Progressive Utilization Theory

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The Progressive Utilization Theory, also known by the acronym PROUT, is a collection of socioeconomic and political ideas propounded by philosopher and spiritual leader Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar.[1][2] According to Sarkar, based on his holistic outlook of life,[3][4] he developed a system of governance[5] that seeks to integrate capitalist and traditional socialist thought into a blend of progressive economics and social development.[6] Sarkar describes Prout as fundamentally a political framework based on Neohumanist values which aim to provide "proper care" to every being on the planet, be that human, animal or plant.[7]


Sarkar introduced Prout in 1959. In 1961, he formally outlined Prout in his book, Ananda Sutram.[8] Throughout the rest of his life, he continually amplified the subject.[9]

This is the theory of a self-reliant economic and political system that is spiritually rather than materialistically inspired... In this system money is no longer in command, nor are economists. The goal is not “economic growth” and the accumulation of wealth, but true human growth that satisfies basic needs, and unlimited spiritual growth topping that. This alone disqualifies Sarkar as a utopian, a person to be marginalized" – Johan Galtung [10]

According to a description by Terry Irving and Rowan Cahill, Prout "envisages a decentralised, community-based world economy of self-sufficiency for the poor; economic democracy; small business; and limits on the accumulation of wealth."[8] Sohail Inayatullah stated that the philosophy "attempts to balance the need for societies to create wealth and grow with the requirements for distribution."[11] David Skrbina characterized Prout as a "model of social development... which advocates a 'small is beautiful' approach to society."[5] Economics instructor Mark Friedman places Sarkar's economic thought in the tradition of Monsignor John A. Ryan, E.F. Schumacher and Herman Daly in Sarkar's incorporation of spiritual values into economic goals.[12]

Sarkar positioned it as an alternative to communism and capitalism.[8] It has been characterized as a form of "progressive socialism"[13] as well as a "socialist theory".[1] Prout recognizes all material goods as common property and seeks the rational and equitable distribution of that property to maximize the physical, mental, and spiritual development of all people.[1][14] It seeks to guarantee what it recognizes as the five minimum requirements of life for human beings: food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care.[1]

Prout describes a social order consisting of four classes of people that cyclically dominate society: shudras (labourers), kshatriyas (military-minded individuals), vipras (intellectuals) and vaishyas (capitalists).[2] To prevent any social class from clinging to political power and exploiting the others, he proposed the concept of "spiritual elite" sadvipras (etymologically sad – true, vipra – intellectual) who would determine who held political leadership.[2] Sarkar thought that the first sadvipras would be created from disgruntled middle-class intellectuals and military-minded people.[2] He called for sadvipras to be organized into executive, legislative, and judicial boards which would be governed by a Supreme Board.[2] They, according to Sarkar, would be responsible for the application of force necessary to change the order of dominance within the social order, with large amounts of force akin to revolution.[2]

Prout's economic model advocates a three-tiered approach to industrial organization where key industries or public utilities are non-profit, a decentralized industry run by sociolinguistic unions provide people's bare minimum necessities, and most of the economic transactions are through producers' and consumers' cooperatives.[2] It distinguishes itself from communism by proposing an incentive based economy where surplus in the society is distributed to people who serve the society.[2]

At the political level, Prout rejects nationalism in favour of locally governed self-sufficient socio-economic zones on the economic level and a world government[2][11] on the political level with a world constitution and a Bill of Rights including animal and plant as well as human rights.[2]

Cooperative communities have been established by Ananda Marga in an attempt to provide ideal models for the society outlined in Prout.[13] A few intellectuals support the philosophy, but it has not achieved widespread implementation.[15]

Neohumanism as the foundation for Prout[edit]

Sarkar proposed a reinterpretation of Humanism[16][4] by integrating into its ideological framework the idea of unity of all life, explaining that all living beings belong to a "universal family" deserving equal care and respect. Thus he conceptualized what he referred to as a new humanism or Neohumanism.[7]

"Neohumanism is humanism of the past, humanism of the present, and humanism – newly explained – of the future. Explaining humanity and humanism in a new light will widen the path of human progress and will make it easier to tread. Neohumanism will give new inspiration and provide a new interpretation for the very idea of human existence. It will help people understand that human beings(...), will have to accept the great responsibility of taking care of the entire universe..." [17]

