Monday, October 10, 2011

What does this have to do with economics?

Over the past few decades, our society has become experts at specialization. We have sorted life out into distinct categories. Think of the disciplines at school: science, history, math -- at first blush they seem quite independent of one another.

More recently, systems thinking has emerged on the horizon. Interdisciplinary studies visit life at the crossroads of those once-distinct categories. In our environmental world, we’re now realizing that we cannot “save the panda” without considering the entire ecosystem that supports pandas. Global warming is teaching us (the hard way) that our human impacts on global ecosystems completely transcend the compartmentalized view that humanity held for a while.

Economics, also, is not a stand-alone discipline. At first glance it seems to be about money. Delve deeper -- and recall that the economy is the sum total of transactions between people -- suddenly economics is about all that human society is. Economics is about our values, economics is about our lifestyles, economics is about relationships between nations and relationships between neighbors. (And since our “economy” is failing, what does that say about our values, our lifestyles, our relationships ...)

Our societal accounting system, which should be tracking the health of all our transactions, is missing enormous segments of our population (Cahn’s “throw away people”). It is missing enormous aspects of our transactions (environmental and social impacts). It is missing some of the things that are the very most meaningful to us (“heart and soul” issues).

Thus crafting an economy-in-Transition means to begin to embrace all of these missing aspects once again. That is why, of 10 “What We Can Do” Practical Tool points in this booklet, many do not seem to have much to do with the old distinct category of “money” and “economics.”

Our economic systems of the past have been flawed because they did not capture a full enough picture of human experience. Thus our economic systems in Transition must begin to fold these erstwhile-missing elements back into the system as we create its new version.

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