MD economics of want and greed 5

From: Wim Nusselder (
Date: Tue Oct 07 2003 - 21:43:31 BST

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    This subject makes the difference between mere economic thinking (how DO we
    organize the economy) and political economy. Politics being the way in which
    we create (or at least influence) the future of a society as a whole.

    A conventional view of what the economy should be can be found on the Human
    Development Report (HDR) Website of the United Nations Development Program
    'Human development is about much more than the rise or fall of national
    incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop
    their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with
    their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations.
    Development is thus about expanding the choices people have to lead lives
    that they value. And it is thus about much more than economic growth, which
    is only a means -if a very important one -of enlarging people 's choices.

    Fundamental to enlarging these choices is building human capabilities -the
    range of things that people can do or be in life. The most basic
    capabilities for human development are to lead long and healthy lives, to be
    knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard
    of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community.
    Without these, many choices are simply not available, and many opportunities
    in life remain inaccessible.

    This way of looking at development, often forgotten in the immediate concern
    with accumulating commodities and financial wealth, is not new.
    Philosophers, economists and political leaders have long emphasized human
    wellbeing as the purpose, the end, of development. As Aristotle said in
    ancient Greece, "Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking, for it is
    merely useful for the sake of something else."

    In seeking that something else, human development shares a common vision
    with human rights. The goal is human freedom. And in pursuing capabilities
    and realizing rights, this freedom is vital. People must be free to exercise
    their choices and to participate in decision-making that affects their
    lives. Human development and human rights are mutually reinforcing, helping
    to secure the well-being and dignity of all people, building self-respect
    and the respect of others.'

    [End of quote]

    Enumerating and compiling statistics about all the things people can do or
    be in life and setting the highest (apparently) achievable limits as goals
    (like the UNDP HDR's do) is not really a way to describe what the economy
    should be. It tells us very little about how we should organize the
    realizing of those goals.

    Even making 'freedom' our goal in economics and seeking more capabilities
    and more rights as means to realize that goal, misses the point that
    'freedom from' want will always elude human striving if the origin of want
    and wants is not recognized. Without wants we have no identity and our
    existence has no meaning without wanting things ever new things.
    'Freedom to' choose and the right to create one's own life is pointless
    without wants or even without own wants, not copied from others.

    The analysis of the origin of want and wants and of our present economy
    suggests that:
    1) Peoples' needs and interests should not be taken as given. They can be
    and are influenced by what others want and by what they want them to want.
    2) Having more capabilities, more choices available to them and more rights
    to exercise them, people often do not choose and act wisely. More often than
    not they leave the choices to leaders of diverse kinds, who not only take
    into consideration the well-being of their followers but also -and often
    disproportionately- that of themselves.
    3) More often than not people involuntary behave like everybody else,
    following 'normal' patterns of behaviour, because their sense of identity
    and ability to act independently is limited to a small part of their lives.

    I know no conventional view of what the economy should be that takes this
    into account.

    [to be continued]

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