Inspired by Eastern spiritual philosophy (see advaita vedanta), Sarkar calls for the acknowledgment of the fundamental connectedness not only between individuals and their fellow human beings but also between humans and all life.[4] Sarkar propounds that though physically different, all existence is metaphysically united and fundamentally one collective body composed of all the material and supra-material elements of this universe. Hence Prout supports the celebration of diversity and multiculturalism, emphasizing, through its policies, the abolishment of inequality in all its forms, be that religious superiority, racism, sexism, prejudices against social groups, etc.[3] According to Sarkar, Prout treads a path of socio-economic liberation for the common people,[18] where the desire for a more progressive society is driven by Neohumanist values stirred by the ancient philosophies of the East.[4]

The five fundamental principles[edit]

In 1962, Sarkar formally outlined Prout in sixteen aphorisms (see Chapter 5 of Ananda Sutram[19]). The last five aphorisms (5:12-16) are commonly referred to as the five fundamental principles of Prout. These five principles are deemed to be fundamental because it would be difficult to get a clear understanding of Prout without comprehending the underlying concepts of these principles, the interrelationship of the principles, and their respective areas of application.

The five aphorisms from Ananda Sutram translate into English as follows:[20]

  1. There should be no accumulation of wealth without the permission of society.
  2. There should be maximum utilization and rational distribution of the crude, subtle, and causal resources.
  3. There should be maximum utilization of the physical, mental, and spiritual potentialities of the individual and collective beings.
  4. There should be a well-balanced adjustment among the crude, subtle, and causal utilizations.
  5. Utilizations vary in accordance with time, space, and form; the utilizations should be progressive.

An initial glimpse of these five principles first appeared in Sarkar's earlier work, Idea and Ideology.[21]

The market[edit]

As far as Prout's values and goals differ from those of capitalism and communism,[22][23] so does its economic structure. Following a close analysis of the two systems, Prout’s propounder argues that these philosophies are "anti-human“ in the sense that they encourage people to relentlessly pursue material attainment, like name, fame, etc.

"Communism and capitalism are essentially materialistic philosophies. Both encourage a psychology of material attachment, which in turn encourages the pursuit of money, name, fame, etc. People living under either of these two systems develop the psychic pabula which run after crude physicalities. All these objective tendencies are the inevitable outcome of the continuous extroversial movement of psychic urges, insatiably driving themselves from one object to another"[24]

Proutistic ideology further reprimands neo-liberalism and capitalism in general by claiming that the centralization of economic power in the hands of the rich leads to the exploitation of the masses and ultimately to the denegeration of society.[24] He heavily critiques profit motive as one that leads to economic derrangement.

Sarkar recognizes that both capitalism and communism have been built on shaky foundations, and identifies their inherent weaknesses to a point where he devises a whole new market system.[23] He heavily critiqued communism, indicating that one of the reasons the USSRs experiment with communism did not work, causing the eventual implosion of their political structure, is that the sovietic central planning committees (Gosplan) had too much economic decision and cohersion power in the federation (see Marxism–Leninism).[25][26]

Nonetheless, Sarkar observed aspects of market planning that help to create and sustain a healthy economy.[27] In summary, Proutist thought considers that planning allows the market to protect its stakeholders from the meanderings of neo-liberal economics where profit-motive speaks highest.[28] However, he stresses that a planning committee at a national level should only outline the broader aspects of economic development, leaving the details to be resolved by planning bodies at a local level where problems are best understood and more easily dealt with.[29] (see diseconomies of scale). Consequently, this kind of top-down planning will leave communities, enterprises and ultimately workers with a significant level of freedom to decide their own economic future (see decentralized planning).[29]

Sarkar also states that the nationalization of enterprises is inefficient due to the larger costs and amount of bureaucracy necessary to keep state-controlled industries running.[30][31] Yet, there are some industries that should be nationalized, operating on a "no-profit, no-loss" principle.[32] Key industries vital for the prosperity of society (such as transportation, energy or hospitals), claims Sarkar, should be run by the immediate government as they are to large operations to be run conveniently by private business men.[9]

Concerning wealth distribution among the population, Prout argues for an "optimal inequality" where the wage gap between the richer strata of society is substantially subsided.[27] Richard Freeman, a Harvard economist, points out income inequality comes from the monopoly of power and other activities with "negative consequences" in terms of social development.[33] Nonetheless Prout is not in favour of total income equality, claiming that in a society where material motivation to work is absent, the willingness to strive for financial success and to thrive in the creative development of industry and socierty will be lost in its citizens. Therefore, Sarkar argues for the implementation of a policy allowing the most meritous in society to receive added perks for the added benefits they bring to society. It is thus theorized that the communist‘s motto of from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs cannot work in the real world. Prout proposes instead a minimum and maximum wage, roughly attributed according to the value the work of each person brings to society. We see examples of attempts in this direction in companies like Mondragon or Whole Foods.

