Why can’t we all just share?

The world’s wealth is not equally shared, and neither are its resources. This we know, and much of this blog is dedicated to what we might do about it. But there is one solution that presents itself with childlike simplicity – we just need to share better.

Well yes, of course we do. But we don’t, we won’t, and even if we wanted to, how on earth do you organise global sharing? Such plain common sense sounds naïve – some people don’t like sharing, and you can’t make them do it if they don’t want to. But given the vast inequalities of the world, shouldn’t we at last ask the question? If there’s even a small chance that ‘just sharing better’ might work as an overarching strategy for fixing the world, we ought to give it a little thought, no?

stwrShare the World’s Resources (STWR) think so. They see plenty of examples of sharing already, and are committed to exploring how such practices could be scaled up beyond local communities. We’re increasingly connected through globalisation. Perhaps that unity can be nurtured into a powerful global neighbourliness.

For starters, the principle of reciprocity has deep roots in ancient wisdom and ethics. All the world’s major religions preach it in only slightly different forms. “The principle of sharing is ubiquitous in society and precedes the doctrines of capitalism and socialism by millennia” say STWR in their primer. We all intuitively know that it’s good to share what we have, and feel a sense of injustice when people won’t share with us. Most families work on the basis of give and take, and so do most workplaces. In our day to day interactions with others, we share all the time in all sorts of ways.

Charitable giving is one broader form of sharing. When we donate or volunteer with a charity, we’re making little transfers of our time and money. Of course, it does nothing to solve the underlying injustices, but it’s a start. The commons is another well established form of sharing, from older land management traditions to the community managed Wikipedia. The Collaborative Consumption movement demonstrates all kinds of free exchange of community resources, from tools to expertise to parking places to peer-to-peer lending. Cooperatives and employee democracy are growing in importance, bringing shared power and mutual aid to the areas of business and work.

In some places, these principles have scaled up to government, with systems of national insurance and social security. “Social welfare systems in developed countries are far from perfect and not always efficiently administered,” say STWR, “but they represent a natural evolution of the human propensity to share.” Putting aside the politics of such systems for a moment – the point is simply that it is possible to organise sharing at a national level.

So if you can apply sharing principles nationally, can you take it one step further and share internationally? Well, even here there are some examples. STWR mention the Marshall Plan, where the US assisted in the rebuilding of Europe after the Second World War. The fact that it was advantageous to both sides doesn’t make it less significant, as we are talking about reciprocity, not pure altruism. The same is true of aid. Most rich countries give a tiny fraction of their budgets to assist in development overseas, some more than others.

These are small examples, and STWR argue that much more could be done by making the World Bank and the IMF more democratic, and by strengthening the UN, the most promising of the global institutions. We already have an emerging ‘global public’, largely thanks to the internet. We now need institutions to match, so that decisions can be taken and implemented with global unity. There are plenty of things that the vast majority of the world would agree on, if there was any suitable body that could act at that level.

Unfortunately, that’s where it starts to get complicated. The nation state idea isn’t as powerful as it was, but it’s still the organising dynamic in international relations, and it’s still all about the national interest. Talk of global governance makes some people very nervous, and when STWR say we need “a comprehensive agenda for restructuring and cooperatively managing the global economy in the interests of all nations”, alarm bells inevitably ring.

Still, STWR acknowledge that such radical propositions are a long way off, and there are many useful things that can be organised globally without committing to global government. We can organise humanitarian aid at the global level. An international currency for reserves is being discussed already. A commons approach to the atmosphere is eminently sensible. We can work to bring down barriers to food security without organising a top-down global food system. The increasing number of international treaties and decisions shows that international cooperation is getting easier rather than harder, despite the behaviour of those world leaders who yearn for the old days (hello, Mr Putin).

As we work together, the idea of nations cooperating rather than competing will look progressively less threatening. In time, the global summits at which each of our heads of state stands on their own box and clamours for their own interests will start to look inefficient and unnecessary. But we’re a long way from that yet, certainly in Britain. I’m not sure we’ll ever want or need a bona fide global government – we’re certainly not ready for it now, but perhaps our grandchildren will choose differently.

So where does the idea of global sharing leave us? Can we solve the world’s problems by just sharing our resources better? Well, yes and no. The good news is that we already do organise and share resources internationally at low levels, and we have international bodies that we could scale up. The bad news is that the amount of sharing we’d need to do to genuinely solve the world’s biggest problems is still politically impossible. So if we want to see more sharing, our task is to broaden the realms of the politically possible, one step at a time.

