Here are notes I took on a video of an excellent Master Class speech given by Chilean economist and environmentalist Manfred Max Neef. The talk was given at the International University of Andalucía (Huelva, Spain), on December 1, 2009. Says Wikipedia,
Max Neef, in 1982, won the Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, for his work in poverty-stricken areas of developing countries. He has worked with the problem of development in the Third World, describing the inappropriateness of conventional models of development that have contributed to poverty, debt and ecological disasters for Third World communities.
Here’s a link to the video of the conference http://cuva.uta.cl/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1042:600-a%C3%B1os-de-un-mundo-sin-hambr
Below are the notes I jotted. (I apologize for any glaring errors – I was listening in Spanish and jotting in English.) Well worth reading.
THE WORLD ON A COLLISION COURSE
Manfred Max Neef
When FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization) announced in October  that 1 billion people around the world are hungry, and it would take $30 billion in aid annually to save these lives, at the same time, 6 Central Banks (US, EU, Japan, Canada, England, Switzerland) injected $180 billion into financial markets to save private banks, and have continued to do so, so that, as of September 2009, they’ve injected $17 trillion into the private banks. $17 trillion is enough to save the world from hunger for 600 years. Where is that money now?
(Regarding the law of supply and demand: there’s much more demand for bread than plastic surgery, more need for a cure for malaria than haute couture dresses. We need a referendum: do we want to save lives or banks? There’s never enough for those who have nothing. Always enough for those who have everything.)
This is the most repugnant news I’ve ever heard.
There’s a 4-way convergence:
1. Exponential climate change
2. The end of cheap fuel
3. Diminishment of genetic natural resources: fresh water, energy, forests, fishing, wildlife, subsoil, coral reefs
4. Gigantic speculative bubble – 50 times greater than the real economy (interchange of goods and services)
The causes of this convergence:
1. The predominant paradigm of present-day economics is that we tend toward economic development at any cost, and this stimulates corporate greed.
2. Devouring fossil fuels propels that economic greed
3. Promotion of consumerism as the road to happiness
4. Destruction of traditional cultures and values to improve the industrial economic model
5. Scorn for the planet with the production of waste
There is danger in this for the environment and society. Global warming implies the loss of productive soils, storms, hurricanes, desertification – all having implications for the poorest people on the planet. All systems are dependent on fuels. There will be a further diminishment of species by 50% in the next decades. We have to accept the limits of what the earth can handle. We must move from “efficiency” to “sufficiency,” and solve inequality, because without equality, peaceful solutions are not possible. We must replace the dominant values of greed, competition and accumulation with solidarity, cooperation and compassion. Adjust ourselves to lower levels of production/consumption, favoring local economies. LOOK WITHIN once again, rather than outward.
We’re in the 21st century, trying to solve our problems with 19th century economics, even though we no longer use 19th century physics, biology, anthropology, medicine, etc. Economic “neo-liberalism” is a pseudo religion. It conquered the world in a few decades, which religion [Christianity, Laurie?] couldn’t do in 2000 years.
Myth 1: Globalization is the only way to development. Between 1960-1980, “don’t import what you can produce at home.” Between 1980-2000 this was replaced by deregulation, privatization, elimination of international trade barriers, and full openness to foreign investment. Between ’60-’80, the poorest developing countries grew 2%. Between ’80-’00, they had declined 0.5%.
Myth 2: Greater integration in the global economy is good for the poor. But it causes the poor countries to look outward rather than at their own people’s needs. The 7 richest countries are 50 times richer now than the poorest 7.
Myth 3: Comparative advantage is the best way to ensure prosperity – “free world trade.” Prices can be lower, but costs to society & environment are enormous.
Myth 4: More globalization + more jobs. There are fewer jobs in countries of origin, more sub-employment in the outsourcing countries.
Myth #5: Globalization is democratic and transparent. Decisions about world commerce are made by unelected bureaucrats who work behind closed doors in Geneva [World Monetary Fund - WMF]. Their decisions cannot be appealed. If a country that receiving translational investment has an inconvenient law, it must abolish the law. This affects the very idea of democracy if it has to adapt to the interests of the corporation.
The WMF has no rules about child labor or labor rights. All rules benefit the corporations. Poor countries are prohibited from producing their own generic drugs, for example: they’re obligated to buy from transnationals. Africa has the resources, but can’t produce its own drugs. The WMF is dedicated to ensuring that corporations govern the world. Imports and exports are not between countries but between corporations.
Myth #6: Globalization is unavoidable. ANYTHING arising from politics is reversible. What needs to be done is to take back local decisions that bring consumption back to the local market. A human-scale economy.
New rules could be: - Profits flow back as much as possible to their place of origin. Unsustainable – taking up huge amounts of resources – is transport over huge distances. In Chile, in the huge, state-of-the-art dairy producing region of the country, I unwrapped a butter packet that came from New Zealand. It’s cheaper if you look at it from the point of view of an economist, but prices never tell the truth. The cost of the environmental impact of shipping, to economists, has a value of “0.” Plus, the shipping was subsidized by New Zealand – also a value of “0.” The fact that local producers will go bankrupt – “0.” Same with energy: “This type of [alternative] energy is more expensive.” End of story.
But it’s only “more expensive” depending on how you make the calculation. If you give value to the impacts, that which is deemed “more expensive” becomes cheaper.
- Bring back safeguards to local economies with tariffs and quotas to avoid monopolies.
