Responsible economics

  

In many avenues of life we will balance benefits against drawbacks - e.g. the agony of having a tooth filling against the consequences of not to. - a reasoning with some economy and common sense to it. However, when it comes to economic theory, any such common sense evapourates into thin air. It is based on the assumption that it is in the basic 'nature' of money to make comparable the incomparable, separate whoever reaps the profits from those who suffer the drawbacks, sever the action from its aftermath. This produces the most peculiar nonsensicalities, and deadly serious ones. Top-ranking economic scientists apply the concept of 'optimal pollution' - meaning the break-even point where the benefits of any polluting production will balance the disadvantages of this same pollution. Obviously, this does not make sense; thus, in order to make the approach make sense, a third unit is introduced: 'Society'. That is: a fictional subject for whom plus and minus may balance (almost like the toothache-case). And 'society' has absolutely nothing to do with being social. On the contrary - The benefits are reaped by others than those who suffer the drawbacks!

Such a manoeuvre requires a common yardstick. Something enabling a comparison of benefits and drawbacks - MONEY. 'Environmental economy' is the name of the game, a mechanism for pricing a lark's trill, the cost of illness, loss of farmland, and of death. That is, 'price' instead of 'appreciation'. Losses associated with illness and death are calculated by the cost of treatment (what makes death the cheaper option), or lost working days. This implies that losses will decrease with lower wages and poorer education. Quite simple, you see, and the scientific basis of the sweeping statement that 'Africa is under-polluted'.

It is a bit harder when it comes to non-convertible entities, such as the lark's warble, culture, or ethics. However, economists manage to deal with that, too, though their mindset is a sick one. It is based on the assumption that the most valuable things are those that most people will pay the most for. Let's take an example: Mols bjerge, a hilly landscape in Denmark is quite an asset (this has been studied), while the Amager Fælled area, an open space in Metropolitan Copenhagen, is worth nothing (which has also been studied). And how come? Well, because some German tourist on a trip in Mols Bjerge was asked the following question, 'Let's assume there was an entrance fee to this area. What would you be prepared to pay?' - The tourist replied by stating a certain amount. However, if asked a similar question, a copenhagener (a Dane) would have asked the researcher economist with the questionnaire if he was nuts. 'Not a nickel. Damn it, this is our own place!' - So much for the technicalities of the case. The implications are worse, since the value such assets does not lie with the price we are prepared to pay, but with whatever they are and do to ourselves. Mols Bjerge and free public libraries are most valuable to the rebellious brat who is willing to pay ten Danish kroner for not having to go there, an assumption based on quite a different set of values than the economist's - assuming that we do have a set of values. One that makes us simplistic enough to venture a judgement to the effect that 'this is good', and 'that is bad'. Venture to insist that the brat would actually benefit from a walk in Mols Bjerge or from paying a visit to a Danish public library.

Such an argumentation is sheer Simpleton Jack and way beyond the comprehension of the market. Nevertheless (or rather, therefore) such judgements should lie at the foot of any attempt to let the economic rationale unfold.

Some thrive on destruction
 'Benefits from economies of scale' - that's what they call the fact that the number of Danish farms is steadily declining, at present at a rate of 11 units a day. - Benefits to whom? This is a major issue. Whenever things go completely wrong, it's actually because someone profits from it. And surely the large farm units do. It has been politically decided that the number of DK farm units should be shrunk to about 10,000 - due to economies of scale. However the process has a lot of adverse effects, including a transfer of people from agriculture, the DK population segment with the lowest mortality figures, and to the unskilled labour sector, the population segment with the highest mortality in this country. A post World War 2 transfer of minimum 200,000 people from the lowest mortality group to the highest one! Did our economic soothsayer include this aspect in his forecasts, when counting the blessings of economies of scales? Or the pollution load on our groundwater, or the declining sperm quality found in agrochemical farmers? Or the medicated fodder and resistant bacteria in large-scale pig production? - He didn't. But then, did the minister who gave the soothsayer the title and the task include it? For presumably, it would be fair to consider this a political issue, since it isn't an economic one? Nor yet. His task is to suspend the political powers, using the economic ones - with large scale production and monotony as the result.

