Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 13, No. 9, September 2017
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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A Vision for an Ecocentric Society and How to Get There

Shann Turnbull

This article was originally published in a slightly different form in
The Ecological Citizen, Vol 1, No 2, 2018 (published online 3 August 2017)

Key Words: Basic income, Ecological capitalism, Ecological control, Ecological ownership, Stakeholder capitalism

The survival of society may depend upon it becoming governed by the nature of its host bioregions, as occurred in pre-modern times with Australian Aboriginals. The three most important requirements for establishing a decentralized, locally governed ecocentric society are to:

1. Adopt a framework of ecological property rights for land, buildings, enterprises and money;

2. Adopt an ecological form of 'network governance' as was practised in pre-modern societies, and as re-invented in stakeholder-controlled entities;

3. Encourage a decline in the global population through education and through providing universal basic incomes (UBIs) to remove the need for children to provide care and income for citizens.

These three crucial survival requirements are self-reinforcing. Ecological property rights create a way to provide citizens with income-producing assets to fund UBIs to facilitate de-growth. Property rights become ecological when rules of ownership adopt the “use it or loose it” processes that emerge in squatter settlements and in our bodies (Turnbull 1983). Ecological governance arises when network governed social organizations introduces distributed decision making to create distributed intelligences to manage complexity comprehensively. The John Lewis Partnership is an example as are small-minded ants and bees who collectively decide where, when and how to construct and maintain their complex dwellings. Collective decision making of ecological governance would insure that income was: (a) appropriately distributed and (b) not captured by the greedy.

Ecological property rights would counter inequality in three ways that economists neglect. These are: (i) overpayment of investors in a way not reported by accountants; (ii) windfall gains in urban land created by public investment and by others; (iii) interest paid on money.

Tax incentives can be used to divert overpayments of investors to stakeholders and others to fund a “community dividend” or UBI (Turnbull 1975, 2000, 2015). Bottom up decision-making with citizen referendums can provide a way to “democratize the wealth of cities” from self-financing infrastructure investment (Turnbull 2017). It requires all windfall gains to be captured by a suburban Real Estate Investment Trust owned only by resident voters to eliminate the cost of land for commercial investors and homeowners. This was illustrated by the First Garden City Limited that financed the town of Letchworth 35 miles north of London (Purdom 1913). As land is typically half the price of a dwelling, it would half cost new homes to generate a virtuous self-reinforcing self-financing sustainable process.

Money that has a negative interest rate is ecological because it follows the “use it or loose it rule”. It would avoid inequality generated from the unfair process of money being able to make more money through earning interest. Ecological money would be highly attractive. It would reduce the current excessive cost of the financial system by eliminating bank and credit card transaction fees. These are ten times greater than the cost of privately issued negative interest rate money used during the Great Depression (Turnbull 2016b). Ecological money would not carry out the conventional roles of money to be a store of value or a unit of value. It would simply become a medium of exchange to avoid the inconvenience of barter. A stable index of value should be established independently of the financial system (Turnbull 2016a). Real assets, mortgages and equities would provide stores of value.

There are a number of other ways of allocating resources than using markets. These are families, clans, tribes, communities, associations, networks and/or hierarchies in the private and government sectors. An ecocentric society would enrich democracy with a more humanistic mix of governance mechanisms. A more detailed outline of this vision and how to get there is presented in my article ‘Sustaining society with ecological capitalism’ (Turnbull 2015).


Purdom, C.B. (1913) The Garden City: A study in the development of a modern town, J.M. Dent & Sons, Letchworth.

Turnbull, S. (1975), Democratising the Wealth of Nations, The Company Directors Association of Australia, Sydney.

Turnbull, S. (1980) Economic Development of Aboriginal Communities in the Northern Territory, Department of Aboriginal Affairs Information Paper, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, First published in two parts as Parliamentary Papers Nos. 135 and 438: Impact of mining royalties in the Northern Territory, First report, October 1977, and Economic Development of Aboriginal Communities in the Northern Territory, Second report: Self-sufficiency (with land rights), June 1978.

Turnbull, S. (1983) Cooperative Land Banks for low-income Housing, in Shlomo Angel, Raymond W. Archer, Sidhijai Tanphiphat and Amiel A. Wegelin, (eds.), Land for Housing the Poor, Section IX, pp. 511–526, Select Books, Singapore.

Turnbull, S (2000) Stakeholder Governance: A cybernetic and property rights analysis, in R.I. Tricker, (ed.), The History of Management Thought: Corporate Governance, pp. 401–13, Ashgate Publishing: London.

Turnbull, S. (2002) A New Way to Govern: Organisations and society after Enron, New Economics Foundation, London.

Turnbull, S (2015) Sustaining Society with Ecological Capitalism, Human Systems Management, 34, 17-32.

Turnbull, S (2016a) Establishing Sustainable Units of Value, 8 February, P2P Foundation Wiki.

Turnbull, S (2016b) Terminating Currency Options for Distressed Economies, Athens Journal of Social Science, 3(3): 195—214.

Turnbull, S. (2017) Democratising the Wealth of Cities: Self-financing urban development, Environment and Urbanization, 29(1): 237-50.


Shann Turnbull is Principal of the International Institute for Self-governance. He obtained an MBA from Harvard University, and subsequently his PhD research established the science of governance that identifies how and why ecological governance improves wellbeing and self-governance. His 1975 book on Democratising the Wealth of Nations describes how ecological property rights can be used to reduce inequality with less taxes, welfare and big government while introducing a universal living income. More information about this author and his work can be found at the website of the European Corporate Governance Institute.

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