THE FIVE MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS OF LIFE: Clothing

Online document

by Sumati Kathrine Brekke

As the global human population continues to grow, the question looms larger: how will we as a human society ensure that the basic needs of everyone are met with our limited planetary resources? P.R. Sarkar proposed that for the sake of “maximum utilization and rational distribution of resources, […] PROUT’s economic system guarantees the minimum requirements of life – that is, food, clothing, accommodation, medical treatment and education – to each and every person. Once the minimum requirements have been guaranteed, the surplus wealth is to be distributed among people with special qualities and skills such as physicians, engineers and scientists, because such people play an important role in the collective development of society.” [1]

This paper presents some background information about the basic requirement of clothing in particular. First we take a historical perspective to understand why clothing is considered in the Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT) to be an “essential item” that the society should guarantee for everyone. On that basis, we can discuss for what purposes and what kind of clothing is to be guaranteed as a minimum for everyone – including questions of sustainability.

The last section proposes some initial ideas and questions for our discussion on how PROUT’s economic system will guarantee not just the minimum required clothing, but good quality and sustainably produced clothing for everyone. As such, this topic of clothing will provide a useful case study to explore some of the economic principles and tools proposed by PROUT, such as the three-tiered economy.

Why is clothing considered an essential item?

Clothing is essential for us human beings to protect our bodies from the elements of nature – cold, heat, water, and wind. In most climates, human beings require some type of clothing for maintaining good health if not for survival itself.

Historically, clothing became a need as the developed Apes transformed into Neanderthals and other proto-humans. The transformation and development of their nervous system and brain structure led to more developed cognitive processing and faculties, enabling the realization that when they felt cold they could cover themselves with various materials.[2]

Early human beings, however, also developed a desire to cover certain parts of their bodies due to a new sense of shyness. Developments in the endocrine glands increased hormonal stimuli and sensory sensations in the areas surrounding the glands, leading to a desire to cover those areas – initially with leaves, then animal skins, and eventually clothes made from various materials.[3]

This tendency, whether we call it a sense of shyness or shame, is a matter of dignity since not having proper clothing or being uncovered can be a source of deep humiliation. For example, in the wake of a natural disaster when people have lost their homes and their lives are in disarray, big importance is given to at least being able to dress in proper, clean clothes because it provides an important source of dignity when everything else may be lost.

However, we must also acknowledge that throughout history clothing has provided an important medium for human aesthetics and the expression of identity. Human beings also seek to cover and adorn their bodies for aesthetic reasons, to present themselves in a beautiful way, whether to attract a mate, to show one’s affiliation or belonging to a specific group or tribe, to show social status, or simply for the sake of beauty.

From a philosophical point of view, aesthetics and creativity are expressions of the subtler levels of the mind, which should be encouraged as part of developing human beings’ full potential. This purpose of creating and wearing clothing as art, is one aspect of clothing fashion. But fashion also has the shadow side of promoting one person or group’s superiority over others when one’s clothing demonstrates wealth, status or some other position of power. Correspondingly, it breeds inferiority complexes in those who lack the means to follow the fashion or who don’t belong to a particular given group. P.R. Sarkar often spoke of the detriment of inferiority and superiority complexes for individual and collective human progress. This negative aspect of fashion is further compounded by an industry that scrupulously promotes unrealistic, racist and otherwise harmful beauty standards.

In summary, although clothing has some value for the expression of human aesthetics, as an essential requirement for life, the most basic need for clothing is only for protection from the elements and the instinct of shyness or shame, i.e. for the sake of dignity.

What clothing should be guaranteed?

The above section has established the most essential purposes for which the government of a PROUT-based society will give the guarantee on clothing for everyone, which are protecting the body from nature and the mind from shyness or humiliation (for dignity). It then follows that the nature of the clothing required will depend on and vary according to the local climate as well as social norms.

P.R. Sarkar himself says that, as “diversity is the rule of nature, […] guaranteed minimum requirements […] will vary according to time, space and person.”[4]  Not only will an individual’s clothing needs vary from one place and age to another, but PROUT also recognizes that human beings have a need for individual expression. So the state should not impose or control what people wear. This is one reason why, rather than guaranteeing everyone clothes by providing the required clothing itself, it is “PROUT’s view […] that people should be guaranteed the provision of sufficient purchasing power to meet these requirements.”[5]

Another principle of PROUT is that there should be a never-ending endeavour to minimize the gap between minimum requirements and special amenities, or what may be considered “luxury items”. That is, when a society has managed to guarantee everyone the basic minimum, that minimum level should be raised and items previously considered a “luxury” will be part of the new minimum.

