Dr Howard Richards -The Economy of the Future

Profile FB Dr Howard Richards Live Encounters Magazine October 2017

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The Economy of the Future by Dr Howard Richards

Preview of Economic Theory and Community Development by Howard Richards with the Assistance of Gavin Andersson (2018). Published by World Dignity University Press, 412 pages. Foreword by Evelin Lindner.

Dr Howard Richards (born June 10, 1938) is a philosopher of Social Science who worked with the concepts of basic cultural structures and constitutive rules. He holds the title of Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College, a liberal arts college in Richmond, Indiana, USA, the Quaker School where he taught for thirty years. He officially retired from Earlham College, together with his wife Caroline Higgins in 2007, but retained the title of Research Professor of Philosophy. He has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the Stanford Law School, an Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) from Oxford University (UK) and a PhD in Educational Planning from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, Canada. He now teaches at the University of Santiago, Chile, and has ongoing roles at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business program. He is founder of the Peace and Global Studies Program and co-founder of the Business and Nonprofit Management Program at Earlham. Dr Richards is a Catholic, a member of Holy Trinity (Santisima Trinidad) parish in Limache, Chile, and a member of the third order of St. Francis, O.F.S. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Richards_(academic)

Street food Bali photograph by Mark Ulyseas
Street food Bali photograph by Mark Ulyseas

This is not a stand-alone book.  It is a companion volume to several others, some already published, some forthcoming.[1] 

Its central thesis was stated in a somewhat different vocabulary by Evelin Lindner in her book Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict.[2]  To implement today’s worldwide consensus, at least in principle, on human rights, which exists on paper but is not implemented in practice, an ethical sea-change is needed.  The inside-ethics of loyalty and mutual support that historically has mainly existed among people who share kinship ties and ethnic identities, must be amplified to include all of humanity. Making Enemies is a work on international conflict written by a psychologist who is also a medical doctor.  The present companion volume is a work on economic theory written by a philosopher who is also a lawyer. It restates the same thesis as the claim that traditional community values must be synthesized with modern values to create the economy of the future.

Economic Theory and Community Development (ETCD) is driven by an intense passion to end today’s unnecessary suffering of humanity, and the no less heart-wrenching unnecessary suffering of Mother Earth. Such suffering is unnecessary because the rules and practices that privilege the few and exclude the many are culture, not nature.  The same can be said of the laws of capital accumulation that tragically collide with the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology.  Unnecessary suffering is what we see every day on the streets and on television in the world as it is. It does not define the world as it must be.

Mainstream economics has become if not the problem, then certainly a problem that must be solved.   Many heterodox economists are working to end its hegemony.  ETCD emphasizes that mainstream economics is built on the foundation of an ethical and juridical substructure that is an outcome of the past. It is up to us now to build new foundations –a culture of solidarity, a psychology of community-building. Evelin Lindner and Linda Hartling are among those who have shown how recent progress in psychology can contribute to building a world where dignity replaces humiliation. Many others, using many vocabularies and representing many disciplines, could be mentioned.

ETCD is another contribution to facilitating the needed sea-change. It aims to make a dignity economy (or the same rose by some other name) a real possibility by making it a visible alternative. If we succeed, then the public, the academics, and the leaders of organizations will be more aware of better alternatives the next time a crisis forces them to scramble for new ideas. ETCD carefully examines the history and logic of mainstream economics, which it characterizes in Chapter Six as “the imaginary world that holds the real-world captive.” It carefully builds a conceptual apparatus for constructing a new world of dignity and solidarity.

But the main obstacle to ending the unnecessary suffering is not mainstream economic theory as such. It is not as if heterodox theories could save us just by accurately pinpointing exactly how the system works. It is not only that mainstream economics represents the interests of the rich and powerful, who manage to create a science that serves their interests by buying it.[3]  The main problems are not in the science of economics, but rather in the object that the science of economics studies, namely:  the presently existing world. And the main problem about the presently existing world is not that a few rich people control it, but that it is on automatic pilot careening toward self-destruction, leaving even the richest and most powerful people in a position no better than that of first class passengers on a sinking Titanic.

