[p2p-research] Rowan's economics for humanity | Andrew Brown

Ryan rlanham1963 at gmail.com
Mon Nov 16 13:24:39 CET 2009

  Sent to you by Ryan via Google Reader: Rowan's economics for humanity
| Andrew Brown via Environment news, comment and analysis from the
Guardian | guardian.co.uk by Andrew Brown on 11/16/09

Rowan Williams' speech on the human dimensions that an economy needs is
one of the best thing she has done in public life

Rowan Williams' speech to the TUC on the economy is a reminder of just
how clear and thought-provoking he can be. His particular talent is to
overload language, and sometimes it breaks down under the strain. But
sometimes he just tenses up and does its job. Here are the first two

'Economy" is simply the Greek word for "housekeeping". Remembering this
is a useful way of getting things in proportion, so that we don't lose
losing sight of the fact that economics is primarily about the
decisions we make so as to create a habitat that we can actually live
in. We are still haunted by the dogma that the economic
world, "economic realities", economic motivations and so on belong in a
completely different frame of reference from the sort of human
decisions we usually make and from considerations of how we build a
place to live. And to speak about building a place to live, a habitat,
reminds us too that we look for an environment that is
stable, "sustainable" in the popular jargon, a home that we can
reasonably expect will be an asset for the next generation.

Economics understood in abstraction from all this is not just an
academic error: it actually dismantles the walls of the home. Appealing
to the market as an independent authority, unconnected with human
decisions about "housekeeping", has meant in many contexts over the
last few decades a ruinous legacy for heavily indebted countries,
large-scale and costly social disruption even in developed economies;
and, most recently, the extraordinary phenomena of a financial trading
world in which the marketing of toxic debt became the driver of
money-making – until the bluffs were all called at the same time.

This may not be original – the subtitle of E.F. Schumacher's Small is
Beautiful is "Economics as if people mattered" – but it's beautifully

There are good bits later on in the speech, too:

An economic climate based on nothing but calculations of self-interest,
sometimes fed by an amazingly distorted version of Darwinism, doesn't
build a habitat for human beings; at best it builds a sort of fortified
boxroom for paranoiacs (with full electronic services, of course). What
is rather encouraging is how few people, faced with this, seem actually
to want a society composed of people like this. And, despite the alarms
occasionally sounded about younger people's fanatical networking
through electronic media, my sense is that this often goes in practice
with a genuine desire for friendship and isn't in competition with
face-to-face contact.

But it could have done with one more edit to be great. Immediately
after the passage I have just quoted comes this sentence: "We have, to
some extent anyway, looked into the abyss where individualism is
concerned and we know that it won't do." Eww. Here is the bit where he
needs to give a political audience something to bite one, and instead
the whole thing, "to some extent anyway", turns to marshmallow. It's
not enough to make phrases. You have to throw away the phrases that
don't make.

- Religion
- Christianity
- Rowan Williams
- Economic growth (GDP)
- Economic policy
- EthicsAndrew Brown
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