likely to walk into a building they worry might collapse in order to avoid losing their job, if not walking in no longer represents the risk their families may go hungry?

These are our compulsions and they do not even stop here. Without a basic income, we also have a compulsion to believe others, taking them for their word when we shouldn’t.

The Compulsion to Trust

As the saying goes, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Unfortunately, such victims tend to be among those most economically vulnerable. Fraud has been on the rise for decades thanks to: the technology that makes it even easier to accomplish, the incomes that have been falling for decades when adjusted for inflation, and the dramatic shift in federal manpower post-9/11 from fraud to terrorism. As a result, we’re now spending $50 billion a year on scams, and even worse this rising level of fraud prominently includes “last dollar” fraud, a moniker for the type of fraud aimed at taking the very last dollar from the hands of those most in need of every dollar they can get.

For every ad on the internet that claims you’ve won an iPad, for every request for personal information to claim the airline tickets you never bought or package you never ordered, for every coupon claiming to be worth $50, for every amazing deal where something can be purchased at 50% off or more, for every job offering a high wage for seemingly little effort and especially in the comfort of one’s home, there’s a scam artist looking to exploit trust. And there’s also someone willing to make that leap of faith because if it just so happens to be true, there’s a light finally shining at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Having no other real choice but to trust doesn’t stop at individual scammers. It extends also to private corporations and government itself. Consider the trust we put in companies like Google to stay true to their word of “Do no evil”, so that we may continue happily using their free products as fewer and fewer people can afford to pay for all that isn’t free. Consider how we learned that trust had been betrayed in the NSA revelations brought forth by Edward Snowden. Would more people boycott companies that violate their privacy if they could afford the alternatives that cost more than zero dollars?

“Need makes us vulnerable to those who wish to take advantage of it.”

Think of the trust we place in government to represent our common interest, despite the growing awareness it doesn’t. What recourse do citizens have but to trust and hope for the best when they are so busy working to just barely scrape by? When only 30% of those earning less than $15,000 are likely to vote versus the 80% likely to vote earning more than six figures, just how much time do the poorest really have to actually exercise their rights of citizenship?

This is all a compulsion to trust. The person with limited options is the one far more likely to ignore the voice in all of our heads that tells us something is too good to be true. Need makes us vulnerable to those who wish to take advantage of it. Need leaves us open for betrayal. The best way to combat this is to strike at the very foundation of it, and reduce need itself.

Finally, and possibly most destructively of all, there exists the compulsion for something so precious, it perpetually remains our Achilles Heel—our desire to focus on something so precious and so powerful, we become blinded to everything else.

The Compulsion to Hope

Hope is everything. Hope drives us in ways so incredible we can actually accomplish the impossible. It also drives us in ways that destroy. It is hope that lies at the heart of our most extreme risk-taking, where we can be told the odds of victory are 1%, and we will consider those odds entirely acceptable.

The odds of winning a Mega Millions lottery jackpot is about 1 in 259 million. Because states use their collective $27.9 billion on lottery ticket sales in place of taxes, this kind of revenue functions as an implicit additional tax at a rate of 26%-56% varying by state. In other words, if all you have is $10 in the state of Louisiana and you spend it on lottery tickets, you effectively just gave $5.60 to the Department of Revenue.

Meanwhile, even though all income quintiles spend about the same amount each year on lottery tickets, every ticket purchased by those with little money represents a much larger share of their total available income. A recent estimate places this percentage of income spent on lottery tickets by those earning $13,000 or less at around 2%-3%, while those earning more than $70,000 (in 1991 dollars) are spending less than 0.18%.

What makes someone with $10 to their name spend $1 on a lottery ticket at the same rate as someone with a six figure savings account? The answer is those with the means can afford to gamble. Those without can’t. But those without are still spending their money in hopes it can change their lives, even though all it does is make their lives worse. Why?

They do it for the same reason they take out loans at interest rates above 1000%.

They do it for the same reason hundreds of migrants died on a capsized boat.

They do it for the same reason 20.9 million people worldwide are estimated by the ILO to be “trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and which they cannot leave.”

They do it because for them, money is scarce, the potential for money exists elsewhere, and because jobs—of any kind whatsoever—represent the only means of life.

If anyone claims we don’t know how to solve all of this, they’re either lying or ignorant of what’s already been proven to work.

“As long as people remain walled off from access to the resources they need to live, through the withholding of cash on the condition of working for others, the powerless will continue to be exploited.”

What We Know

In a 2014 global review of empirical evidence on the impact on child labor of cash transfers with and without conditions, the World Bank found “broad evidence that conditional and unconditional cash transfers both lower children’s participation in child labor and hours worked, and cushion the effect of economic shocks that may lead households to use child labor as a coping strategy.”

Such findings are important to know because child labor is greatly connected to human trafficking. Parents in need of extra family income will put their children to work, and this can open them up to (or even directly result in) forced labor or sexual exploitation, of which 6 million kids are currently trapped.

