This is my first systematic attempt at a manifesto for the human economy approach.

You can read it here.  A sample:

Our first basic method is inspired by the ethnographic revolution that launched social and cultural anthropology in the twentieth century. This was the first sustained effort by a class of academics to break out of the ivory tower and join the people where they live in order to discover what they do, think and want. Second, the economy is always plural and people’s experience of it across time and space has more in common that the use of contrastive terms like “capitalism” or “socialism” would suggest. This approach addresses the variety of particular institutions through which most people experience economic life. Third, our aim is to promote economic democracy by helping people to organize and improve their own lives. Our findings must therefore ultimately be presented to the public in a spirit of pragmatism and made understandable for readers’ own practical use.

All of this is compatible with a humanist view of the Human Economy. It must be so, if the economy is to be returned from remote experts to the people who are most affected by it. But humanism by itself is not enough.  The human economy must also be informed by an economic vision capable of bridging the gap between everyday life (what people know) and humanity’s common predicament, which is inevitably impersonal and lies beyond the actor’s point of view (what they don’t know). For this purpose a variety of methods have to be drawn from philosophy, world history, literature and grand social theory. Globalization is irreversible and we have to extend our normal reach to address its contradictions. Emergent world society is the new human universal – not an idea, but the fact of our shared occupation of the planet crying out for new principles of association. We urgently need to make a world where all people can live together. Small may be beautiful and a preference for initiatives grounded in local social realities is unchallengeable, but large-scale bureaucracies, whether governments or business corporations, are also essential if our aspirations for economic democracy are to embrace the movement of the world we live in.

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So part of the ideas set in a human economy approach would be about how to integrate plural scales of social experience-meaningful economic exchange without demanding that one scale must encompass the next one 'down' like a russian doll.

I am thinking about the work that some Brazilian anthropologists are doing where they play with the idea of 'citizenship' in which the model of incorporation is historically the city. So, Mauro Almeida talks about 'florestania' referring to a concept of having rights that are ecologically framed - rights of cohabitation in an ecology, so to speak, hence extending our notion of democracy. And we might have to multiply these 'citizen-equivalent' concepts until we have a really rich view of what living in our world is about just as we might have to pluralise our concept of currency.

I wonder if the current engagement with anarchist ideas (amongst others) may respond to the recognition that there is no one-currency-fits-all solution to be had any longer, combined with a certain romantic view of the self, perhaps? Similarly what is now called cosmopolitanisation - the sense that local and global relations are inextricably mixed up in the social life of every individual who, in turn, can no longer compartmentalise personal roles at neatly separated scales - the home, work, town, nation?

That's great, Huon. I can't add to or embellish it. thanks a million.

Interesting. But I see a contradiction between "no one-currency-fits-all solution" and the individual who "can no longer compartmentalise personal roles at neatly separated scales." Can you have a multi-currency solution without compartmentalization?  I could see the multi-currency solution as a way to re-compartmentalize the life space, reinforcing boundaries that define sacred zones for family, friendship, community, etc. and render them immune to the everything-is-for-sale logic of a the single, universal currency. Is this the intention here?

I think there is a contradiction there, but perhaps a productive one. The key phrase is 'neatly separated scales'. As I pointed out, one way of looking at currency is that it acts as a 'transfer resistor' creating scales including 'inside' versus 'outside'. But what we seem to be witnessing is that these scales are not the stereotypic stacked boxes - nation > city > town > village > family > household. So, we maybe need to rethink social scales without jettisoning the idea of acting at or within different scales.

I could see the multi-currency solution as a way to re-compartmentalize the life space, reinforcing boundaries that define sacred zones for family, friendship, community, etc. and render them immune to the everything-is-for-sale logic of a the single, universal currency. Is this the intention here

That is right to me, but it is one side of the coin, to borrow Keith's idea. As Henri Bergson points out there are two sources of religious life - one is towards closure and sacralisation of what already exists socially and the other involves intuitive openness to what is not already categorised and known. Currency has its open and closed aspects, initially I was thinking about the need to use currency as a way of protecting valuable social relationships, but we could also think of it as doorway through which people can achieve openness to the world from a point of relative stability. 