So now, perhaps, the top manager of the Danish National Broadcasting Company will merge all editorial staffs, broadcasting and television into one unit. “There are economies of scale to be earned from only employing one reporter”, says the manager-guy, on behalf of a profession that once considered comprehensive coverage a virtue.

Irresponsible - and responsible money
 Economy has been polluted, too. Economy and people are being pressed by the 2-in-1 pesticide and fertiliser - interest. And money needs no help, when it comes to running up the biggest yields and the most brutish production. That's why billions are travelling the globe each day, on the quest for even more. More money. Giant conglomerates are breaking international law, and are knowingly allowed to - fair enough, since intervention would lead to mass unemployment, social unrest, civil war and national collapses. Nationally, banks are manipulating our public administration and politics. We have no way of fully understanding what's going on. Money matters have grown too big, too complicated, so even levying taxes on motor vehicles is too difficult. The result is everlasting cases of politicising civil servants , politicians reduced to civil servants, the Danish folketing acting as a judiciary, and the legal profession being interdicted from drawing legal conclusions. Common rule and administration mores are collapsing under the burden of complexity.

By contrast, finding the road to maximum usefulness and responsibility will require judiciousness and decisions - and legally competent bodies - democratic ones. We need a community open to announcements such as, “We want our savings and pension scheme payments to stay with this company with lower returns - for then we can also keep our school. We want to place our savings and pension scheme payments in these farm units, for then we can avoid pesticides in our groundwater.” Such communities need to be created, in the form of co-operative banks, local contracts for pension scheme savings and groundwater resources. The foolish thing of it all is that some people are already working along those lines, and not so long ago there was a lot of them. We are facing a productive retreat. The issue is not whether it is possible or not. It's a question of just doing it - and then stop whoever wants to go the opposite way in doing their thing. There is a need for a structural pruning of economy; we'll have to return to small-scale local money with responsibility and commitment, of dimensions where we are still able to handle fraud and swindle - an economy that can go bankrupt without pulling entire archipelagos nations along in its fall.

Two modes of growth
 Everything grows. Plants do, and animals, and people - and economies grow. This has caused some people to mistakenly believe that plant growth and economic growth are related phenomena. They are not, they are complete contrasts. Any living organism will stop growing, once it has reached maturity. It will grow only until its destiny is fulfilled, being capable of breeding new life. At that point any additional growth (often horizontal!) is undesired. For economy (the way we've organised it) growth is imperative economic growth being a function of economy itself, self-referential, right until its implosion. By contrast Organic growth relates to its own environment. A rain forest has no growth as such - though everything in it grows more lushly and exuberantly than anything we know. The evolution history has gradually minimised growth and replaced it with an 'expert system', a variety of dynamically balanced functions. Economists could learn a lesson or two from such highly sophisticated systems.

The winner - not always the best man
 Competitive sports involve competition. Fair enough. The outcome is a winner whom, with unfailing logic, we call 'the best'. This makes sense, in this simple sense - which has clouded the brains of economic scholars: They believe something similar applies to the realm of economy. They believe that economic competition makes a guarantee that the best man will invariably win. This is not so - not even by a long shot. In the past, when the ploughshare was developed to perfection, this was not the outcome of competition between ploughmen, but of day-to-day working with plough and soil. Experience-based knowledge, evolved through a dialogue between man, tool and matter is sure to produce running optimisations.

With the advent of money economy something new occurred. A shift from optimisation to maximisation. Competition is a deteriorating force, and once competition was installed as a religion, such deteriorations were made legitimate. An example: Decades before culture became tititainment, television was commercialised, and children were targeted for marketing - people knew that competitive media would produce consistently poorer quality. Provided, of course that you measure quality by another standard than just quantity. In those days they did have a set of values on which to base their judgement. - Economy and contemporary politicians don't.

Groundwater, food and sperm quality are allowed to deteriorate, day by day - in the interests of competition. Vast sums are invested in having necessary as well as superfluous tasks done by fewer and fewer people. More and more people have to live on income transfer - in the interests of competition. And in the interests of competition we still insist on pouring antibiotics into healthy piglets.

