Articles

The Peacemaker

VOLUME 42
SEPTEMBER 18, 1989
NUMBER 5

FINDING A NONVIOLENT ECONOMICS: LIVING WITHIN A GLOBAL BUDGET

By 1970, rapid industrial growth in the high consumption nations had brought the world to a multi-faceted survival crisis. In response to these challenges of the 1970s, my life began changing rapidly and dramatically. That decade of accelerating personal change, however, had a context that included both the social scene of that period and changes that began in my life three decades previously.


During WW II when I was 17 years old, Gandhi's autobiography and the writings of Thoreau and Tolstoy helped me make my first break from the establishment. I became a pacifist and a conscientious objector, thus denying my body to the war machine. Gandhi's and Thoreau's simple living also appealed to me. Working on an Oregon farm at the time, I slept in an unheated cabin, made my clothes out of feed sacks and ate mostly raw foods. The farmer thought I was totally nuts. Soon, however, my pendulum swung back toward the establishment. I gave up these experiments in favor of buying a Buick and starting college. One seldom moves in a straight line at that age.


In 1946 I was fortunate in marrying Leslie Brockelbank, a woman who shared my pacifist ideals and taught me much about flexibility, tenacity, respect for others, and democratic process. Soon after our marriage Leslie inherited wealth and we entered a period of liberal pacifist activism mixed with furthering our educations, building a home and starting a family. Between the late Forties and the late Fifties we were active, sometimes volunteering full time, in the movement for world government, the efforts to stop the Korean War, the resistance to McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, and the struggles to stop the Bomb.


This rather soft liberal pacifism was finally disrupted by the Vietnam war and the growing radicalism at the end of the Sixties. When our son, Howard, turned in his draft card, our consciences were challenged. He was risking jail and we were just writing checks. To at least partially match the risks he was taking we took tentative steps of civil disobedience, signing complicity statements supporting draft resistance, refusing the Federal Telephone Tax and the surtax on the Federal Income Tax.


In 1970 we found a new ideological home in the Movement for a New Society, a mostly Quaker group radicalized by the Vietnam War. Their analysis held that the US was not an essentially democratic society requiring only modest reforms, but a racist, sexist, classist, military-economic empire. The MNS prescription for change called for no less than the mobilization of a nonviolent revolution. Our comfortable pacifism was over. Our tax resistance increased. Within three years we were refusing 100% of the Federal Income Tax. The IRS began attaching our property and bank account. To reduce liability and thus the amount that could be seized, we changed some investments from stocks to municipal bonds and began giving away half of our income to tax-exempt organizations. These measures cut our tax liability 75%. We became dissatisfied with having investments in corporate America and divested ourselves of stocks in corporations doing major business with the military. By this point we were living collectively and experimenting with income sharing. The deepening world crisis required more of us than giving away half of our income to the movement. What good would our stocks and bonds do us if the world blew up or the ecosystem was destroyed by pollution? Leslie one day suggested that we give away half our fortune, the capital, not just the income. Out of that proposal grew the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, dedicated to funding nonviolent social change efforts in the Northwest.


For my part, once having begun to liberate myself from my privileged economic position I could not see stopping. What further steps was I called to take? I had seen the statistics of hunger. I had flown over the mud hovels surrounding the palaces of the rich of Lima, walked through a slum in Mexico City, where infant mortality was 499 per 1000 live births. I had driven along the road into Calcutta at night, a road lined with the huddled families of the homeless.


Then there was the vision I had while flying back from visiting my children in New Zealand in l975. I had just read an article pointing out the devastating impact on 3rd World countries of the sharp rise in oil prices. These countries, dependent on petrochemical fertilizers which they could no longer afford, were being driven into famine. I lay back in my seat and looked out at the huge jet engines. People were starving for lack of money to buy fertilizers while I was flying high in a plane that consumed enormous amounts of petroleum. I meditated on that reality for some minutes. Then the vision hit me. The fuel being sucked into and exhausted out the rear of those engines was not petroleum. The fuel was the bodies of little children. I could see their bodies being sucked into the engines. Thousands of little bodies were needed to keep me flying.


That picture devastated me. I started to weep and I knew weeping was not enough. Sensitivity was not enough. Checks to CARE and Oxfam were not enough. Who gave me the right to be the check writer? The changes I had made thus far were not enough. I had to break my connection, my participation, my complicity in these murders of little children. I had to get out of this death machine. I had to stop flying, stop driving, stop living on the deaths of toilers. I had to find a nonviolent economics.


