Much innovation in sustainability is driven by the desire to find new ways to bridge the gap between our seemingly endless material desires and our limited means. Ways that do not exhaust the natural capital of our planet.
The Original Affluence Programme addresses this same challenge but form a different perspective. Its focus is on exploring whether it is possible to narrowithe scale of the gap between our wants and means rather than finding less damaging ways of bridging it. It aims to explore the relationship between affluence and abundance and examine whether the cultural and behavioral models that empowered hunter-gatherers- and indeed others- to be satisfied with so little are of any use to us as we to negotiate the challenge of creating prosperity in an economy bounded by absolute ecological constraints.
“It is the fact that the identity of the giver is invariably bound up with the object given that causes the gift to have a power which compels the recipient to reciprocate. Because gifts are inalienable they must be returned; the act of giving creates a gift-debt that has to be repaid.
Marcell Mauss- The Gift
The Anthropos Original Affluence Programme is an exercise in applied anthropology. It forms part of the far broader project to understand and ultimately reshape our productive and consumptive behaviors so that they are more responsive to contemporary environmental, demographic, economic and social challenges.
The Original Affluence Programme is not about romanticising the past, or projecting fantasies onto others to ease our anxieties about a world in flux. It is not about fetishising "ancient wisdom" or searching for eternal truths in myth and ritual. It is about using the history of human experience as a resource to solve new problems and to assess whether, other ways of thinking and engaging with our productive world have a role to play now in how we undertake "development", assess "value", adapt our behaviours, and crucially, deliver, and understand prosperity.
Confidence in the alchemy of global finance has dwindled. Inequality has soared. The West rumbles under the yoke of a new era of austerity. A decade’s growth has been declared phantom. Finance has usurped industry and personality has trumped character. Meanwhile, the developing world is flocking to cities. And everyone is demanding more things. More money and more hope. But have we collectively reached, or possibly even exceeded the limits of growth?
The energy/output equation is out of kilter, the worlds largest industries are far from profitable in terms of their total overall cost to our natural capital and traditional economists seem bereft of ideas.
As a result predictions of looming environmental catastrophe cause us to grimace into our “fair-traded” cappuccinos; try to calculate whether an electric car really has a lower energy footprint than a chugging diesel and whether any of it will make a difference anyway.
"The world’s most ‘primitive’ people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people".
For hunter-gatherers, economic behaviour is primarily oriented towards meeting immediate goals. They trusted in the abundance of their environments to provide their day to day material needs as and when they arose.
This immediate return economic thinking is often contrasted with the longer term economic behaviour associated with neolithic farmers and market economics. The Origianl Affluence programme will explore the dichotomy between imediate and elayed return economics. It will ask how relevant this distinction is for understadning the dyanmics of economic behaviour in contemporary consumer markets.
Because markets provide an abundant and generous environment- do we employ different forms of economic thinking when we consume to when we produce?
Does this thinking vary within and between different societies in mature market economies?
How similar is the behaviour of those with no constraints on on their ability to consume to those of hunter gatherers?
Can this distinction assist us to change unsustinable behaviour?
“The market is a human phenomenon which we believe to be familiar to every known Society. Markets are found before the development of merchants, and before their most important innovation, currency as we know it. They functioned before they took the modern forms of contract and sale and capital.”
— Marcel Mauss