There also exists data from actual basic income experiments, where money is given to entire areas instead of targeted only at the poor. In one such experiment in India, findings included strong “capability” effects where the socio-economic statuses of women, the elderly, and the disabled all improved. Additionally there were strong “equity” effects where the largest improvements were seen among lower castes and those considered more vulnerable such as the disabled and frail. There were also “emancipatory” effects where those in debt paid their way out of bondage by paying down high interest loans. Additionally, people were enabled to avoid taking on new debts and even build savings. The money helped everyone, but had greater effects on the traditionally marginalized.

When people in Namibia were given basic incomes in their pilot experiment, self-employment there increased by 301%. It was the main source of income growth. Income from self-employment actually reached the level of income from wages. People with little to no incomes, when given money, put themselves to work. Crime rates were reduced by over 40%. Illegal hunting—something that can be considered a crime born of utter desperation and the need to eat—was reduced 95%. This is what reduced need looks like.

It is well known and well-studied that just giving people money reduces their need to make hard choices. When your body is all you have, it’s all you can sell. When you have at least some money unconditionally, it functions as starting capital to open up a whole range of new choices. This is why basic income experiments show increased entrepreneurship. GiveDirectly—a charity built entirely around unconditional cash transfers and also embarking on a 12-year universal basic income experiment in East Africa— refers to this phenomenon in stating, “There’s no charity for power saws.”

Naturally, someone who wants to start a business chopping trees needs a saw, but if they have no money they can’t obtain one. Meanwhile it’s difficult to get a loan for one or ask a charity for one. It’s cash that people need so as to afford the work they wish to pursue, and in these pursuits, they are very creative. Without the necessary cash, they must pursue the work they might not wish to pursue, and that might leave them worse off.

As long as people remain walled off from access to the resources they need to live, through the withholding of cash on the condition of working for others, the powerless will continue to be exploited. Slavery will continue. Human trafficking will continue. Violence and crime will continue.

Compulsion Ends with Basic Income

This is why Sex Worker Open University has actively called for a universal basic income. It’s also why there are now calls for the anti-slavery movement to do the same.

This is why a Rape and Women’s shelter in Vancouver actively supports universal basic income. It’s also why the Women’s Campaign of the UK’s National Union of Students has resolved to “widely publicize the societal need for a Universal Basic Income” as “an extremely important feminist issue.”

This is all why Ashley Engel stated in her presentation about fighting human trafficking with basic income, “only when a person is not monetarily vulnerable enough to be trafficked can trafficking be reduced. A UBI offers an effective mechanism to prevent such a horrific trade and is key to ensuring freedom for all.”

Freedom for all… this is an idea so far only spoken about in rhetoric and hypotheticals. There will never be true freedom from exploitation and all forms of slavery until freedom is actually granted unconditionally to all, with unconditional basic income.

Until that day comes, the decisions we make will remain compulsory instead of free.


Scott Santens writes about basic income on his blog. You can also follow him here on Medium, on Twitter, on Facebook, or on Reddit where he is a moderator for the /r/BasicIncome community of over 35,000 subscribers.

7. Industrial Quality Standards and Best Practices

All humans have a propensity to cut corners. Regardless of how income is taxed (Section 5) and returned (Section 6) to tax payers, there is a continuing need for quality standards in all kinds of human work, and all kinds of industrial production and consumption. Methods and tools for this purpose have been developed in such fields as industrial engineering, operations research, and system dynamics. Industrial engineering is specifically concerned with improvements in manufacturing productivity and efficiency. The International Standards Organization (ISO), an agency of the United Nations, has veveloped a comprehensive set of standards, guidelines, and best practices. The IEEE, and other professional organizations, have developed useful quality management standards for manufacturing, health care, education, and other professions.


What about quality standards for financial institutions? ISO 9000 could be used, but it would seem that the financial services industry should have a dedicated five digit standard. ISO-26000 on social responsibility is a guideline, not an auditable standard. Both stricter regulation and auditable standards are urgently needed for the global financial system.

Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (UNIDO)

Quality standards should ensure that dangerous biotechnologies are not used, even if they are financially profitable:

Public Engagement on Genetically Modified Organisms: When Science and Citizens Connect

National Academy of Sciences, United States of America, 2015

"In a world where science is interpreted through a variety of lenses--including cultural values and political dispositions--how can scientists engage with members of the public to empower decision-making and participation in public policy? The development and application of genetically modified plants and animals, also known as GMOs, has been the subject of multifaceted societal debate by some stakeholders, including scientists. This report summarizes the discussions and presentations that took place at a workshop held in January 2015 by the Roundtable on Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences."

8. Transferring Subsidies from Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy

The transferring of subsidies from the fossil fuels industry to the clean energy industry is understandably a sensitive political issue. The fossil fuel industry is enormously powerful. The age of fossil fuels has practically run its course. However, the temptation to keep producing and using "cheap energy" is very strong regardless of environmental consequences. The United States of America has yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because "it is bad for business." The "easy profits" derived from the exploding manipulation of worthless financial assets is also bad for business, but not yet recognized as such by the general public. Subsidies are tricky business, and there seems to be a paucity of expertise about the societal cost of subsidizing pollution-intensive industries.


9. Fostering and Deploying Clean Energy Technologies

There are many short-term strategies to incentivize the development and commercialization of clean energy:


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