The Depravity of Economics

Here’s the root problem with economics. To see the problem, you have to drill down to the very first assumpton it makes — at the very bottom of the pile — upon which the whole edifice is built. Let me pose it as a question.

How shall we live? Shall we live a life of taking, or a life of giving?

So let’s refine that a bit. We give and take all the time. We have two ways of doing it. We can …

  1. Give only for the sake of taking
    • That’s hedonistic economics, the consumption model — we work in order to consume — we offer our labour as much as necessary to buy stuff — we give in order to take.
  2. Take only for the sake of giving
    • That’s humanitarian economics, the vocation model — we consume in order to work — we buy as much as we need to follow our calling — we take in order to give.

Economics has obviously opted for #1 — give in order to take. Everyone is expected to give as little as possible (endure the displeasure of work as little as possible) — to obtain income — so they can take as much as possible (enjoy the pleasure of consumption as much as possible). Economics declares that to be rational behaviour — and anyone who fails the test of rationality is left out of the picture. Mainstream economics is about nothing else, and economic policy is about nothing but helping the takers take more.

That’s depraved. But it’s normal, because economics has become normalised in our culture. Freaks of nature, all those rampant obsessive bug-eyed consumers, have become normal and respectable.

Is there any alternative? That’s the same as asking whether consumerism is the only way to live. Of course not. We can live to consume stuff, or live to do stuff. Make up your mind.

Of course we have to consume, just to stay alive. But do we have to grab all we can get, stuff ourselves into oblivion — just because some starry-eyed economist promises that the more we grab the more others will get? (Yes, mainstream economists do indeed claim that.)

Living to do stuff is about vocation. It means to follow your dream, or your passion, or your calling — to limit your consumption because you have something better to do with your life than to be a crap junkie. That’s crazy talk to an economist. “No, no, no. Consume, consumer, consume — consume till you’re too satiated to move. John Stewart Mill has spoken.”

Depraved.

And living to do stuff is also about community. We evolved to do stuff together. In the Christian version that I follow, we live to love/serve our neighbour. But other spiritual traditions, and even secular humanism, share the same precept. Give all you can and take only what you need. There lies true enlightenment.

That’s crazy talk to an economist.

Just because some fool economist says that taking is the same as giving as long as the market god is properly worshipped — so give, and grasp, and suck out all you can because the invisible hand will make everything right — we don’t have to keep falling for that bullshit.

But the propaganda of the economist is relentless — resistance is futile — and it sucks the souls out of or bodies.

Rebel, dammit, and live a real life.

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