In an ideal world, any economy would:
- Limit consumption (the rate of use of resources) to amounts and types of renewable resources that do not contribute to species extinctions.
- Maximize the value embodied in what is consumed.
- Ensure that everyone has access to the minimum amount of resources required to maintain a functioning society (meet basic physical needs and assure basic freedoms; see “Imagining the Future: Meeting Needs”).
To do this,
- Part of the biosphere (the “critical area”) would be permanently conserved to sustain basic planetary functionality, including use by other species.
- Another part of the biosphere (the “needs area”) would be maintained for use by people to meet basic needs.
- The remainder (the “wealth area”) would be available for meeting people's wants.
When people can't meet their needs with available resources, they must either move or trade with people in an area with an excess of resources that can meet their needs. What they trade for the excess must be renewable or reusable (as well as the resources used to make the trade); if this is not possible, then they must move to where it is possible, or where the excess resources exist.
To ensure that the wealth area doesn't infringe on the other areas, the cost of each transaction would be proportional to its ecological footprint, with the total “money” in this “wealth economy” fixed and proportional to the total ecological footprint of the wealth area.