Regarding neo-liberalism, Sarkar throws a new light to the concept of Adam Smith's invisible hand, where self-interest will regulate the market by bringing financial affluence to anyone who is willing to work for it. Prout states that, unchecked, societies economic elite will disrupt the just circulation of material wealth within society. Polly Toynbee, a columnist for The Guardian states: "There are no reasons why top pay has shot through the roof since the 1980s, except that people tend to take what they can if there is no one to stop them."[34] The market will then require regulatory measures so as to create a functional economic system.

Economic democracy[edit]

In relation to democracy, Prout argues that political democracy is not enough to free society from exploitation and what it considers extreme income inequality.[27][35] As Roar Bjonnes, a known Proutist, states, "Unless we have deeper structural change – what we refer to as economic-systems change – we will never be able to solve such global and systemic problems as the environmental and inequality crises. History has demonstrated that political democracy is not enough." [27]

Sarkar therefore advocates an economic democracy where the decision-making power for the economic future of a community is given to its inhabitants. Economic democracy is not a new term, but Sarkar reinvents it by setting four requirements for what he considers a successful one.[27][36] The first and foremost requirement is guaranteeing the minimum requirements of life to all members of society. Secondly, and following one of the five fundamental principles, Prout argues that there should be an increasing purchasing capacity for each individual, stating that local people will have to hold economic power over their socio-economic region.[36] Still, on this regard, Sarkar theorizes that, unlike capitalism, where the production and distribution of goods are mainly decided by market competition, in a Proutistic society it should be based on necessity.[4][22] The third requirement of economic democracy is the decentralization of power, giving the freedom to make economic decisions to its stakeholders.[36] That can be accomplished by adopting a worker-owned cooperative system [37] and by the use of local resources (raw materials and other natural resources) for the development of the region and not merely for export.[36] In summary, Prout advocates a decentralized economy where self-sufficient economic zones are created and organized according to a set of predetermined conditions (see socio-economic units).[27]

" ... a local economy using local resources in a climate which fosters local initiative and industriousness for the collective welfare." [28]

Prout also indicates that outsiders must be kept from interfering with the local economy [36][38] From a Proutistic perspective, this requirement does not express xenophobic feelings, it solely claims to be the realization that there should not be a constant outflow of local capital, where natural resources are explored by foreign investment companies that extract assets and money out of the community.[27][39] From a Neohumanist perspective, all people are free to choose where they wish to live, as long as they merge their economic interests with the ones of the local people.

"In law, we grant individual rights only to the extent that they do not harm others. Prout includes this idea in economics." [3] Three-tier economy

Sarkar‘s economic system rests upon the concept of a tiered economic structure in which the production and distribution of goods is performed according to three distinctive business models.[9] During his lifetime, he classifies and clarifies the need for these models which are; medium-scale worker-owned cooperatives, small-scale privately owned businesses and government-run large scale key industries.[9] Sarkar justifies this economic structure by claiming that there are fundamental strengths and weaknesses embedded in each style of business which makes them more suitable for specific industries and scales of operation.[10][9] Cooperatives, he understood, are desirable for the majority of enterprises.[4][9] This claim has been given since that by working together and taking hold of the means of production, cooperative workers and consumers will be safeguarded against different forms of economic exploitation, offering no scope for intermediaries to interfere with their business.[40] However, key industries vital to the development of the country and of strategic importance[41] (such as electrical utilities or the railway system), should be run by the immediate local government. He justified this idea by claiming that these industries are to complex and large scale to be run effectively by a cooperative.[42] Finally, Sarkar defends that small businesses can be privately owned and managed.[41] Enterprises with few employees such as family businesses are encouraged to be self-managed. Sarkarian thought sees that some people have economic dreams that are more individual in nature and hence not suitable to be constrained by collective interests.

In a Proutist system there would be no privately owned corporations.[41]

Socio-economic units[edit]

A socio-economic unit, or Samaj in Sanskrit, is the Proutist materialization of the collective effort to create a strong and resilient local community, built on strong feelings of solidarity and self-identity.[4] There are a few criteria that Sarkar outlined in order to build a working and cohesive socio-economic unit.[4] In sum, a unit should have common social and economic conditions, geographical potentialities, cultural legacy and language.[3] Similar to bioregions, their purpose is to facilitate cooperative development, moving towards a decentralized economy, where these units are economically independent and self-reliant.[43] Though still guided by national and federal guidelines and laws, they should prepare its own economic plan.

