Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cave

I started writing blogs out of a genuine yearning to challenge both my paradigm and the mainstream paradigms of our day. Well today is no different. I'm reading Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E. F. Schumacher (thanks Eric!), a true visionary of his time whose message is even more pertinent today than when he wrote it almost 40 years ago,  and it has sparked countless fires in my mind. 

The light from the flames bounces off my preconceptions, the ways I've learned to view the world, and the shadows betray the alternatives which simmer beneath the surface. Catching the glint of other possibilities I realize we're all lost. We're all gobbling up what we're told without stopping to analyze why we're told it or what will happen if we continue to follow the leader unquestioningly.

Perhaps the most burning question in my mind presently is this: Is our economy serving us (humanity), or are we serving our economy? Which leads to another question: What is the purpose of the economy? 

We hear every day about the Dow Jones Industrial Average, or the S&P 500, or the quarterly statements of massive corporations and the GDPs of nations as if we're all on the same page with what these numbers mean, how they were computed, or why they're even important in the first place. I would argue, along with Schumacher, that we need to collectively stop and size up our situation; namely that we're living in a society shaped by an economic platform which was developed with the best of intentions, but for a far different world than the one in which we currently live. 

This platform admires largess, uniformity, quantitative analysis, and simplicity as it stretches skyward, having convinced all of us that it can reach the goal of unlimited and exponential growth (how to you reach that goal by the way?). Oh, and the wealth created as a by-product will eventually trickle down to those who can't fit onto the platform.

Although this platform made sense as it was sculpted; in an uncrowded world filled with seemingly unlimited and nearly free resources with which to power growth, we can no longer say that any of it actually works. Despite growing GDPs, a new 'study' showing 1/3 of Africa is now in the 'middle class', and trillions of dollars floating around the world, are we (humanity) really better off for it? Has the wealth really trickled down and helped us lead healthier, fuller lives?

Or are we simply serving our economy and forgetting that it is actually supposed to be serving us? With more hungry people today than every before, more pollution in the air, ground and water than our planet can cope with, less topsoil with which to produce our food, and less of every other fuel to which we're addicted, I would say its time to rethink the platform we're standing on. 

As Schumacher puts it: "If [our current] economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh. Are there not indeed enough 'signs of the times' to indicate that a new start is needed?"

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