Saturday, March 12, 2011

Capitalism's existential crisis

In his 4/4/10 interview called "Capitalism is experiencing an existential crisis" integrally-informed economist Christian Arnsperger says:

"The brilliant and diabolical logic of capitalism plays on the confusion between 'needs' and 'cravings.' That's why we run after consumption and accumulation. Consequently, it's a system that creates repetitive compulsions for most of us - in any case, for those who have the means to treat themselves to certain things - and that simultaneously creates structural inequalities."

This sounds like a Buddhist economic criticism, that craving is the cause of our suffering. And that this cause is facilitated by this particular economic system with the inevitable result in inequality. He goes on:

"One cannot do without the economy, but one can and one will have to do without capitalism. This existential crisis of the economy is a truly essential crisis of capitalism, the symptom of a profound malaise."

Hmm, he is not here proposing that we elevate capitalism via consciousness. He is not an apologist for the types of integral capitalism criticized above. What then could possible replace our much vaunted capitalism that feeds our cravings and causes such suffering?

"I propose the implementation of three kinds of ethos. First, an ethics of willful simplicity, a return towards a much more frugal conviviality ... The second ethos: a radical democratization of our institutions, including our economic institutions, proceeding to the democratization of companies ... And third: an ethos of profound equalitarianism, going so far as 'a universal allocation,' that is, an unconditional base income paid to all citizens."

He argues that this change will not come from the top-down through political leaders but must be a people's movement from the bottom-up. We must take responsibility for our consumption and work toward and create democratic businesses which enact values such as a living wage. Only then will this filter into political legislative support. Part of this worldview change is moving from individualism to an examination of our autonomy.

"The general idea is that we must recreate a critical conviviality. Each person must personally conquer his autonomy; each person must do the work of de-conditioning himself; perform a self-critique of his own complicity with the system. That occurs through an anchoring in the locality and in power-sharing, in an ethos that I call neither communist nor communitarian, but rather a 'communalist' ethos that leads to willful simplicity and radical democratization that result in a relocalization of the economy."

Here we see much of Schumacher and the progressive economics enumerated in that thread. And all from an integrally-informed economist pointing the the next level in our evolution, and it ain't conscious capitalism. I ask this question of all of us, especially me: What are you doing right now to enact this future?

And speaking of some of the "Buddhist" economic ideas above, remember this from the Integral Global Capitalism thread:

See David Loy's essay "Can corporations become enlightened?" in The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory, Wisdom Publications 2003. An excerpt:

"The system has attained a life of its own. We all participate in this process…yet with little or no sense of moral responsibility for what happens, because such responsibility has been diffused so completely that it is lost in the impersonality of the corporate economic system.

"One might argue…that there are good corporations….The same argument can be made for slavery, there were some good slave owners…. This does not refute the fact that slavery was intolerable…. And it is just as intolerable that today the earth's limited resources are being allocated primarily according to what is profitable to transnational corporations.

"My Buddhist conclusion is that transnational corporations are defective economic institutions due to the basic way they are structured…. It is difficult to see how…they can be simply patched up to make them better vehicles for our economic needs. We need to consider whether it is possible to reform them in some fundamental way…or whether they should be replaced by other economic and political institutions" (100-01).

Building on Arnsperberger's notions above about recontextualzing our individualism with a wider communalist ethos, in this paper* he shows the root of neoclassical economics in its view of the individual-social relation. Therein you'll see a quite similar critique to Mark Edwards' in for example "Through AQAL eyes part 5" and "The depth of the exteriors" series. That is, this notion of a dominant monad that intersects with society is rooted in a more individualist rather than P2P intersubjectivity. Arnsperberger doesn't use that terminology but it seems to point in that direction. Arnsperberger sees neo-classical economics inheriting this from Leibniz's monadological metaphysics which will require us to "re-think the way in which human subjectivity works." He will do this as follows:

