Because economic theory and practice touches much of life in society, its practice has far-reaching implications. In a recent New York Times OP-ED article Thomas Friedman describes the effects of our consumer-driven growth model of economics upon our future.
It appears that we’ve become powerless over our own creation; we serve it, rather than it serving us. We perpetuate the situation, not because we need to, but because we feel compelled to—our success, our socially mediated meaning in life is at stake.
What choice do we have! The pressure of conformity to continue this way is enormous. If we have more, society will approve of us, but if we have less, or choose not to seek more, then disapproval will, most surely, follow. We will be thought of as irrational, weird— not normal! Yet we are told to think of ourselves as free individuals.
Fully adapted to this socially patterned having mode of being in the world causes us to reject alternative ways of relating and living. Most are unwilling to give up their illusory freedom.
As long as we maintain this habitual way of living—as long as we continue to follow the maxims of egoistic capitalism—we are headed in the direction of dissolution, not evolution. We cannot possibly progress as human beings when we are increasing our ego-strength and, correspondingly, relinquishing our uniquely human powers in service to the invisible authority of the economy. Being consumers, not people, of society makes us mere cogs in the machinery. The egoistic economy does serve, but it serves only those pulling the strings; it subverts progress.
A New Economics
We need an economics with the intent to support human progress not merely material growth. It would be an economic system that affords each individual the opportunity to realize his/her human potential. Hence progress, in the sense that I’m using it, is concerned with the present relative to the future. It is about a future that presents a higher state of human existence—a better life for all, not just the few.
It is about forward movement and enabling the birth of something new and beneficial. Instead of an egoistic capitalism we need an ecological/evolutionary economics, one that rests on understanding our total ecology—having a concern for how we use both material energy and human energy.
From an material energy environmental perspective, our economics must rest on the fact that Nature’s processes are cyclical not limitless: We can use it up if the rate of use exceeds Nature’s rate of renewal and/or if the form to which it is transformed is for all intents and purposes unusable. From a human (i.e. psychic) energy environmental perspective, our economics must rest on the fact the development of the self is greatly dependent on the human productivity of the experiences afforded each person in living his/her life. When energy gets dammed up— whether it physical/matter-energy or psychic/human-energy—it can’t help but become toxic. The resultant pollution is unwholesome, and it can’t help but adversely affect life. What we are speaking to is a concern for the total ecology of life.
Such an ecological/evolutionary economic system would recognize that every person survives by exchanging goods, but each truly lives by engaging in activities and interacting with others in a way that contributes to his/her development as a human being. We each need activities and interactions that are vitalizing, not just wealth producing. It’s time to think beyond the bottom line and about business of a different mind!
If there is to be a future that is better for everyone then it must be enacted in the present moment. Just wishing for change isn’t sufficient to realize change. Our reality won’t change until we change how we think about ourselves and about the purpose of business.