Societal contracts versus competition
The very concept of competition has changed. Once a device for improving things, more efficiently and cost-effectively, competition is now made the justification of all serious deteriorations to our lives, environment and future. However, the fact that large-scale technologies outperform small-scale ones does not imply 'the bigger, the better'. Not by a long shot. The explanation lies with the very nature of competition: it will favour whoever is the more brutal, more single-minded; whoever can think of the best way to pass the bill on to the next generation. A junk-chicken-producing, salmonella-ridden farm is not 'better' in any sense of the word. Nor is monoculture pesticide-apple-production 'better' in any sense of the word. 'Better' are those apple orchards where hens have taken over as weed and insect controllers and manure providers. In order to find the best solutions we will need some radically different approaches. This will call for dialogue. Dialogue between those performing a given action, and those affected by this same action: people, living and unborn, and nature. Only then will a dialogue between hens, trees and producers emerge - an approach that will call for landstewardship.

Quality

World-wide, in embassies and emperors' palaces, we find Danish furniture, rightly considered the world's most outstanding. These products were not made with emperors or ambassadors in mind, but indeed from a simpletonic democratic vision of quality, mediated by such a simpletonic contraption as the Danish co-op society. Quality for people. For the people. And by people who took no orders from any market, and who were uncompromising when it came to materials, aesthetics or craftsmanship. People who took the snooty position of actually knowing better in their own field of expertise - which is the prerogative of any democracy. Some feel this is democracy - including a few politicians. It isn't. This is business and opportunism, something entirely different. Democracy requires everyone to uncompromisingly do his or her best. This goes for traffic ministers and for politicians in general. Only so can we achieve a quality that will ensure our sense of quality; the same could understanding could very well be extended to our relationship with nature. In Hans Christian Andersen's fairy-tale, the emperor prefers the man-made nightingale. Only on his deathbed, when the natural nightingale sings him back to life, does he realise his mistake. The natural nightingale is better. Nature is better. Nature is actually good, for very obvious reasons: This is how it was made. All organisms were produced by nature, in nature and for nature - and above anything: for one another. This is not just goodness. It is pure love of a gender that will not stand for being crucified. It simply cannot be done any better.

[Illustration: Nightingale, from the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen]

Nattergalen
What we call for is a new deal with competition. Wherever competition proves destructive, it will be replaced by societal contracts. Such contracts should be coined for many levels, and bodies to participate in those contracts should be set up. This will require us to meet and discuss how we want to organise ourselves - the way we've always done it, whenever Denmark went upwards.

In this country, competition has closed down 100,000 farm units since World War II, and continues to do so at a rate of 11 units a day. We know the winners, a new squirearchy. (In region Thy, Denmark, one of those land sharks has purchased 49 farm units so far). And they all use pesticides. But then, all farmers are using pesticides, except for the eco-simpletons. For without pesticides they cannot make their properties accrue interest - so they say, as though they owned their own land, including its groundwater. OK, let's just assume they cannot make their 'properties' accrue without pesticides; but then, presumably, they bought them too dear - and then it might be about time for them to strike a social contract with future generations?: That once they sell their 'properties', they will sell them so cheap that their successors can make them accrue without using pesticides. Simply by agreeing with the estate agent that he will of course sell the land, including rain and groundwater, as cheap as possible, and at least 15 percent below market price - enough to drop the pesticides. Looking at major social contracts, we could have a look at co-operative farming, land rent, shared ownership, or a re-allocation scheme. In Danish history such schemes, initiated by the Danish 'Enclosure Movement, have proved highly successful, and have yielded high grade foodstuffs.

The democratic bottom and the mafiose top Democracy is based on the numskullic notion that ordinary people are able to control themselves and their own society. But we aren't any longer. We don't rise to our tasks any longer, neither as a democracy, politically, nor as people. On the contrary. We are growing smaller, relatively and in absolute terms - a situation that has a technological component: New chemical compounds are being developed a hundred times faster than we are able to have their consequences assessed. With the implication that impacts of our technologies are growing faster than our knowledge can keep pace - a gap widening at an exponential rate.

