Foundations for the Economy of a New Civilisation
ECONOMICS, 27 Dec 2010
Here we transcribe the whole of Dr Guillermo Sullings’ lecture from the Second International Symposium organised by the World Centre of Humanist Studies in the virtually interconnected Parks of Study and Reflection. Sullings, an Argentinean Economist, presented his work in the Punta de Vacas Park of Study and Reflection, Mendoza, Argentina.
The challenge of thinking about how a new civilisation would be, can be very attractive because one could get carried away with ones imagination and in theory design a new utopia, like the one imagined by Thomas More, author of the book [Utopia] which gave a name to social ideals. This literary exercise is valid in itself, though it could not go any further than the events shaped on the page with all the naïveté and incongruence of the writer and his era.
It is also possible for someone with a vocation for power to imagine what a society under their control could be like: how trying to have control over the smallest detail of its workings would be. We have seen this in practice, in the field of the economy, in the frustrating experiences of real socialism, which after 70 years accepted its failure and gave in to the old and well known, capitalism.
Maybe we would have to think of the organisation of a new civilisation as a joint construction: the product of the interrelation of numerous different imaginations, many points of view, as well as many aspirations. If this were the case we could discern a certain common direction, a certain sensitivity common to that to which the human being aspires, and based on this; trace in broad strokes a path which could then with time become a more adequate shape, changed and enriched.
When we speak of Economy it is not difficult to identify common denominators that the majority of us want: better wealth distribution, fairness, harmony with the environment, a good quality of life for all, relations of solidarity, good working conditions, and many others. There may be minor differences, but the majority of us would agree on certain fundamental objectives. There is so much coincidence that we feel superfluous even when it comes to topics such as political proposals, because they all say the same.
We could say that differences begin with the question of “how”. How to organise the economy in a society to obtain that fruit which so many of us aspire to. And while we could say that future aspirations are fundamental to our acting in the present leading us to build paths towards them; we can also say that if the question of “how” is left unanswered, often the aspirations end up as compensatory daydreams which do not mobilize transforming actions.
Looking for the roots of what could be the foundation of the economy of a new civilisation, we start to find after the “what”, the “how”. And how can have at least two levels: one being “how should the organisation of the economy be in order to achieve the aspirations of the majority?”. And the other “how should we go about changing the type of organisation that we have today into the new type that we aspire to?”. Because it is possible that between many we agree and find the formula to organise a new economic system which fulfils the proposed requirements but which at the moment of application is rejected, by those who have the power to do so, because it would go against their own interests. And what if those affected by their petty interests are not only minorities, but also important portions of the population?
Maybe we should descend one more step of the ladder to look for the foundations and think of certain general conditions; such as the favourable ground on which to start the changes. Because to build a solid building, the foundations are really important, but underneath those foundations is the ground on which they will rest and if we build the foundations in a swamp, the building will sink. In society this is related to looking at cultural foundations, along with the value system and the collective attitude.
It would be difficult to build an economy based on solidarity within a society where individualism is prevalent. It would be difficult to build an economy based on environmental sustainability and rational consumption within a society where consumerism is its style of life. It would be difficult to effect the necessary political transformations to apply a new economy within a society without commitment towards participation in management and decision making.
Today most of the world works under the rules of globalised capitalism, and this is set up around Darwinian social behaviour, individualism and an eagerness for consumerism. Although there are many people who are starting to have a different type of sensitivity, the mechanism continues to work, and continues to feed the materialist culture. However, this new sensitivity, which is gradually appearing in many people, though not enough to change the system yet; helps highlight the contradictions and it is there that room is made for a ray of hope.
So we could say that as an initial basis for the economy of a new civilization, there needs to be a deepening of the sensitisation in terms of the need for a deep rooted change of paradigms. And although the image of how this new economy that we are striving towards would be does need to be traced, to be as close as possible to the collective image, what is essential is that through this image new cultural values are born, in harmony with the new born sensitivity, to the point that a new social mysticism is developed.
The valuing of reciprocity as a mode of relations between people, and therefore also of economic relationships, could be encouraged as a certain attitude to life, and this would bring a transforming dynamic to relationships. Unlike simple humanitarian solidarity which not only tends to naturalize the system of relationships between the “helpers” and the “helped” but also it is unlikely to establish itself in most people outside of formal rhetoric.
A critical and self-critical attitude towards irrational consumerism should incorporate itself in this new society as a code of social worth. In the decadent culture of materialism, having and exhibiting objects are synonymous with “being a winner”; in a new culture it could start to be synonymous with “being an idiot”.
Selfishness, lack of social responsibility and animosity against taking part in all things collective, an indifference to the pain of others, and many other tendencies, which today are common currency, allow individualists to justify themselves and pass unnoticed; in future this will be recognised as more and more obviously appalling behaviour.
Starting with this first principal, that of a new culture of values, which corresponds to the new sensitivity which is being born, it will be possible to raise the pillars of a new economy.
One of those pillars is the generation of channels of direct democracy in various spaces for peoples participation. Otherwise, how could the people who want to transform the economic system operate under the rules which regulate them? People should be able to participate in the decision making which administers public budgets, and they should be able to take part in the decision making involved in the creation of laws which modify the rules of the game of the economy with the aim of a fairer distribution of wealth. Workers also need to have the power to make decisions about the management and administration of companies. A society with a culture of political involvement, and with a project to transform the future cannot fall on the dead tracks of formal democracies, often associated with concentrated economic power, but needs viable channels of decision making.
Another of the pillars of a new economy, and which has to do with a change of paradigms, is the application of the principle of “equal opportunities for all”. The state should guarantee that everyone will have equal opportunities for their economic development. Then it will be left to each person to decide how to use these opportunities, but they should be available for everyone. Starting by guaranteeing public and free education at all levels for everyone, continuing with financial help, and dismantling the pockets of power which condition economic relations.
Of course, over the pillars of a new economy there should be a whole raft of legislation and new procedures for a mixed human scale economy. Themes such as workers participating in the shared ownership of companies, interest free state banking, tax reforms, shared budgets, and others, will need a detailed technical analysis to work out the viability of its implementation. But this analysis will be difficult for technocrats academically formed with a vision in which money and the economy have been the central value.
It will be necessary, a foundation of an economic science at the service of the human being, to modify the current conception of the economy as “an exact science, with some social interferences”, and to move onto the conception of the economy as a social science, which uses technical instruments. It would no longer be necessary to look for the balance of the market at the cost of social sacrifice but to achieve a social balance based on the principle of equal opportunities and adapting the techniques to such a principle. And it will no longer be possible to gauge growth and development with money as the unit of measure, but to weigh up the indices of human development, putting the economy at the service of such indicators.
Finally, we should say that as global problems need global solutions, and it will not necessarily be the powers which generate them which will take care of solving them, it will be fundamental to be able to count on a level of world resolution for such problems. The extreme poverty of many countries, global warming, the collapse of energy and food supply, and other world scale scourges, cannot be solved country by country, but rather as a whole. The nations which maintain and respect their cultural diversity and independence, should work as a great Universal Human Nation, to coordinate the solving of world problems.
Translated by Viviane Fathimani.
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