I think there are alternatives to authoritarian ‘Big Capitalism’ that don’t move us into some authoritarian – and therefore equally dysfunctional – type of ‘communist’ state.
I find it slightly ironic that when in opposition to the extremes of neoliberalism – which actually unleash the worst of powerful, unscrupulous, short-sighted corporate dogs – you can end up strongly supporting Adam Smith’s village ideal – a place without power, where there is social concern and a broader view through an ethic of place.
Ironic because the neoliberals use Adam Smith’s village as an assumption for how the world economy actually works. But theirs is a highly distorted village. Community and the ethics that bind aren’t included in their thinking. They don’t read Smith’s other bits about morality or enlightenment, or look objectively at the power-hunger, short-sightedness, political influence, unenlightened technocratic madness of people who ‘see’ the world simply as numbers and dollars.
There be dragons. I’m reading Iain Pears’ new novel Arcadia at present and he presents – as well as alternatives that avoid the horror – the logical end point of a utilitarian neoliberal-corporate worldview. It is a mix between an Orwellian and a Huxlian horror where utilitarianism has taken us beyond the edge of reason (the rationalisation of the unjust and the insane); justifying human sacrifice for profits, abolishing democracy because it is so highly ‘inefficient’ if you are a corporate wanting to maximise profit for instance. A world where power continues to concentrate and grow, and besides continuing to exploit, turns on the other power elites without checks – a warlord world of corporate beasts with people and land as defined by their ‘utility’ to respective powers. Talk about a life that is nasty, brutish and short – unless you are one of the few elite.
So much depends on at first recognising the politics of power, and then containing that power. A return to ‘Political Economy‘ and ‘Political Ecology‘. The latter (well, both do really) looks deep at what happens in particular places by taking in all factors that influence outcomes – power (e.g. colonial history), ideas & culture & meaning, the state, the land, the relations of people and trade, the influence of the new colonising agents – mega-corporates, etc.
It is so much more interesting – and yet so much less simple – than assuming the world is a village of asocial, all-knowing, selfish but equally power-less individuals, and building complex mathematical models around that complete and utter myth. No scientific or humanities discipline could survive with such an unreal view. Hence the charge that neoliberal economics is a religion of unquestioned catechisms – a religion of immorality and the concentration of power – a bit Satanic when you think of it.
Bringing in the complexity of time and place (rather than reducing everything to formulae) is also so much more real, and from that real position you can think about what we might be in a future real world, and not instantly reject new ideas like Universal Basic Income (UBI), local currencies, etc.
We need to think about different futures that don’t reject the idea of markets, but strongly reject the types of exploitative extractive markets that destroy our place and the values of community. I’ve written previously about Creative vs. Extractive economies here. We want people and land-centred Creative economies with life’s meaning at the core, not Extractive economies where the central ideas are power, control and the taking of ours in the pursuit of me. If economists do not understand the destructive side of markets, or have not been taught the consequences of narrow and arrogant power down through the ages – including in New Zealand’s context, the role of colonisation and its essential premise of utilitarian exploitation of people and place – then they are not equipped to engage in policy discussions, let alone dominate it as has Treasury since 1984. They are not wise, and the institutions that teach them not to think with any breadth or depth are culpable. They are not informed, but at least they can act upon it.
Currently, all that interest and reality within the study and application of political economy and political ecology, community and place, is largely removed from New Zealand’s neoliberal policy making. Everything – all the complexity of meaning about a place and life itself – is reduced to the market. The ‘Lord Market’, accorded a status it neither has the consciousness to desire, nor deserves for its amorality, is then mixed well with the unleashing of those hungry for power, accompanied by a narrow worldview bright in its myopic madness, abundantly inconsistent and vividly clear in its consequences.
The ‘market’ (asocial, all knowing, ‘rational’, selfish & utilitarian weirdness, dominated by the simple-minded) is assumed to be always the arbiter of choice, whether it is about teaching our children or realising the potential of our people and place. Rational Choice Theory is the one policy-making framework because we are assumed to be machines ever-evaluating our probabilities and Net Present Values. And yet there are so many other policy-making frameworks that are much more sophisticated and real that do not presume to put ‘rational agents’ (read soulless automatons) at the centre of things – Paul Sabatier has written extensively about them.
I so want to change how policy is made in New Zealand. Get markets back in their place as useful servants within a defined context that contains power and exploitation, never as master unleashed. We can first roll back all
- the nonsense privatisations;
- centralisations and loss of public participation;
- the reductionism that assumes that you can ‘know’ fully from inside an economic model, inside Wellington, wrapped in a suit;
- corporatisation of science, health, education, land use, utility management etc.;
- get corporate money out of public science, and build a ‘resilient strategic’ rather than ‘technocratic tactical’ framework for public research – systems redesign rather than the “NEW!! WONDERFUL!! GMO!!!”;
- get corporations completely out of our decision making and return it to community;
- rethink the economy as being a servant for people and community, not people as ‘resources’ for the ‘economy’;
- understand that a successful economy is built upon a functioning social system embedded within a functioning environmental system (think otherwise and you will destroy your foundations and burn your walls and ceilings – using your ‘rational’ models);
- build the public sector with stronger links between research, policy, operations and community;
- get rid of hierarchical mechanical ideas that destroy life, and return to complex adaptive systems views where you neither expect certainty nor control. The economy is not a ‘machine’ removed from a social and environmental space – and they in turn are not ‘machines’, reducible to ‘rational’ individual ‘machines’ (always more machines within models – utter, utter myopic madness), measurable and allocatable as ‘resources’.
- Then restore some public departments that research, connect and develop policy so we can start rebuilding our country.
Get our country back from the colonial forces that would take what they can, degrade what they are allowed, influence governments in order to build policies that suit their tiny narrow ends, and pay the taxes they think – in their arrogance and delusions of entitlement – they deserve. This is not a model for any future world.
We really need to shift back to a world view and an ‘eco’nomics where people and land – and all the meanings that relate to our home (our ‘eco’) – are made the centre of things.
We need a shift away from an economics that puts measured utilitarian ‘resources’ (and its companion, injustice), money and unbridled power at the centre of things. That is no ‘eco’ (home) within which the vast majority of us want to live. Nor can it last.
That is a challenge for politics as well as the discipline of economics. Don’t ever vote for a politics that puts this utilitarian market resource view of the world at the centre of things.