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5.0 – 5.2 Culture & The Economy

5.0      Tasks at Hand

While accepting the Crystal Award at the Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, David Attenborough observed that:

The only conditions modern humans have ever known are changing and changing fast. … It is tempting and understandable to ignore the evidence and carry on as usual or to be filled with doom and gloom. … We need to move beyond guilt or blame and get on with the practical tasks at hand.1See Kayla Epstein, “We can fix global warming, says the voice of “Planet Earth.” But humans must hurry,” The Washington Post, January 22, 2019.

What are those tasks? Today’s standard model in economics is fundamentally flawed and, in application, “absolutely”2It is also “absolutely contradictory.”  See, Terrance Quinn, “Toni Ruuska’s Capital Ideas,” https://www.anthropositivecene.org/blog-2/, January 15, 2019, regarding Toni Ruuska, “Capitalism and the absolute contradiction in the Anthropocene,” ch. 4 in Pasi Heikkurinen (ed.), Sustainability and Peaceful Coexistence for the Anthropocene, 1st ed., (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2017), 51-65. For context, see the homepage of https://www.anthropositivecene.org. damaging. Some of those tasks, then, will be communicating economics’ new standard model to journalists, scholars, economists, educators and the general public. But, of course, we need more than a correct economic theory3Preface, last paragraph; and Section 4.2, last paragraph.. How are we to improve, and keep on improving, our situation?

As the title of Section 5.1 suggests, part of the difficulty is that efforts so far have mainly been trapped in convention.4For instance, see note 2 in Preface. Section 5.2 provides glimpses of the problem in action. Section 5.3 points to part of the solution, a new (non-metric5See note 10. The first recommendation provided by Stiglitz et al. is that there be a “dashboard” of metrics. ) “way ahead in measuring well-being.” Section 5.3 anticipates a positive Anthropocene Age.

 

5.1      Temporarily Trapped


 

In the modern traditions of heterodoxy and pluralism in economics, we find an expanding literature that includes proposed alternatives to the (new) neo-classical synthesis that, among other things, would address contemporary social and ecological concerns. However, neither heterodox nor pluralist thought challenges the flawed structural aspects of the contemporary standard model6See Section 4, Economic Malpractice.. The focus, instead, tends to be on issues that are social, philosophical, moral, ecological, and so on.

Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz and his collaborators7Joseph E. Stiglitz, Jean-Paul Fitoussi and Martine Durand, Beyond GDP, Measuring What Counts for Economic and Social Performance, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2018), https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/beyond-gdp_9789264307292-en. put together “twelve recommendations on the way ahead in measuring well-being.”8Ibid, 117, https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/beyond-gdp_9789264307292-en#page119. Among other things, they suggest a “dashboard” of metrics. They emphasize the importance of “quality of life,” “sustainability,” the need to “deliver better policies for better lives” and to provide “access to statistical data.” Clearly, the emphases make great sense. But if you have been making progress with economics’ new standard model9See, e.g., sections 1-4, above., you may also see that the recommendations are policy statements that do not touch on the key problem, namely, the absence of a correct theory. (And so, the fifth recommendation asks for “understanding how the benefits of GDP growth are shared in society.”10Section 4.1. ) Nor is stock market malpractice identified11Section 4.2.. And while the twelve recommendations do not explicitly exclude the possibility, they are not suggestive of ongoing development. In particular, we might ask “Why these twelve recommendations?” There are other sets of recommendations in the past and present literature. There are humanitarian agencies that work to promote economic growth and development. But, as it is, “economic growth and development” are evaluated by appealing to metrics obtained from the (flawed) contemporary standard model12There is, for example, what has been called “Africa’s Model Megacity,” Lagos, Nigeria, Africa. There we see the familiar pattern of growing inequity together with ecological destruction. This has been documented in Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal, and Nicholas de Pencier, Anthropocene (Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2018). In ongoing debates about economics and the problem of ecological sustainability, the current standard model determines the meaning of “growth.” See, e.g.,  C. J. Orr, “Uneconomic Growth,” in Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene, vol. 4, 2018, 277-85, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128096659104744?via%3Dihub. “Economic growth is a macroeconomic policy objective with near universal support. Yet, an Earth system perspective and impending ecological conditions provide compelling reasons to revisit this idea and its implications. This article reviews the history of the growth debate, presents its main arguments, and reevaluates growth in light of an Earth system perspective. From this perspective, continued growth can no longer be used as a panacea to dispel difficult political trade-offs and allay ethical concerns. Instead, a more nuanced approach must navigate this challenging political and ethical terrain while considering the economy as embedded in and dependent upon the Earth system.” This is the abstract to Orr’s paper. No effort is made to challenge or rethink the contemporary fundamentally flawed current standard model, nor the definition of “growth” that it includes..

 

5.2      Breaking Free

 

How do we take advantage of the enormous goodwill, dedication, insights and efforts of so many who want to and strive to improve the human condition? We are asking about how to shift odds so that we get not only what Stiglitz, his collaborators and many others are asking for, but also with ongoing improvement. How do we work together in ways so that good ideas don’t – as now tends to happen – get lost in the shuffle? How do we help ensure that – more often than not – good ideas get picked up and eventually applied?

