provocation 222. The larger task of management.
With increasing climate news people are really upset, and under that, scared. We need to find a path away from the brink – and maybe we won’t. Any serious attempt to meet the 1.5 soon enough means radical shutting down the economy. no corporation can agree to that and proposed solutions do not scale sufficiently, Meanwhile capitalism requires, it seems, growth. This means we must seriously cut the activities of society and cannot count on corporations nor the market to achieve the very serious cuts, bordering on social suicide, we need.. Can economics respond? It requires being creative about alternative systems, or is economics trapped, limited, to one system, basically neoliberal economics with some humanizing modifications?
Economics by pushing social and political reality to the outside of the economy makes economics a fig leaf cover story for the the way economy has used society to make money and drove the wrong feedback loops. In the post war period economists talked of the benefits of increasing population: cheap labor in competition with itself and more stressed out consumers. The things that would have attracted the attention any serious manager were ignored. A simple example. The shift from one to two income families. A good manager would have notice d something important was happening. Obviously either incomes per person were effectively less, or needs were increasing. A close look would suggest both were true, and new “ Needs” were created by the necessities of work in modern society. The iPhone. You can’t be a day worker without.
Along with the two income families there was a deep history of first moving work from the home to the factory thus decreasing sociability at home and leaving a wife with drudgery in lonely housekeeping. The “market’ was creating ways to remove the drudgery by new appliances that are now ubiquitous. The washing machine, the toaster, the coffee machine, the vacuum cleaner. And obviously a serious decline in family quality of life. Loss for children, loss of domesticity, family talk replaced with the ubiquitous tv. The simple idea that two must work to achieve what one used to achieve should have been a major red flag.
This of course was to push domesticity toward the market, the place where all human desires can be fulfilled.
The point I want to make is that if we had managers of the whole, troubling signs, many more than the two income family, would have been noticed and acted on. Because the economy was just the narrow working of money for the wealthy those things could be – until now – ignored. (Almost all economics journal articles would be of interest to capital and its strategies but very few a help to labor.)
The future, with climate change and environmental destruction, , automation, poverty and inequality, disease vectors moving north, there is a lot of management to do. Can we get there, or are the “managers” so caught up in making monty they can’t free themselves to act on what is obvious – system failure? If the task of managing the whole would emerge as significant and legitimate, what role could economics play in supporting that move?
Great philosophers have struggled with this problem of individual and community, of freedom and responsibility. We will try to be understanding, from personal lives to system of the whole society, and creative with institutions and technology. And compassionate. If we fail at the first two, so be it, but not the third. Compassion is always possible and near at hand.