For my birthday my best friend, who knows me scarily well, sent me Kalle Lasn & Adbuster’s new book, Meme Wars: the Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics, which is nothing less than a courageous, imaginative, wildly brilliant attack on the fundamental stupidity of our economic model. It offers a comprehensive challenge to the growth based economic agenda, and brings into the conversation all the people currently kept out of it.
A real gleaming ray of light to emanate from Meme Wars is the collective excoriation of Milton Friedman and the “free market” ideology. For years this new religion, the religion of endless profit and endless growth has been replacing any idea it comes across, confusing the world and essentially promoting globally forgetting that other models exist. The unanimous rejection of so destructive a philosophy sets this book, and all the economists and thinkers within, solidly in the realm of legitimate policy proposals. There is no pandering to the powers that be, no apologetics and plea bargaining–these people mean business.
The consensus that climate crisis and economic crisis go hand in hand is so relevant, I am ready to send copies of this book to everyone involved in the “fiscal cliff” talks with the note, “It’s the model, Stupid”. In Chapter IV: Meet the Mavericks, an illuminating essay is offered by Brian Davey, an ecological economist. He begins by writing about the Beyond Growth Conference, held in Germany. Of the conference, and the current climate of those engaged in these discussions he says,
“A few years ago there was difficulty bridging the division between the ecological and environmental politics of the greens and the social and other focuses taken up by
the left and trade unions. But ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transaction to Aid Citizens)
who embrace broad diversity, have been able to lift partisan actors above the fray. While there are still
divisions, they’re handled non-acrimoniously and, as a major union there said, it’s clear there is now
an explicit consensus that social and ecological problems must be worked on together.”
Within these discussions, we are offered a look at indigenous perspectives on what wealth and happiness mean. Overwhelmingly, the idea of the developing world wanting to inhabit a life-style like the industrialized nations is proven false. Davey goes on to discuss Bolivia’s withdrawal from the 2010 Copenhagen climate summit, because of the refusal of powerful nations to discuss the rights of the earth. Broaching the subjects of decolonization and Pachamama, the unity of all phenomena in the universe, and our inherent immortality to the table are nothing shy of boldly radical. Allowing for plurality of ideas, and a true belief that the age of Growth and Fossil Fuel are over is a soundly sustainable way to approach the looming question: What next?
Another maverick economist introduced in Chapter IV is Tarek El Diwany, a London-based financier and forward thinker. Have you ever heard the term, “Islamic Economics”? I hadn’t either. His premise is based on the sin shared by all Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity): Making money on lending money is criminal. Hence, the enshrinement in much of European history of usury as a crime. What El Diwany ended up doing was leaving his early career in the world of high finance and big profits, to work in Islamic financing, ie, interest free financing. His company Zest Advisory, LLP, helped set up an Islamic housing cooperative, in which the liability or success of buying a home is shared cooperatively between the financiers, and those wishing to buy a house. There is no predatory lending, no betting on whether or not the home buyer is going to bust, offering you the chance to sell his debt to another financial interest.
Chapter I: Battle for the Soul of Economics ought to be required reading in any high school or university history class. When do we ever discuss the philosophies of wealth, debt, ownership and class? The conversation here is rich in perspective, and very articulately examined by Michael Hudson, who in five and half pages takes the reader on a journey through economic history, from Hammurabi to the present. He deftly undoes the neo-liberal assertion that planned economies are authoritarian by stating the obvious.
“Every economy is planned. This traditionally has been the function of government. Relinquishing
this role under the slogan of ‘free markets’ leaves it in the hands of banks…
The idea of an independent central bank being ‘the hallmark of democracy’ is a euphemism
for relinquishing the most important policy decision–the ability to create money and credit–to the financial sector”.
The final topic I will touch on here (I am only half way through this tome, and will fill you in later on what lies ahead) is Chapter II: Paradigm Lost.
This is getting into the beans of it, as my British friends say. What is wealth? What is debt? Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef pens a marvelous paper on the subject. His thesis is simple, in a complicated way: Wealth is physical, debt is imaginary. He argues quite well that “the monetary intellectual system is an integral part of modern society’s worldview”. Before the advent of the Industrial Revolution and our addiction to Fossil Fuels, there was no such thing as Growth. It just didn’t happen. His most prescient point is that while wealth is physical, and can only grow so much, debt, which is imaginary, can grow into infinity.
“Since wealth cannot continually grow as fast as debt, the one-to-one
relation between the two will at one point be broken–ie, there must be some
repudiation or cancellation of debt.”
Let’s leave it there, shall we? I’d say this is perfectly full circle. The idea of debt cancellation is how this book really begins, and it’s in perfect timing with Occupy’s new campaign: Rolling Jubilee. In this growing plurality of ideas, we are working towards a Great Remembering.