Unsustainable beliefs of the ‘theology’ of economics

Mark Anielski:

“I was taught a series of beliefs that formed the ‘theology’ of economics based on neoclassical economic theorems. I was taught to accept, without question, a set of theorems and beliefs in which human beings are reduced to income-constrained, rational consumers and utility maximizers operating within an economy where prices for goods and services and income distribution are determined through the dynamics of supply and demand. The central belief within neoclassical economics is that “growth is good”, that there are no limits to growth and that the key measure of progress is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

I then recognized the flaws and inconsistencies in the theology of neoclassical economics. What if all individuals are not motivated by utility maximization and materialism? Does the model fall apart if people act with compassion and altruism and choose not to consume but would rather live a life of simplicity? What is utility anyway? Is a “util” a unit of happiness? Can happiness be measured and monetized? I realized that markets were never perfect and were often ignorant or blind to the conditions of real assets such as natural capital and ecosystem services. There was no accounting by nations or corporations for the value of natural assets in their system. There was no accounting of risks to the environment from unsustainable economic growth or the damaging effects of industry on the environment.


Moreover, I learned that all nations and governments around the world operate without a full inventory of their human, social, natural and built assets: governments were operating without a balance sheet.


I realized that the reason economists and politicians kept calling for “more economic growth” as the path to sustained and improved wellbeing was because more GDP (more consumption and output of goods and services by business) was required to help manage the growing and unsustainable mountain of debt.


Part of the shift necessary in moving from the current economy of consumption, materialism and eternal economic growth will require increasing awareness among all people about how this “matrix” actually operates and the underlying belief system that sustains the system. In many ways, we are all complicit in keeping this economic matrix alive by our collective state of ignorance. Moreover, we believe in the lie of scarcity and the myth of money.


Economics may ultimately return to a discipline that concerns itself with evaluating the conditions of wellbeing of households in relationship with natural systems, as I imagine Aristotle originally envisioned in Greece“.


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The model of friendly positive revolution is still that of May 68

Rogelio López Cuenca:

“It is enough to note here that the call for sympathy and identification by readers and viewers is based on the selection of images by others who suddenly turn out to be “us”. Notice that the socially acceptable model, our model of friendly positive revolution, is still that of a May 68 reduced to a public exhibition of beauty and youth, two expensive basic products of our consumer economy; the idealised image that our society has of, or dreams about, itself. However, identification obviously does not happen only in terms of physical appearance, rejection of the others, their different air, their exotic look and their decision to look like us, but also as their demands coincide with values that, although we define them as universal, are considered western, of an unquestionable European origin: democracy, human rights, individual freedoms, and so on. If we add to this the repeated emphasis on the importance of the use of new communication technologies and virtual social networks, it would seem that we are witnessing a real conversion to the West. It apparently matters little that the strike forces – if you prefer, the cannon fodder – of these revolutions are being led by impoverished social sectors due to imposed neoliberal policies and the crisis of the global market system“.

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Influences of the Arab Revolts

Chiara Bottici and Benoit Challand:

“Since its Greek inception, direct democracy has been plagued by the dilemma arising from the fact that the participation of some in the deliberations taking place in the public square implied the exclusion of “others” (e.g., women, slaves) who had to take care of (re)production. The new logic of occupation breaks this vicious circle by making the collective care of basic needs not simply a precondition for democracy, but also an expression of democracy itself.
…the protests in Arab countries signified a radical break in terms of a new sense of citizenship based on two general revolutionary principles:
The first is the logic of intersectionality and inclusion: People did not protest for their own sake and interests alone. They were unified and willing to assume the attendant risks for other socially vulnerable segments of society.
The second is what we can call “presentism,” that is, the attempt to reclaim the present time and refuse the alienation of a jobless future and bleak political prospects.
It has become commonplace to say that the Arab revolts and Occupy Wall Street have failed because they did not manage to transform political institutions. This is the wrong stick with which to measure their achievements. By occupying public squares, these protests have occupied the space of democracy and thus taught us that democracy does not begin with the ballot box, but rather with us“.

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Democratization of culture vs sustainable development

Géraldine Dallaire  and François Colbert:

“…the shift that occurred from ‘protecting the culture of developing countries in the context of the economic development of wealthy countries’ to support for high culture through cultural policies.
This goal of democratizing culture was subsequently adopted by the majority of industrialized countries. Underlying this commitment to democratization is the idea that a culture of high “quality,” or the so-called “high arts,” should be shared by all. This “legitimate” culture stands in contrast to cultural products intended for mass consumption (popular art).
When the strategy of democratization of high culture failed to produce the expected results, stakeholders in the cultural sector sought to find other vocations for art.
‘It is hypocritical, detrimental and useless to evoke democratization to justify support for arts institutions and professions’ Can we, today, replace the term ‘democratization’ with the term ‘sustainable development’? The question is an interesting one and worth debating. Is it not dangerous to ‘cry wolf’ too often? By seizing every opportunity and evoking every argument in the book to demand more support from governments, doesn’t the cultural community risk undermining its credibility? Should we perhaps consider a return to the notion of ‘art for art’s sake’? Should we not insist on the intrinsic benefits of art rather than instrumentalizing it by embracing all causes? And, especially, should we not feel a certain malaise at placing the protection of the cultures of poor countries on the same level as support for professional artistic activities in wealthy countries? For only a rich country can really afford to support a diversity of artistic activities carried out by citizens devoted to art on a full-time basis. Should we not simply redefine the notion of ‘cultural  democratization’ to encompass all forms of art, whether high or popular?”

