March 27, 2006

THE ECONOMY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, PART I

In the next few postings, El Cabrero is going to try to follow a thread of thought through the labyrinth regarding the connection-- or lack thereof--between the economy and human happiness. For the last 200 years, people have often noted the disconnect between the two, as when Thomas Carlyle referred to political economy as "the Dismal Science" in 1849.

The most striking thing about the modern and postmodern economy is that, while it is made by people, it dominates them. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted in his Poems, published in 1847,

"Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind."

Hardly a day goes by when we don't hear that layoffs, recessions, budget cuts, lowered wages and living standards, and other regrettable events are desired by no one, yet forced on us by "the economy" or "the market." The Economy is spoken of as if it was an entity separate from and superior to the people who make it and could presumably change it. What was intended to be the servant of humanity has become its master.

As Marx and Engels put it in their Manifesto of 1848, "Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells." While Marx's status as a prophet of the future has suffered, his descriptive abilities are widely acknowledged.

Even more pathetically, like the idolators ridiculed by the Hebrew prophets, many people today who can see and hear and think worship a market god that can't.

A challenge for our time is to try to dethrone the idols and rebuild the connection between the economy and human happiness and well being. Jesus shocked the conventions of his time and place by saying "the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath." He shocked them even more by acting accordingly. We need to say "The economy is made for people and not people for the economy" and act upon that.

(Coming next: the question of happiness. Also, don't forget to scroll down for the weekend's gratuitous animal picture and latest Dimwit Dispatch.)

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

1 comment:

El Ermitano said...

We are watching, in the collapse of Generous Motors and its severance of hapless union workers, another example of the market gods supposedly guiding GM in its policy of “make behemoth, poorly-built vehicles and they will sell indefinitely.” The once-largest employer in the world felt there was no end to the glorious ride. Its workers (both white and blue collared) were convinced that happiness was a guaranteed part of the game.