Par Thierry G. Verhelst
Alternatives beyond dominant economic thinking
Economy is not to be reduced to capitalist logic
Disembedded development programmes are destructive
Peoples' reaction to globalization
Peoples' cultures v. dominant economist culture
Peoples' alternatives in the making ?
Towards a new paradigm in the West ?
Culture and economic transformation
1. ALTERNATIVES BEYOND DOMINANT ECONOMIC THINKING
1.1 A world in search of meaning
Never in history has there been as much wealth created on this planet than over the last 15 years. Yet the gap between rich and poor, far from decreasing, has been widening. The 1996 UNDP World Report on Human Development states that this is not only true at world level - the well known gap between North and South - but also in countries which enjoyed comfortable growth rates and in western countries with an old industrial background. In the USA, 15% of the citizens live below the poverty line. In Europe, there are no less than 25.000.000 unemployed, many of them young. In France, 2.000.000 people resort to food aid. James Speth, director general of UNDP warns that this system of increasing polarization is leading our planet to a situation which is not only unethical but "unhuman". Violence is threatening everywhere, as chairman of the IMF board of governors, Ph. Maystadt, said recently. We are watching the dawnfall of the wellfare state.
Since the Reagan and Thatcher years. Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) and monetarist policies lead to frustration and anger. "Globalization is creating in our democracies an underclass of demoralized and empoverished citizens" observes former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Malnutrition and material poverty is spreading in some countries of the South or remains desparately stable in many others. Even where SAP do achieve positive results in terms of public debt and inflation rates, their social impact remain harmful.
The average US citizen consumes 60 times more than the average Haitian citizens. If all the inhabitants of the planet were to consume like the average European, 5 planets would be required in terms of resources and fresh air and water. Today, 20% of the world inhabitants consume 83% of world resources. 800.000.000 people suffer from malnutrition or hunger. 250 million children are forced to work in factories and on plantations or for prostitution whereas 35.000 children a day are starving from malnutrition or disease.
Finance ends up wielding more power in society that politics. Financial experts (not the enterprising industrialists of the olden days) head big companies. Decisions are taken which do not take into account the quality of the products and of the production process but submit first to goals of short term financial return. What matters is benefit to a few people, with no industrial vision, no real social or environmental concern. Speculation on currencies has become a major occupation and source of income for enterprises. 1.400 billion US$ float daily around the planet, only 10% of which is used for trade or investment for productive purposes. The remainder is available for speculation. Half of that money seems to be of "grey" or outright illegal origin (mafia, drug-trade, corruption money raised through bribes, etc.).
It looks as if our statesmen are unable to conceive and implement alternatives to the present social and ecological drama unfolding in front of us. Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission, laments that there is a vacuum in places where power is exercised and he compares our planet to an airplane rushing through the night without a pilot on board. Even Hans Tietmeyer, chairman of the Deutsche Bundesbank, admits that today "markets govern politicians". Our own friend and former IBRD and US Aid expert David Korten published a seminal book called "When Multinationals Rule the World". He stigmatizes the downfall of democracy caused by the exorbitant power exercised by multinational corporations.
It is urgent to look for ways out of the present impasse, away from the blind triumphalism of neo-conservative economics. A new ideological wall has replaced the Berlin wall : that of money and laissez-faire capitalism. Since politicians seem unable to offer credible solutions, is it not our task, as responsible citizens, to think and to explore other approaches, to become more vocal on the basis of reasonable suggestions for a world more just, more equal, more free, more sustainable ? In short, more human ?
Network Cultures has decided to live up to its own responsibility as an international NGO, no matter how modest in size. Our specific input is the analysis of local cultures. Network Cultures' point of entry in this debate consequently is the exploration of local cultural dynamics in economic life. For the last ten years, we have been pleading against development when it is practised, as a culture-blind catching-up manoeuvre. It confuses progress and westernization. Today, we wish to apply our expertise in socio-cultural affairs by exploring how people, with their cultural differences, react to globalization, resist to dominant economic forces, and possibly even implement elements of alternatives to global capitalism. In the last ten years, we have been struggling, at our level, against the globalization of westernizing development of the third world countries. Today, we wish to struggle against the globalization all over the world, including in the North, of wild capitalism prompted by narrow-minded values of materialism and competition and by rigid monetarist policies which former Chancellor Schmidt does not hesitate to call "monomaniac".
The Research Project 1995-1996 called "Economic Organization and Local Cultures : explorations into the cultural embeddedness of local economic life" is a modest effort in that direction. It was based on the presupposition that, contrary to dominant economic and political thinking, people do not respond everwhere in the same way and unreservedly to the same individual profit maximization logic. In the background paper calling for participation, Network Cultures formulated in this way its basic hypothesis.
1.2 The underlying assumption
Dominant economic thinking is based on the assumption that people everywhere in the world respond to the same profit maximization logic. In this age of ever increasing globalisation, it is no doubt correct to state that profit maximization or the logic of capitalism is spreading all over the world. The universalistic assumptions of dominant economic theory seem to be corroborated.
Yet, more careful scrutiny of the actual behaviour of people at micro level seems to indicate that economy is not to be reduced to the capitalist logic. The narrow materialistic and individualistic market logic does not reign supreme. It is certainly present in most societies if not, by now, in all of them. But that logic is mixed with other rationalities, expectations, interests, values, codes and patterns of behaviour. Religions, ethical norms, power relations and politics, traditional as well as neo-traditional modes of organization, local and specific approaches to time, space, nature, land use, tools, to solidarity and to security, also play a role in peoples' daily behaviour towards money, profit, competition, market, saving, accumulation and redistribution.
Today's world is hybrid. The logic of capitalism is blended with local socio-economic logic, local constraints and ultimately with the sense which the local population gives or tries to give to life. This blend produces original and culture-specific behaviours and modes of organisation.
1.3 Local cultures in a global world
Network Cultures' call for participation was widely distributed and a considerable number of people showed interest. After a careful process of screening, twenty-five participants were identified. Some withdrew along the way because they were not prepared to go through the various "waves" of inputs which our kind of research method involves. Other felt the spirit of the research was questioning too radically the legitimacy of dominant neo-conservative thinking. One prospective author feared that our interest in cultural alternatives present in the local cultures would lead us to idealize the African customs and tradition which he had studied in Zimbabwe. There is a variety of inputs coming from places like England and Chile, China and Cameroun, Belgium and South Africa, Canada, India and Switzerland.
On the whole, it can be stated that the underlying assumption of the Research Project has been corroborated : local cultures - including their modes of social organization and of coping with material needs, their ethical and spiritual values as well as their cosmological and philosophical world views - have not been totally eradicated. They continue to give meaning to economic activity as well as to inspire local forms of organization. There is often "continuity in change".
1.4 Introducing the synthesis
Turning to the synthesis of the various papers produced for this Research Project as well as to the synthesis of the discussions held during the November 13-17, 1996 Workshop in Rixensart (Brussels), we will first report on comments of a more general nature regarding the capitalist logic, its strength but also its harmful effects when left un-checked by other concerns than competition, maximization of profit and freedom for giant corporations (chap. 2).
Its effect on development policies in the countries of the South are dealt with in the next chapter (chap. 3).
People's reaction to it is looked into, as is manifested by "deviant" practices both South and North (chap. 4).
A number of cultural traits in which people's reaction is embedded are then identified (chap. 5).
Whether fullfledged alternatives to the dominant economic system exist is the object of detailed descriptions of a number of practices and institutions studied in places as varied as China and England, Chile and Cameroun (chap. 6).
New approaches in the Western hemisphere to money and banking, and to consumerism, receive attention in the next chapter (chap. 7).
Under the title "Culture and Economic Transformation", the economy is looked at "as if people mattered" and concluding remarks follow regarding the embeddedness of the economy in local cultures beyond materialistic and culturalistic determinism (chap. 8).
2. ECONOMY IS NOT TO BE REDUCED TO CAPITALIST LOGIC
Society and the way it is economically structured is not an overwhelming act of nature, nor a predetermined "act of God", but an act of men"
2.1 Society is not just "an economy"
Some researchers, hailing from the Northern hemisphere as well as from Latin America, Africa and Asia, observe that the notion of "economy" is simply absent from societies which have retained a strong link with their own holistic tradition. In such societies, "economic" activities are seen as social activities. Today, however, dominant thinking tends to look at society as "an economy". This is new. Even though markets and merchants have been in existence for a long time in different places, never (before 1830-1850) was there an internally integrated market capable of ruling all aspects of life. It led to the habit of looking at society primarily from an economic point of view. This modern habit tends to reduce people and nature to their potential for the accumulation of money.
Yet, people want to be treated as being worth on their own terms, independently of their usefulness to others. They do not accept to be judged according to what they can be used for.
Alas, complex social and spiritual processes, such as those unfurling in Ghanaian villages, are brutally "reduced to economics and matter" (Akpokavie). Society is seen and managed as if it were one gigantic market place (Carmen).
Yet, it is an illusion to think that economic bonds alone can sustain human beings. People need economic activities that support social bonds which are more than economic (Santinkaro).
A more humane and at the same time more realistic approach is to think of society as consisting of people who, among many other pursuits (e.g. social relations, religious experiences, learning, political action) are "also" engaged into processes of production and consumption of goods and services.
2.2 Limits to competition
Other participants delve into the presently dominant economic thinking. Its triumph since the collapse of communism in Europe led to unprecedented levels of "economism", an obsession with things related to market and competition. One author referred to the Group of Lisbon's "Limits to Competition" manifesto (1995). Headed by Prof. Riccardo Petrella, this group agrees that competitiveness has been an important ingredient of material improvement and of technological innovation in the recent past. It is a driving force behind new levels of human achievement.
Under the sway of new economic thinking however, competition has more and more taken on the character of a test of strength between rivals. Its bellicose language ("beating the competitor; invade and control markets") indicates its perverse propensity to seek not just success over but elimination of the competitor.
From a means, competition became an end in itself. From a modality (a manner in which economic actors tend to behave on the market), competition has become an objective. It generates exclusion and legitimizes at world level the fact that "right" is on the side of the technologically, industrially and commercially strongest (CARMEN).
This "gospel of competitiveness" according to Petrella can be captured in four basic principles :
- We are engaged in a technological, industrial and economic war on a world scale;
- Competition is the sole guarantee for survival ("not to be killed");
- Outside competition, there cannot be any economic or social well-being nor any independence or autonomy;
- The principal role of States is to create an environment which is favourable to enterprise so as to become or remain competitive.