In my heart I knew where a nonviolent economics had to begin. It had to begin on a foundation of equal sharing of the wealth of the world. I have a feeling we all know that, however deep we may bury the truth with rationalizations and justifications for inequality. Inequality cannot be a foundation for a nonviolent economics. There may be good reasons for deviation from equality, but those deviations must be small and the reasons good. Those deviations must not be based on greed and supported by violence. If we are to be just, if we are to be at peace, we will embrace each other as equal sisters and brothers of a common family. We will share and be responsible to each other's needs. We will share the work of the world and the rewards of that work. I believe we know that.


So how was I to begin? The only place to start was to live on my equal share or less. There were many good reasons for living on less than my equal share, considering that I had used much more than that for 52 years. However, 1 was lenient with myself as privileged classes usually are. I thought that a good and modest first step would be to neither own nor control nor consume more than my equal share of the world's worth and to do my share of the world's work to produce that wealth. In Oct. of 1977, I began the effort to live on my equal share, what I now dubbed as the World Equity Budget (WEB).


In the first eleven years, to our knowledge, three people had adopted the WEB. I began in 1977, Dorothy Granada joined in 1981 and Charlie Hilfenhouse in 1983. The first idea of an equal share was simply to divide the world's total income by the number of people in the world. That seemed pretty straightforward. Soon, however, I realized that future generations should be part of any sharing concept, so we changed to the idea of an equal share of a sustainable world economy. Because world population was growing, we had more people to share with and we periodically needed to reduce our budget. About midway through the eleven years we made a lifestyle adjustment based on the idea that consuming renewable resources was more sustainable than consuming scarce or non-renewable resources. At the end ot the eleven years we finally found information on how we could adjust the WEB to equalize the variations in cost of living from one country to another.


With these refinements in our thinking and with changes in the purchasing power of the dollar, the dollar amount of our WEB changed also. Over the eleven years our WEB ranged from the low of $60.83 a month per person to a high of $146 a month.


Sharing the wealth of the world equally seems important to me as a beginning point for a nonviolent economics. Sharing the work also seems important. How should we do so? A dilemma is created by the WEB. If we live within it and at the same time continue conforming to the US occupational structure, our wages, even at the level paid for so called menial work, will produce an enormous surplus over our budget. "Great," one might say, "I can redistribute the surplus to the poor or to movements for peace and justice." God knows the poor need it and so do our social cause groups.


The catches in this, however, are manifold. One is the usual trap that philanthropists find themselves in. What gives them the right to exercise such power in the redistributive process? The basic concept of a non-violent economics includes the idea that one not only does not own or consume more than one's share of the world's wealth, but that one does not control more than one's share. Consequently, to avoid the unequal power that such control would give, we need a World Equity Wage (WEW) that does not produce a surplus over the WEB.


A second catch is that such surplus generating potential, even at a minimum wage, is a function not of our productivity, but of our privileged position as workers in the central country of the empire. Without the enormous injustice of the world economic structure and the deadly force that maintains it, we could not have such inflated rewards for our labor. The working poor of the US make more in an hour than the working poor of the 3rd World make in a day and a half. What the US middle class makes is obscene. This surplus we have in this privileged position is a product of an extreme maldistribution that gives us surplus while others starve. For a nonviolent economics, we must somehow break out of this system of robbery and murder.


A third catch is that our surplus generating capacity as workers in the US results from working so much, of working far beyond the level needed for a decent life, and doing so with ever more efficient machines with the consequence that we are plundering and polluting the planet to such an extent that the survival of life itself is in doubt. In such a situation the unemployed make a positive contribution to our survival and the employed make a largely negative one. It is the employed who are producing bombs and excessive packaging and TV commercials seducing us to buy junk no one needs. It is the employed who produce pollutants to poison the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land that gives us life.


So what do we do? The concept we have worked on we call the World Equity Wage {WEW). It is based on a guess that an adult without dependents with an intermediate level of technology, about the level of the ball bearing and the bicycle could produce her/his share of what is needed for a simple but decent life by working about one third time. How much do we charge of this one-third time, or perhaps one-half time if we are more conservative in our estimate of the waste of the present system? We charge enough to pay the WEB. If the WEB is $100 and our estimate or one third time is 50 hours a month, then WEW would be $2 an hour. As the WEB changes the WEW needs to be adjusted. During the first nine years of the WEB my WEW ranged from $1.21 an hour to $2.77 an hour.


