Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The economy is part of our society not the other way round!

The following is just one paragraph from a very insightful and powerful article by John Ikerd of the University of Missouri. I highly recommend you read the full article here. It is called Rethinking the Economics of Self-Interests. A big thank you to my friend Liviu who alerted me to this article.

It’s economics that is out of date – not small family businesses, caring communities, loving families, nations with integrity, and cultures with values. We have no ethical or moral obligation to accept economics as the final arbitrator of who gets a job and who doesn’t, who stays in business and who doesn’t, what we do in communities and what we don’t, where food is produced and where it is not, whether or not we trade, or of anything else. We don’t have to abandon "good" things from the past just because something "more economically efficient" comes along. We don’t have to accept "bad" things in the future just because they are "more economically efficient" than some "good" alternative. We can choose what we want to keep from the past and what we want to accept in the future. The market is not God – no matter what the economic priests would lead us to believe. Economics is a creation of people. We simply cannot turn loose the thing we created for our benefit and allow it to exploit the very people it was designed to serve. It just doesn’t make any sense.

And rethinking self-interests is indeed what we must do in order to making sustainability simple and attainable.

And more food for thought a great article by Ben Coe called What Truly "Wealthy" People Know about Money.

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  1. I agree with your headline, Ian - the economy is part of our society, not the other way around. But I think John Ikerd, the author of this article, is missing this very point.

    He seems to think economics should somehow have some sort of moral or ethical component. But this isn't the case. Economics has no soul.

    Economics is a tool to help us understand and guide how scarce resources are distributed in a system. We should remember that it's just a tool, not some sort of guiding philosophy.

    It's up to us to decide on our moral and ethical standards, and then economics can help us implement them in practice.

    For example, I've heard economist Bjorn Lomborg argue eloquently that our obsession with climate change is a poor use of our resources. When I start describing this to people, they often roll their eyes as soon as they hear the word "economist", because they assume he's talking about money and greed. This isn't the case. He starts with the moral assumption "How can we help as many people on the planet as possible?", and then applies economics to solving this problem.

    So let's not blame economics or economists for our mess. Let's be willing to take responsibility for setting and living by high moral and ethical standards, so that when we do apply tools like economics (and mathematics, chemistry, physics and the like), we do so effectively and wisely.

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