So relatively speaking, we are getting smaller. And so we are in absolute terms, with heavy implications for democracy. Considering the technological advances that politicians are promoting so eagerly, politics have gradually shrunk into nothing; so the truly smart are shrewd enough to stay clear of politics. They'll stick to production and send in their puppets instead, and make them provide the desired conditions. Which in numerous fields means 'doing nothing whatsoever'. Making sure that democracy is dismantled - just enough for money and technology to expand freely, and just enough to prevent too many of us from finding out too soon.

On the bottom floor of Danish agriculture we find people spending their money on developing productions that do not pollute the groundwater for other people and future generations. Numskulls staking their livelihoods and dwellings on their quest for new sustainable modes of production. On the top floor of Danish agriculture we find people who are dead earnest when claiming compensations if polluting our groundwater is disallowed. Really, that's a thoroughly mafiose invention, tantamount to protection money - like pressing money from a merchant for not smashing his shop.

On the bottom floor of Danish politics people are slaving. Danes are democrats, and they insist on advancing an ever so numskullic notion - that a democracy is ruled by the people. We elect people to rule, and our hopes for a democratic alternative continue to thrive on these people. On the top floor of Danish politics a targeted effort is being made to drain democracy of its substance: Common rule is redefined as state rule (and not in the benign sense of the word), while the marketplace is called democracy. And access to this top floor is only for those who are prepared to renounce power - i.e. mostly those prepared to secure the dominance of economy by abstaining from doing anything at all. These puppets disclaim every responsibility. 'It's the consumer's decision', so they say, at the same time throwing obstacles in the way of the political consumer - presumably the only rescue within sight. All of which, of course is only possible where politics have ceased to exist.

So that's the top floor of Danish agriculture - busy dismantling our political democracy, at a time when practically any major enterprise is discussing responsibility and ethics. Even the most hard-core private enterprises are working out their own goals for democratic management structures, within reasonable limits, and democratic goals in relation to markets and human rights, and within reasonable limits. Coerced, not politically, by the political consumer. Even Shell Company recently launched their own human rights and environmental policies. Before long the top people of Danish agriculture will be the only group management to insist on freedom from responsibility. Which, of course, is only possible where moral standards have ceased to exist.

A political upgrading of the market on the cost of politics and democracy has set free the forces which are now driving technology and economy towards a sheer run-away. Technology and structures increase in scope and complexity beyond our control. In our wisdom we have constructed a world that we are not smart enough to manage - so we just don't.

Criteria of a viable technology strategy

How to assess - for we need to. Technologies must be assessed, and more than anything, the production of non-knowledge. Can we do such a thing - assess what we it is we don't know?

An example - a dairy and a nuclear plant. Are we able to assess the quality of everything we do not know about these two? Surely, but things are not necessarily that simple. We have to set up criteria, new criteria for the assessment of knowledge and non-knowledge. The mere assessment of the 130,000 registered chemical compounds already in production an impossible project. New substances are added faster than existing ones can be assessed. What could these compounds cause, when mixed - within the human body or in nature? We've plainly decided to stop thinking about it. Quite understandably so. The project is impossible. No scientific effort will suffice. A different set of criteria is needed:

The cautionary criterion: Reasonable doubt should always be to the benefit of the most reasonable technology.

The tendency criterion: Allergies are on the rise, sperm quality is deteriorating, diabetes is increasing.

We do not know the reasons underlying such trends, apart from the vague explanation of ' development'.

We should respect this, and the general development trend should be changed.

Substantiality criterion: Is a given technology essential, or even necessary, and if so: to whom?

Motivation criterion: What is the basic motive: Solving a vital problem, covering a legitimate need, or simply greed?

Consequence criterion: Can we think of negative impacts of a technology that - to an isolated view - appears reasonable? Will it solve a problem by producing other, maybe greater problems for future generations?

Nature criterion: Does a given new technology co-operate with or work against nature's processes?

Sympathy criterion: Do we like it?