- Ecological taxes. Taxes on energy use that causes pollution and negative impacts. We’ve created a “fun” society and we pay taxes on that. We should pay taxes on the bad, too. They tax you for working, for investing, but not for dirtying, polluting, destroying – you get to do that for free. You should be taxed for how many kilowatts you use rather than on how much you earn. This would have a formidable impact on world economy. They are doing this in Scandinavian countries. - In Sweden, eco-municipalities receive the benefits of income tax, not the State. You pay your tax and immediately see – and have influence on – how it’s used, in the place where you live.
I propose this new economy for the 21st Century, with 5 principal postulates:
1. The economy should serve the people – the people should not serve the economy.
2. Development has to be with/for people, not objects
3. Growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily need growth.
4. No economy is possible at the exclusion of the services provided by ecosystems.
5. Economy is a subsystem of a great system – the biosphere – and so permanent growth is impossible.
A fundamental principle value I propose to sustain the new economy: No economic interest, under any circumstance, should ever be held above the reverence for life on the planet. But what we have today is exactly the opposite of what I have postulated:
- We’re in a world in which each of us is at the service of economic interests, not the opposite.
- We identify economic development as who has the most cellphones, computers, etc. The human being disappears in the process.
- There is an obsession with growth as the only measure, but growth is a quantitative measure, and development is a liberation of creative potentials. All living systems grow until they stop growing, but they don’t stop developing. We’ve all stopped growing, but we’re in this room [at the conference] because we haven’t stopped developing – more ideas, more information. Growth has limits, development doesn’t.
My hero, a man I consider the greatest thinker, Kenneth Boulding, said, “Anyone who thinks permanent growth is possible on a finite planet is either crazy or an economist.” [Kenneth Ewart Boulding (January 18, 1910 – March 18, 1993) was an economist, educator, peace activist, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher. He was cofounder of General Systems Theory and founder of numerous ongoing intellectual projects in economics and social science. - Wikipedia]
No economy is possible at the exclusion of the services provided by the ecosystem. The economy is a closed system that doesn’t relate to families or nature. Economists think they don’t need to know about pollination. Growth can’t be infinite on a finite planet. If I want to blow up a big balloon, I can’t blow it up bigger than the room I’m in. There is a need for reverence for life. Too many people say, “Life doesn’t mean anything … as long as I can do business.” Millions of children are slaves. According to UNICEF and other organizations, in the 21st century, there are more slaves in the world than when slavery was abolished in the 19th century. Tens of millions of slaves, two-thirds of them children. It doesn’t show up in the news. “With so many kids in the world, who cares?” Why doesn’t it show up? SLAVERY IS GOOD BUSINESS – YOU CAN MAKE GOOD MONEY AT IT.
Don’t expect the solution to come down from Mt. Sinai. It’s up to us. It starts with each one acting according to his/her belief system and loves. Don’t ask yourself, “But what can I do?” That’s defeatist. ANY ONE OF US can do something at any moment that could change history. Examples: Gandhi got sick of being discriminated against as “colored.” He started out being a nobody, a lawyer, but defeated the most powerful nation on earth. Rosa Parks sat in the white section of a bus and said, “I’m too tired to move.” She was [considered] less than nobody, but sparked the civil rights movement. They both acted according to their beliefs. This won’t happen to you if you always adapt to what you don’t believe in. Don’t act according to what’s best for you – advice we all get – but what’s best for all. We all get this bad advice – I’ve given it myself, and I apologize to anyone I’ve ever given it to: “You’ve got to see your goals clearly to know where you want to go.” If you look toward one fixed goal, you won’t see the people you trample on to get there. It’s a miserable life if you do what you “should” rather than what you MUST do. The way you can have a happy life is living according to your beliefs.
Here’s some better advice: Drift and steer in a state of alert/attention. This doesn’t mean you’re at the mercy of the current. Life is like surfing: you can’t decide where you’re going to end up on the beach because you can’t predict what the waves will do. But if you’ve got all your antennae up, if you make judgments about what to do as each condition comes up, you’ll end up somewhere along the beach. Creativity encourages us to create a world in which we are all relatively happy.
People who know where they’re going never discover anything because they’re obsessed with where they’re going. But “obstacles” are all the adventure.
Manfred Max Neef’s bibliography includes:
0.Max-Neef, Manfred A (1992) (pdf). From the Outside Looking In: Experiences in Barefoot Economics. Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. pp. 208. ISBN 1-85649-188-9. http://www.max-neef.cl/download/Max_Neef_From_the_outside_looking_in.pdf. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
0.Max-Neef, Manfred A; Antonio Elizalde, Martin Hopenhayn (1991) (pdf). Human Scale Development. The Apex Press. pp. 114. ISBN 0-945257-35-X. http://www.max-neef.cl/download/Max neef_Human_Scale_development.pdf. Retrieved 2011-02-15.
0.Max-Neef, Manfred A; Paul Ekins (1992). Real-Life Economics: Understanding Wealth Creation. Routledge. pp. 432. ISBN 0-415-07976-4. http://www.gettextbooks.co.uk/search/?isbn=9780415079761. Retrieved 2011-02-15.Laurie Kaniarz is a graduate of Kalamazoo College. She has lived and traveled in Spain and South America and is currently employed by Foods Resource Bank in Kalamazoo. FRB is not an emergency aid organization but works to move people in poor countries toward long-term, sustainable food security.