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15 Comments on “Why can’t we all just share?”

  1. dichasium June 18, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Ha! Jeremy, I was just about to send you this from STWR – ‘New report: A primer on global economic sharing’, to see if you could promote it. They think it is the right time to make it happen, but only with our joint persistence, but, you’ve ended with it is still ‘politically impossible’. Right or wrong, it is interesting that George Monbiot just wrote that we must be more positive and that ‘An Ounce of Hope is Worth a Ton of despair’.

    I wonder, if not now or extremely soon, will it be too late if we wait, and if not too late, how many huge numbers of lives will be lost along the way? There is, I’m sure, no other way than this proposal from STWR. I’ve passed it onto friends, and hope others will too. We need to rally the forces and be prepared, if it is to stand any chance. What other real hope is there? It would be interesting to hear more on your opinion on the STWR article.

    • Jeremy Williams June 18, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      I hope this isn’t a despairing post! I’ve mentioned several things that can be done to improve sharing and build global institutions to organise it. But, I think the idea that we can all sit down and share out things like oil and food is completely impossible with our current system and the policitians we have. David Cameron and friends continue to block EU proposals on principle at the moment.

      As I say, our grandchildren may be in a different position. The key for us to strike the balance between despairing inaction, and idealistic calls for immediate and radical change that are easily ignored. Better to take one step at a time, and expand the political possibilities a little at a time.

      In fact, maybe I’d better go back and add that sentence at the end, so the post doesn’t end with the word ‘impossible’!

    • jeffmowatt June 18, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

      It’s a good question. One we asked too, at the beginning 18 years ago in a seminal paper about business for social benefit:

      “It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day.”

      A decade later, we deliver a ‘Marshall Plan’ to Ukraine’s government based on this people-centered approach to business, it includes this paragraph:

      ‘This is a long-term permanently sustainable program, the basis for “people-centered” economic development. Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority – as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether. This is in keeping with the fundamental objectives of Marshall Plan: policy aimed at hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. This is a bottom-up approach, starting with Ukraine’s poorest and most desperate citizens, rather than a “top-down” approach that might not ever benefit them. They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first — not secondarily, along the way or by the way. ‘

    • jeffmowatt June 18, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      For me, this raises another question about sharing. Ten years ago, with a strategy plan to address inequality in the UK we shared our work widely. The original business model was shared openly, free to use.

      There are however many who care less about sharing than building reputation and as I ewas to discover just weeks ago, this was well illustrated by a global elite at a conference on ‘Inclusive Capitalism’

      One of our key points about rising inequality was that it would inevitably lead to global uprising, later that year we became part of one in Ukraine.

      The Lord Mayor of the City of London, where the warning was made, now reads it back to us, as if her own thinking.

      http://www.businesszone.co.uk/blogs/jeff-mowatt/social-business-people-centered-economic-development/inclusive-capitalism-open-let

      It leads me to wonder whether STWR is more of the same, or intends to engage with those taking action?

  2. henry1941 June 18, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    Land value taxation is about sharing

    • Jeremy Williams June 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

      Yes, and the Georgist approach to natural resources is one of the most comprehensive attempts at a sharing economy.

  3. Michael MacKian June 18, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    “The nation state idea isn’t as powerful as it was, but it’s still the organising dynamic in international relations, and it’s still all about the national interest.”
    I fear this is not true any more – the Mega-corporations now out-gun many nation states, and they don’t “share” and don’t recognize any “national interest” if it doesn’t suit their bottom line.

    • Jeremy Williams June 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

      This is true, but Google and Apple don’t have seats at the UN. Not yet anyway. They still have massive influence of course, but they wield their power indirectly when it comes to international treaties and agreements, lobbying the politicians beforehand.

  4. DevonChap June 18, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    The very heart of this is whether people are prepared to share in this way. While we observe most people are prepared to share somewhat, they are generally not prepared to share equally. If you have no food and someone else has plenty they will share some with you; but they will almost never give you half of their food but keep most for themselves.

    There is a debate that people are more prepared to share with those they feel an association with. Examples are Britain and Sweden which set up welfare states when they were racially, culturally and religiously homogeneous. But with mass immigration support for those welfare states has declined since people no longer feel the money is going to their kin. A powerful undercurrent in Scottish nationalism has been that they don’t wish to share Scotland’s oil with the English following the decline in British imperial nationalism

    The European Union is an example of both sides of this argument. For over 50 years it has been trying to bring the peoples of Europe together and it has lowered many barriers but as the Euro crisis showed, while they are prepared to share a currency, they are not prepared to share each others debts. This is despite being more interdependent and familiar with their neighbours than ever. The recent European elections showed an increase in votes for a variety of Euro-skeptic parties across many European countries.