 

The child

The child A pioneering educator once said that something is missing at the Danish Wartime Museum: The spitball of the unknown schoolchild!

Staffs from day nursery, youth clubs and schools - professionals are increasingly influencing the education and socialisation of our children, and someone even earned a doctorate by proving, on a strictly scientific basis, that making hideaways and climbing trees are good for children. So now they know, the kiddies!

10 to 16 year olds watch TV the most. The lingo of the commercials has become children’s language. Distorted, idolised and caricature versions of something resembling people’s everyday lives are presented as models. Disguised as humour we let them go down. For we are a good-humoured people who like to be snug and cosy in prime time. And prime time ends up being the primary part of our children’s lives!

School should instil democracy into our children, as it says in the ‘writ’. This creates a dilemma. Developing a child for the world of free enterprise, or bringing it up to face life itself - these things are not the same, they are contrasts. Life - and then a business world using the media to structure the everyday lives and values of schools and children alike; a business world that is increasingly exploiting our children in order to increase turnovers. - an effort that our society has rewarded with Denmark’s only tax-free business activity so far: advertising.

And it does sink in. Into our language, our social conventions, and our minds. The result is lack of self-esteem and identity, loss of roots and values and a quest for fullness. Life is for sale, idolatry, unattainable instead of life-size ideals. The force of example is creating constantly insecure teenagers - do I look right, smell right? - Which in turn boosts turnovers. The more efficient the manipulation, the weaker the value basis - and the more are children prepared to behave in a self-centred and opportunistic manner. No reflections on their individual actions, merely reactions to actual situations. Forming friendships and communities gets harder, and they are constantly at risk. Disagreements on music or idols can make a group split up in a rabid reaction. And reaction does not produce insights; only action does.

Our children’s world is deliberately being split into discrete realities, where the real one often has an ever so slight role to play. Children are constantly moving between institutionalised worlds, covered one to one by people paid to nurse, care for, teach and educate. But what children really need is involvement. - Involvement in the reciprocal commitments of a community with values miles apart from those of ‘The Wheel of Fortune’. Experience-based learning-by-succeeding. Children can to things on their own, if we let them.

Politicians keep saying that we need to relieve our children and their parents. Not for going home to their Hoover - but to their kids instead. What we need is time for our children. ‘Time’ - is the talk of the town, and children - and all the while, parenthood leaves suffer cutbacks, and the pace is forced up. But actually, our politicians are in no state to do anything about it. Actually, they are stark naked. Actually, they oughta have a spitball right in the back of their heads!

[Illustration: ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen]

The Emperor’s New Clothes

 

The adults

Universities and schools of commerce are training people in ‘leadership’, sheer and pure ‘leadership’, management. And such managers may then flip-flop from hospital administration to journalism, from the ministry of war to The Royal Theatre, from Denmark’s Communist Party to surveillance, mass lay-offs and commercialisation of the postal services. Ballet or war ministry, illness or parcel post - they are all the same. Just like money, management will wipe out any qualitative difference. Such people are called symbol analysts. And they are the folks who insist that ‘elderly ladies have anything to fear from unserviced railway stations, for we have provided service phones right next to the ticket machines!’ - The statement (an authentic one) was offered by one highly educated/salaried illiterate from the top floor of the Danish railway administration. And illiteracy is his very qualification: our man just doesn’t know what he is talking about; that’s how he merits his salary. A service phone, indeed! When filling stations lay off their staff, they became service stations. And this perverting language is now helping the service society gain foothold. In the virtual reality of the management folks there are no risks. But they are - a mortal one, and very modern.

In Copenhagen, the capital: For a start, the non-polluting tramcars were discontinued, because they were blocking the cars, and trolley buses were introduced. Then the non-polluting trolley-buses were discontinued, because they blocked the cars. Now cars are blocking the cars. So the most recent proposal is to launch a rocket with a satellite, which is to look down at each and every car - how does it move, for how long - and then bill it. And this happened the year when the same Danish minister inaugurated a freeway extension which on a daily basis (so the annotations to the Bill) would convert 1,000 rail commuters to Copenhagen into car passengers. And the very same year our government proclaimed their goal: a doubling of road haulage over the next ten years. And that year our Ministry for the Environment announced that exhaust fumes are killing 500 people, on an annual basis. In our own capital.