"A rigorous understanding of the basic methodological stance adopted by economics, namely the idea that social order `emanates' from a bunch of self-centred subjectivities making separate optimizing decisions. Accordingly, in Section 2, I will trace out the analogy that exists between Leibnizian monadology (and its antecedents in Greek and Roman atomism) and modern-day economics. The aim there will be to show that economics, unwittingly but for nevertheless deep ethical reasons, has remained `stuck' in a very specific metaphysical position which virtually no contemporary philosophy of subjectivity any longer acknowledges. Section 3, then, will show how the combination of monadology and empiricism which still prevails in contemporary economics can be overcome by entering an altogether distinct philosophical domain characterized by the primacy of Other over Self (a somewhat hazy terminology which, I gather, will become clearer as we proceed). While this alternative philosophical stance has experienced a surge of interest in recent decades (see, e.g., Descombes 1979, Taylor 1987, Caputo 1993), it has left the social sciences, and particularly economics, completely untouched.

"Carrying the legacy of atomism and monadology right into modern-day social analysis, neo-classical economics ...has remained `stuck' within a metaphysical framework which seeks to explain the harmony of the social whole on the basis of its self-enclosed parts.

"Levinas's central idea is that human subjectivity is constituted a primary relation to otherness.... Levinas suggests a rather different scheme, which consists in showing that individual subjectivity is in fact constituted by, rather than able to represent to itself, the exterior and hence prior otherness of world and other individuals. Of course, all `access' to this exteriority requires an ego, but this ego itself is unable to know itself as an ego by pure reflection, that is, outside of a relation of response to otherness....the constant confrontation with the inescapable otherness of exteriority provides the background of any action, and no individual can ever `step outside' of this confrontation so as to reflect on his or her motivations for action."

I think you'll see much here that fits with kennilingus notions of dominant monads and its lack of P2P intersubjectivity which results in an individualist and capitallistic apologetics. I look forward to the day when Arnsperger directs his modus operandi to kennilinguist conscious capitalism. It seems to date he has put this off to get accepted into the integral edifice and has merely provided scant hints as to his agenda. Hopefully forthcoming.

1 comment:

  1. Also recall from Lessam & Schieffer the paper on the integrated enterprise, a hybrid between social and private entrepreneurships. The notion of the entrepreneur is critical to capitalism but it is again focused on individualism. Arnsperberger is also on this bandwagon in "The social entrepreneurship movement"*:

    "It would be quite wrong, however, to infer from what I have just said that I object to the idea of entrepreneurship. I don’t—in fact, I believe it is the way of the future. What do object to is the idea that capitalist entrepreneurship, which includes consumerism as a 'self entrepreneurial' endeavor, is the final word. In that sense, I share a lot of the optimism that has recently been expressed by various advocates of a new kind of entrepreneurship: social entrepreneurship.

    "The idea of social enterprise...puts faith in the fact that solutions to social problems can emerge from the decentralized interactions of agents on the shop floor, so to speak. Social entrepreneurship is essentially a bottom-up affair. At the same time, there is a rejuvenation of the very notion of an entrepreneur: not just someone who finds new ideas that can help some shareholders or capitalists make a maximum profit, and not just someone who is able to maximally 'fit in' with the requisites of workaholism and consumerism, but someone who undertakes a risky, uncertain task for the benefit of others, measured by the degree in which 'market failures' as well as 'government failures' get resolved. A social entrepreneur is still, in a sense, a 'self-entrepreneur' because s/he engages in his/her activity in part out of personal joy and enthusiasm—but, precisely, this joy and enthusiasm seem often to come 'from somewhere else,' from a kind of a conversion experience (some even use the word 'epiphany') rooted in a newly acquired existential lucidity: life has little meaning in the profit-making treadmill, and the needs expressed on so-called 'underserved markets' cry out through the voices of the poor and the vulnerable. The social entrepreneur is looking for alternative ways of financing and organizing a production or service-provision activity so that s/he can be highly effective in terms of his/her non-market, non-government activity (provide high-quality education to the poor, solve a difficult local environmental problem, etc.) while at least breaking even on the financial side.

    "This is a minimally capitalist market economy with social entrepreneurs and a facilitating government—the dream of front-line social democrats. No wonder it raises enthusiasm. It’s the best chance we ever had of significant post-capitalist advance without revolution and without planning."



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