2.3 "Civilized Business" steeped in ethics
In sharp contrast to this, business was steeped in ethics, for example, among "Old Believers" in 19th century Russia : merchants regarded their activity as a mission commanded by God. Frugality, carefulness about the use of wealth and of nature, modesty were highly respected. Their economic activity was seen as part of life and hence guided by the same principles and the same ethic than life in general. These Russians had a feeling of obligation towards the Russian fatherland. The Russian merchant and art sponsor, founder of the world famous Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow used to put it this way : "what you acquire from society, return to society !". Socialist criticism of capitalism borrowed its spiritual energy from this engrained hostility to the new bourgeois, egocentric, business culture (APRESSYAN). Yet, it degenerated into bureaucracy and parasitism under soviet rule. In recent days, "The Round Table of Russian Business" (RTRB) promotes an ethical business code which amounts to a new culture of mutual openness, trust, civil responsibility and "civilized business". This Charter was signed by many businessmen who oppose self-seeking corruption by former communist cadres, illegality, mafia-violence and general decay of moral standards under Boris Eltsine's "shock therapy". It would appear that they refuse to confuse the healthy aspiration of Russians to manage their lives creatively and by themselves, with a brutal struggle for life based on the survival of the fittest only.
On another continent, the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, which was launched the very day that Mexico joined NAFTA's common market, is but one voice among many others which attempts to draw attention to the on-going social and ecological tragedy.
Participants hailing from Thailand offer examples of destructive practices when economics is severed from social values and spiritual awareness. Ajarn Buddhadasa, a famous monk and promotor of "Dhammic Socialism" stresses that any social and economic system must restrain selfishness. Economic activities promoted by Buddhist monks and Buddhist-inspired NGOs or institutions consider unselfishness as essential to any human culture. They value moderation and a sense of balance in any human undertaking, including economic. Consequently, they tend to consider capitalism as a non-culture (Santikaro).
The present "laissez-faire" policy, combined with the urge to maximize profit, to increase consumption and to compete, has led to huge income differentiation. It jeopardizes the freedom and dignity of a growing number of people.
2.4 A self-destructive course
From North America and Western Europe, voices are heard which warn against free market mechanisms' propensity to self-destruction. As Susan George puts it "Paradoxically, if we want to protect the market which renders us so many services, it is urgent if not vital that we should protect it to prevent it from going into a self-destructive spiral which will carry us all in its wake". Indeed, the more competition there is, the more exclusion there will be, until competition will eradicate ... competitors". Others warn against threats to the social fabric of northern societies.
The market leaves out all those who are not "in" (the market), i.e. those who do not have the money to consume. The market also ignores human needs which cannot be bought (affection, participation, dignity, identity). The present economic system destroys community. This is the message heard from people like David Korten, Ross Dobson, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ted Trainer, Susan Hunt, Serge Latouche, John Cobb, Herman Daly, and the like. E.F. Schumacher and Ivan Illich may be among their not-so-distant references.
2.5 The case of genetic engineering and "corporate libertarianism"
There is perhaps no more illuminating and frightening illustration of the danger of neo-conservative economics than the development of biotechnology. The control over life-forms and over their genetic information through "intellectual property rights" (legal ownership rights over living organisms for purposes of exploitation/replication pursued so as to increase economic gain) allow a few multinational corporations to exercise a kind of imperialism reminiscent of the Enclosure Movement in English history (Kneen). Now, however, it is not only land that is enclosed and privatized, but life itself. Sharing with economists a linear, materialist and determinist view of progress, biotechnologists see not limits to what can be "improved" and how. Growth is the foundation of what is deemed progress "To accept the reality of physical (or ethical) limits would be to accept the need to limit greed and acquisition in favour of economic justice and sufficiency" writes former World Bank expert David Korten in his recent best seller "When Corporations Rule the World". From crop seeds to human babies, biotechnology promotes not a "life culture" but a utilitarian culture of commerce and profit, and of domination over nature and over life processes. The tragic danger of biotech's "life industry" is that it knows of no limits. It seeks constant prolongation of life, in short, a kind of machine-and-man-made immortality. Total control of life excludes the sense of limitation. "Yet to accept one's limits and to take responsibility for it, is the condition of one's fertility" said one participant. The same avails regarding death, this ultimate limit of all humans. Our calling is not to conquer death but to assume it and to accept that it is part of life.
Genetic engineering practised by multinationals is based on the deliberate violation of species boundaries and organism integrity. Life is not something to which markets have to accomodate themselves. To those multinationals, it would seem that life is simply seen as a construct that would be better were it deliberately formed to meet the requirements of the market. Monsanto's chairman has re-assured his shareholders in the wake of public concern and protest : "there is no if's about our unrelenting pressure to speed successful new products to commercialization". Any limit to corporate freedom is accused of leading itself and the Nation to being "uncompetitive". Yet, public scepticism about the merits and safety of biotechnology is well founded. Much of what corporations produce as evidence of their claim is the outcome of a self-serving system relying on financial interest and career promotion among peers.
In biotechnology as in other fields, the rights and freedoms of corporations are placed ahead of the rights and freedom of individuals. David Korten labelled this exhorbitant trend as "corporate libertarianism". The practice of science as an industrial activity and the capture of public science, including biotechnology by transnational corporations is, unfortunately, typical of a process at work in the industrial economies of the world.
In a role reversal between state and corporation, the corporation moves from being an institution granted the right to function as long as it serves public interests to an institution that allows the state to function as long as it serves corporate purposes. As David Korten points out, "The corporate charter is a social invention created to aggregate private financial resources in the service of a public purpose. It also allows one or more individuals to leverage massive economic and political resources behind clearly focused private agendas and to protect themselves from legal liability for the public consequences. From the beginning of corporations in the 16th century until the middle of the last century, the power to grant and revoke a corporate charter was held by the state, and in the case of the United States, only by the state governments, not the federal government. In the U.S., in fact, members of the corporation were personally liable for all debts incurred by the corporation during their period of membership and large and small investors had equal voting rights. The U.S. Civil War (1861-65) marked the shift in power relations and the status of corporations. "Gradually (...) corporations gained sufficient control over key state legislative bodies to virtually rewrite the laws governing their own creation (...). In 1986 (...) the Supreme Court ruled in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad that a private corporation is a natural person under the U.S. Constitution (...) Thus the corporation finally claimed the full rights enjoyed by individual citizens while being exempted from many of the responsibilities and liabilities of citizenship" (Korten, op. cit. pp. 56-59).
3. DISEMBEDDED DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMMES ARE DESTRUCTIVE
3.1 The ethnocentric pitfall
Participants in the present Research Project underlined the inadequacy of development theory and programmes ensuing from the economistic reductionism referred to above.
Many economists and development experts are imbued with the mechanistic paradigm according to which "laws" (cause-and-effects relationships) can be drawn from the observation of social life. Mathematical models are supposed to substantiate the claim that economics is a value-free, universally valid, scientific discipline. This explains why development thinking and practice have given so much credit to economists as development experts. Yet, many basic pre-suppositions of economics are steeped into one particular culture, namely modern western culture. Economics, like sociology, suffers from deeply engrained, but often unconscious, ethnocentrism. Do things not go inevitably wrong when planning and project formulation are based on the narrow and simplistic approach of a so-called universal "homo economicus" defined as a person who engages into quantifiable cost-benefit calculations ? Reduction of human motivation to utilitarianism is deceptive. Experience in development work at local level, as well as the new holistic paradigm suggested by today's "hard" sciences suggest that it may be more realistic to come to grips with complexity.
Many failures in development planning and particularly in the sphere of economics, as well as much human suffering inflicted on local communities in the name of "development" are due to an approach of social sciences bedevilled by this reductionistic, mechanistic, if not deterministic paradigm and by an ethnocentric western(ized) bias. This bias is steeped in a linear social evolutionism looking at the North as the "model". It is as if the past of the North was the future of the South ! A new paradigm and new approaches are required. The expertise of economists is certainly necessary, but the economistic paradigm which underpins much of today's economic theory deserves to be radically questioned.
3.2 Developmentalism and unfulfilled promises
The reduction of people and of nature in the "third world" to their economic potential, the reduction of peoples' material and meta-material aspirations to quantified "needs" defined by experts in the offices of local or foreign capital cities lead to mal-development, worse to the obsession with "developmentalism" (Akpokavie. Participants define it as based on a perverse logic of growth, productivism, individualism, accumulation, profit-maximization.
Dependency-creating technology, artificial and narrow-issue credit schemes and crop-specialization characterize rural policies enforced on Ghanaian farmers. The effort to transform the peasantry (considered as backward, conservative, incapable or unwilling) by breaking down their "affective ties" (G. Hyden's "Economy of Affection" describing how African farmers value human relations as much as profit), the strategies to turn them into market-oriented entrepreneurial farmers capable to dominate (not just adapt to) their environment is severely criticized. A sharp contrast exists between the "dominant logic of development" and the "peasants strategy of development".
The Ghanaian country side is riddled with dashed hopes and unfulfilled promises of the eldorado of development. Most have laid the blame of these failures on the peasantry. Yet, peasants have rarely conceived these development programmes. The model of economistic development and the culture underpinning it is taken for granted as being in the best interest of the peasantry. In actual fact, colonial and post-colonial policies are often to blame for imposing a dis-embedded type of "development". Development strategies subverted the peasants mode of production by trying to transform them into cash crop producers for export.
State farms, development projects, resettlement schemes, rural colonization, all of these sophisticated novelties amounted to one major characteristic : the economic profit-oriented aspect of production was divorced from its social and cultural aspects. Peasants were and still are to be either transformed into producers of commodities or ignored and marginalized. Not a peasant-model of agriculture is sought after, but agrarian "modernisation" through intensive agricultural development, restructuring of the articulation between agriculture and industry making the former subservient to the latter, imposition of social relations of production compatible with a technocratic high-yield productivism.
3.3 Subjects not objects of development
This analysis leads to a new explanation of the enduring material poverty in much of the African continent.
Material poverty is the result of a deep conflict between experts claiming "you-can-be-like-us" and the deep need for identity, autonomy, dignity and human agency. People want to be actors : subjects not objects of "development". Rather than try to recolonise Africa - which would mean the re-imposition of the failed recipes of the past -, Africa should be allowed to find its own way, released at long last from eurocentric philosophies and value systems (CARMEN).
