“Economy is to serve people”

Picture: http://www.rightlivelihoodaward.org/laureates/manfred-max-neef/

The founder of the “Barefoot Economics” and “Human-scale Development” — with a groundbreaking definition of human needs — has died at the age of 86 about a year ago (August 8th, 2019). It’s always enriching to look at the essays and books of Manfred Max-Neef. So the read of his latest essay “Philosophy of Ecological Economics” (published 2016) is clear, existential, touching. It is an eye opener for all which doubt that economy is really destined to exploit nature and people.

It’s not possible for me to recount the full argument of Max-Neef. I think it’s revealing that he bases his understanding of a useful economy on a philosophy of nature which is influenced of quantum physics. This allows him to show that Humans are nature and that destroying it is only possible when we deny our conscience of being nature’s conscience. So now you have to read it yourself …

Economy has to serve people

Max-Neef closes his essay with five postulates:

1. “The economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy”.

2. “Development is about people, and not about objects”.

3. “Growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth”.

4. “No economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services”.

5. “The economy is a sub-system of a larger finite system — the biosphere — hence permanent growth is impossible”.

On his way to these postulates Max-Neef formulates sometimes angrily and always stingly precise. The reader will find sentences like: “The life of people has no value if there is oil under their feet. If Irak had been the world´s greatest producer of radishes, and Libia the greatest producer of onions, Saddam Hussein and Muamar Gadafi would still be there!!” Or: “Although neoliberalism is today the dominant economic model in the world, those who consider that an alternative is urgently required, should not aim at the creation of another global model. What is required is diversity.”

Rubbish as development

Max-Neef quotes also a paper of Karl-Henrik Robèrt — founder of The Natural Step — which he wrote in 1991: “In recent years our technology has become so advanced, that a great proportion of human wastes consists of toxic metals and non natural stable compounds that simply cannot in any way be processed by the green cells. The rubbish will remain here forever as a monument to our technological mastership and to our biological ignorance. That we also call development.”

I am a journalist/content producer focusing on sustainable development, digitization, innovation and design-oriented business development. Based in Switzerland.