We know from Zelizer that people "earmark" or compartmentalize normal currency. Sociologists and anthropologists have always approached money from this point of view, how people pursue their own personal and social ends though it. But this misses what money is also good for, the chance to go anywhere and open up to universal notions of monetary community. The system of smart cards I referred to is not yet operational. It is being developed by the inventor of one of the most widespread methods, LETS. Michale Linton calls this open money. He has worked without capital and with a few colleagues on developing the software for a multi-domain name system that would allow closed circuit community currencies to communicate. (I think Twitter is perfect for this sort of thing -- 140 characters per transaction, but no-one has tried it yet). The tension between openness and closure is pervasive, as it is with the OAC. Normal money goes anywhere, but its issue is closed. LETS money is issued by everyone as debt tokens, but it can only circulate among members. The examples I listed in my paper use large-scale bureaucracies to facilitate complex flows and this helps them to achieve more widespread use. It will take time. At present, the big players seem to allow one deviant operation per function: Paypal, eBay etc and occasionally one of them goes mega (Amazon). But to function on any larger scale, you need a public clearing system of the sort that allow banks to settle debts.

The intention of many alternative money and trading circuits is to allow other values than price to enter into them. And the limited evidence suggests this is so. When the money itself is not scarce, people are more relaxed about how much they pay and may give social purposes priority. In some cases, the money itelf almost disappears from the transactions. Compartmentalization already occurs with complementary currencies like air miles and store loyalty cards. The idea is that individuals would be able to join a neighbourhood service exchange, one featuring their church or football club, a manga fan club and so on. In various countries, like Japan and France, circuits link urban consumers with rural producers and support environmentalist discourse. I was once asked to help design a currency for international trade in organic products. The money is here conceived of as being transitional, like the state it should eventually wither away. But again this misses the need for universal community and simply reproduces narrow interest group politics.

The link to religion is palpable (Durkheim, Bergson). I would be happy to take this up further, if anyone is interested.

The link to religion is palpable (Durkheim, Bergson). I would be happy to take this up further, if anyone is interested

Please do.

There is a highly compressed passage in the paper and this comment is going to be similar. I have written several papers or chapters on this point alone.

"So the human economy approach must somehow bridge the gap between Lindiwe’s life and a world driven by forces she cannot know. But, given our preference to anchor economic strategies in people’s everyday lives, their aspirations and their local circumstances, the intellectual movement involved should be conceived of as being one of extension from the local towards the global. We can’t arrive instantly at a view of the whole, but we can engage more concretely with the world that lies beyond the familiar institutions that immediately secure our rights and interests. According to Mauss and Polanyi (especially, but all the founders of modern social theory too), the chief way of achieving social extension has always been through markets and money in a variety of forms.

"Lindiwe could not juggle the plethora of institutional factors in her life without money. Money and markets are intrinsic to our human potential, not anti-human as they are often depicted. Of course they should take forms that are more conducive to economic democracy. Her unanswered questions require a new kind of political education, one grounded in the circumstances she knows well, but also capable of opening up to broader perspectives. It helps to recognize that money and markets span the extremes of infinite expansion and finite closure. As Simmel said, money reflects our human potential to make universal society."

This argument links money directly to Durkheim's vision of religion in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912). Whereas in his early works he was concerned with defining the social as an object of study, here he has an almost neo-Kantian project of showing how individual subjects may find a meaningful relationship with society which is both outside and inside them at the same time. This is how we make a connection between a puny self  (what we know, everyday life) and the great unknowns that threaten it (natural disasters, economic catastrophes, social revolutions, death itself). The answer is religion, conceived of as ritual and belief. The greatest unknown is how we belong to each othe rin society. "We worship society and call it God". The task of the sociologist/anthropologist is to help people see this more clearly.

But religion has become marginal to the government of modern societies and money has taken its place (me, not Durkheim). The economists are like the Vatican in the Middle Ages, covering up the horrors and wounds inflicted by religion and society in practice. Among the dissenting classes (us) there is as little love for money as there is for religion. But we need both. Economic democracy can only flourish when people feel they can take principled responsibility for their own economic actions, as they don't now. Moreover, society is being pushed by money to a global form without corresponding shifts in social insitutions capable of making it serve common interests. Here religion and what we now call education overlap.

In a nutshell, that is my position and it shares quite a lot with what Huon siad more pithily about Bergson.

Hi, Keith. I have been holding off hoping that some other voices would join the conversation. This week is also being largely taken up by rehearsals for a new opera by Japanese composer Saegusa Shigeaki in which the chorus of which I am a member as a small but vital role as the voices of the dead soldiers singing Saegusa's Requiem, a prayer for peace, at the end of the opera. If you would like to learn more about that I will happily ramble on after the opera, Kamikaze, is performed this coming weekend.

But reverting to the matter at hand. Could it be that your analysis would take a fresh turn if it were not grounded in the ontological division between religion and economics but instead considered economics and "religion" (a.k.a. religion as conceived in Western social theory) as competing religions? One might start for example with Clifford Geertz's frequently cited definition of religion as a cultural system: 

(1) a system of symbols which acts (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.

