Spirit Quest

 

Why are so many economic debates
accompanied by obessions  and fanaticism? 
 
27 January 2012
 
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F Skoutajan
True North Perspective
 
Economics,  what is it — a science, art, voodoo, all or none or much more than these? Thomas Carlyle, the 19th century  essayist and historian, coined the term “the dismal science” to identify economics. That designation stuck inasmuch as economists seem prone to create despair and despondency about the global outlook much of the time. The description fits . 
 
Adam Smith, the 18th century historian and economist best know for his classic Wealth of the Nations, believed in an “Invisible Hand” that guides and determines the markets and thus ought not to be interfered with, turning economics into a theology. The late Milton Friedman of the Chicago School and its offspring in Calgary, concurred. Our present government and buisness elite seems to go along with this theology. Their watchword is “Laissez Faire.” Listening to the debate of the US presidential hopefuls leaves little hope as they argue for that kind of “freedom.”
 
Dismal and invisible, what is one to believe or hope for? Not all is bleak, read on. 
 
The late Vaclav Havel, crowned the Czech president  after the Velvet Revolution of 1989,  did not consider himself an economist. He had been a clandestine playright, a much interrogated and imprisoned shit disturber during Czechoslovakia’s 40 year sojourn in the wilderness.  He was not a manager but embodied the spirit of a new age.
 
His economic  advisor was  a young professor at the ancient Charles University of Prague, Tomas Sedlacek  (zed-la-czech) for whose book  Economics Good and Evil, The Quest for Economic Meaning From Gilgamish to Wall Street (Oxford 2011) he wrote the Foreword:
 
“Instead of self-confident  and self-centred answers the author humbly asks  fundamental questions: 
What is economics? 
What is its meaning? 
Where does this new religion, as it is sometimes called, come from? 
What are its possibilities and its limitations and borders, if there are any? 
Why are we so dependent on permanent growing of growth and growth of growing of growth? 
Where did the idea of progress come from and where is it leading us? 
Why are so many economic debates accompanied by obessions  and fanaticism? 
All this must ocurr to a thoughtful person but only rarely do the answers come from economists themselves?”
 
Although I have read books on the subject I regret never having taken a course in economics at university. I found much economics in the theology and history of the Old and New Testaments which I did study. It is after all about humans living with one another and sharing creation. 
 
Sedlacek writes about Adam and Eve committing the Original Sin, which was eating the forbidden fruit, that is, consuming what was not theirs to consume, taking more apples than they were entitled to. Sedlacek awakened in me a new understanding of the Garden of Eden myth and of the original sin that is obvious in the history of humankind and blatantly obvious in our time, namely greed. As George Stigler the  Nobel Prize winning American econimist said, “The chief thing which the common-sense individual wants is not satisfaction for the wants he has, but more, and better wants.”
 
The prophets of the Old Testament, Amos and Hosea, and in the New Testament, John the Baptist and his protege Jesus, as well as his follower the Apostle Paul, addressed this human flaw.
 
In a recent article on the CBC website, Joe Schlesinger, another Czech, writes about the advances in medical science that have added years to the human life span, but also is burdening the working, wage earning, tax paying people with an enormous task to underwrite the health and pension costs of this vastly enlarging family and expensive society. At the same time we are creating what the Chinese call an Emperor Class, that is the offspring of one child families, spoiled brats who believe in their entitlement and want more, ever more, but not only in the orient or only children. Humanity faces a huge problem  that laissez faire can’t solve.
 
Schlesinger writes: “What all this shows is that, as much as the future holds promises of great progress, it also comes with many problems. But that should not daunt us. Problems, after all, have solutions, though solutions need planning — long-term planning, not just the short-term fixes we are addicted to.” In other words, the bottom line can’t be the final goal nor can we leave it to an Invisible Hand.
 
The questions addressed by Sedlacek are not academic but profoundly existential. Original Sin can’t just be forgiven by a genuflection to the Almighty, it needs careful managing if this civilization is to survive and remain civilized rather than a winner-take-all mayhem in very hot and turbulent weather. 
 
I believe that there is a Spirit  in all of Creation that seeks to enlist us in balancing the needs of the passengers and the environment  of Spaceship Earth. We ignore that Spirit at our peril.
 
Hanns F Skoutajan
SQ 27/01/12   

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