3.4 Maimed cultures
The neo-colonial development politicies led to a "maimed culture" (DE BOECK) and sometimes to agonizing societies "in which the production and reproduction of social memory and meaningful habitus is jeopardized". People in these communities are under constant threat of dispossession, disappropriation and dislocation of self. This process may not everywhere be as tragically advanced. Yet, cultural damage is everywhere to see. To use the World Bank parlance, there has been and still is a "disconnect" between imported institutions and economic approaches on the one hand, and indigenous institutions and approaches on the other hand (ATOMATE).
The ability to select outside influences and to chose which parts of one's present way of life ought to be kept and which can be abandonned, which is one of the most vital functions of a culture, has been severely damaged by mental colonization and by development mimicry.
4. PEOPLE'S REACTION TO GLOBALIZATION
4.1 Globalization : a two edged sword
One can state that a process of transnationalization of capital is underway since a long time. This process is presently accelerated in an unprecedented way and is acting as the motor of present-day globalization. This transnationalization of capital is combining with a formidable compression of space and of time which in turn engenders an important mental change. Both are being strengthened ideologically by a very strong neo-conservative type of economism and by an arrogantly ethnocentric and anti-democratic "End of History" ideology according to which mankind has, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, reached maturity and peace thanks to the generalization of rationality in economics (capitalism) and in politics (democracy) (see item 8.1).
Globalization as such is however not entirely negative, far from it. It is a double edge sword.
"Globalization creates dynamic spaces for events to happen at local level and also for these events to influence and penetrate the global scene" said one participant. Thus the local can influence the global whereas the global penetrates the local. If there is hegemony in globalization, it simultaneously allows for counter-hegemony to be developed ! Local "niches" can become "cracks" in the system. Globalization includes potentially positive phenomena like planetary awareness, world citizenship, global communication and speeding up of information and contact, increased global sensitivity to human rights, access (for whom ?) to useful technology within a global internationalized "village", increased solidarity at least potentially.
Conversely, there are many negative aspects to globalization. It is related to issues such as growing inequality and two-speed national development, corporate colonialism, cultural homogenization ("westernization"), commoditization and monetization, the imposition of a single reductionistic epistemology in science and increasing criminalization through mafia-like activities. "If globalization provides hegemony, it also provides space for counter-hegemony" said one participant using Gramscian terms.
"Globalization" is underway through a dialectics between the global and the local whereby one is influencing the other. This globalized world of ours produces increasing particularism and localism. This leads to practices going from outright participation via the "re-invention of capitalism" (local mixtures of particular cultures and unifying capitalism, of which Bamileke accumulation is one example) to various shades of reactions/resistance which will be described hereunder.
Some people in the group have felt a growing unease with the word "resistance to globalization" because this term implies a purely reactive response to something perceived erroneously as a monolithic, mythical monster. They indicate that it is impossible to identify a clear "ennemy". Another term might be "creative adaptation" which is more positive and less militaristic than "resistance" (albeit in some cases resistance will be the creative response that is called for).
There is also adapting attraction, critical collaboration, sterile effervescence, negotiation, blending of old and new compromise, creative re-invention ! People want modernity in their own terms. Some act against aspects of capitalism, yet love it at the same time.
As far as culture is concerned, there is a "palimpsest", a rewriting of new modes of being on older modes : the old colonial past has not eradicated the pre-colonial one. (A palimpsest is a parchment or a tablet that has been written upon twice or three times, the previous texts having been imperfectly erased and remaining therefore still visible).
Despite appearance to the contrary, we believe, with Emmanuel Wallerstein, that the neo-liberal globalizing capitalist system is getting weaker. Today, it looses legitimacy by showing its inability to deliver the goods for the growing masses of frustrated people excluded from it or seeing no chance anymore for betterment of their lives. Reaction or even resistance to capitalism is not just an ideological choice. For many, it is a question of life against death, humanity v. exclusion.
As capitalism seems to know of no limits, there is definitely a limit to what people can take from that system. There may be no limits to exploitation and greed but people do put a limitation to what they will accept.
4.3 Global awareness and individual change
The global awareness which is part of the on-going globalization may be the key to a leap forward of mankind. We may all be slowly evolving from the present Caïn-syndrome typical of the win-loose economy into a win-win type of economic arrangement that would respect both nature and cultures (see item 8.2 below).
Such change is also to be prepared at the individual level. Gandhi's intuition about a mysterious link between social and political change on the one hand and personal transformation on the other hand is appealing to many people today. It would seem that there can be no social betterment without personal betterment. Classical sociology would object to that, claiming that every individual comes from a social mould and simply reflects social logics and structures. This would imply the necessity to concentrate on social change only. However, a new holistic and humanistic paradigm is emerging which considers individual change as a necessary condition or ingredient of collective change. K. Marx himself stated that one's free development is the condition for everybody's free development. For him, it is obviously this social freedom that matters, not individual liberty as couched in a bill of invidual rights. But to achieve this free society, he stressed the need for personal freedom from alienating ideology and exploitative economic structures. He himself or his successors may have betrayed this humanistic statement, but it still is enshrined in the Communist Manifesto.
In Isaiah and the Biblical tradition there is also a strong accent on the interrelationship between the individual person, seen as microcosmos, and the wider world. My holeness is linked to the holeness of the world. The human being is called upon to be co-creator with God of a world more hole and a society more humane. Our social and political action is therefore a sacred task. It is obvious that such a mission cannot be exercised lightly. Social action and political activism are tasks of such importance that they require spiritual depth and personal asceticism, that is constant mindfulness and self-transformation. Buddhists, Muslim, Hindus and Christians would agree on this.
This being said, it is important to stress the simultaneity of social action and personal change. It is often in the very process of social commitment that a change occurs. Change is not either individual or collective.
4.4 "Rationality" or "reasonableness" among the poor ?
Some people adhere to the economistic and competitive ideology, either enthusiastically ("New Russians") or because they see no alternative to it. Others resort to various ways to offset the harmful effects of it. Reaction/resistance may be conscious and organized. It is often less conscious or not conscious at all, and may miss organization and planning.
Societies are living organisms which pay no heed to experts. They do not let themselves be totally taken over and crushed by development. For modern institutions and technology and modern (autonomous) market mechanisms to perform well, an underlying modern belief system is required. In Algeria and Morocco as in many other parts of the "third world", this belief is absent in many communities.
As a result, people's pratices are ambiguous. People who do not adhere totally to the economistic logic resort to syncretic systems (Keulder), to mosaïc-like, hybrid recompositions (Zaoual). Economic "rationality" fuses with various other forms of "reasonableness" (Latouche) and produces complex systems. Local systems thus struggle against the entropy to which a uniform system would lead, especially if unaccompanied by any real betterment of living standards.
4.5 Holistic and sustainable development logics
In West Africa, peasants unfold development strategies which counter the development logic enforced upon them by experts, State, huge agri-business programmes, etc. (see item 3.2 above). Many resort to an exit-option retaining the centuries old habit of moving about freely from place to place. Flexibility is used to find solutions which do not concentrate exclusively on accumulation, productivity, individualism and profit maximisation. Nor do they resort simply to maintaining minimum levels of incomes. Avoiding to put all the eggs in one basked, they "diversify" as much as possible and at all possible levels. Diversification appears as a way of life and is the core of their reaction/resistance strategy (Akpokavie). To quote a few examples : peasants practice intercropping which, unlike specialisation, leads to the growing of crops as well for agronomical, economic purposes as for ritual and other reasons. Seasonal or even long term migration as agricultural labourers to the cocoa-belt is also resorted to by farmers who cultivate their own fields during other periods of the year. Most peasants undertake different kinds of rural crafts and trades side by side with food or cash crop production. Peasants avoid narrow economic calculus by investing in social relations as well as in production. Age-groups, kinship, secret societies, marriage, all kinds of communal organisations are resorted to so as to widen opportunities and reducing risk in case of disaster due to the specialization advocated by technocratic, mechanised cash-crop agriculture.
Festivities take an important part of their lives. These festivities are not wasteful but reasonable investments in social relations which may prove useful in the future.
Whereas peasant reaction/resistance is based on a (long term) logic of holistic and sustainable development and on strategies of diversification, their (short term) tactics are unpredictable. They are simply adjustements to local situations or current events. At that level of tactics, their behaviour may therefore appear, to outside observers, as contradictory to their logic.
States and donors have tried to "capture" peasantry into centralized projects or into "modernized agriculture" which would turn diversifying "peasants" into specialized "farmers". Numerous development projects studied by one participant aimed at achieving this objective. He reports that, while the state does succeed in transforming peasantry in some instances, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the imposition of agrarian modernisation (whether through projects or sectoral policies) has led to different forms of peasant resistance (id.) which ultimately altered the objective of "development".
4.6 Multifacetted reaction/resistance
A first type of reaction/resistance is withdrawal e.g. resorting to the informal market or to direct exchange of food crops between villages or regions. There can also be circumvention of the web of exploitative institutions by manipulating them from within to serve local interests. Another type of reaction/resistance is the diversion of development programmes from their original goal to serve peasant interests (e.g. resale of scarce dependency-creating inputs sold to them cheaply by the state; diversion of electricity destined for large-scale projects to their homes, etc.). Another type of resistance is neutralisation of modernization policies by having recourse to culturally-rooted forms of resistance. James Scott has called those "the weapons of the weak" : absenteism, non-cooperation, working slowly, lack of accountability, of commitment and of dedication (Atomate), derision, intentional accidents that destroy crops or equipment, etc. Described as examples of the laziness and inefficiency of peasants, these tactics are means of resistance through neutralisation. Peasant revolts against the state, which are mostly issue-oriented (higher crop prices, lower taxes, etc.) are rather rare due to a correct appreciation of the balance of forces at play (Akpokavie).
4.7 Taming diamonds and dollars
Confronted with the hardships of modern capitalism and the irrationality of sudden currency fluctuations, young Zairean urbanites interpret modern economics as linked to develish witchcraft ("Money makes you confused and with your head in the clouds"). Diamonds are said to turn people into thiefs, cheats and liars and to lead to immorality and all kinds of nocturnal and horryfying practices (De Boeck). In a way, buying and selling appears to them as irrational, immoral and perverse since it stops reciprocity and blocks the natural flow of things and energies (Marcel Mauss) so as to make profit and maximize capital. The non-sharing, "successful" individual is a "sorcerer" who betrays traditional values.