When it comes to clothing, the minimum requirement – as discussed above – is for bodily protection and basic dignity, so we may say that clothing for the sake of fashion (aesthetics, identity and status) is a luxury or special amenity. First, the endeavor will be to ensure access to basic clothing needed for bodily protection and raising the quality standard of that clothing, and only then, secondarily, to provide for an increasing aesthetic expression through clothing.

This, however, does not mean “the more, the better” nor does it mean just ensuring people the purchasing capacity and then leaving the rest up to “market forces”. To guarantee clothing for all human beings in a sustainable way, the sheer wastefulness, environmental damages and human suffering currently inflicted by the fashion industry will have to be addressed.

Today’s global “fast fashion” industry keeps costs low and profits high by exploiting workers and nature. The production of cotton, for example, is hugely water-intensive, causes soil erosion and degradation, and uses more insecticides and pesticides than almost any other crop. Textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water, as the water leftover from dyeing is often dumped straight into ditches, streams, or rivers.[6]

As for the human costs, workers in the global fashion industry struggle to survive on extremely low pay, suffer appalling and dangerous working conditions, excessive hours and are denied basic trade union rights. Many cases of forced labour have also been reported along the supply chain of the fashion industry.[7] 

In this way, global clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000, and much of this clothing ends up in the dump: the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second! “While people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, they only kept the clothes for half as long.”[8]

In contrast, guaranteeing clothing for everyone in a “proutistic” society will require a different way of producing and distributing clothing that is compassionate, safely produced, resource-efficient, durable, locally sourced, locally available and overall ecologically and socially sustainable.

How will clothing be guaranteed for everyone?

As mentioned above, PROUT proposes to guarantee everyone the essential requirement of clothing through ensuring sufficient purchasing capacity to meet this need.[9] In other words, it is not the item itself but the minimum purchasing requirement that is guaranteed to all.

Increasing people’s purchasing capacity can be done 1) by increasing incomes and/or 2) by lowering prices and improving the accessibility of the essential items in question. This can happen through various mechanisms by dint of different government policies, education or collective action.

  1. Public Policy

To lower the price of clothing, or rather, to keep clothing affordable/prices low without the exploitation of workers and externalization of environmental costs that is currently so common in the clothing industry, there will have to be a significant restructuring of the industry and the economy in general. P. R. Sarkar says,

“The first thing that must be done to increase the purchasing capacity of the common people is to maximize the production of essential commodities, not the production of luxury goods. This will restore parity between production and consumption and ensure that the minimum requirements are supplied to all.”[10]

 

In the case of clothing, however, the fast fashion trend mentioned above has ensured that there is no shortage of clothing (quite the opposite) and that any affordability issues are not ones to be solved by increasing the quantity of clothing produced. Rather, the question is: how will a PROUT-based society make good quality and sustainably produced clothing affordable and available for everyone?

 

For this, PROUT proposes the framework of the three-tiered economy:

 

What is a Three-Tiered Economy? In a PROUT-based economy, there will be three tiers of economic activity, each with their particular role and limitations:

  1. Small businesses: of up to XX employees. Small businesses and business people may only produce and/or distribute commodities classified as luxury items or special amenities.
  2. Cooperatives: may have up to 300 members. The cooperative sector, comprising both producers’ cooperatives and consumers’ cooperatives, is the largest in the PROUT-based economy as the majority of economic activity is benefitted from being run on a cooperative basis.
  3. Key industries: once an industry employs more than 300 people it is considered a “key industry”. Key industries should be run on a not-for-profit basis and subject to government oversight and regulation in order to avoid monopolies and exploitation. Certain industries, regardless of employment numbers, are considered key industries due to their strategic societal importance, for example when it comes to the so-called “essential items”.

According to this framework, the prices of good quality, sustainable clothing can be lowered by:

Reducing the price of organic raw materials (locally available plants such as cotton, hemp, bamboo, okra, etc. or leftover materials from other products) that can be used as fibre for threads and textiles by having these produced by government-run Key Industries on a no-profit and no-loss basis.  -Cheaper threads will allow producers’ cooperatives or other key industries to produce cheaper textiles and can thus lower final prices for sustainable clothing. It will help designers/producers currently making sustainable clothing to lower prices and make products more accessible.

