The Ethical Economist

  • Excerpted from http://www.democracynow.org/2010/9/22/chilean_economist_manfred_max...
     
  • MANFRED MAX-NEEF: We have reached a point in our evolution in which we know a lot. We know a hell of a lot. But we understand very little. Never in human history has there been such an accumulation of knowledge like in the last 100 years. Look where we are. What was that knowledge for? What did we do with it? And the point is that knowledge alone is not enough, that we lack understanding.

 

  • AMY GOODMAN: What do you think we need to change?

    MANFRED MAX-NEEF: Oh, almost everything. We are simply, dramatically stupid. We act systematically against the evidences we have. We know everything that should not be done. There’s nobody that doesn’t know that. Particularly the big politicians know exactly what should not be done. Yet they do it. After what happened since October 2008, I mean, elementally, you would think what? That now they’re going to change. I mean, they see that the model is not working. The model is even poisonous, you know? Dramatically poisonous. And what is the result, and what happened in the last meeting of the European Union? They are more fundamentalist now than before. So, the only thing you know that you can be sure of, that the next crisis is coming, and it will be twice as much as this one. And for that one, there won’t be enough money anymore. So that will be it. And that is the consequence of systematical human stupidity.

    AMY GOODMAN: What have you learned that gives you hope in the poor communities that you’ve worked in and lived in?

    MANFRED MAX-NEEF: Solidarity of people. You know, respect for the others. Mutual aid. No greed. I mean, that is a value that is absent in poverty. And you would be inclined to think that there should be more there than elsewhere, you know, that greed should be of people who have nothing. No, quite the contrary. The more you have, the more greedy you become, you know. And all this crisis is the product of greed. Greed is the dominant value today in the world. And as long as that persists, well, we are done.

    AMY GOODMAN: And if you’re teaching young economists, the principles you would teach them, what they’d be?

    MANFRED MAX-NEEF: The principles, you know, of an economics which should be are based in five postulates and one fundamental value principle.

    One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.

    Two, development is about people and not about objects.

    Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.

    Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.

    Five, the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.

    And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.

    AMY GOODMAN: Explain that further.

    MANFRED MAX-NEEF: Nothing can be more important than life. And I say life, not human beings, because, for me, the center is the miracle of life in all its manifestations. But if there is an economic interest, I mean, you forget about life, not only of other living beings, but even of human beings. If you go through that list, one after the other, what we have today is exactly the opposite.

    AMY GOODMAN: Go back to three: growth and development. Explain that further.

    MANFRED MAX-NEEF: Growth is a quantitative accumulation. Development is the liberation of creative possibilities. Every living system in nature grows up to a certain point and stops growing. You are not growing anymore, nor he nor me. But we continue developing ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t be dialoguing here now. So development has no limits. Growth has limits. And that is a very big thing, you know, that economists and politicians don’t understand. They are obsessed with the fetish of economic growth.

    And I am working, several decades. Many studies have been done. I’m the author of the threshold hypothesis, which says that in every society there is a period in which economic growth, conventionally understood or no, brings about an improvement of the quality of life. But only up to a point, the threshold point, beyond which, if there is more growth, quality of life begins to decline. And that is the situation in which we are now.

    I mean, your country is the most dramatic example that you can find in which the one percent of the Americans, you know, are doing better and better and better, and the 99 percent is going down, in all sorts of manifestations. People living in their cars now and sleeping in their cars, you know, parked in front of the house that used to be their house—thousands of people. Millions of people, you know, have lost everything. But the speculators that brought about the whole mess, oh, they are fantastically well off. No problem. No problem.

    AMY GOODMAN: So how would you turn that around?

    MANFRED MAX-NEEF: Well, I don’t know how to turn it around. I mean, it will turn around itself, you know, in catastrophic manners. I mean, I don’t understand how there isn’t—millions of people can all of a sudden go out in the streets in the United States and begin destroying things, I don’t know. That may perfectly happen. You know, the situation is absolutely dramatic. Absolutely dramatic. And it is supposed to be the most powerful country in the world, you know, and so on. And even in those conditions, they continue with those stupid wars, you know, and spend more, more, more millions and trillions. Thirteen trillion dollars for the speculators; not one cent for the people who lost their homes! I mean, what kind of logic is that?