Wealth and money have to be hunted, tracked down, trapped and tamed in the same way as game. Indeed, wealth deriving from capitalism behaves unpredictably, e.g. diamonds and dollars behave like wild and dangerous animals which need to be domesticated before they can be integrated into the village or the slum.
Young people in such places as the border region between Zaire and Angola try to re-embed capitalism and modernity through "capturing diamonds" and "taming dollars", thus re-interpreting the West, transforming capitalism and re-injecting traditional norms into it. Capturing modernity without being trapped by it is a type of reaction/resistance based on one's own tradition (past) and one own's reading of one's current predicament (present). The global is thus localized.
In this perspective, diamond smuggling and trade does not appear as destructive of local forms of solidarity and reciprocity. On the contrary, there is a strong local traditional or neo-traditional rationale behind these practices. Diamond and dollars finally allow these people to create a new identity for themselves as new "game hunters". They gain self-realisation and social status. They find their balance between the push of the "economy of affection" and the pull of "capitalism". The author contends however that the taming of diamonds and dollars is not so much related to "resistance" against modernity (diluting the destructive effects of monetary exchange) as a way to appropriate and transform modernity through the injection of local morality onto the global scene.
4.8 Organized working class or informal resistance
In the West, the "heartland of capitalism", reaction/resistance to it is well-known and has inspired similar fights in the South. Under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, as in many other industrialized places of South and North alike, aggravated exclusion and poverty led to increasing resistance through mass protest activities led by parties representing or claiming to represent the proletariate. Confrontional actions by labor movements are well known and draw inspiration from such means as demonstrations, strikes, urban revolt and/or guerilla warfare. They reckon among the foremost and also better known and recognized forms of resistance. Socialist and christian-democratic mass movements have profoundly shaped many industrial societies by achieving important social victories against "wild" capitalism. The chart below offers a synthetic view of the Structure of Popular Economy (Razeto and Calcagni, 1989). It shows clearly various types of strategies entered into by excluded "pobladores" in the area of economics. Some of them amount to resistance and find their place in the present chapter. Others will be dealt with in the next chapters.
4.9 Identifying new "opponents" than the State
Under the impact of Structural Adjustment Programmes and neo-liberal policies, states are less able than before to impose their programmes and to "capture" their peasantry. In the ensuing vacuum all kinds of new actors intervene. Social movements must learn to struggle against other opponents than "the State". Re-inventing the notion of social struggle is one of the main and urgent challenges of today. Perhaps it is the dominant logic (and its undergirding paradigm, see chapter 8 below) that needs addressing, more than just changing some State policies.
5. PEOPLES' CULTURES VERSUS DOMINANT ECONOMISTIC CULTURE
5.1 The megamachine is not threading on virgin soil
Reaction, compromise with or resistance to the onslaught of the capitalist logic is, as was indicated in chapter 4, multifacetted, not always efficient, and mostly quite subtle. If not invisible, it is often non-confrontational and therefore not easily identifiable as such.
Resistance finds in local culture a source of dynamism. The megamachine is not threading on virgin soil. Local cultures resist to it or mix with imported values. Some wane when confronted to it but this does not happen as often as superficial observation would lead to think. At first sight, Westernization in a globalized "village" is certainly an impressive phenomenon. Yet it may not everywhere be that deep and sustainable. The megamachine has to cope with peoples' cultures-in-action. Admittedly, it is not easy to identify a "culture" (see Cultures and Development - Quid Pro Quo no. 24). "Our Welshness is not one solid reality" said Adam Price. But he added at once : "Referring to it allows a reshaping of our reality".
5.2 The humanization of the economy in the Chinese diaspora
In Taiwan as much as in the Chinese diaspora overseas, a culturally-embedded mutual-aid economic organization has been and still is particularly popular and efficient (WU). Called Hui, it is said to be based on basic tenets of Chinese social organization and values. A participant reports that its staggering success "puts into question the whole idea of backwardness versus "being modern" and particularly versus "universality". The modern use of this Hui has been instrumental in integrating Chinese communities into the "global economy" although it is based on a notably different logic.
One legend attributes the origins of the mutual-aid Hui to the reform carried out by Wang Anshi (1021-1086) where he tried to lessen the problem of shortage of funds among the peasants and, realizing the insufficiency of governmental actions, encouraged community self help. In any case, it is believed that various forms of community roscas have been practiced in China for at least a thousand years.
Hui is the general term for rotating savings and credit associations (roscas) as practiced among the Chinese. Yet, it exists in almost every continent. It is given different names in different places. It goes by the name of Kutti-Chittu, Nidhi or the chit fund in India; Bisi in Pakistan, Kye in Korea; Ko or Mujin in Japan; Tanda in Mexico; Pasanuku in Bolivia; Gamaiyah in Egypt; Isusu in Nigeria; Susu in Ghana; Hagbad in Somalia; Xitique in Mozambique; Shwa in West Cameroon, and Tontine in France (as well as in Zaire and much of West Africa).
The basic feature of those roscas is that, in a group of people, each member places a fixed amount of cash. The capital thus accumulated is allocated periodically for the benefit of one of the members whether by lot or bidding. Every one of the group must be served once. Roscas usually serve both the function of saving and credit and have strong mutual-aid characteristics.
One of the major reasons for the success of Hui and of similar successes (tontines) throughout the world is the sense of trust, of conviviality, proximity and mutual aid, which it guarantees and further develops. The humanization of the economy and the corresponding lessening of its "social cost" seem to be the secret of this success. The above is confirmed a contrario by the fact that bankrupcies and unscrupulous dealings by Chinese Hui-initiators typically take place when the group of members is too large, meetings not regular enough and mutual knowledge and trust is weakened.
5.3 African "economy of affection" for disrupted communities
In South African "stokvel" associations, people find help to friends in need more important than quick profit (KEULDER). A "stokvel" is also a type of saving and credit union in which a group of people enter into to contribute a fixed amount of money to a common pool weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Then, depending on the rules governing the "stokvel", that money or a portion of it may be drawn by members either in rotation or in a time of need. Its average number of members is 21, a group small enough to enable members to know each other so as to generate mutual trust. People are quite willing to subsidise others, knowing that they will, in turn, have their support in time of need.
Interestingly, the order of rotation of access to the common funds is not the object of much interest or tension : the principle of reciprocity seems to be of more importance. Individual profit making is less important than the moral obligation to assist others in need.
To the poorest among their members,"stokvels" are means of survival through the provision of cash in case of need and bereavement and, more importantly, offers social security through the provision of social links. To low income members, they are sources of credit for consumption (foodstuffs bought in bulk), for productive or for investment purposes (support to small scale trading activities) as well as for organizing/attending funerals and parties which help to establish or strengthen social network. The latter appear as a "social investment" typical of communities whose economies are as much "relational" as "rational" (ZAOUAL). For the poor, it is vital to belong to a series of social networks to which help can be asked in times of need. Reciprocity, which is deeply engrained in most cultures and which anthropologist Marcel Mauss and others have described ("L'Economie du Don"/the economy of gifts and countergifts), is still operative, despite its co-existence with exchange through sale. The economy of gifts and counter-gifts requires no exact equivalent nor definite date of return, whereas sale implies fixed price and time.
Even well-off or at least better-off Africans in urban areas belong to "stokvels". To them social and cultural gain is even more important than economic interest. Regular interaction, belonging to a group in a society where alienation is rife, emotional support in times of grief are functions which the "stokvels" perform for these middle-class people who have no financial needs. "Stokvels" appear in such cases as ways to re-establish or re-invent disrupted communities.
Reciprocity belies the claim that everything is presently reduced to cash and profit. Not that reciprocity necessarily pertains to some disinterested idealistic altruism. People are not saints. When people "give" (credit, parties, help), many among them know they may not be "loosers" : first in terms of prestige, since the other party has become someone "obliged" who owes gratitude and return; secondly, in terms of the actual return which is certain even if it is not known what exactly will be offered in return, and when.
As a matter of fact, "stokvels" are modern forms of extended families, lineages or of what E. Ndione has called "neo-lineages" (based on free choice more than on kin). They perform the same role in terms of security and community spirit. In a "stokvel" called "Ikageng Social Club", a member said : "Ours has been existing for more than ten years. The club is like a family now".
"Stokvels" belong to the "communal economy" (Morton) or what is also called "the economy of affection" (Hyden). Reciprocity is their primary principle of exchange, despite the fact that stokvels operate in a fully monetised and commercialised environment.
Although "stokvels" relate to ancient cultural values pertaining to traditional social structures such lineage, they fulfil needs within a modern economic system. Today, a quarter of the total African population in larger South African metropolitan areas belong to "stokvels". Contributions to the 24.000 "stokvels" in these areas amount to about 52 million Rands per month.
5.4 Equality and justice in western culture
Labor movements and left-wing parties have drawn inspiration from modern western ideals such as justice, equality, socialism, concern for the poor and the powerless. Karl Marx has been a key reference for the socialist family. Marxism is obviously part of western culture and must be looked at as a pure (Hegelian) product of Western modernity, even if it is regarded as a frontal attack on "the West". Sociologist Jean Ziegler rightly calls Marxism a radical but "internal" critique of capitalism; it comes from within the culture which led to that capitalism. Marxism is therefore just as materialistic/economistic although with the generous purpose of achieving equality and meta-material goals.
Next to Marx, a series of reformers deserve to be named : Owen, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Proudhon, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Thoreau, Ralph W. Emerson .... More recently, resistance was prompted by various strands of green and feminist politics. New anti-consumeristic trends emerge. As they may not (yet ?) deserve to find a place as fullfledged "resistance", lacking as they do political strength and large-scale social dimension, they will be discussed under chapter 7 (new paradigms).
More accent was put in our research on types of resistance which are not so commonly known since they are embedded in often ignored non-Western values and organizational forms, e.g. in Chile : "poblador" neighbourhood groups for self-help and solidarity. As the "informal sector" grew dramatically, neighbourhood groups set up such solidarity groups in the areas of consumption, distribution of goods and services and, increasingly so, in the area of production. This type of popular resistance eventually led to what is now called Popular Economic Organizations (PEOs) on which more will be reported under chapter 6 (peoples' alternatives) and chapter 7 (epistemological and paradigmatic changes).