History has been gradually revealing elements of a solution. We are not talking about a model, nor a prescribed set of rules. We are talking about eight main tasks that already are subtly present13The normative eightfold division of labor was discovered by Bernard Lonergan, “Functional Specialties in Theology,” Gregorianum, vol. 50 (1969): 485-505; and Bernard Lonergan, “Functional Specialties,” ch. 5 in Method in Theology, vol. 14 of Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017): 121-138. The result was originally shared with theologians but, as Lonergan pointed out, the result is omni-disciplinary. The four future-oriented tasks were independently described by the father of deep ecology, Arne Naess, “Deep Ecology and Ultimate Premises,” Ecologist (Vol 18 No 4/5 – April/May 1988), 128-131. For other references, see the Bibliography..

Currently, these eight tasks are combined in ways that undermine the possibility of progress. Advertance to the eight tasks will, among other things, be the beginning of the solution to the problem.14We are pointing to a positive Anthropocene age (notes 25 and 31) (Journeyism 5, note 1; and Journeyism 23, note 6 (https://bentonfuturology.com/journeyism/) and wherein “linguistic feedback is achieved, that is, in the measure that explanations and statements provide the sensible presentations for the insights that effect further developments of thought and language” (Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, vol. 14 of Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, eds. Robert M. Doran and John D. Dadosky (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017), 89; and note 55, 85-6).

We can’t summarize the major discovery here. But we can help you make a start by drawing your attention to at least two of the main tasks. To do that, we describe part of what the physics community has been doing for quite some time.

Front-line experimental physics is based on up-to-date theory. There is, for instance, what is presently called the Standard Model. There are open questions and current issues. With the lens of the Standard Model, experimental physicists look for anomalies in data. What kinds of anomalies? Ones that might provide new precision, or clues on the need for (perhaps radical) revision.

You may be aware of work that has been done at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider at CERN, European Center for Nuclear Research). So intent is the physics community on getting hold of significant data (again, “significant” meaning not just any data but anomalies that might contribute to progress) that there has been a growing interest in constructing still larger colliders that would work at higher energy levels than those obtained by the already impressive LHC.15Emily Conover, “Physicists aim to outdo the LHC with this wish list of particle colliders,” New Physics, Science News, January 22, 2019, sciencenews.org; Mary Beth Griggs, “CERN wants to build the biggest, baddest particle collider ever,” The Verge, Science, 23, Jan. 15, 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/15/18183828/cern-physics-particle-accelerator-hadron-collider. There are many other articles on the announcement. For instance, see also Davide Castelvecchi, “Physicists Lay Out Plans for a New Supercollider,” Nature, Physics, January 15, 2019, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/physicists-lay-out-plans-for-a-new-supercollider/.

In physics, then (and in chemistry, biology, geosciences, environmental sciences, and so on), we find that there are at least two main tasks. One of those looks to data; and the other attempts to explain data.

In today’s sciences, rarely are the two tasks confused. It is a two-fold division of labor that is not only efficient, but at this stage, has become necessary.

For instance, to be a front-line theoretician in physics requires a special PhD and a career’s dedication, as does being a front-line experimental physicist. But, the two subgroups work hand-in-hand.

If we look to current practice, however, it is evident that there are other types of work that also contribute to progress. For instance, there are historical studies, philosophies of physics (studied and also implicit in investigators’ viewpoints), there are technologies and all of modern engineering, education, and much else besides. In other words, experimental and theoretical physics do not work in isolation16Even if one’s main interests are experimental and/or theoretical physics, work there relies on up-to-date technologies, engineering and applied computational sciences.. The two tasks (data and theory) are but two parts of a multi-functional global enterprise. And, whether or not it is made explicit, de facto, the community works toward applications that could contribute to lives and economies.

In addition to the already familiar two-fold division of labor (“experimental and theoretical”), there are six other main types of work, and so eight main tasks altogether. The eightfold division of labor applies not only to physics but to all areas of human endeavor.17See third paragraph of Section 5.2.

The first four tasks will partly identify the best (and worst) of what has been obtained so far and culminate in asking “How are we doing?” The second four look to the future and, ultimately, to applications of all kinds. The sixth, seventh and eighth tasks are, in a sense, applications of the first five. An introduction can be found in Journeyism 18 – 2418John Benton and Terrance Quinn, Journeyism 18 – 24, bentonfuturology.com. Other references are given in the Bibliography. A complementary introduction is Philip McShane, “Sixes and Sevens: The Need for Cyclic Thinking,” http://www.philipmcshane.org/website-articles/. That paper also is available in two parts: “Crecyling Sustainability,” https://www.anthropositivecene.org/category/crecycling-sustainability/ and “Crecycling Insight,” https://www.anthropositivecene.org/category/crecycling-insight/. Two diagrams are key, given at the end of “Steps Nine and Ten,” in “Crecycling Insight.” A topic in McShane’s article that we also raise below is the positive Anthropocene. What is the positive Anthropocene? “There is an increasingly large number of websites dealing with the newly-accepted evolutionary age called the Anthropocene. … (We contrast) the negative effects with the positive effects to come. But what are these positive effects, and how are they to be made effective in the present ethos? So, we face … the problem of determining the characteristics of what we name the positive Anthropocene. We intend to range around all other sites in our endeavor and that endeavor will push us to consider the we that intends and the we of those other sites and the we that is to emerge globally. One might say, then, that the question is: Where are we going globally and historically? And the task has as center the question: Who are we?” (Homepage, Openers of the Positive Anthropocene, http://www.anthropositivecene.org/. See also James Duffy, “Finding a Fitting Name,” https://www.anthropositivecene.org/2019/01/06/1-finding-a-fitting-name/, January 6, 2019..

 

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