    Finally this report advocates the rich world giving up a large part of its current standard of living. Given how upset many people in the UK have been with ‘cost of living crisis’ following the Great Recession and consequent cuts in government spending it is hard to see the public acquiescing to a greater fall in the name of ‘sharing’.

    • Jeremy Williams June 19, 2014 at 10:05 am #

      All good points. There’s no doubt that homogeneity helps. It’s also worth noting that it took the huge unifying experience of WW2 for Britain to take the leap. The sweeping reforms of 1945 wouldn’t have been possible without the groundswell of ‘togetherness’ after the war – something Churchill failed to spot and translate into his post-war politics.

      However, we are far more globally connected than we were, and there’s no doubt that there is a growing sense of responsibility towards each other. We’re a very long way from the sort of ‘global citizenship’ STWR imagines, which is why I don’t see any kind of radical sharing anytime soon. The question is how to build and encourage that trend, so that in decades to come, there is a unity of purpose that allows far greater cooperation.

      • DevonChap June 19, 2014 at 10:33 am #

        I fear that ‘tribalism’ is fairly hard wired into humans so the Utopian ideas of a world community are always going to be fantasy, unless we find an alien race to define ourselves against.

        The rest of the STWR report is fairly standard left wing tosh, with a lack of self awareness of supporting the growth of global government while opposing a globalized economy, wanting balkanise to ‘domestic’ economies.

        • Jeremy Williams June 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

          Yes, I noticed a tension between wanting to share resources globally, but promote self-sufficiency on food.

  5. Barron Finn June 9, 2015 at 10:34 pm #

    The trouble is that anyone who is deemed to ‘benefit’ from equal global sharing is deemed to be a scrounger in some way… Someone unable or in most cases locked out of contributing as much as the currency holding percentage of humanity (‘holding’ being a word we use for hoarding or an EXCUSE for hoarding)

    Why the fuck does one child deserve less food or education than another depending on where they r born or whom they r born to??

    There is enough food and enough intelligence on this planet to live peacefully and happily and equally.

    ….the only reason(s) we don’t, are ‘power’ weilding bullies who ARE the financially rich people. They then rope in entire countries to protect other small minorities of people who have lots of money or ‘own’ land buildings etc

    I’m afraid it is going to end up to be the last civil war, and it will be global. And if we keep siding passively with these rich, nasty, selfish fuckers then humanity is doomed.

    If we can weed out, embarrass and remove the small (percentage of) people who have almost ALL wealth and bullying powers of global civilization, then humanity stands a chance to prosper and be collectively happy.

    Until then, there will only be starvation oppression and bullying.

    I’m still gobsmacked that so many people turn a blind eye to mathematical facts which enslave people to debt/slavery and condemn people to a shit life, mostly of starvation and poverty

    Wow.. Im done

    • Dichasium June 10, 2015 at 10:34 am #

      Hi Barron Finn – I really liked your contribution, but for this one comment ‘….the only reason(s) we don’t, are ‘power’ weilding bullies who ARE the financially rich people. They’.

      My reason for not liking this one comment of yours is this – It is not merely the financially rich’, (and this is most often a relative term), who are bullies seeking power. First, many of us are ‘richer’ financially than others yet we are not sharing it as well as we could because we (those who are relatively rich), think about our welfare today and, usually, even our welfare for tomorrow. The very second we speak of ‘them’ as opposed to us we are missing a vital link in the whole of life on earth and are on a very similar (albeit different by degree), road to those who we call ‘them’ (usually meaning the financially rich). I do not know your personal position but this applies to many of us. Until each one of us would rather die than see someone else die we have missed the truth. I have no idea if you will read this as ‘bullshit’ but my conscience forces me to say it regardless, and, in any case, someone else may get something good from it. Please do not misinterpret, i am not pointing my finger at you personally, most people I know or have heard of, including myself, are in the very same boat. To some degree there are more than the ‘financially rich’, (at least, those who are usually classified as ‘financially rich’), in this same boat. The boat is called ‘Fear & its daughter Greed’.

    • Dichasium June 10, 2015 at 10:47 am #

      Ps. BTW – The boat is made of a material called ‘self-interest’.

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