At least at first glance, it seems to me that economics fits the bill. Then, if this premise is accepted, that we have all sorts of interesting questions to ask about why this religion (the one we call "economics") has spread so widely and achieved global dominance of a scope that its predecessors, the great missionary religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam...should we include Communism?) could only begin to approximate. We might then come to see the history of religion in the terms you use to describe economics, the emergence of ideas and institutions that (upside) facilitate social interaction on a wider scale than family and tribe and (downside) either destroy or assimilate the smaller (literally in geographical or demographic terms) religions that stand in their way. 

This might bring us 'round by the way, to Nicholas Nassim Taleb's new book Antifragile, which lumps together what he calls "Soviet-Harvard orthodoxy" about the importance of planning with medieval theologies (Christian and Muslim) and sees both as providing only a modicum of false security before catastrophe strikes. Might be fun to go there.

Keith Hart said:

Sareeta Amrute said:

This is a very good point. If you read the Gandhi-Nehru letters on technology (usefully collected in Anthony Parel's edition of Hind Swaraj), it's clear that the two are articulating two sides of the same coin, namely, self-sufficiency and self-determination. Economy at the scale of the state but in the name of the village (or everyday Indian) is still very much the name of the game. Srirupa Roy's Beyond Belief does a good job on describing this state of affairs.


Thanks for this, Sareeta. The idea of self-reliance (personal autonomy) and self-sufficiency (collective self-sufficiency) constituting a dialectic is interesting and new to me. Certainly both are impossible in any realistic sense. Are you really saying that India since the early 1990s India has been pursuing a strategy combining both of these on the basis of the unity of state and village?

PS. There is a visual editor and an html editor, which you can switch between by clicking on html in the menu bar. It is easier to separate ones comment from the blockquote and avoid continuing the italics if you change to html editor.

Unfortunately, combining self-sufficiency and self-reliance has not come to pass. But politics very much happens in the NAME OF the village even today, what a true synthesis would look like is a very different question. One sign might be in the women's rights discourse organized against rape happening today in India. Though women's rights has been a part of urban movements for a long time, this new round of protests seems to be moving across the urban/rural divide in interesting ways.

@John That's a very interesting analysis. It's always good to be reminded of what Geertz has to say, especially concerning religion. Economics is a formal expression of the diffusion of capitalism in which Anglophone protagonists have been prominent, especially since 1989 when it no longer had any global competitors. Part of the ideological power of economics lies in the way it reproduces what many ordinary English-speakers take to be self-evident, mainly the legacy of utilitarianism. I wouldn't be so sure about citing any major religion as a cultural system, including economics, since they all contain so much diversity. I know a 12th century Iraqi economist, al-Gazali, who could plausibly be said to have invented Adam Smith's free market system 600 years before (and it is possible that Smith read him). I have long argued that anthropologists prefer to think of economics as one thing, usually an outdated stereotype like Homo Economicus, when the history of western economic thought is incredibly varied.

@Sareeta You are right of course that village India persists as a powerful force, not only in ideology, but in fact. The BJP was largely an urban middle class movement and the peasants pushed them out in the last general election. What is the proportion of urban population today? Less than Africa's I would imagine. On the question of crossing the rural/urban divide, I have always held, not just for India, that the idea of cities as the driving force of modernity should be modified by rural-urban linkages and interdependence. For example, I studied a major city in West Africa and concluded that by the 70s at least, West African societies largely took their character from rural populations and traditions. I once got into a debate on the "urban turn" in Indian social history, taking a similar position then. Citydwellers, like the imperialists, get to write most history, but it is ideologically selective and should never be mistaken for social reality.

Thanks for the kind words, Keith. Re the "Is it a system?" question, you might want to take a look at Jacob Lee's new post on Dead Voles. Re the possibility of treating economics as a religion, you might also enjoy this piece by Willem Buiters in the FT to which Jacob pointed us on Facebook. It is an interesting exercise to consider it as a field note and work out its implications in terms of Geertz's definition of religion as a cultural system. Even better perhaps in terms of the following remarks in the same essay,

The religious perspective differs from the common-sensical in that, as already pointed out, it moves beyond the realities of everyday life to wider ones which correct and complete them, and its defining concern is not action upon those wider realities but acceptance of them, faith in them. It differs from the scientific perspective in that it questions the realities of everyday life not out of an institutionalized skepticism which dissolves the world's givenness into a swirl of probabilistic hypotheses, but in terms of what it takes to be wider, nonhypothetical truths. 

The market fundamentalism that Buiters encountered on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England seems to fit the bill precisely.

Not, I think, what you have in mind for the Human Economy but as stalking horse or devil's advocate, this new book titled Human Capitalism might play a useful role in the debate.

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