5.5 Tradi-competitiveness among the Bamileke
"Tradi-competitiveness" among the Bamileke of Cameroon is a striking example of a successful relationship between ethnicity and management. In Cameroon, there are about 120 ethnic groups. Among them, one seems particularly active in industry and commerce : the Bamileke of Western Cameroon. They are 1.5 million out of the 12 million. Politically, they have always been in opposition.
The Bamileke are organized in social networks operating on a very hierarchical and centralized model. Yet, social mobility towards the top is very striking. It is realized through material and symbolic accumulation : of money, real estate, land. One even "accumulates" women, children, friends. Having many family member belonging to a dense social network is an asset in economic life. The goal is to become "a big man".
Empoverishment, the on-doing of accumulation is a source of great shame. The rule is the reproduction of what was accumulated and - unlike many other African groups - the redistribution of only a limited part. Nkwa has two meanings : an alien to the community; or a member whose behaviour contributes to disaccumulation (ostentacious spending, etc.).
Most entrepreneurs in Cameroon are Bamileke. Among them few remain employee of somebody else since payed labour is viewed as infamous and almost like slavedom. Values are thrift, sober lifestyle, accumulation. This causes plenty of conflicts with other ethnic groups. Many very successful businessmen have no education and ... do often better than Harvard Business School graduates. Their success creates jalousy in the country at large and this is the reason why they stay aloof from politics so as to avoid accusations of profiting from the state (Jean-Pierre Warnier wrote an important book on this : "L'esprit d'entreprise au Cameroun", Karthala). Sexual desire among Bamileke is to be sublimated by business. The Bamileke are one among a number of rather exceptional cases of ethnic groups achieving a remarkably successful blend between their specific (a-typical ?) culture and modern capitalism.
5.6 Continuity in change
From our research on the role of culture in economic life, it appears clearly that, in most places, the old "habitus" mix with new attitudes (In P. Bourdieu's parlance, habitus are types of behaviour that go without saying; culture as totally incorporated). The ancient pre-colonial past is not eradicated but blends into something post-colonial which is new. There is "adapting transformation" underway, continuity in change. The illiterate saleswoman of West Africa relies on traditional bonds and uses here cellular telephone to ask her nephew to buy stocks in New York !
Other participants reporting from various countries in various continents corroborate the findings mentioned above under 5.1 to 5.5 about the prevalence or at least the maintenance of cultural values such as :
- faithfulness, friendlyness, conviviality, proximity, community spirit, brotherhood, cooperation, mutual aid and collective work in a community spirit (Zaoual on Algeria; Akpokavie about Ghana; Santikaro on Thailand; Nyssens about Chile and Europe);
- preference for consensus in decision making, respect for the aged, institutionalised paternalism as a social security system, need of symbolic next to material accumulation (Kamdem on Cameroon);
- gratuitous approach to labour which is not seen as a commodity having economic value (Oling on Uganda);
- trust and the importance of allegiance to pledges in 19th century Russia and again today with a new accent on autonomy, self-reliance and lessening of dependence on the State (Apressyan); trust and thrift and the habit of spending no more than what is available (Wu on China);
- importance of prestige and ostentacious spending (De Boeck on Zaire);
- sense of justice through redistribution, sense of belonging and pride in one's identity and in local abilities as source of economic dynamism (Price on Wales, UK; Nyssens on Chile);
- autonomy, liberty, self-esteem, assuming responsibility for one self, justice and equality (Price on wales; Nyssens on Chile and on Europe); self-reliance based on community strength (Santikaro on Thailand).
No matter how formidable the impact of modern capitalism, elements of those basic cultural traits tend to remain. The examples drawn from Zaire are particularly clear in that respect (De Boeck) but also from other places in Africa (Kamdem, Laléyê, Wild, Keulder), from the above-mentioned Chinese communities all over the world (Wu), from places as varied as Central and South America (Nyssens), the Buddhist countries (Santikaro), the Muslim world (Zaoual) and - as will appear from chapter 6 below - from European culture in North America, Europe or Australia (Carmen, Pradervand, Commenne, Price).
Not everyone has surrendered to consumerism and competition. There is "continuity in change". Change is there but does not imply a total rupture with the past nor a total loss of one's own cultural roots. There is often an astonishing blend between local and global images and notions (De Boeck). There is a deeply rooted habitus, a past, a bedrock of moral matrixes that allow the reclaiming and remaking of identity and the generation - to varying degrees - of viable social and economic environments (id.). The "rational" homo economicus is not as universal as narrow economism would like us to believe.
People are looking for meaning in their lives. The rat-race for a quick dollar, the scramble for career promotion or social status measured by power or money is offset to some degree by a sense of decency, elegance, self-limitation, caring for others, spirituality.
6. PEOPLES' ALTERNATIVES
6.1 Popular Economy with a "C" factor
We observed that people react or resist in various ways (which we referred to in chapter 4) which, in turn, are inspired, at least in part, by their specific cultural traits (chapter 5). Let us now examine if people also resort to positive alternatives ?. From the various papers which were contributed to this Research Project, examples can be drawn of a variety of alternative ways of dealing with the economy, money, wealth and consumption. Admittedly, they are most often localized and modest. Still, they deserve our attention.
In Chile, Popular Economy is now asserting itself and is being recognized as an active economic subject (Nyssens). Popular Economy can no longer be reduced to a bunch of "survival strategies". It has evolved into a set of stable and ultimately employment and revenue-generating economic organizations. In Santiago, 20 to 25% of the workforce is occupied in the popular economy. While a number of survival-oriented units have disappeared, other units are consolidating their position. New ones are appearing. Second-level organizations convey more structure to it.
The orthodox analysis rests on a conception of development viewed as a specific process of modernization. Even though means may vary, reference to the industrialization process followed by developed countries of the North is still the rule. Development is tantamount to industrial accumulation. In that perspective, everything that lies outside the realm of modern industry is judged by its contribution to industrial accumulation. This objective serves as the measuring rod for the evaluation of all existing social, economic and cultural structures. Structures which do not contribute to accumulation are viewed as either harmful ("irrational") or backward. At best, they play a passive role as in the dualist models (Frei and Ranis 1964) or are viewed as transitory on the way to "true development" (Hugon 1990). The very concept of "informal sector" is underpinned by an implicit presupposition of "absence of structure". Thus, in many of the sociologists' and economists' views the "informal sector" is bound to disappear or to be "normalized" or "formalized" with a view to accumulation.
Nowadays, however, critical reassessement of Western-type development challenges this linear view of development . Many observers recognize that the mass of unemployed is not about to be asborbed by the "formal" economy. They start to reevaluate the articulations between the various forms of socio-economic organization and some recognize a sustainable role for the "informal sector". Some, like Latouche, even claim that this sector, which is developing at the margins of the world economy and of the nation-state is, in large measure, a "society against the state". It operates, wrote one African participant, in opposition to the global economy "since the absolute logic of the market leads to despair".
Reference to the poor as actors underpins a number of analyses and, in particular, characterizes the interesting observations offered by Luis Razeto on the Popular Economy of Chile. Contrary to what is the case in industrial capitalist enterprises, the organizing subject in it is not necessarily he or she who brings in capital. Instead, these popular enterprises are organized by the subject who brings in the labor factor (a boss who hires workers from the local community or from his/her family). Cooperation and community play a central role. Indeed, social cohesion and solidarity seem to be the key factor in the stability and the economic efficiency of this type of business enterprise. The poor in the popular economy sector described by Razeto are no longer the potential beneficiaries of industrial or commercial capitalism promoted by capital or by the state, but appear as genuine protagonists. They are not an object to be modernized. They are actors.
For Luis Razeto, one should not take only capital and labor into account as economic factors. There also exists a "C factor" : cooperation, community, collaboration. Taking a collective initiative, working together constitutes an economic factor by itself. Factor "C" generates productivity and enjoys a self-generating existence and logic. Within each enterprise a founder/organizer sets the objective, gives the organization its structure, organizes the factor of production according to these objectives and decides about the destination of the surplus. In the classical enterprise, the aim is to accumulate capital. Human "capital" serves as means toward this end. In an enterprise organized according to factor "C", it is necessary not only to generate income, but also to widen and intensify social relations.
These economic organizations of the "Popular Economy" respond to a multiplicity of objectives which are at the same time economic, social and cultural. They appear to be the embryo of a sector different from the private or public (statist) sector, namely, a sector of labor and solidarity. This sector rooted in the social fabric which itself is influenced by popular culture, constitutes an epistemological challenge to economic science and business management. It is the contribution of the voiceless to the search of another society.
6.2 Social Economy : an intermediary place
In Europe, workers associations emerging in the 19th century led to the setting up of a "Social Economy" (Nyssens) made out of various socio-economic organisations. They belonged neither to the sphere of the capitalist firms nor to that of the public state-managed economy. They could not be counted among the domestic activities either. They covered mutual benefit societies, cooperatives, non-profit organizations. They had in common dynamics which were different from what prevailed in the sphere of private capitalism (and of what was later to become state capitalism). These associations were multi-functional : their aim was not only to create micro-social space for solidarity but also to step in as actors in the economic area. Not only did they ensure social protection among their members, they also developed an approach to economics which was based on community spirit.
Unfortunately, this budding "Social Economy" was superseded by private and state economy. Actors having turned to the State for protection through social legislation were absorbed by their social demands and gradually abandonned the economic side of what was so typical of their "Social Economy". This meant the end of the multifunctionality (economic, social, political, etc.) of these first workers associations. The economic was dissociated from the social, to the detriment of the "Social Economy"'s identity and to the benefit of regulation by either market and State. Cooperative production became almost extinct in the 20th century as cooperatives specialized on saving and consumption. They soon became part of the market. The notion of solidarity evolved from a horizontal dimension (of a relational type) to a vertical one (State is the organizer of solidarity).
Interestingly, the concept of "Social Economy" re-emerges in the West in these final decades of the 20th century. Workers' cooperatives aim, in the prevailing context of economic crisis, to create their own sources of employment in a self-management perspective (Defourny).
The "Social Economy" in Western Europe is characterised by a plural logic combining voluntary dimensions (importance of social networks; use of voluntary help, etc.), market dimensions (sale of goods and services on the market) and non-market ones (subsidies received from public authority). Goods and services circulating in these organizations serve as links between persons and facilitate interactions between various actors : workers, users, local public officers, etc.
