The Economics Side

08/24/2009 § 2 Comments

I attended a lecture yesterday that coalesced a good number of the economic criticisms that I’ve been reading or hearing about in my foray into sustainability research. This lecture began with the display of the above issue of The Economist. It goes without saying, I was hooked. By the end of his talk, I found that Woody Tasch has not only synthesized a number of apt economic criticisms and formulated a solution, but has offered us some valuable options for catalyzing ‘the slow money’ movement.’ Personally, I’d label it something more like ‘the human capital movement,’ but I see benefit in his aim at the econ crowd.  Anyway, I plan on reading Woody’s book, and so should you. Some of his ideas:

  • The development of Nurture Capital
  • The Food Industry is our starting block (we eat three times a day and food has sustaining, cultural/social, and aesthetic dimensions)
  • New philanthropic institutions that give to community supported agriculture, organic farms, and “collaborative structures for local investors.”

A more complete list is here.

This is Manfred Max-Neef, a chilean economist whose writing was quoted in a sustainability textbook I read recently, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems. Many have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Max-Neef and colleagues developed a similar set of needs but based on existential categories… the below section is from wikipedia:


Being (qualities)

Having (things)

Doing (actions)

Interacting (settings)

subsistence physical and mental health food, shelter, work feed, clothe, rest, work living environment, social setting
protection care, adaptability, autonomy social security, health systems, work co-operate, plan, take care of, help social environment, dwelling
affection respect, sense of humour, generosity, sensuality friendships, family, relationships with nature share, take care of, make love, express emotions privacy, intimate spaces of togetherness
understanding critical capacity, curiosity, intuition literature, teachers, policies, educational analyse, study, meditate, investigate, schools, families, universities, communities,
participation receptiveness, dedication, sense of humour responsibilities, duties, work, rights cooperate, dissent, express opinions associations, parties, churches, neighbourhoods
leisure imagination, tranquillity, spontaneity games, parties, peace of mind day-dream, remember, relax, have fun landscapes, intimate spaces, places to be alone
creation imagination, boldness, inventiveness, curiosity abilities, skills, work, techniques invent, build, design, work, compose, interpret spaces for expression, workshops, audiences
identity sense of belonging, self-esteem, consistency language, religions, work, customs, values, norms get to know oneself, grow, commit oneself places one belongs to, everyday settings
freedom autonomy, passion, self-esteem, open-mindedness equal rights dissent, choose, run risks, develop awareness anywhere

This first quote of Max-Neef’s in Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems reminds me of a famous Sir Thomas Moore quote from Utopia that I found when I was obsessed with The Shins as a college freshman. (The song ‘So Says I’ mentions his name.) Anyway, Max-Neef’s quote seems to be Moore’s quote in an expanded/updated form that applies to the late 20th century and the past 9.75 years. This is dense stuff, maybe some clarity lost in translation? Regardless, read it a few times, it hits the nail on the head:

“‘When the form of production and consumption of goods makes goods an end in themselves, then the alleged satisfaction of a need impairs its capacity to create potential. This creates the conditions for entrenching  an alienated society engaged in a productivity race lacking any sense at all. Life, then, is placed at the service of artifacts, rather than artifacts at the service of life. (1992, 202)'(33)”

Compare to Sir Thomas Moore:

“They marvel much to hear, that gold, in itself so useless, should be everywhere so much sought, that even men, for whom it was made, and by them hath its value, should be less esteemed.” from Utopia book 2.

This stuff has been around a while, we just have made other decisions here and there and we just have to redevelop these ideas to apply to our current reality now that things have gotten out of hand. Check out this paper on William Cobbett. He promoted self-sufficiency in his book Cottage Economy, published way back in 1826.

In the the artists’ effort along these backtracking lines, see Remodernism.

So, back to Max-Neef. These will provide extremely beneficial in analyzing our institutions (cough, cough, health care, cough) with the intention of reformation. The below table appears on page 17 of Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems:

“Box 1.1   Types of Satisfiers to Meet Human Needs

Violators and destructors are claimed to satisfy a given need but actually make its fulfillment impossible while also destroying the fulfillment of other needs. These appear to be related especially to the need for protection (e.g., the arms race).

Pseudo-satisfiers give a misleading sensation of meeting a particular need (e.g., mechanistic medicine that appears to satisfy the need for protection; chauvinistic nationalism that appears to meet the need for identity).

Inhibiting satisfiers impair significantly the possibility of satisfying other needs (e.g., extreme economic competitiveness to meet the need for freedom impairs subsistence, protection, affection, leisure, and participation needs).

Singular satisfiers meet only one need (e.g., welfare programs to provide housing meet the need for subsistence).

Synergistic satisfiers promote and assist in the simultaneous fulfillment of other needs by the manner in which they meet a particular need (e.g., participatory democracy satisfies the need for participation but also for protection, understanding, identity, and freedom).

Source: Max-Neef 1992″

Now, watch him speak!


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