Monday, 10 August 2015

A Liberation Economics

Image courtesy of liberation blog
Posted by Thomas Scarborough 
We no longer live in a state of nature. Over the course of centuries, our vocations have become more specialised, and more distanced from our roots.
Our workplaces now at a distance, our knowledge contained in isolated pools, our tools manufactured by others, our potential curbed by managers, and our recovery-time limited by numbers on a wall – among other things – the question is pressing as to how we should best accommodate vast changes as we move through time and through history.

We tend to underestimate the hapless way in which we have managed the change, and the burdens we have brought upon ourselves. Consider the word 'employment' – derived from the Latin implicare, to enfold. We may thus be seen to be enfolded by employers: surrounded, enveloped, even engulfed. The consequences need no introduction: traffic jams, night shifts, equipment malfunctions, red tape, even surrendering our children to strangers. Fatigue, oppressive environments, unrealistic targets, and demands beyond our ability to cope. Nor are we free to be excused: to the point, sometimes, of exhaustion, depression, road rage, divorce, even suicide.

It is the selling of oneself and being sold, judged Karl Marx. In fact long has the debate raged as to whether we merely are marketable goods. However, while there is little doubt that this is so in the case of slavery and forced labour, in the best of situations we may be confused. If we are commodities, we are surely cherished commodities: valued colleagues, graciously accommodated, and thoughtfully motivated. Yet even so, in view of the heavy burdens which most of us bear, it seems hard to deny that we are in fact held – in many respects, at least – in bondage.

But things have been changing. The tide has been turning. Since the advent of modern economic theory, a simplistic view of employment has given way to a far more holistic view – and on this basis I shall, in a moment, suggest a way forward.

Economic theory, in its infancy, assumed that the goal of economics was growth of income per head. While there was growth indeed, there was, too, deepening poverty, social disintegration, and environmental destruction, worldwide. The sums did not translate into general well-being. This led then to much revision – welfare economics being the result. The welfare of individuals now moved to centre stage – where 'welfare' is defined as our being provided with adequate goods and services.

Yet we know that we need more than that. We need freedom, happiness, entertainment, rest, and so much more. The welfare model was (and is) inadequate. With this in mind, a more holistic successor emerged, although this is not yet widely applied. Called the Capability Approach, this blended economic theory aims to maximise workers' capability. That is, economics ought to assist us in becoming rounded human beings in a healthy society.

Let me now combine these thoughts. We see the tendency towards greater holism in economics. Put this together now with the bondages we have described. What is suggested is liberation from these bondages, in a holistic environment – above all, as affects our working lives. Yet how may this be done? Having created the monster, are we able to escape it?

Let us try a bold thought experiment – and turn current economic theories on their head. Supposing that we ought not to work, but to be set free from work – to follow a vocation – where 'vocation' is derived from the Latin vocare, to call. We are called, not driven. Supposing then that, in keeping with this, employees are rewarded with the purpose of releasing them from employment, into their vocations. The same has been practised for centuries by religious movements, which through a stipend set their clergy free from secular pursuits.

The goal of society, then, would be to remove impediments to its citizens' callings. Any number of impediments may (again) be named: traffic jams, red tape, unrealistic targets, as well as many further burdens which lie beyond the workplace. And for a moment thinking more broadly: it is not hard to see that the liberation of the individual may further release an entire population: from gridlock, bureaucracy, or disorganisation, to name but a few examples.

'Freedom' is the watchword – in this case freedom to work Yet unlike other economic theories, such as the Capability Approach, where freedom tends to be seen as extraneous to one's work, freedom in this case is central. Call it a Liberation Economics. The worker is no longer enfolded by an employer. And the individual's ability to serve a vocation to their full potential should permit – even encourage – service outside the confines of a particular working relationship, company, or state – to work for the benefit of the world.

Notice, too, a radical implication. In the workplace, and its environment, not only do we fight for something now. We fight against it. This gives such a Liberation Economics a revolutionary edge – if not a religious edge, with the suggestion of sin, and justice.

Finally, (post) modern economic theories are no longer self-adjusting, as the political economist Adam Smith once envisaged: namely, leave people to themselves, and the rest will follow. Holistic economic theories require the support of the society of which we all are a part.

The Capability Approach, as an example, presupposes constitutional guarantees, human rights legislation, and development policy, among other things. It need hardly be said that a Liberation Economics, here described, is in one sense idealistic. It will only survive in an economic environment which sustains it. In a selfish, competitive environment, it will die. Its principles would need to be protected by legislation which is written into the very groundwork of society.


docmartincohen said...

I was reading about the new economics Bezo style (cf our anonymous - and I think maybe it better stay that way!) post awaiting comments`?

This seems to me to show that 'even' if remuneration is grand, work retains a kind of dark side for many people. What we do, for example, here, is work, yes, but perhaps we need two kinds of terms? ONly one kind of work seems to have evolved as you say.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

It is essentially a radical re-statement of the Capability Approach pioneered by Amartya Sen. The fundamental shift in thinking is more important than the detail. Such a shift, I think, would genuinely set both individuals and society free from enormous wastage. In terms of my Metaphysical Notes, published by The Philosopher, it represents the ultimate relating of who I am to what I do.

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