Associations active in the "Social Economy" might be a way to generate previously unheard-of solutions to the crisis of employment and the welfare State. They occupy an intermediary space located at the intersection of the State and of civil society, of the economical and the social (Favreau). The development of these associations challenges the State/market synergy which reduces the modes of socio-economic organization to the "market/non-market" dichotomy and thus vindicates the separation between the social and the economical. These new forms of "Social Economy" are built on a plural logic combining different principles (market, non-market and voluntary). We now have a plurality of modes of socio-economic organizations. There is a "plural economy" in the making.
It is interesting to note that both the "Popular Economy" in the South and the "Social Economy" in the North came about in similar circumstances : 19th century urbanization and, today, new social needs which neither State nor market can fulfil. Both types were and still are embedded in dense social networks. One author concludes that the conditions of necessity (unfulfilled needs) and identity (group cohesion) are central to the development of such initiatives.
6.3 A tri-polar organization : market-state-civil society
The prevailing market/non market dichotomy is ambiguous and narrow-minded. It excludes socio-economic dynamics based on other principles than profit. It leaves out the world of (some) cooperatives, peoples' economic organizations (PEO), mutual benefit associations, non-profit organizations (NPOs) whose logic flows neither from the capitalist firm nor from the State.
One author suggests the following chart to illustrate what she (together with authors like Fr. Perroux, L. Razeto, etc.) sees as a tri-polar organization of economic activity. The capitalist pole, the State pole and the community pole are to be more clearly distinguished if we want to see their alternative potential in the socio-economic field.
Source : M. Nyssens
The capitalist pole is made up of the firms which are organized by capital (and hence oriented towards capitalist-type accumulation). These firms function on the basis of competitive relations (based on the pursuit of personal interests) and develop forms of individual ownership.
The public pole organized by the State functions through relations requiring a central authority and develops forms of institutional ownership.
The community pole is the one in which firms are organized by the human factor (the labor factor or the users) and adopt forms of common ownership. Labor is the dominant category in the firms belonging to the "Popular Economy/Social Economy". Reciprocity relations are dominant in it. There is essentially a mutual recognition due to the sharing of a common past, of a daily life identity as "excluded", "marginalized", "jobless", "poblador". Very often, the group's existence is prior to the economic activity (family-run firms, clubs of unemployed (etc).
Such a conceptual grid and such an acknowledgment of a plural economy allows us to approach both the Popular Economy in the South and the "Social Economy" in the North from a fresh perspective.
The identity of the "Popular/Social Economy" is in some respects close to the community pole. However, it is also closely integrated into the market logic. While some ownership structures are communal, others are individual. Some units operate in a very isolated and individual fashion. Thus the logic of the "Popular/Social Economy" is fundamentally hybrid. This grid of analysis makes it possible to break its subordination vis-à-vis the formal sector and to shed light on a specific mode of socio-economic organization.
Economic organization based on the community pole combine profit, locality and redistribution. Successful experiments conducted in the family and region-based industrial districts of North-East Italy (Veneto) lead to the conclusion, also underlined by an author hailing from Wales (UK) that local identity and industrial dynamism can be combined to offer both efficiency and intensification of social links (Price, Nyssens).
Both in the South as in the North, there can be a happy combination and complementarity of community, of profit and of state regulation. Such organizations appear not only as sources of employment creation, but also as sources of social cohesion. They appear as an original sector in society.
6.4 Homo socialis v. homo economicus in Africa
The "homo economicus" is not the only "homo sapiens" around !
In a former Research Project led with African and Africanist researchers, significant findings came to the fore which pointed towards the emergence of an alternative economic and social behaviour in Africa. The following quote from our synthesis on the role of profit motivation in African society and in African business (a Research Programme of Network Cultures 1991-1993) is evidence of the promises and difficulties engrained in the behaviour of African enterpreneurs and workers :
"The notion of profit is certainly not absent (in Africa), but it is situated in a very definite set of priorities. Community, subsistence, and profit, this is the order of priorities (F.R. Mahieu). Relationship and security outweigh profit considerations but do not exclude profit. Thus, in this sense, the homo-socialis precedes the homo-economicus. Similarly, social obligations come before productivity.
The principle of respect for communal interest precedes the utilitarian self-interest. As a consequence, the utilitarian calculus may well develop in the enterprise but nonetheless remains subordinate to the communitarian imperative and the security needs.
If the enterprise does not play this role, it risks becoming the object of a predatory economy : "on vise non pas à entreprendre mais à prendre" (Zaoual). Avoiding responsibility, squandering time, resources and talents then results in a lack of entrepreneurial spirit among the personnel. Even in private enterprises, a paralyzing "functionary spirit" prevails when "African Welfarism" (Zaoual) is not respected.
Redistribution limits capital accumulation. This system of rights and obligations, if it ensures a minimal security, also paralyzes the spirit of initiative and accumulation. It does so by redistributing wealth through innumerable transfers, either in terms of money, service or time, and through the stifling of risk-taking and of making use of opportunities such as the capitalistic logic demands.
In order to understand African approaches to profit, one has to bear in mind (...) the primacy of the relational over the financial, and of the "hybrid" nature of the new African culture where individualistic and communitarian reflexes, modern and traditional traits, intertwine. In Africa, a business enterprise is not considered, at first, a profit-making establishment. Instead, employees consider their enterprise as an entity that must offer its employees a social environment combining conviviality, cohesion and security.
"Africans want an economy at the service of society, not the other way round " (Zaoual)."
In the present Research Project, two authors show how African economy is successful when based on economic approaches which blend local African cultures (as they have evolved) and global profit based on market-oriented approaches.
One author, who has studied the formidable efficiency and dynamism of one particular ethnic group (the Bamileke of Cameroon) shows, on the basis of three case studies, that these Africans are perfectly apt at blending western style management and "a strategic fall-back on local values", namely community and family spirit, solidarity, spirituality and interest for invisible dimensions of reality, respect for the wisdom of the aged, consensus, friendlyness and even paternalism. Typical of Bamikele culture seems to be, in addition, a strong cult of austerity and ascetic behaviour, and - at least in one case - skillful reduction of various forms of exclusion in an otherwise heterogenous society divided in terms of age, gender, ethnic origin, degrees, etc.
Africa seems to be developing a model of firms-as-good-citizens (l'entreprise citoyenne) that is, companies which attain some kind of balance between local values on the one hand, and efficient productivity on the other hand (Kamdem, Zaoual). "Neither Taylor nor folklore" is the conclusion of an African management expert (Kamdem) : Africans must avoid extreme profit-seeking as well as "unprogressive" culturalism.
6.5 The disconnect : corporate culture v. societal culture
Similarly, an African World Bank expert concludes to the need of institutional reconciliation between indigenous informal, and transplanted formal attitudes and organizations. Quoting the World Bank-led 1996 research "Africa's Management in the 1990's and Beyond" (headed by Mamadou Dia), he stigmatizes the "disconnect" (lack of congruence) between formal corporate culture and informal societal culture (Atomate).
This World Bank expert underlines, next to the drawbacks he sees in African cultures, the germs of alternatives present in embedded economic organization. Indigenous institutions can count on the sound pillars of legitimacy, accountability and self-enforcement. They have a strong hold on peoples' commitment, dedication and sense of identity. Many of the successes recorded in Africa have to do with management practices which approach the workplace as the extension of the home, the village or the family and with some kind of accepted balance between profit and redistribution. Success can only be achieved when results are attained at the levels of material production, financial profit and inter-personal as well as social relationships (Kamdem). "Africans do not refuse material progress. They refuse capitalism" says Jean-Marc Ela, referring to an article published in Cultures and Development - Quid Pro Quo no. 19 (11/1994) (Verhelst) entitled "Les Africains sont-ils de mauvais capitalistes ?" (Are Africans bad capitalists ?).
Interestingly, this apparently far-out African posture is not as remote as one may think from attitudes prevailing in some European communities. Thus, among the Welsh people of Great Britain, similar demands are present.
The traditional Welsh concern with social justice has meant that, historically, political debate and cultural expression has been centred around questions related more to the re-distribution of wealth than to its creation (Price). There is a need to re-make the connection between Welsh society and the economy. There is also a need to believe that there are alternative models to exploitation of workers and of the environment. Indeed, the development of a Welsh model of economic development, a Welsh way of doing business which is socially, linguistically, culturally and environmentally responsible was not even considered a possibility up until recently. The author believes time has come for a change.
6.6 LETS from Manchester to Mexico
Two authors focussed their attention on alternative ways to deal with money. One reported about a LETS in Manchester (UK), the other on an alternative bank in Belgium.
LETS stands for Local Exchange and Trading System (Carmen). It allows people to exchange their services, skills and/or work force among themselves without resorting to "official" money. It is more than just barter since a whole group is involved in various exchanges and since their own "money" is involved, issued by the members of local LETS.
Could it catch on, on a more massive scale ? Says one participant, "local communities would be in a position to wrest back some of the monopoly power from unaccountable banks, supermarkets and Chancellors of the Exchequer and the infernal, mysterious supranational economic system."
LETS is not an isolated, wholly new phenomenon. There are antecedents. Local currencies have existed for millenaries and are up till now favoured by communities faced with external disturbances such as wars or economic downturns. LETS money is just one of the many possible types of local currency. As a matter of fact, local, rural and city-regional currencies were the rule until last century, when banking and the global money monopoly took over. The vast wealth of the Renaissance City-States in Europe was built on local and city currencies : a local currency served the purposes of local trade while a variety of international currencies were used for the purposes of import and export, thus strengthening internal economic security and cohesion as well as allowing for mercantile trade.
In Britain, a number of seminars on the concept of community-based currencies had been run from 1985 onwards under the auspices of "The New Economic Foundation" (NEF) (Ed Mayo/Paul Ekins). LETS systems have been spreading rapidly since 1990, fully equipped with computer soft and hardware.
LETS have meanwhile spread rapidly over continental Europe : there are an estimated 100 groups in 16 countries from Norway to Spain and from Poland to Belgium. New systems are also being set up in Africa, in Latin America (e.g. : La otra bolsa de valores, Tlaxpana, Mexico) and in various other third world countries.
LETS provide a means by which people can continue trading and working, without having to wait for the social lubricant of money. LETS systems provide an environment in which those who cannot find jobs (and hence money), can reintegrate society by reclaiming their dignity and start contributing again to their own and other people's well-being. They can and do earn goods and services for themselves, rather than living on hand-outs. People allow the local economy to keep moving, even when hardly any cash is available. There is undisguised glee at the parallel economies thus being created. LETS are like glue which binds community together : they are embedded in a culture of good neighbourlyness, simplicity, conviviality, creativity and humour.
