SUBSISTENCE.

3.2011

Ted Trainer

The use of the term subsistence is ambiguous and is used in confusing ways.  The following comment focuses on the meaning that is very important in the discussion of the economy.  The economy assumed in The Simpler Way is a subsistence economy.

The term is commonly taken to indicate a situation in which very poor tribal or peasant families barely survive by just producing enough to feed themselves.  Modernisation and development’ are essentially thought of as requiring the replacement of subsistence economies.

However if we consider what the economies of tribes and peasant villages were  like before being impacted by Western society we see that these were typically complex, integrated at the village level (as distinct from being about an isolated family), and satisfactory and effective in meeting needs.

Following are the characteristics of a subsistence economy as the term is used here.

The Simpler Way is based on an analysis of the global situation which stresses the coming era of intense and irremediable scarcity.  Growth and affluence society is grossly unsustainable and unjust and there is no possibility of maintaining the levels of resource use typical of rich countries today must be replaced by mostly small, localized and highly self-sufficient economies run by participatory processes, and based on a culture of frugal, cooperative non-material values.  The argument is that we can live well in these societies.  These economies are well-described as subsistence economies according to the above list of criteria.