FROM COMPETITION TO ASSOCIATION...

Associative Economics

WE GIVE THOUGHT TO OUR SOURCES AND THINK OF OUR SUPPLIERS, PAYING PRICES THAT ENABLE THEM TO LIVE AND RAISE THEIR FAMILIES WITH DIGNITY… IS THE MARKET ECONOMY REALLY THE MOST REASONABLE AND EFFECTIVE WAY TO PRODUCE THE GOODS HUMANITY NEEDS? NOTHING COULD BE LESS CERTAIN THAN THAT AND THE SUCCESSIVE ECONOMIC CRISES SHOW HOW FAR THEORY IS FROM EXPLAINING PRACTICE.

Ecology is a child of the twentieth century. In the early sixties, the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson marked the beginning of ‘mainstream’ awareness of our responsibility for the planet and its future development. The concept of sustainable development was born. In the decades since it has become a concern for growing numbers of people. Today, the phenomenon of global warming has reached dramatic and global proportions and the media are quick to hype it up on a regular basis.

What is the fundamental gesture of this ecology? Above all it is a move of the heart towards something greater than ourselves, something we love and we want to know better, something one feels responsible for. This is a natural gesture within one’s own family and readily extended towards members of our favourite sports teams or the orchestras in which we play. But expanding it to embrace the whole world, the planet, the family of man – that is something new. The heart opens to everything that comes toward it, it takes an interest and commits itself, but it also knows how to judge and decide if necessary. And this is its clue: to decide freely in the light of the whole and take responsibility for that decision. This is what characterises the environmental movement.

It is a gesture opposite to that of the modern market economy as it is conceived, designed and promoted by today's experts worldwide. Its foundations date back to well before the twentieth century being rooted in and taking advantage of that disastrously Darwinistic misunderstanding picture of human evolution: ‘the struggle for survival’. Think first of yourself and of your own needs, this is the first lesson of this type of economics. The following describes how, according to free market theory, prices readjust to equilibrium and in so doing give effect to all the consequences of this individualistic attitude. Human beings are reduced to their most instinctive: egoism. To be true to itself, it would be better described asegonomy rather than economy.

In this perspective, the key words are: free market and competition. At the base of the World Trade Organization (WTO), they force all producers to fight against each other without protection. The aim is the lowest price, but that is precisely the point: at what price! How many natural, social and cultural resources have already been sacrificed on the altar of such economic theory? Forcing prices down in this way necessarily erodes values, first in the most vulnerable countries, but then also at home. It is particularly sad to see the Consumer Federation launching again and again a crusades against the Switzerland’s ‘island of high prices’. Do they not realize that where there is high level of prices, there is often also culture and civilization?

It is high time that the impulse that gave birth to sustainable development also takes hold of economic life generally.

But what does that mean? To get an idea, look at one’s own behaviour in daily economic life. For example: Have I paid enough for what I bought? Can the person who produced it afford to live from what he earns? Such a question directs our attention to an unusual soul space, a space born of matching freedom with responsibility, or perhaps simply a space for one’s humanity. Did I pay enough? It titillates. It is not only me that matters. Other human beings are also there and their, and therefore my, future is at stake. Basically, in a true economy everyone pays the true price of things, one that allows the producer to afford to produce a similar product again. Such an economy depends on me, on all of us, here and now. I am at the heart of the problem, I am its solution.

We are free to take responsibility for the economy as a whole, for the entire family of man: only such an attitude to economic life is consistent with sustainable development.