6.7 From Quakers to Mondragon Cooperatives
The Quakers (or "The Religious Society of Friends") have survived for more than 300 years as defenders of an anti-authoritarian model of society. They found in the Bible inspiration for radical social programmes. Gerald Winstanley, for example, is uncannily reminiscent of Karl Marx. Although radical followers of Winstanley did not succeed in their goal, their ideas have survived over three hundred years to resurface again, in remarkably similar form, in the San Francisco of the mid-sixties, where a hippy culture grew out of the New Left and the old beat generation. These same tendencies coalesced, in 1960's Amsterdam, echoed in the "provo" movement across Europe. The Kabouters - (Dutch for "gnomes"), in deference to the need for a "new urbagrarian citizenship" composed of "intellectual gardeners and altruistic egoists" - were very much inspired by Peter Kropotkin's ideas on cooperative labour and his narodnikian-sarvodayan vision of the village community held together by mutual aid : out of the village grows the polis of free citizens. Unlike Gandhi, Kropotkin saw in the industrial society a key to leisure, an avenue to creativity and liberation. The "Witte Fietsen" - (bikes painted white and put at the disposal, free of charge, throughout the city) became one of the hallmarks of "kabouterism" in Holland.
The Scott Bader Operating Company, which also originated I.C.O.M. (Industrial Common Ownership Movement), has been in business for 72 years, and became a cooperative Commonwealth in 1951. Scott Bader was organized formally to reflect the principles embodied in the socialist tradition of Robert Owen and the religious tradition of Friends and Membership was open to all employees. Members were equal with one vote at the General Meeting, and all employees were given a greater income equity than is customary in the orthodox firm. It is claimed that more than 1.000 companies have since followed the Scott-Bader model. It is perhaps no coincidence that Fritz Schumacher, whose "Small is Beautiful" found such a fertile ground in the seventies and has been a great source of inspiration for green parties ever since, was one of Sott Bader's early directors (id.).
Other creative types of direct links between producers and consumers exist across the world. "Seikatsu", Japan's family-based consumer cooperative networks owned primarily by women and "Employee Share Ownership Plans" (ESOPs) in Britain and the USA show how a direct relationship between producer and user can benefit both parties as well as ensuring ecological standards.
The "Fair Trade Movement" seeks to ensure justice in international trading by linking networks of producers and consumers in North and South, thus seeking to achieve social equity and environmental protection in "development".
Mondragon in Spain's Basque country is the world's most famous cooperative. Founded in 1956 it has now a linked system of enterprises (including industrial units), banks, schools and colleges. Grassroots participation is so high that annual general assemblies are held in a football stadium. The battle is on to prevent the cooperative from submitting to capitalist logic or from falling in the hands of external investors. Share sales are being controlled and are limited to the Mondragon "extended family". People come all the way from China - once the mecca of producers cooperatives !? - to study Mondragon.
Equality, democratic decision-making, an insistance on the need to control the economy, profit and money to ensure common interest, a sense of justice and human decency : all of this is present in recent and also in not-so-recent forms of alternatives noticeable from Basque cooperatives to Japanese consumer clubs and in various other industrialized regions.
6.8 Banking with a societal return
Throughout Western Europe, some people start questioning the exhorbitant role taken by money and profit in their society. They are still belonging to a minority but their voices are being heard and are on the increase. One author reports on the growth of alternative ways to save and invest money in Belgium (Commenne). In his paper, he mentions that the rationale for seeking such alternatives is a growing concern about ethical standards and sheer humanness in today's economy.
Over the last 25 years, several instruments have been experimented with which allow people to be more responsible for their own money. A variety of possibilities exist to put part of one's capital interest-free into a common pot so as to offer low interest loans or even free loans to outsiders proposing worthwhile socio-economic projects. Some were set up among friends with a minimal legal structure; others are more sophisticated (saving cooperatives).
The Triodos Bank is one out of the ten fulfledged alternative "banks" existing in the world. An international banking institution chartered in Holland and operating in Britain and Belgium, Triodos was set up specifically to finance initiatives and firms which are financially viable and offer something positive to society at large.
As a bank recognized by national banking regulations, Triodos seeks to use funds made available by its clients in a way which sharply contrasts with other banks. Only three fields are open to credit granting by Triodos : environmental concerns, social development ("Social Economy") and culture. It offers saving accounts and medium-to-long-term deposit accounts producing interest rates comparable to those of other banks. Clients may either collect their annual interest on their deposits or may choose to forego part of this right in favour of a field of interest which they choose. Examples of projects or firms financed are : workshops for handicaped, alternative social housing projects, biological farms, appropriate technology consultancy, schools practising an alternative pedagogy, training institutes in the performing arts, etc. Newly set up in French-speaking Belgium, Triodos' result indicates the openness of people to alternative ways of dealing with profit and money.
Triodos' growth is fast : 30% annually over the last five years. Its starting capital was brought by shareholders who have no voting rights in the Board meetings, decision-making being entrusted to a limited number of people who share and guarantee the social vision of the institution. This capital is invested exclusively in state bonds which offer proper ethical guarantees. No "juicy" foreign ventures are entered into, since local development is being privileged.
As to the firms and initiatives financed by the bank, they enjoy better rates than those generally demanded on the market. As far as collaterals are concerned, a group of people who has no real estate or personal guarantee to bring in, can act as a "club of guarantors", each liable up to a part of the credit, that is an amount which is fixed according to their individual income. These people obviously need to be fully conversant with the project. They are personally motivated and act as "sponsors" of it. The return ratio of loans is very good : it would appear that beneficiaries of the loans are as socially responsible as the depositors and seem to take economically reasonable and viable initiatives.
To think about alternatives ways to deal with money and to implement them in concrete forms is, in the eyes of many Europeans, a basic challenge not only for the future of their continent and its culture, but also for the future of humanity and the Earth. Europeans and North Americans grow increasingly wary about the will of a few ones, occupying power positions, to pile up more and more money, which leads them to make choices that first favour their greed. Westerners may slowly turn away from a system in which a few win ... and others loose. Small shareholders, so-called unqualified people (replaced by machines as quickly as possible), employees sent home due to delocalisation in a low-salary country are closing ranks and become a mass which political parties will have to reckon with. The brutal closure of the Vilvorde (Brussels) Renault factory led to Europe's first European-wide demonstration and to simultaneous strikes in several countries of the European continent where Renault factories are located.
As a conclusion, one may say that such a bank as Triodos is able to attract a growing number of people for whom "societal return" is as important as financial return : they are fully concerned by social ethics. Profit motivation, if not ignored, is second to social and environment concerns.
7. TOWARDS A NEW PARADIGM IN THE WEST ?
7.1 You cannot be like us !
Can present consumption standards in the West go on indefinitely ? If China was suddenly consuming at levels comparable to those of Europe or America, this may mean instant catastrophe for planet earth. Is it ethically and politically possible to tell the people of the South : "You should not consume like us " ?
Three Western authors in this Research Project paid particular attention to the delicate yet vitally important issue of change in the West itself. Their thought revolves around the following questions :
- what is the goal and meaning of money and wealth ?
- how much is enough ?
7.2 Money for freedom or for power ?
What is the origin of our propensity to accumulate more and more money, often too much ..., even at the expense of others who do not have enough ?
One participant reminds us that money was "invented" to facilitate exchange of goods and services among people (COMMENNE). Money is a wonderful way to enhance our freedom, a most convenient means to a noble end. Rather than remaining a means, however, money became an objective by itself. Rather than enhancing their freedom, it tends to attach or even enslave people to their possessions. In addition, it generates power and, consequently, the ability - if one is not careful - to limit the freedom of others. Conversely, money keeps fulfilling a very positive role if human beings avoid their self-centered tendency and highten their view from their own ego to broader social units : family, clan, tribe, region, nation, humankind ... Then, money can be used for the freedom and power of all or at least of many. Money can therefore be used to finance socially positive initiatives as the ones mentioned above under chapter 6. Unfortunately, dominant culture labels "unrealistic" more human ways to look at money. Counter-information and conscientization is necessary.
Also concrete alternative possibilities are required. Today, ethical investment funds, alternative banks and other alternative investment mechanisms are being created. LETS are also ways to off-set the dependence on money. All these initiatives, which are still rather marginal but become increasingly popular, point perhaps towards a new paradigmatic approach to money and its ethical use.
To some outspoken critics, "official money" has a series of damaging characteristics : it is scarce (and is made available against expensive interest); it is very mobile (and can leave local economies in the lurch); it is created by the State (controlled and distributed by the powers that be); it is potentially destructive (it seeks out the cheapest sources of supply and exploitation); it dictates what is "work" (work is defined as what-one-does-to-make-money irrespective of its negative effect whereas constructive activities are not classified as work because they do not earn money).
7.3 "How much is enough ?" : downscaling consumption
Closely related to a change of mentality and vision regarding money is the issue of downscaling consumption. People in the West start raising a fundamental question : "how much is enough ?". Schumacher drew attention on Buddhist approaches based on the Middle Way of moderation and balance. A Thai participant reports that sufficiency is more valued than accumulation and quantity in Buddhist teachings. Nevertheless, modern consumption is drastically changing Thai culture nowadays, as it changed European culture before. But in the West, voices are heard which call for change towards moderation. Bestselling books analyse what they call "the disease of materialism" and define it as "looking for inner fulfillment in outer possession" (Dominguez & Robin). They even question one of America's most sacred cows by writing : "We suffer from upward mobility and ... downward nobility".
They demystify the "more-is-better" slogan which is underpinning advertisement and write bluntly : "if you live for having it all, what you have is never enough!". Commenting on the answer suggested by Joe Dominguez (former Wall Street investment advisor) and Vicky Robin, authors of a U.S. bestseller called "Your money or your Life", one of the contributors to this Research Project contends that "enough" does not amount to an ascetic and boring bare minimum but rather to the exact quantity which gives real satisfaction (Pradervand). "There is enough on this planet for peoples' needs, not for peoples' greed" : the saying of Mahatma Gandhi is very much applicable today. Now more than ever ! "He who knows he has enough is rich" says the Chinese Tao-te-Ching. This knowledge (which is close to wisdom) may vary from person to person, from culture to culture, but is to be found almost everywhere.
