Amid the overwhelming despair of the Great Depression of 1930, John Maynard Keynes sincerely hoped that the human race would eventually solve its economic problems. But for at least another 100 years, Keynes wrote: “… we have to pretend to ourselves and to everyone else that beautiful is bad and bad is right; for guilt is useful and justice is not. Avarice, usury and precaution must be our gods a little longer. “
It is this hypothesis, even more than the power of the British crown, against which Mahatma Gandhi militated. The charkha and the rejuvenation of local economies were only methodological details. Gandhi’s main emphasis was on the deep structural violence triggered by this assumption which lies at the heart of modernity.
The year of the crown could still shift Gandhi’s attention as an icon of political protest to Gandhi as a far-sighted economic thinker. In various contexts, there is a buzz about “the nonviolent economy”.
This was in part evident in the intensity of the global coverage of the death of American anarchist philosopher and anthropologist David Graeber. Graeber has been credited with inspiring the Occupy Wall Street movement and coining the evocative term “99% versus 1%” to describe disparities in wealth.
Nonviolent economics shifts the focus from the distribution of wealth to difficult questions about what constitutes value and how it can be measured. It means going beyond calls for stricter regulation of transnational corporations and asking why only money is the store of value. Why are greed and greed treated as legitimate and necessary engines of progress?
Over the past 30 years, there have been two major developments on the world stage that have created hope to overthrow this cult of greed. One was the rise of the free and open source software movement. The other was the rise in valuations of the triple bottom line as well as the emergence of ethical investing as a pervasive phenomenon.
The open software movement brought us the World Wide Web when its creator Tim Berners-Lee refused to patent its protocols. Common knowledge subsequently developed in certain spheres. But overall, as Berners-Lee has often lamented, the web’s potential for democratization and decentralization has been cannibalized by its own children, notably Google, Facebook, etc.
Today’s internet giants not only have an unprecedented concentration of monetary wealth, but also a manipulative power that could undermine sanity and democratic institutions across the world. The documentary The social dilemma shows tech industry insiders explaining how the pursuit of profit created a Frankenstein.
With about one in three dollars in the world managed according to some “socially responsible investment” criteria, this looks like a success. But over the two decades that this trend has taken shape, income disparity has worsened and ecological degradation has reached catastrophic scale. Earth Overshoot Day, which tells us when humans used up the annual renewable resource quota, fell on August 22 of this year. In 2000, Earth Overshoot Day was in October.
Various advocates of “alternative economies” argue that building solidarity economies by encouraging greater localization will challenge the destructive dominant order. Given the experience of such efforts over the past half century, this is unlikely to happen. It is unrealistic to expect that the growth, volume and spread of alternative economic entities will save future generations from suffering. This is because the wickedness of “the fault is right” is wired into world systems – not as a limited conspiracy but as a historic force that has grown stronger over 300 years. So, is there any hope for the emergence of a non-violent economy? Yes.
One, because the covid could serve as a wake-up call to the leaders and infantrymen of the current global disorder. The link between environmental degradation and the proliferation of increasingly deadly pathogens is more widely recognized.
Second, we are incredibly vulnerable as long as value equates to money. If supply chains break down long enough, even millionaires risk starving to death.
Third, it is now more widely recognized that gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic activity is seriously misleading, if not misleading.
When the use of irreplaceable natural resources is counted in GDP, for example fossil fuels and other minerals, the depletion of capital is shown as income. Total spending on medical services, which is added to GDP, tells us nothing about the state of health care.
As long as the GDP, “green accounting” of various types and the human development index are separate measures, the structural violence of the global economic system will continue unabated. Creating a combined measure that tracks social and environmental well-being is now a survival imperative.
Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Mechanism can be applied by others. The real index of progress (GPI) developed by think tank GPI Atlantic is another model to build on. Likewise, Holochain, an American nonprofit, is innovating systems for a regenerative economy based on non-monetary measures and stores of value. Such efforts hold promise because instead of directly attacking the “must is right” hypothesis, they seek to make it less lucrative. They are far from sufficient to overcome an overwhelming historical burden. But they look like a light at the end of our tunnel.
Rajni Bakshi is author and curator of “Ahimsa Conversations”, a YouTube channel.
Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our app now !!