John Ikerd claims that our current notion of economics is out of date. He feels that our current economic model is based on antiquated ideas that don’t apply to our modern societies and that human and ethical considerations have been largely ignored in place of economic efficiency. It appears that self-interest in business has created a primary goal of maximizing profits instead of supplying the material needs of society in a just manner that would include economic success for everyone, the equitable attainment of wealth and material goods and a work environment that would encompass personal fulfillment. It appears that another agenda has become more prominent; an economic system that is focused on monetary gain and power as a goal in itself.
This agenda has been largely unchallenged by the general public but the injustice rendered by it has been widely felt. The powerful and elite who control the economy make every effort to keep reform from occurring so they will not have to share the riches of the planet. It is time we begin to re-create an economic system that will fulfill human needs in an equitable manner and include a context of ethics and sustainability.
Self-interest in itself is healthy as long as it does not exclude the interests of others as well. The term, enlightened self-interest, has emerged as a new way to describe the relationship between the interests of the self in relation to others and speaks to a context of cooperation, collaboration and a desire for all to succeed. Such a model would support the equal distribution of resources among the world’s populations and discourage the practice of colonialism, thus negating the common rationale for war and economic conflict. Greed and selfishness can be regarded as living in a condition of scarcity, thereby driving the need to acquire and consume more of the Earth’s bounties.
People actually have an affinity toward cooperation or symbiosis as a defining characteristic of their genetic makeup and there has been much current research on this topic. The notion that humans are inherently selfish or unethical is culturally derived and not logical or scientifically verifiable. What needs to be considered is the balance between, self-interests, the interests of society, and what it means to live as an ethical, sentient being.
No one has configured an economic system that works adequately yet but it is time to seriously deliberate on this matter. We must look at models that have had merit historically, incorporate new thinking that includes ecology and ethics, and begin experimenting with new models before our current economic systems fail completely.
I would like to introduce some ideas of Herbert Marcuse related to economic philosophy that I derived from an article by Douglas Kellner. Marcuse wrote an essay, “Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society,” in which he articulated the importance of ecology as a basis for a fruitful human-nature relationship. He believed that societal transformation and the preservation of nature from capitalism and other economic systems that damaged the environment were an essential part of human development. He also stated that human aggression and violence were instrumental in the continued destruction of the natural world and that until humanity resolved its inner conflicts, nature would continue to be exploited.
Marcuse believed that people were integral with nature and that the economic systems that had been created functioned in a way that inhibited a sense of connectedness and wellbeing. He felt that capitalism thwarted the multi–dimensional aspects of human behavior and funneled them into specialized and limited functions that diminished the human spirit. He goes on to say that capitalism creates a framework in which our lifestyles are organized by work and by the production of goods and services for the primary goal of profit. Capitalism fails to adequately address individual growth and development and does not typically promote healthy social and cooperative relationships.
Capitalism also operates as a contradiction in that in order to promote material wellbeing for humanity, nature must be damaged or decimated. Thus, a destructive and even aggressive context constitutes the primary nature of capitalism. This changes the function of people into tools of labor and into conduits of destruction. This context doesn’t meet the needs of the individual or society and instead tends to foster greed, competition and anti-social behavior. These concepts were the basis for Marcuse’s vision of a radical ecology.
It is apparent that our current economic system does not support humanity’s wellbeing as it is based primarily on the motive of profit and the accumulation of material wealth and power. Unfortunately, that power and wealth is in the hands of the elite few who have been able to manipulate the economy to their advantage while knowing that their actions will cause considerable misfortune for a large portion of the global population.
What is needed is a new vision of economics that will foster a reasonable standard of living for all members of society with wealth being distributed as equally as possible. This would constitute a transformation of the present values of self-interest to enlightened self-interest and a genuine desire for all humanity to accomplish their highest visions, aspirations and goals in an economy that would promote cooperation, success and sustainable outcomes.
A system that would accomplish this objective has yet to be formulated and established but core principles of communism and socialism could be attempted if we gave up our primitive and immature values of competition and needing to win at the expense of another. There may be other models to emulate from indigenous cultures as well and new models might emerge as we continue to study human behavior in the context of social systems. As in many other aspects of human behavior, values and attitudes ultimately make or break any type of governing body or institution, regardless of its configuration or intended purpose.
“Definitions of Economics,” Wikipedia, last edited 24 June at 00:57 (UTC),en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_economics. Accessed 30 June 2020.
“About Adam Smith,” Adam Smith Institute, adamsmith.org/about-adam-smith. Accessed 22 May 2020.
Ikerd, John. “Rethinking the Economics of Self-Interests,”Presented at a seminar sponsored by the Organization for Competitive Markets, University of Missouri, Omaha, NE, September 1999, web.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/Rethinking.html. Accessed 31 May 2020.
“What Does Reliable Prosperity Look Like?” Reliable Prosperity, a Project of Ecotrust, roots.loreguide.org/reliable/home.html. 31 May 2020.
Kellner, Douglas. “Marcuse, Liberation and Radical Ecology,”Marcuse, Liberation and Radical Ecology, gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/marcuseliberationradicalecology.pdf. Accessed 31 May 2020.