I began the WEB and Dorothy joined it, not as a consequence of strategic thinking that led us to believe that this was the way to start a social movement, nor as a kind of personal witness or modeling behavior for a better way to live, but as an effort to reduce the tension between the way we lived and the beliefs we professed. There was a great gap between our lifestyles and our ideals. Many must feel the tension between ideals and ways we behave. So these small actions that we have taken must come out of a tension that is widely shared, and a tension that is increasing as inequality increases. We may not always deal with that tension in a rational way. We may use denial and all sorts of psychological and ideological mechanisms in an attempt to reduce that tension. But I would contend that such mechanisms won't work because they avoid the real world. The reduction of the inequality between social classes and the finding of a sustainable economy (some of the environmental movement is a part of this) are two social movements to which the WEB is relevant.


Though we did not consciously see the WEB as a social movement for economic equality, it accepts the requirement that social movements often put on their adherents, namely that they practice what they preach. If the members of a movement organization practice what they preach, their ability to persuade others and thus gain new adherents is enhanced. The danger of practicing what you preach is that it can become an end in itself, a searching for personal purity or salvation, and forgetting the fact that movement goals are not attained unless the movements grow through organizing and focusing the energy of the collective tension toward program goals. A movement for a nonviolent economics would have among its program goals actions that themselves reduce the power of the unjust establishment and reclaim that power for the poor. The WEB is sufficiently stringent that it really becomes a generalized boycott of the economic and political establishment.


Charles Gray

(The above is a small excerpt from the book Toward a Nonviolent Economics which carne to the Peacemakers through AFSC, 2160 Lake St, San Francisco, CA 94121. Rather than review the book, I thought its compelling message be presented as directly as possible. I hope to make a number of subsequent excerpts available through the newsletter. This is a very stimulating book for those of us who have struggled over the years with simple, ecological lifestyles. You can get the entire message yourself by writing for the book, including money for postage and for the book which is 143 pages, 8.5 by 11. Paul)

 

 

 

 

The Peacemaker

VOLUME 42
DECEMBER 29, 1989
NUMBER 7

THE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD EQUITY BUDGET

The ten year period prior to starting on the World Equity Budget was one of accelerating personal change for myself, my spouse Leslie, and for many people around us as well. For me the primary revolution was in my thought and feeling about the wealth that separated me from most of humanity. This separation, this material power and privilege became morally intolerable. The ideals I had buried since my youth could no longer be denied. My fortress of rationalizations for rny privilege was crumbling like an eggshell shatters when the life within it is ready to burst out.


The energy of the late Sixties and early Seventies was sufficient to help stop the Indochina War, no small accomplishment, but that effort exhausted it. Suddenlv all of us revolutionaries were out there, but when we looked around we discovered the mass movement had vanished. This, coupled with the knowledge that during the time when our energy was focused on the war a new generation of first strike nuclear weapons was on the drawing boards, led me into a deep pessimism. I wasn't alone in these feelings. The Berrigans, the Douglases, and others were also saying that we were living in an end time. Some had more hope than I that out of such an end time would come a resurrection if even one of us changed deeply enough. I didn't believe that, but I wanted to try to live as if I did. If there was to be any hope at all, it would lie there.


The immediate external ramifications of these feelings were some additional lifestyle changes. I renounced flying. From about 1975 I pretty much stopped driving unless I was on a trip with others. I simplified my clothing and reduced my personal possessions.


Though these changes were in the right direction they seemed very small. I felt impatient because of increasing resistance from Leslie to most further changes. Our direction had been the same up to this time. Sometimes I would initiate a further step. Sometimes Leslie would. It was Leslie who first suggested that we give away half our fortune. [Editor's Note: In an interview years later, Leslie said instead that it had been Charles' idea but she hadn't objected.] Now, however, I seemed to be doing all the pushing. I knew my pressure was causing Leslie pain. I think the toughest battlefield of life is the one on which we love.


We fought with each other. We fought within ourselves. We struggled for several years. We did try to fight fairly and searchingly. I think for that reason our love for each other did not die. Nonetheless, though we sought some life-style compromise, we failed to find it. Our economic lifestyle goals had become too divergent to permit us to remain under the same roof. I finally took the initiative and said I was going to leave. Seeing no way to have both wife and my ideals, I chose this abstract impersonal bodiless ideal of economic equality over continuing to share my daily existence with my lifelong companion. My spirit is still in torment on this one and I still weep when I re-enter these thoughts and feelings.


Externally the decision was now behind me. The day I left was the day my experiment with the World Equity Budget began, September 26, 1977. I did feel a moral rightness in what I was starting. I did feel more at peace in my spirit. I had left the battlefield behind and entered a peacefield as far as my inner life was concerned.