ETCD seeks to raise today’s debates to a higher conceptual and ethical level. Among the tools of the conceptual apparatus it proposes are “unbounded organization” and “moral realism.” The former raises debates about capitalism, socialism, mixed economies, and “none of the above,” to mindfulness open to unlimited possibilities, guided not by a model but by an attitude – an attitude that aligns all sectors in the service of the common good.[4]  Moral realism respects both the diverse moral codes found in the world’s mosaic of human cultures, and universal human rights.[5]  It builds on recent research in anthropology, evolutionary biology and psychology, showing cultures of solidarity to be, although not inevitable, so certainly possible.

The progress of science, in this case the progress of the science of economics, is seen in ETCD as requiring what the French historian of science Gaston Bachelard called ruptures épistémologiques.[6]  Thinking has to be rethought.

For example, when economists argue that economic growth will make future generations richer than we are, and therefore instead of paying the costs of environmental clean-up today, we should concentrate on economic growth and let our richer descendants pay the bill for the damage to the environment, their argument is valid inside their conceptual apparatus.  Inside their way of thinking they cannot possibly be wrong.  The problem is that their way of thinking is insane.  It is out of touch with reality.   It is pertinent to remember Albert Einstein’s advice not to expect solutions to problems from the very thinking that caused the problems in the first place.

If one were to select one reason why the economics of the future cannot be the economics of the present – and there are many – it could well be the end of work as we know it.[7]  In ETCD, studies of employment, the lack of it, and methods for including the excluded,[8]  connect down-to-earth experience with high-flying analysis.  ETCD is a theoretical book full of facts.  It cites facts orthodox economics cannot cope with to stimulate new thinking.  In the de facto accomplishments of today’s best social innovations on the ground, it sees the seeds of a better tomorrow.

Chapter One considers violence and turmoil in South Africa in the light of that country’s National Development Plan (NDP).  It demonstrates that the NDP depends on premises taken from mainstream economic theory that the rest of the book will criticize.  Chapters three, six, and seven, and scattered references throughout the book focus on South Africa’s Community Work Programme (CWP).  The CWP is designed to recycle the social surplus and to mobilize local community resources (using methods similar to “Asset Based Community Development,” ABCD[9]) in ways that provide the chronically unemployed with money and – even more important – dignity.  In CWP consensus decision making at a local level organizes meaningful work, for example caring for penniless victims of AIDS. The principal designers and evaluators of CWP participated in the writing of ETCD.[10]

Chapter Four is devoted to the theory and practice of India’s Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee.  It is now the world’s largest public employment programme.[11]  Chapter Five makes a detailed study of the Swedish Model.  In the seventies, the Swedish Model provided for full employment at high wages by making the government the employer of last resort.[12]

Chapter Eight, the last chapter, discusses the fiscal crisis of the state.  As Jürgen Habermas spelled out in the seventies,[13]  the basic rules of modernity’s legal framework (private property, limited government, government as guarantor of rights) imply that governments are perpetually unable to pay their bills, or they are unable to deliver the goods they are obligated to deliver, or they slide deeper and deeper into debt, or all three.  Concerning the social rights (health, pensions, employment, education) that were incorporated into human rights after World War II, forget about it, or as they say in Brooklyn, fuhgeddaboudit.  Governments may make a brave effort to comply with the global consensus on human rights for years, or decades, but in the end, governments must bow to what is called “economic reality.”

Chapter Eight goes into detail on the nuts and bolts of the fiscal crisis of the state.  It proposes solutions.  Amid all the talk of taxes and debts and budgets, it does not avoid – indeed it emphasizes –  the fundamental need to reconsider the model of Humanity first fully created by the civil law of early modern Europe.  I call it Model HE.  A Human is, in the eyes of the civil law, first and foremost an entity capable of owning property and entering into contracts, free to do as he or she pleases with her or his property, and free to buy or sell, or to not buy or not sell.  Such is the Human Model HE, the homo economicus.  Model HE is in many ways an admirable model, but as Habermas and ETCD underline, it is not a model compatible with the principles that (1) all humans have inalienable social rights, and (2) it is the responsibility of the state to guarantee them.  It is also not compatible with the principle that people have a right to bread and butter.[14]   It implies that people who do not produce their own bread and butter – which nowadays is almost everybody – must sell something to earn their bread and butter. It also implies that nobody has a duty to buy anything from anybody.  Those who find no buyers for what they have to sell get no bread and butter.  As technology makes the labour of more and more people redundant in the labour market, more and more people are not finding buyers for what they have to sell.  Model HE becomes less and less functional.   Therefore, the apostolic gesture of Saint Paul,[15] the Gospel of Jesus, the dharma of Gandhi,[16]and other fictions modernity prided itself on having left behind when it became enlightened, become more and more attractive again.  In more secular terms, we need to build community; we need to expand what Evelin Lindner calls the “inside ethics” of sisterhood and brotherhood, to make it central, not peripheral, to the world economic system.

