Archive for the ‘Human economy’ Category.
A review of David Graeber Debt: The first 5,000 years (Melville House, New York, 2011, 534 pages)
Debt is everywhere today. What is “sovereign debt” and why must Greece pay up, but not the United States? Who decides that the national debt will be repaid through austerity programmes rather than job-creation schemes? Why do the banks get bailed out, while students and home-owners are forced to repay loans? The very word debt speaks of unequal power; and the world economic crisis since 2008 has exposed this inequality more than any other since the 1930s. David Graeber has written a searching book that aims to place our current concerns within the widest possible framework of anthropology and world history. He starts from a question: why do we feel that we must repay our debts? This is a moral issue, not an economic one. In market logic, the cost of bad loans should be met by creditors as a discipline on their lending practices. But paying back debts is good for the powerful few, whereas the mass of debtors have at times sought and won relief from them.
What is debt? According to Graeber, it is an obligation with a figure attached and hence debt is inseparable from money. This book devotes a lot of attention to where money comes from and what it does. States and markets each play a role in its creation, but money’s form has fluctuated historically between virtual credit and metal currency. Above all Graeber’s enquiry is framed by our unequal world as a whole. He resists the temptation to offer quick remedies for collective suffering, since this would be inconsistent with the timescale of his argument. Nevertheless, readers are offered a worldview that clearly takes the institutional pillars of our societies to be rotten and deserving of replacement. It is a timely and popular view. Debt: The first 5,000 years is an international best-seller. The German translation recently sold 30,000 copies in the first two weeks. Continue reading ‘In Rousseau’s footsteps: David Graeber and the anthropology of unequal society’ »
This essay was written in August 2008 for a book that subsequently folded. The timing is important, the month of my retirement from the British academy (but not from university life), a month before the financial crash. I discovered it in my folders just recently and find it to be one of the better expressions of my thinking on the human economy. The owl of Minerva indeed.
In the wake of market fundamentalism
We have lived in the last three decades through an explosion of money, markets and communications and are now beginning to experience the consequences. Whatever else this hectic period of ‘globalization’ brings, it represents a rapid extension of society to a more inclusive level than the twentieth-century norm which identified society with the nation-state. In order to live in the world together, we have to devise new ways of doing things for each other that go beyond our attempts to achieve local self-sufficiency. I call this historical process ‘commoditization’ (Hart 1982), the evolution of methods for making work social, so that it can circulate in the form of commodities. This essay is one such commodity. It does not have to be sold, but it was written with the aim of finding some limited circulation in this form. So far in history commoditization has been closely linked to the extension of society by means of markets and money. But there are other means and they may become more important as a result of the digital revolution in communications — and no doubt other factors. Continue reading ‘Exchange in the human economy’ »
Edited transcription of an improvised talk for a seminar, “Social movements and the solidarity economy”, organized by Jean-Louis Laville and Geoffrey Pleyers, EHESS, Paris, 2 February 2012.
I was asked to report on the project I am involved in which has the same name as The Human Economy book; but, given this course’s focus on social movements, I decided that I should try to insert the perspective on economy I have developed into contemporary political processes and events. I have been writing, editing and researching about alternative approaches to the economy for a long time and blogging about politics more recently, but never the two together. In the last year, as a result of the North African revolutions and then the Occupy movement, I have come to see that the economic and political arguments have to be brought much closer together. Taking our lead from this moment in world history, we need to ask how the work that Jean-Louis and I have long been engaged in – on human economy, économie solidaire, social economy – needs to be modified in order to lend support to what has become a serious political movement at the global level. Continue reading ‘The human economy in a revolutionary moment: political aspects of the economic crisis’ »
A workshop on The Human Economy was held at Goldmiths London on the afternoon of 26th January 2011. It involved all three editors and several contibuting authors and was organized by Professor Catherine Alexander, who is one of them. The editors each spoke about their own involvement in the international project and their vision for it. Antonio David Cattani spoke first, followed by Jean-Louis Laville and then me (part 1, part 2 and part 3, followed by Q&A part 1 and part 2).
The Human Economy: A Citizen’s Guide (Keith Hart, Jean-Louis Laville and Antonio David Cattani Editors, to be published soon by Polity, Cambridge) is the first expression in English of a project that began a decade ago at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. Much of this theoretical and practical work is unknown in the English-speaking world. There has been a series of publications: Brazil, Argentina, France (with support from Belgium and Quebec), Italy, Portugal and now Britain, with a mix of academic researchers, political activists and social networks (both national and international). Our authors are drawn from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States. Maybe Asia next?
The human economy is not a dream. It exists theoretically and practically, but it has been obscured by the economic models and approaches that dominate the media and universities. There are five sections: ‘World society’, ‘Economics with a human face’, ‘Moral politics’, ‘Beyond market and state’ (social economy), ‘New directions’. The movement is from our common predicament in today’s world, through the human economy as a moral and political project, to attempts to build a new institutional synthesis in practice, while always being open to imagining a better world in future. Continue reading ‘Building the human economy’ »
Our moment in history
Magellan’s crew completed the first circumnavigation of the planet some thirty years after Columbus crossed the Atlantic. At much the same time, Bartolomé de las Casas opposed the racial inequality of Spain’s American empire in the name of human unity. We are living through another ‘Magellan moment’. In the second half of the twentieth century, humanity formed a world society – a single interactive social network – for the first time. This was symbolized by several moments, such as when the 60s space race allowed us to see the earth from the outside or when the internet went public in the 90s, announcing the convergence of telephones, television and computers in a digital revolution of communications. Our world too is massively unequal and the voices for human unity are often drowned. Emergent world society is the new human universal – not an idea, but the fact of our shared occupation of the planet crying out for new principles of association. The task of building a global civil society for the twenty-first century, perhaps even a federal world government, is an urgent one.
The failure of the New York investment bank, Lehman Brothers, in September 2008 triggered a financial collapse whose ramifications are still with us. Predictions of the outcome of the ensuing global economic crisis vary widely. Following a sustained equities rally in mid-2009, some commentators now argue that the recession following Lehman’s demise is already over and the free market ready to assume its inexorable rise, while others talk of a double dip recession, persisting debt deflation and a recovery that could take 25 years. Continue reading ‘A human economy for the twenty-first century’ »