In Your Money or your Life, Dominguez and Robin report that in today's USA there is a growing desire among successful professionals to return to "the simple life". Let us be quite clear that such call for less consumption is first to be addressed to the 20% heavy consumers of our planet's population, not to those 85% who suffer marginalization ! A survey done by Time magazine in conjunction with CNN (April 1991) uncovered the following facts :
- 69% of the 500 adults said they would like to "slow down" ;
- 61% agreed that "it is difficult to find time to enjoy life". Fortune magazine heralded this return to frugality in its August 14, 1989 article entitled : "Is Greed Dead ?" 75% of working Americans wanted "to see our country return to a simpler life style with less emphasis on material success". Only 10% of those polled thought that "earning a lot of money" was an indicator of success. The author underlines that those thoughts are not concerns for a few extreme idealists.
Some of the biggest US newspapers now feature rubrics devoted to a new trend in American life called "Down scaling", "Frugality", "Breaking away", "Positive futures", "Yearning for balance". The message is : you can lead a happier life with less consumption. Frugality, once advocated by Benjamin Franklin, Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson ... is in again at least in a certain category (social class ?) of the United States ! And with it, a call for alertness and freedom. It calls not for masochism but creativity, decency, elegance.
For Dominguez and Robin quoted by our contributor, to have enough is the state of a person who has discarded all superfluous or excessive possession. What is excessive ? A long and deep debate ensued after this question was raised. To some, are excessive those goods which we cannot really enjoy anymore or, at a deeper level, those goods for which we cannot be grateful.
One of the participants suggests in his paper : " excessive possession is possession for which we are no more grateful ". When we take our wealth for granted, when we stop being able to marvel at the fact that we wash with clean water, we eat healthy and tasty food, we listen to good CD's, we enjoy a stroll in the woods or the smell of a rose ... "Excessive" is what performs no function in our life, that which is useless but invades our physical and mental space.
A new art of living is slowly developing, steeped in parts of European culture which have been side-tracked by consumerism : the Greek sense for modesty and balance, the judeo-christian knack for praising and being grateful, the generally human approach heralded by hippies and monks alike, and sung so beautifully by the Beatles : "let it be". A simple lifestyle, love and concern for the neighbour, cooperation, these are not pious and unrealistic dreams but a concrete necessity for our future as "winners" in a "win-win" economy. As Maurice Strong put it just before the Rio Summit : "What matters most are our deepest ethical and spiritual motivations. All religions have preached simple lifestyles and compassion. We need to re-discover their deepest message". The rich world may be slowly - too slowly - rediscovering this ancient message.
This call for frugality may be, together with a new approach to money, the harbinger of a new culture. A more humane culture should be able to ensure that the economy becomes itself more humane.
8. CULTURE AND ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION
"The problems we face are not likely to be solved using the tools that created them"
8.1 Peoples' reaction or resistance : history in the making
The future of the planet cannot and will not be the simple continuation of present neo-conservative capitalism. That economic system will never deliver the goods of development and welfarism to all of us. Exploitation, domination, marginalization lead some people to resignation and despair, other to adjustment. Others, however, revolt, stand up and resist. All these types of reaction/resistance constitute and are constituted by "culture". The frustration and anger of the jobless and of the hungry will be increasingly corroborated by the loss of confidence by a growing part of mankind in the progress and happyness promised by capitalism and its "development". Immanuel Wallerstein believes that capitalism may collapse, not primarily because it is lacking economic technology to adjust to crisis, but due to a fundamental lack of legitimacy in the eyes of people in both South and North. Some communities resist more successfully than others to the narrow rationality of the "megamachine" and its competitive obsession. Their resistance contain germs of alternatives and seeds of hope for a different future. As a consequence, it is fair to state that we are not witnessing the "End of History" despite the arrogantly ethnocentric prophecy of Prof. Fukuyama (White House adviser in the G. Bush administration).
This so-called "End of History" was to follow the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing universalization of "economic rationality" and "democracy". The prophecy is blatently belied : not only by the many struggles and social movements which continue to change society (and "make history") but also by the multiple forms of reaction resistance and alternative behaviour in the fields of political and economic organization, the latter being the object of this research.
"We can no longer be content with writing only the history of victorious elites (...). We thus need to uncover the history of "the people without history" : the active histories of "primitives", peasantries, laborers, immigrants and besieged minorities" (Open the Social Sciences, A Report of the Gulbenkian Foundation, 1996, dir. I. Wallerstein).
8.2 A win-win economy ?
The "Caïn Syndrome" which characterizes the present "win-loose" economy is steeped in an aggressive, exclusively and excessively "male" paradigm of conquest and domination, in a culture of competition, hierarchy, rationalism. It is characterized by a non-participatory mechanistic, Darwinian paradigm. This culture is maybe reaching its climax and might be close to its collapse or to its transformation in the present age of globalization (Pradervand).
In primitive times, men had to secure a livelihood outside the cavern whereas women tended to the household. Joël de Rosnay indicated that these male qualities were necessary to conquer the world since the beginning of Man's history. Yet they are required no more. We now have reached the limit. The whole planet has been conquered. It was turned into our common habitat. The caretaker of the cavern is now at least as important as the conqueror of the outside world. Qualities of "householding" (litteral meaning of Economics !) are now required as much as the capacity to conquer. These are values associated to womanhood : holistic concerns for interdependence, partnership, bonding, harmony, coordination, dialogue, compassion, respect for life, caring ...
We now need a symbiosis of "male" and "female" values inside each one of us and in our social and economic life. Taking care of our home "cavern" is as imporant as mastering the bush outside. Cooperation is as important as competition if we want to survive as a species on a liveable planet. 5.8 billion humans simply cannot go on according the present "win-loose" economy. The issue is not "how to have more" but "how much is enough". Our planet can carry 10 billion citizens, not 10 billion "rugged individualists". The millions of excluded will not keep watching peacefully for ever how the world's resources are consumed by a privileged minority of 20%. In this interdependent planet of ours, the "win-win" paradigm, based on solidarity, is as much a demographical and ecological as an ethical imperative. Hazel Henderson is quite blunt about it : we will all be loosers if everyone wants to be winner. As a sad and frightening matter of fact, the winner will be, in the medium to long term, a looser.
The win-loose attitude destroys the chances of others, jeopardizes the environment and ultimately damages our human fibre, our integrity as human being (Santikaro, Pradervand).
8.3 A search for meaning
"What you want others to do for you, do it also for them", this basic tenet quoted from the Gospel (Mat 7, 12) is present in at least eight great religious and ethical systems. One participant quoted evidence to that from Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zoroastrism ... Also people steeped in secular spirituality (E. Fromm, M. Rosenberg, I. Boszormenyi Nagy, H. Comte-Sponville) agree with that. The human being is made for giving and loving. Surely, humans do not always live up to that. Far from it. Still, facts are here which speak for themselves : some people want change out of ethical considerations. The various attemps to resist this model in North and South and to create alternatives such as those mentioned in this document point to a deeply-felt human urge for something else.
Widespread dissatisfaction with lives led in opulence according to the "win-loose" model bears convincing testimony to the fact that people in the North crave for more. And, in this case, "more" is "better" : a better life. More human. The power-hungry, the "win-loose" maniac, the calculating egotist, is not only an objective threat to nature and to people : he is not a model of joy and happyness either. Peoples' culture looks for deeper meaning.
8.4 Re-embed the economy as if people mattered
Karl Polanyi developed from the previous work of Karl Marx his concept of embededness of the economy into local social life. This concept enables one to break away from the mechanistic and ethnocentric view of economics; it allows one to open up to an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach. Since capitalism ripped away economy from other social concerns and regulations, its profit-based logic tends to dominate all aspects of social life. There is a need to re-embed economics into society. This is a political, ethical and environmental necessity. It is also an important key to understanding those societies which are relatively more traditional and less Westernized (less capitalist that is). Thus, culture (the immaterial dimension of life) is a central element.
8.5 Beyond materialistic and culturalistic determinism
It may be tragically correct to say that our economic culture may not change fast enough to prevent total collapse. It is also true to state that, even if our culture changes rapidly, adjustment may be painful. In any case, culture is to play a key-role for the required change to come about.
This last conclusion may sound idealistic by putting too much emphasis on such a "soft" issue as culture. It is not. Contributions to this research indicate that there exists, to use Maurice Godelier's words, a constant reciprocal influence between the world of ideas (l'idéel) and the world of matter (le matériel), between culture and modes of production, between values and techniques. Far from being reduced to a superstructure determined by economics and technology, as many simplistic "Marxists" once wrote, culture is part and parcel of social and economic relations. There is a dialectical relationship between culture and so called "hard" facts. Culture organizes life and is influenced by life.
This is a basic tenet within Network Cultures, away from any illusions due to abstract culturalism or to materialistic determinism. The human being moves into a web of social relations and conflicts, of economic structures, of technical innovations and of information. Yet, he is not just a puppet determined by forces beyond him. His ability to interpret the past, to give meaning to the present and to anticipate the future, i.o.w. his culture, can be a powerful source of reaction and resistance.
It is in our culture that we will find the invisible engine of our reaction/resistance to globalization. Culture prompts action and is nurtured by our action. There is dialectical link between action and culture as between material and technological conditions and culture. Culture is like groundwater. It may not be visible but it guarantees our fertility. Its major function, next to self-esteem, selection, solidarity and struggle, is meaning. The meaning we give to life produces practices and organizations. They are the visible concretization of our culture. These actions and organizations (e.g. a coop, a LETS) may be absorbed, manipulated or shattered by capitalism. Yet, if the sense-giving capacity of culture is still alive, hope remains. As long as humans are not submitted into a "culture of silence" (P. Freire), as long as they can stand up as creative, actors able to give meaning to their lives, as long as they can be subjects and not objects of history, hope is alive.
8.6 Time for hope beyond optimism ?
Change is certainly ahead of us. Whether it will be for the better rather than for the worse is unclear.
Will enough global awareness arise ? Is the paradigm shift occurring on large and deep enough scale ? Will there be enough social struggle, creativity and solidarity at local levels ?
The present times do not inspire much optimism. But hope, struggle and creativity can achieve profound change. Here lies the civil responsibility of each one of us.
The French philosopher Albert Camus stated that each degradation of peoples' culture would lead to servitude ("Tout ce qui dégrade la culture raccourcit les chemins de la servitude"). Consequently, each effort to search for more meaning to our lives and our social and economic system would lead to more freedom. Not that of markets, but the freedom of people.
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