And not just on paper.   As we speak, one of the authors of ETCD is doing community development in South Africa’s mining belt, redistributing economic surplus (some captured by the state in taxes and royalties, some contributed from private sources) and mobilizing local resources.  The mechanization (and in some cases exhaustion) of the mines is making structural unemployment worse than it already was.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  New livelihoods with dignity and meaning are being created.  Alignment across sectors for the common good is happening.[17] 

[1] Among the forthcoming volumes are Honor Humiliation and Terror by Evelin Lindner; Unbounded Organization: Embracing the Societal Enterprise by Gavin Andersson; and Following Foucault: The Trail of the Fox by Howard Richards, Catherine Odora Hoppers and Evelin Lindner, with a Foreword by Crain Soudien and an Introduction by Magnus Haavelsrud.   Those already published are mentioned in one or another footnote below.

[2] Evelin Lindner (2006).  Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict.  Praeger Security International.

[3] On the buying of science see Richard Cockett (1994).  Thinking the Unthinkable:  Think Tanks and the Economic Counter-Revolution.  London, Fontana Press.

[4] Gavin Anderrson and Howard Richards (2013).  Unbounded Organizing in Community.  Lake Oswego OR, World Dignity University Press.   www.unboundedorganization.org

[5] ETCD in the latter part of Chapter Three.   For a more extensive account of the history of western philosophy seen as ethical construction in the context given by ecology see Howard Richards (1995).   Letters from Quebec.  San Francisco and London, International Scholars Press.  Regarding indigenous cultures see Catherine Hoppers and Howard Richards (2012).  Rethinking Thinking.   Pretoria, University of South Africa.

[6][6] Gaston Bachelard (1937), Le nouvel esprit scientifique.  Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.

[7] Jeremy Rifkin (2014).  The Zero Marginal Cost Society.  New York, Palgrave Macmillan. and other works by the same author.   Rifkin makes proposals for the economy of the future that complement those of ETCD.

[8] Another companion volume is Raff Carmen and Miguel Sobrado (eds.) (2000).  A Future for the Excluded.  London, Zed Books.

[9] https://resources.depaul.edu/abcd-institute/publications

[10] Gavin Andersson as co-author; Malose Langa as co-author of Chapter Seven; Kate Philip, Sidwell Mokguthu and Nkere Skosana as interviewees and reviewers of the texts.

[11] One of its principal designers was Amartya Sen’s co-author Jean Dreze.  The ideas of Sen and Dreze are in many ways similar to those of ETCD.   Chapter Four was reviewed by Ela Gandhi, a granddaughter of the Mahatma and the president of the Gandhi Development Trust.

[12] Chapter Five was reviewed by Dean Bjorn Astrand of Sweden’s Karlstadt University.   An even more detailed study of the Swedish Model is made in Chapters 5 through 8 of Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger (2006).  The Dilemmas of Social Democracies.  Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

[13] Jurgen Habermas (1975).  The Legitimation Crisis.  Boston, Beacon Press.

[14] This point is made in detail in Amartya Sen (1981).   Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation.  Oxford, Clarendon Press.

[15] On Paul’s apostolic gesture, as recently re-emphasized by Alain Badiou and Giorgio Agamben, see Joanna Swanger (2017).  Radical Social Change in the United States.  New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

[16] Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger (2013).   Gandhi and the Future of Economics.  Lake Oswego OR, World Dignity University Press.

[17] For details on one such community development effort see the You Tube video Organising for Good: The Story of Westonaria https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgVF3ODWBv4

© Dr Howard Richards