Trusteeship is a key component of Gandhian economics that could be called the nonviolent equivalent of ownership. Gandhi borrowed the concept from English law. It means that one is the trustee, not the owner, of one’s possessions, or ultimately one’s talents or capacities. All must be used for the good of society as a whole, which ultimately includes one’s own welfare. Under this system, material goods are not status symbols adding to our individual worth. Trusteeship is an effective way to combat over-consumption. Trusteeship could rebalance the economy and put it in the service of real needs. For Gandhi, owning more than necessary inevitably means taking necessities from others. He wrote, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
People can, in course of time, be educated about trusteeship and persuaded to adopt it, but they should not be coerced into doing so if we want the change to last. The beauty of trusteeship as a tool for change is that it gives us a way to rebalance the economy without forcibly expropriating wealth.
Ultimately trusteeship means that one regards life and all the necessary things needed to sustain it as a trust, not to be used for oneself alone but for the good of the human family. When the economic system functions with detachment, it works hand in hand with the spiritual. As Michael Sonnleitner has shown in Gandhi’s Vocabulary, this is typical of all the Mahatma’s main operational concepts.