One of the themes of this year's CIVICUS assembly, in Montreal, is Economic Justice. What is economic justice? I am sure that there are some accepted definitions, but, none of them come from economics! So, my definition is: simply ensuring that everyone has access to, due to the fair allocation of: land, jobs, money, even opportunity; that no one is denied water, food, a home, a job. . . the basic needs and more .. . because they fit a "category" of people that are to be exploited or robbed. One should not be denied the right to basic needs (including education and healthcare) because one is black, lives in Africa, or South Asia, are a woman or a child, or belong to the wrong class, caste or tribe. So one needs the freedom to participate, to demand, to lobby, to organize and one needs education and a kind of optimism -- that things can be fairly allocated, can be just, can be distributed differently.
One of the things that holds back economic justice is a failure to consider all economic models. Most (but not all) of the world has adopted some form of capitalism. We say (at least in North America) "the economy" as if we mean it is some unchangeable force of nature. Jim Stanford - a Canadian economist - wrote a book called "Economics for Everyone". In it, he argues that we have a capitalist economic system and he writes about how it works. He does not propose socialism, or any other model, but does suggest that we should all understand that it is just one possible model, and that the constructs underpinning the "economy" can be changed. He also suggests that we should understand how "the economy" works, in order not be bamboozled by governments and economists into thinking that a restructuring of priorities and social organization are impossible.
He has a great website to accompany the book - Economics for Everyone - in which he says ". . . It provides a comprehensive description (and critique) of free-market economics." This is not your usual "economics text" but is written for the average "activist" to understand. The site actually includes slides, study guides, teacher's notes etc to run a course on how the economy works, and in my own experience, Jimbo is absolutely willing to help if you are trying to put the course together.
One of the things that he does not cover is those things that are not counted in the economy but should be. . . As Einstein famously said: Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
For that, I turn to a great book by Raj Patel - "The Value of Nothing" - again there is a website to accompany the book - The Value of Nothing - that site says in part:
Opening with Oscar Wilde’s observation that “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced. He reveals the hidden ecological and social costs of a hamburger (as much as $200), and asks how we came to have markets in the first place. Both the corporate capture of government and our current financial crisis, Patel argues, are a result of our democratically bankrupt political system.
In what way? Because, he argues, in most countries corporations have become defined as "legal people" , and, because, in addition, we have been engaging for thirty years in "enclosure" -- owning and allowing ownership of more and more "things" - intellectual property, common lands, seed, water etc. More and more people are being ignored. We know, as he says, quoting Oscar Wilde, "the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing". He says (p. 172/73):
"over the past thirty years, the accelerating price of enclosure, and the increasing scale of the theft, have brought our planet to the edge of destruction. Internationally, environmental costs have been shunted from rich to poor, most notably though not exclusively from global warming. A recent report offers a very conservative estimate of the number of people harmed by climate change today at 325 million, every year. The number of deaths from weather changes alone is set to exceed 500,000 people per year.. . and most of these deaths will happen among those who have had the least to do with causing pollution, people whose countries were colonized by the very same powers that have caused this new catastrophe. . . Handing the matter over to capitalism is, however, likely to prove as good an idea as asking the iceberg to fix the Titanic."
Patel does not argue that there can be no markets. On the contrary he argues that they have always existed and that what has changed is the way that we organize markets, what has value in them, and how we decide what to work on. Unfortunately too often our political decisions are based on profit, the marketplace and return on investment. He does say that alternatives are difficult to implement - how do we remove "corporate rapacity" from government and "the bleak weight of consumerism from our political imaginations." However, he does suggest that it IS possible and worth working on.
Great video overview of his thesis at:
Speaking of great videos and having just mentioned the weight of consumerism - another site, if you have not seen it, that is worth watching is:
the Story of Stuff. In it, Annie Leonard not only tells us what is wrong with the way that we are organized economically - but at least for me, she offers some direction for solution, including the fact that you don't have to work on everything - but need to working on some part of the "fix". . . the whole video is 20 minutes long - but it is worth it! Please take the time.
The site, with other issues , videos and resources is at: Story of Stuff
If economic justice is going to be achieved then we in the north (or, if you prefer the west or the so-called "developed" nations) have an obligation to pay our share, and more than our share now, since we have, as a community, been stealing from the rest of the world for a couple of centuries. As an example you can see my post on Haiti - Haiti - which describe the theft from Haiti, and it is just one example.
All of these issues need to be debated, discussed and consideration has to be given, re how to improve economic justice and distribution. Can Canadians ever demand, in large numbers, that we: democratize our economic system; that we give up some privilege/luxury (out of the car and onto the bus . . . people, eat local. . . people) to ensure better international distribution; that we collect taxes, but use them to help others we have traditionally stolen from; that we agree to provide a lot more in aid/development assistance; that we reduce our carbon footprint and allow others to increase theirs; to more radically open our doors to economic and climate migrants?. . . If not I fear the world is headed to overheating, plankton loss, and ocean death, and eventually the end of human life.
Too bleak an outlook? What do you think?