Secondly, in a PROUT-based economy, only producers’ cooperatives or the state government should have the right to produce essential items.[11]  “Producers’ cooperatives should have the sole right to produce essential clothing. Where this is not possible (such as where the conditions and climate are unsuitable for spinning thread) the right to produce the associated raw or half-finished materials for a particular industry and to supply them to producers’ cooperatives, should belong to the state government or local autonomous bodies and not to business people. At most, business people should have the right to produce and distribute non-essential foods and fuels, because then there is virtually no chance of their exploiting the common people by exerting undue pressure on them.”[12]

When it comes to distribution, prices will also be lowered by cutting out the ‘middle-man’ as “local consumers’ cooperatives should have the sole right to distribute essential, though not all, varieties of clothing, […] in any given age.” [13]

In summary, only key industries and cooperatives should have the right to produce and distribute essential clothing. This can lower prices, generate local employment, and keep profits circulating locally.

 

Government policies and regulation on resource optimization and environmental sustainability, some ideas:

Just like audits of financial accounting, all designers and clothing producers could be required to show a full life-cycle-analysis (LCA) of their products that include sustainable sourcing of raw materials and responsible disposal of (minimalized!) waste, as well as opportunities for upcycling and repurposing damaged items – resource accounting from “cradle to grave”, so to speak.

Other tools include the “triple bottom line” accounting framework that encourages businesses to assess their overall performance in all three areas of Profit (financial), People (social) and Planet (environment).

–       How about taxation on degradation of natural resources…?

 

–       What other ideas can the 2020 PROUT Convention come up with?

 

Other governmental tools for restructuring the clothing industry in particular and the economy in general include changing fiscal policies, and indeed re-orienting the monetary system itself.

 

Fiscal policy: essential commodities will be tax free

Another way of keeping prices low for essential items is through fiscal policy. According to P.R. Sarkar (1979) “Essential commodities will have to be entirely tax free.”[14]

  1. R. Sarkar continues “There will be no income tax. Instead taxes should be levied at the starting point of production.” [15]

In this regard, here are some questions to be posed to the 2020 PROUT Convention:

–       Does this mean that PROUT does not support value added taxation (VAT)?

–       If there is to be VAT levied on luxury items, how to discern when clothing is an essential commodity (tax free) or a luxury item?

 

  1. Education & Personal development

We may also discuss what can be done in the areas of education and personal development in order to guarantee everyone the required clothing in a sustainable fashion. For example, educating consumers about sustainability and the inefficiencies, violence and destruction of “fast fashion” industry – and encouraging the alternatives:

  • Shifting values from quantity to quality, from global to local;
  • Repair, Reuse, Recycle: encouraging clothing and shoe repair skills and pride in self-made and upcycled clothing;
  • …what else?

 

  1. Individual and collective movements

In terms of individual and collective movements, my preliminary ideas are similar to the above: movements for Repair-Reuse-Recycle and “upcycling” clothing; hosting clothing “swap shops”; community repair workshops for clothes and shoes; shifting values from quantity to quality…

 

References

P.R. Sarkar, Some Specialities of PROUT, discourse given on June 1979, Calcutta.

P.R. Sarkar, Talks on PROUT, discourse given in July 1961, Ranchi.

P.R. Sarkar, Various Occupations, discourse given 1959. Published in: Human Society Part 1, Prout in a Nutshell Volume 1 Part 3 [a compilation], Supreme Expression Volume 2 [a compilation], and The Great Universe: Discourses on Society [a compilation]

World Economic Forum, “These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is”, online article: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution/

 

 

[1] Some Specialities of PROUT, discourse by P.R. Sarkar, June 1979, Calcutta.

[2] P.R. Sarkar, anecdotal (from Dada Dhyaneshananda) – may be left out for final version

[3] P.R. Sarkar, anecdotal (from Dada Dhyaneshananda).

[4] P.R. Sarkar, Talks on PROUT, discourse given in July 1961, Ranchi.

[5] P.R. Sarkar, Talks on PROUT, discourse given in July 1961, Ranchi.

[6] World Economic Forum, “These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is”, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution/

[7] https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/old-working-conditions

[8] World Economic Forum, “These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is”, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution/

[9] P.R. Sarkar, Talks on PROUT, 1961, Ranchi.

[10] P.R. Sarkar, Some Specialities of PROUT, 1979, Calcutta.

[11] P.R. Sarkar, Various Occupations, 1959.

[12] Ibid. (Various Occupations)

[13] Ibid. (Various Occupations)

[14] P.R. Sarkar, Some Specialities of PROUT: trade and commerce, 1979.

[15] P.R. Sarkar, Some Specialities of PROUT: trade and commerce, 1979.

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