Aiming to achieve maximum efficiency in the utilization of local resources, they propose to make trade across borders more balanced and mutually beneficial.[27]

"We should maximize local self-reliance, not as a way of disengaging from the rest of the world, but as a way of engaging with the rest of the world from a position of greater strength".[44]

According to Sarkar, these socio-economic units would also create the necessary balance in the world's trade in so much as independently run and self-reliant communities would not need the resources from more developed economic powers seeking to exploit them.[3]


The theory of the social cycle[edit]

A classless society is not the aim in Proutist ideology. Sarkar, recognizing that each individual has unique interests, capabilities, and outlooks on life, offers four broad mental archetypes through which to classify them. As Sohail Inayatulla states, “Each class can be perceived not merely as a power configuration, but as a way of knowing the world, as a paradigm, episteme or deep structure if you will. In Sarkar’s language, this is collective psychology or varna.”[23] Accordingly, any given person can be a worker, a warrior, an intellectual or acquisitive minded.[4][45]

Workers are those who enjoy the fruits of their physical labour and seeks safety and comfort in their private domain. Warriors are those that seek the thrill of confronting their environment with their physical prowess. They usually can be found in the military, police, rescue work, etc. Intellectuals have comparatively developed intellect and seek to understand the world around them through their mental faculties. Lastly, acquisitive minded individuals excel in administrative tasks and seek to accumulate goods and resources in order to achieve social status and material comforts.[3] These different psychologies, as Sarkar names them, are not static, evolving and mutating during the span of an individuals lifetime. He indeed alerts for the fact that the ideal person should possess the qualities of all four psychology archetypes[3] Important to add here that although this classification may appear similar to the caste system in India, it has striking differences that are worthy of study.[3] As Sarkar stated, "They have nothing to do with casteism and are completely psychological phenomena."[45]

In a pragmatic attempt to understand history, Sarkar envisioned this conception of the four archetypes which grants a new understanding of how the historical ages come and go. He states that these archetypes amount to classes of people with common interests and agendas, which go through cycles of rising to power and sinking to subordination.[23] Armed with this categorization, Sarkar developed a theory of macrohistory that views the evolution of our world in a cyclical rendition of events that belong to a larger paradigm or "spirit of the age".[46] Prout defends that as the cycle progresses and power structures fluctuate across time, so historical eras come about. History, therefore, evolves according to the dominant values and ideas that rule society, based on who its proponents and leaders are. ´

In essence, Prout realizes that history unfolds when a class of people with a specific outlook on life or frame of mind, the vanguard of its time, struggle and finally rise to power, causing a revolution in both the physical and mental world of its contemporaries.[23] This vanguard, Sarkar notes, inevitably soon denegerates with its new found power and start exploiting the people of a given society.[3][23]

To solve the issue of this cyclical exploitation by the powerful to the powerless, Sarkar calls for a new class of individuals, called Sadvipra, who possess all the qualities of a warrior, an intellectual, a worker and an acquisitive person who, through spiritual practice will develop the qualities of a compassionate leader, and will work selflessly for the benefit of society.[3] These individuals will have the duty of being at the center of this evolutionary cycle, overseeing societies trends and preventing the exploitation of society by any class, inspiring the masses during necessary transition to a new age.[3]

"Sarkar gets straight to the core of our history with a scheme so simple, unashamedly universal and so evidently inspired more by Indian society and history than by our own. He turns the world upside down: whereas India is supposed to be captured, dissected and understood in our paradigms, instead he understands us in his. In Sarkar’s work, the West is no longer intellectually in command."[47]


From Prout's perspective, a progressive society cannot solely be measured by the wealth of a nation or it’s GDP levels. Prout recognizes the benefits of material progress, but deems them insufficient indicators of the development of human society.[48] It argues that even though progress as its interpreted by society today has its advantages, there are negative side effects that, if unchecked, bring more harm than good. Ronald Logan, author of A new Paradigm of Development, reminds its readers that even though auto and air traffic enables us to travel at increasing speeds, bringing great convenience to travelers and commuters, it also brings air pollution, noise pollution, traffic congestion, accidental deaths, alienation from nature, etc.[48]

Presented with this quasi-paradoxical situation, Sarkar offers a concept of progress as a society that transcends material and technological development.[27] Moving along the lines of the triple bottom line that analyzes the social, environmental and financial output of a given enterprise, Prout advocates a measure of progress that encompasses the qualities of what could be termed a "fourth bottom line",[23] characterized by the incorporation of a transcendental dimension of human life that focuses on the integrated development of the body, mind and spirit. This fourth bottom line will allow society in general and individuals in particular to develop an expanded sense of identity, allowing for a neohumanist will of inclusion, creating a society where material gains are not the summum bonum of life and allowing space to be created for people to work together in a symbiotic movement that primes for individual and collective welfare through social, cultural, as well as technological development.

