MANFRED MAX-NEEF: [On the phrase from his book, “barefoot economics”] Well, it’s a metaphor, but a metaphor that originated in a concrete experience. I worked for about ten years of my life in areas of extreme poverty in the Sierras, in the jungle, in urban areas in different parts of Latin America. And at the beginning of that period, I was one day in an Indian village in the Sierra in Peru. It was an ugly day. It had been raining all the time. And I was standing in the slum. And across me, another guy also standing in the mud — not in the slum, in the mud. And, well, we looked at each other, and this was a short guy, thin, hungry, jobless, five kids, a wife and a grandmother. And I was the fine economist from Berkeley, teaching in Berkeley, having taught in Berkeley and so on. And we were looking at each other, and then suddenly I realized that I had nothing coherent to say to that man in those circumstances, that my whole language as an economist, you know, was absolutely useless. Should I tell him that he should be happy because the GDP had grown five percent or something? Everything was absurd.
So I discovered that I had no language in that environment and that we had to invent a new language. And that’s the origin of the metaphor of barefoot economics, which concretely means that is the economics that an economist who dares to step into the mud must practice. The point is, you know, that economists study and analyze poverty in their nice offices, have all the statistics, make all the models, and are convinced that they know everything that you can know about poverty. But they don’t understand poverty. And that’s the big problem. And that’s why poverty is still there. …
The principles of an economics which should be are based in five postulates and one fundamental value principle.
One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.
Two, development is about people and not about objects.
Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.
Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.
Five, the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.
And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.
Shaping the Post Crisis Agenda by Tom Lembong, CEO of Quvat Management
One of the greatest fundamental challenges of our time is that too many of the world’s most educated youth refuse to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in the sweaty, head-banging task of building real-world, bricks-and-mortar value for global society.
Instead, these educational elites – from schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton – try with all their might to engineer themselves into cushy jobs in expensive air-conditioned offices, serving as little more than paper-pushers. Slicing and dicing memos, PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets, they collect obscene salaries doing work that is ultimately little more than intellectual masturbation.
This absurdity has drawn disproportionately large numbers of the world’s educational elites into Wall Street investment banks, hedge funds and private equity funds. Getting ports, roads, power-plants, and hospitals built in third-world countries – that’s building real world value. So is building clean, renewable energy sources in the developed world. Helping impoverished or disenfranchised people everywhere into productive livelihoods is creating real-world value.
But it’s not enough to do only the capital-raising or the financial engineering for such projects. The world badly needs for its most talented young folks to get down and dirty and into the trenches. We
have to take on the distasteful chore of engaging slimy bureaucrats, incompetent politicians and unscrupulous local thugs who are obstructing the creation of real-world value. We have to take on the
petulant and squeamish vested interests. Bullying or confrontational tactics rarely work. We have to cajole, persuade, charm, sometimes even bribe them into letting value be created. Now THAT would
be masterful deal-making – finding a way to cut a deal so that the poor can be served and the vested interests are mollified enough to get out of the way.
How can the world’s best and brightest be persuaded to abandon their cushy jobs and go into the inner city, the impoverished countryside, the smelly third-world countries? Well, the implosion of the Wall Street mirage is a good start – thousands of the educational elites are being thrown out from their cozy spreadsheet cocoons.
Governments in rich countries greatly influence attitudes of the young through policy. Policy determines the extent to which a society is consumption-driven. Consumption-driven societies eventually become highly materialistic. Highly materialistic societies will suffer from disproportionate amounts of depression and mental disorder. Those who succeed in attaining material excess eventually suffer depressing emptiness. Those who fail to attain it, suffer smoldering resentment and low self-esteem. Materialistic success and materialistic failure eventually breed crime – white-collar crime in the case of the former, just plain crime in the case of the latter.
Unavoidably, life is a search for meaning. And meaning can be found in one’s family, or in spiritual pursuits like religion, but few activities can rival the helping of one’s fellow human being as a source of meaning in life. Most likely, helping our fellow species is deeply hard-coded into our very DNA.
Failing to serve the betterment of our fellow humans is a sure-fire recipe for mental depression and existential dilemma.
Mandatory geography lessons and documentaries about the poor in elementary school; mandatory community service in high school (possibly including month-long stints in poor, third-world countries); and the vastly more extensive dispatch of multi-lateral military forces and aid agencies to help peacekeeping and nation-building around the world – these may be the best hope for pushing the educational elites into real-world value-creation.