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Normal times have evaporated

Ziauddin Sardar:

“All that was ‘normal’ has now evaporated; we have entered postnormal times, the in between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have not yet emerged, and nothing really makes sense. To have any notion of a viable future, we must grasp the significance of this period of transition which is characterized by three c’s: complexity, chaos and contradictions. These forces propel and sustain postnormal times leading to uncertainty and different types of ignorance that make decision-making problematic and increase risks to individuals, society and the planet.


In the normal scheme of things, we know where we stand. The winters are cold and the summers are hot, the seasons flow–spring forward, fall back like clockwork–in a natural cycle.


In normal times, when things go wrong, as they so often have, we know what to do. We identify and isolate the problem and apply our physical and intellectual resources to come up with a viable answer. The solid foundations and proven theories of our disciplines, from economics and political science to biological and natural sciences, guide us towards a potential solution. The weight and sheer power of intellectual, academic and political orthodoxy ensures that we successfully ride the tiger of change.

Little of this now holds true. Much of what we have taken as normal, conventional and orthodox just does not work anymore. Indeed, normality itself is revealed to be the root of all our ills. Take the current economic crisis, for example…

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Meredith Haaf: Was ist bloß mit der Generation der 25-Jährigen los? Acht Thesen einer Betroffenen

Meredith Haaf:

“1. Meine Generation ist geschwätzig

(…) Selten habe ich in den Medien ein so zutreffendes Bild meiner Generation gesehen. Denn wenn es eins gibt, das sie quer über alle Grenzen von Wohlstand, Bildung oder Ethnie hinweg eint, dann das hemmungslose Mitteilungsbedürfnis.

2. Wir sind nicht fähig, Kritik zu üben

(…) Interaktion findet aber vor allem in Form von Lob statt (…) Erscheint etwas hingegen unangemessen oder langweilig – keine Reaktion.

3. Wir wissen, was auf uns zukommt – und haben: Angst

(…) Und Angst ist alles Mögliche, nur nicht produktiv.

4. Meine Generation hat keine Subkultur

(…) Hipsterkultur grenzt sich gegen nichts ab außer gegen den Hipster von gestern. Sie bringt wenig hervor außer einer Ansammlung von Konsumvorgaben.

5. Wir fürchten die Konfrontation

(…) Wie soll jemand, der glaubt, Konflikt sei etwas Schlechtes, in irgendeiner Form in den gesellschaftlichen Diskurs eingreifen, sich etwa gegen einen rhetorisch gut geschulten Rechtsradikalen wehren? (…) Den Begriff »Opportunist«, das härteste Schimpfwort meiner Eltern, benutzt heute niemand mehr.

6. Wir sind uns nicht zu schade

7. Wir lieben unser gestörtes Körperbild

(…) Unser Verhältnis zum Körper ist geprägt von zwei der jüngeren Zivilisationserrungenschaften: der Essstörung und der Pornoästhetik.

8. Wir denken nicht politisch

Das politische Argument ist in meiner Generation fast ausgestorben, unser Verhältnis zur Demokratie marode (…) Um ein System in Frage zu stellen, braucht man eine Menge Energie. Wir verwenden unsere Energie dafür, unsere Karrieren zu sichern, unsere Bachelorstundenpläne einzuhalten und zwischendurch bei Facebook einzugeben, was wir gerade tun. Wenn wir das nicht ändern, werden wir irgendwann feststellen, dass eine andere, jüngere Generation über uns sagen wird: Sie ließen ihre Welt veröden, weil sie lieber labern wollten“.

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Sobreabundancia de información: “la barbarie del especialismo”

Daniel Tubau:

“(Vannevar) Bush se había dado cuenta de que el aumento de la información en el siglo XX había alcanzado unas proporciones tan desmesuradas que empezaba a resultar imposible manejarla. En siglos anteriores, una persona educada podía conocer gran parte del conocimiento impreso, e incluso leer lo más importante, pero ahora un especialista sólo podía conocer a duras penas su limitado campo de trabajo:

Hay una enorme montaña de investigaciones científicas que no para de crecer pero, paradójicamente, cada vez está más claro que hoy en día nos estamos quedando atrás debido a nuestra creciente especialización. El investigador se encuentra abrumado por los descubrimientos y conclusiones de miles de compañeros, hasta el punto de no disponer de tiempo para aprehender, y mucho menos de recordar, sus diferentes conclusiones a medida que van viendo la luz.

Quizá al lector le haya venido a la cabeza aquél capítulo tan citado de La rebelión de las masas de Ortega y  Gasset titulado “La barbarie del especialismo”, en el que se dice que el mundo se está llenando de especialistas que sólo conocen una parcela miserable de la realidad, y que cada vez son menos las personas que pueden alcanzar una visión global de la cultura:

El especialista es un hombre que, de todo lo que hay que saber para ser un personaje discreto, conoce sólo una ciencia determinada, y aún de esa ciencia sólo conoce bien la pequeña porción en que él es activo investigador. Llega a proclamar como una virtud el no enterarse de cuanto quede fuera del angosto paisaje que especialmente cultiva, y llama diletantismo a la curiosidad por el conjunto del saber“.

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