Succinctly, Prout acknowledges that the well-being of individuals lies in the development of the collective, and that the collective depends on the development of individuals.[27] Therefore, in order to understand how a progressive society is to be achieved, Sarkar tries to analyze what it means for a human being to grow and develop. He concludes that physical and psychic development render little progress for a human being as they are subject to deterioration and decay.[49] There are multifarious diseases that affect our body and mind, and even if we stay free of them, eventually time will turn all our physical and mental faculties of no use. Sarkar argues that the only aspect of human life that seems to be subject to no change overtime is it’s transcendental nature, the "supra-emotional values" intrinsic to the human mind and which exacerbate human multilateral existence.[49]

"The deepest truths of life are an eternal fountain of inspiration. Spiritual, transpersonal development is a process of expanding one's consciousness to link with the Infinite, to reach a state of deep peace and happiness."[50]

From a Maslownian perspective, Sarkar defends the need to meet physical and mental needs before being able to engage in a journey to find that transcendental nature of the world.[50] The five fundamental principles stem from this idea that society needs to provide for the basic necessities of all human beings so that they can engage in this journey of self-discovery and achieve true progress. Fundamentally, progress in society is the effort through which communities engage in the fulfillment of human needs, with the goal of achieving a transcendental existence. As a goal, transcendence will offer a fourth bottom line which ideally would propel human society into a more peaceful, inclusive and all-round more progressive existence.

Proutist Universal[edit]

Sarkar founded the Ananda Marga organization in 1955 and four years later founded Proutist Universal to advance his social, political and economic ideas. While the organizations have separate goals, members of each interviewed by researcher Helen Crovetto "considered themselves to be members of a large family" headed by Sarkar and could be assigned to either organization.[1]:29 At its peak, Proutist Universal had several international chapters.


Sarkar’s Prout is still an unknown theory to most, as Proutist studies are a scarcely known field of interest.[35] Only recently it is possible to observe serious advocacy efforts developed in its name. Understandably, due to the fact that Prout seeks a paradigm shift in how society is run, all the while based on an understanding of the universe that is not appreciated by most western scholars, Prout is facing some heavy criticism.

 "P. R. Sarkar was a great thinker and a great practitioner. I have chosen to honor him as a great macrohistorian, focusing on his theory of Social Cycles and their implications for world unity and peace… But, given the ethnocentrism of the USA and Europe, Sarkar will not easily make it into textbooks or courses about civilization" Johan Galtung [3]

Intellectuals, like economist Paul Erdman in the Los Angeles Times, described Prout as a "a strange mixture of voodoo historical theories and sound economic analysis"[51]

Nevertheless, important authors activists and thinkers have studied Prout and recognized it as a valid and important socio-economic theory. Ravi Batra was one of the first economists that used the ideas of Prout in his bestseller The Great Depression of 1990. In time, the theory attracted attention of people like Johan Galtung, founder of the UN Institute for Peace studies who claimed that "Sarkar’s theory is far superior to Adam Smith’s or that of Marx." [20]

Some thinkers have proclaimed the pertinence that this theory has in the context of our modern world.[4] In the popular Prout-inspired book After Capitalism: Prout’s Vision for a New World, Noam Chomsky, famous MIT professor and activist, wrote: "Alternative visions are crucial at this moment in history. Prout’s cooperative model of economic democracy, based on cardinal human values and sharing the resources of the planet for the welfare of everyone, deserves our serious consideration." [3] In the same book historian Howard Zinn, author of the best-selling A People’s History of the United States, wrote: "After Capitalism is refreshingly original. It is spiritual and utopian while remaining grounded in reality. Its analysis is intelligent and its vision inspiring." [3]

Leonardo Boff, Brazilian theologian and writer, has summed up what he considers to be the importance of Prout:

"The exceptional importance of the Prout system resides in two fundamental points: its completeness and its viability. The entire system comes from a correct understanding of the human being, personal and collective, and authentic human development…" [3]

Others have showed their appreciation towards Sarkar’s work. Indian former president Giani Zail Singh has said that "P.R. Sarkar was one of the greatest modern philosophers of India." [52]

Oliver W. Markley, professor in the University of Houston has recognized Sarkar's importance for the future, stating that "Sarkar, in his own way, is more than the equal of the great historian Arnold Toynbee. Sarkar not only illuminated the growth and inevitable decline that comes from the ‘acquisitive-Capitalist’ stage in societal evolution that has now deeply infected the West, but offers wise counsel on what to do instead." [53]


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