The progress of the nation: Productions are launched that pollute our environment, poison our groundwater and supply inferior foodstuffs. Next thing, these foodstuffs are ‘enhanced’ with additives. This is what they call ‘functional food’, a field in which our government hopes to see Denmark as a pioneering country.

No wonder that people’s humour and good spirits are taxed: No school revue would ever get away with inventing such stories.

 

Retreat “

In case of emergency: Please stay calm. Our staff is trained to handle any situation. The relevant authorities have been informed, and help is under way”. This is the message of the mandatory ‘safety video’ of CatLink ferries, featuring a soft male voice reassuring the passengers with the picture of a controlled emergency. A study covering several ferry services showed that 60 percent of the staff did not know how to put on their life vests. ‘Handle any situation’, yes indeed!

Our technical potency is growing faster than our understanding of risks and consequences. This has produced a new type of risk that we might term the ‘modern risk’. We do not know much about it, and that’s a point.

When a windmill drops a wing, hitting the windmiller’s head, then the local newspaper can spread the news that ‘Miller has died’, and everyone will know why. That is a classic risk. But when the EU agrees on threshold values for radioactive isotopes, meaning that radioactive steel will be ‘diluted’ with non-radioactive steel to be used for producing tin-mugs for kindergarten kids - then we have no idea what is happening, and who will be ‘hit’. What does not have a name passes unnoticed, except for the one hit - who will never know why.

Science is able to supply every information about the desired qualities of many new compounds - they are actually advertised. For a few compounds science can also tell us about their non-desired qualities; but scientists cannot tell us what we do not know about such new compounds. Each new compound will produce additional non-knowledge. Not just in terms of the relevant compound and ourselves, but also regarding the compound’s synergisms with innumerable other compounds, and against man. The amount of non-knowledge is on the increase. We are made dumber by virtue of the huge research effort. This is part of the modern risk.

We use to talk of ‘the enigma of cancer’, most often when pleading for new advanced research, such as genetic engineering. The very same genetic engineering technology is used for producing plants that will tolerate a number of herbicides, one of which (banned in the USA, but not in Denmark) is carcinogenic! The greatest enigma of cancer is that we are politically determined and hell-bent on spreading carcinogenic substances in our own environment.

Diabetes is treated using insulin produced by genetically engineered yeast cells. Surely an advance; but still diabetes is a condition that emerges with a number of other diseases wherever industrialism and the modern way of living are in progress. The man-made increase in several diseases is greater than what medical research can ever hope to cope with - it could be called a modern syndrome. Especially since no research is investigating what caused the increase.

[Illustration: ‘What the Old Man does is Always Right’, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen]

Hva fatter gør

What the Old Man does, and what the Old Lady understands

What the Old Man does, and what the Old Lady understands “I’d rather have a sore back from hoeing turnips than from pesticides”; thought The Old Man when he swapped his agrochemical shares for an old, rusty hoe. For that he was kissed, and not slapped as his bank adviser had betted. And the hoe got shiny with wear.

Bringing about a reasonable technological development will involve a retreat to classic risks, and in more than one respect. By using technologies that respect the environment, are democratic, involve their users and strengthen the social bonds within local communities, we will be able to act far more prudently, and above all, show greater responsibility. Even illness has a democratic aspect with technological implications. Our transportation policy, a democratic decision, is inflicting a particularly high cancer risk on the children of our cities. This is not just tragic; it’s non-democratic, too. A democratic health concept would automatically point to the fact that the estimated, though anonymous 500 annual deaths caused by exhaust fumes are a lot more interesting than a handful of ever so personal heart transplants. Such considerations could produce different technologies, and different modes of organising our traffic and transportation, etc. Our assignment is a production which is more sustainable in every respect, by which we can reverse our planet from modern risks towards more classic ones. For this to materialise we shall need people whose knowledge is based on experience combined with theory. Which in turn requires respect for common sense.