The peacefields of good feeling were followed by new battlefields. What I might call my second battlefield of the WEB encompassed the early struggles to find ways to cut my expenditures drastically enough to get within the WEB and to emotionally survive the associated lifestyle changes. I might fail. Cutting my expenditures from probably $250 a month to below $100 might be impossible. The changes required might be so stressful and psychically uncomfortable that my spirit would not be up to it. Winter was coming on, a wet, cold and depressingly gloomy part of the year in Western Oregon, and not an easy time to find work. Feeling somewhat shaky with such anxieties, I figured I would cope better if I assumed that it was reasonable to allow a transition period of several months and not expect to get within the WEB in the first thirty days. That took a little pressure off.


One thing I learned soon was that I wasn't in complete control of my expenditures. I was in a house where the rent for my little room was fixed, but the utilities were shared, so no matter how much I tried to conserve I was at the mercy of the sometimes wasteful habits of others. My utility bill absorbed more money than it might have if I had to pay only for what I used.


I couldn't expect others to change their habits because I was on some strange world equality kick. My work with a construction cooperative would absorb my mind, but I did not look forward to the end of the work day except to ease my tired muscles. It was awfully wet some nights that winter biking home in the rain, pulling my bike trailer laden with carpentry tools. Biking may be morally wonderful, but it sure can be miserable in an Oregon winter.


During this time I learned to forage for food. It was hard the first few times. I felt kind of ashamed. Scavenger is a pretty low status role in this culture. At first, I didn't want anybody seeing me climbing in the dumpster. I was afraid I'd break my leg slipping on the wet, greasy iron sides, or that I'd get in and not be able to get out. What the hell was I doing this for? How had I gotten here from being an independently wealthy, tenured university professor of sociology?


But I knew exactly what I was doing and how I got there, and that knowledge sustained me through that winter. I was healthy and I could toughen. After all, Oregon was not Minnesota. I wasn't going to freeze and human skin is water repellant, and the food I found in dumpsters was surprisingly plentiful, so plentiful I'd take it home, trim it up a little and barter it with my friends for things I couldn't forage, or sell it at half the retail value. I even found a six pack of beer once with only one bottle broken. What did I mean I couldn't afford a beer?


I got through the first winter. The days began to lengthen, the trees blossomed, the daffodils bloomed. I had survived and by the fourth month I was within the WEB. I began to feel stronger. It definitely helped to attain my budget goal, a reduction of 60% in my monthly expenditures. It's amazing how much suffering can be tolerated if one is progressing toward a goal. However, that second battle of early adjustments was not yet over. I had barely gotten my expenditures under $100 when my landlord announced a rent increase. This knocked me for a loop. I didn't figure I could do any better elsewhere, but the increase would push me back over the WEB. Inflation and increased taxes was the rationale for the raise. Well, necessity mothered invention again. I appealed to my counterculture landlord to base his rents on a non-profit concept that excluded his growing equity in his property. He went for it and my budget was saved.


I felt rather shaky about the rationale for the first WEB of a $100. I had figured that was probably close to a world per capita income, but I knew that the world product was ripping off the planet at a rate that would deny a fair share of its resources to our children. So during this period I wrestled with ways to find another base than the world gross product which continued to increase. I felt somewhat better when I made a gesture in what I thought was the right direction by establishing the second WEB at $78.40, 20% under the estimated per capita world income.


By mid-spring my second battle, the battle of adjustment to being alone and living on much less was largely over. I had new energy, I was able to begin to look outward again to the movement struggles emerging in the Northwest, the efforts to stop nuclear power development and to prevent the building of the Trident submarine base on Puget Sound. That turning outward was important. I had claimed that the WEB would not require all of my time for movement work. However I did little such work the first six months of the WEB. All in all, I was probably devoting closer to two-thirds of my time sustaining my body rather than the one-third idea I had proposed for the WEB. The early struggles had sapped my mental and emotional energy as well.


So in the spring when these struggles were largely behind me, I was happy again to relate to the movement agenda. I felt that I would soom be able to match my level of activity prior to the WEB when I was volunteering about half time.


Starting in the Spring of 1978 I turned most of my energy into the movement. I joined the occupations of the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Oregon and the Trident Base at Bangor, Washington, and helped with nonviolent training and other preparations for these actions and the trials that followed them.


In the Summer of 1978 I had moved to Seattle to do work on the upcoming Trident court cases. I lived with other Trident activists who were also simple livers and they taught me new skills for foraging and a simple way of washing clothes. But what they did most was to provide a support community for the WEB. That community was a real blessing to my spirit. I no longer felt defensive about the WEB. What I had expected of it was being realized, a joining of nonviolent economics and politics. I had overcome and my spirit was strong.


Charles Gray

(The above is a 2nd selection from the book Toward a Nonviolent Economics as published in The Peacemaker Garberville, CA v. 42, no. 7, December 29, 1989, distributed by RCNV, 515 Broadway, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.)