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Chilean Economist Manfred Max-Neef on Barefoot Economics, Poverty and Why The U.S. is Becoming an “Underdeveloping Nation” | Democracy Now!
"We speak with the acclaimed Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef. He won the Right Livelihood Award in 1983, two years after the publication of his book Outside Looking In: Experiences in Barefoot Economics. “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,” Max-Neef says. [includes rush transcript]"

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"We have reached a point in our evolution in which we know a lot. We know a hell of a lot. But we understand very little. Never in human history has there been such an accumulation of knowledge like in the last 100 years. Look how we are. What was that knowledge for? What did we do with it? And the point is that knowledge alone is not enough, that we lack understanding.

And the difference between knowledge and understanding, I can give it as an example. Let us assume that you have studied everything that you can study, from a theological, sociological, anthropological, biological and even biochemical point of view, of a human phenomenon called love. So the result is that you will know everything that you can know about love. But sooner or later, you will realize that you will never understand love unless you fall in love. What does that mean? That you can only attempt to understand that of which you become a part. If we fall in love, as the Latin song says, we are much more than two. When you belong, you understand. When you’re separated, you can accumulate knowledge. And that is — that’s been the function of science. Now, science is divided into parts, but understanding is holistic.

And that happens with poverty. I understood poverty because I was there. I lived with them. I ate with them. I slept with them, you know, etc. And then you begin to learn that in that environment there are different values, different principles from — compared to those from where you are coming, and that you can learn an enormous amount of fantastic things among poverty. What I have learned from the poor is much more than I learned in the universities. But very few people have that experience, you see? They look at it from the outside, instead of living it from the inside.

And you learn extraordinary things. The first thing you learn, that people who want to work in order to overcome poverty and don’t know, is that in poverty there is an enormous creativity. You cannot be an idiot if you want to survive. Every minute, you have to be thinking, what next? What do I know? What trick can I do here? What’s this and that, that, that, that? And so, your creativity is constant. In addition, I mean, that it’s combined, you know, with networks of cooperation, mutual aid, you know, and all sort of extraordinary things which you’ll no longer find in our dominant society, which is individualistic, greedy, egoistical, etc. It’s just the opposite of what you find there. And it’s sometimes so shocking that you may find people much happier in poverty than what you would find, you know, in your own environment, which also means, you know, that poverty is not just a question of money. It’s a much more complex thing."

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"The Peace Corps, yeah, OK. I was many times in that. I even taught Peace Corps groups, you know, in California and so on and on. Then I found them, you know, in the field when I was there. Lovely young people, you know? I mean, very well-intentioned, you know. And the situations like this.

Well, there you have a woman making a poncho. No, but with another machine, instead of making two ponchos in one week, I mean, she could make 20 ponchos.

So, now, “We will bring you a much better thing.”

“Oh, OK, well…”

They bring it in, you know, and come back a few months later, you know, to see a huge production of this woman. And how our young find?

“Oh, how do you like the machine?”

“Oh, very nice.”

“And how many ponchos are you making?”

“Well, two ponchos a week.”

“What do you mean? You could make much more.”

“Well, but I don’t need to make more.”

“But why do you make just two? Well, what is the machine then for?”

“Well, I make two, but now I have much more time to be with my friends and with my kids.”

In our environment, you know, you have to do more and more and more and more. No, there, instead of making more, they have more time to enjoy themselves, to have a nice relationship with friends, with family, etc. You see? Lovely values which we have lost.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to change? You’re saying it’s obvious, but what do you think needs to happen that they’re avoiding?

MANFRED MAX-NEEF: Well, to begin with, a completely new concept of economics. This economy is crazy and poisonous. I am an economist, and I have been fighting against the economy that is taught the way it is being taught and being practiced. I have been fighting it for almost 40 years of my life, because it’s an absurd economy that has nothing to do with real life. It’s all fabrications, no? If the model doesn’t work, it’s not because the model is wrong, but because reality plays foul tricks. And reality is there to be domesticated, you know, and become the model. That is the attitude. And that’s systematic, in addition.

What is the economy that is being taught in the universities today everywhere? Neoclassical economics. Neoliberalism is an offspring of neoclassical economics. And neoclassical economics is 19th century. So we are supposed to solve problems of the 21st century that have no precedent with theories of the 19th century. We no longer have a physics of the 19th century, nor a biology, nor an engineering — nor nothing. The only thing in which we stopped in the 19th century is in the concept of economics. I mean, and that is elementarily absurd. And the main journals and everything, you know — I mean, no, no, that’s the way it must be."

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"AMY GOODMAN: And if you’re teaching young economists, the principles you would teach them, what they’d be?

MANFRED MAX-NEEF: The principles, you know, 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that further.

MANFRED MAX-NEEF: Nothing can be more important than life. And I say life, not human beings, because, for me, the center is the miracle of life in all its manifestations. But if there is an economic interest, I mean, you forget about life, not only of other living beings, but even of human beings. If you go through that list, one after the other, what we have today is exactly the opposite.

AMY GOODMAN: Go back to three: growth and development. Explain that further.

MANFRED MAX-NEEF: Growth is a quantitative accumulation. Development is the liberation of creative possibilities. Every living system in nature grows up to a certain point and stops growing. You are not growing anymore, nor he nor me. But we continue developing ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t be dialoguing here now. So development has no limits. Growth has limits. And that is a very big thing, you know, that economists and politicians don’t understand. They are obsessed with the fetish of economic growth.

And I am working, several decades. Many studies have been done. I’m the author of a famous hypothesis, the threshold hypothesis, which says that in every society there is a period in which economic growth, conventionally understood or no, brings about an improvement of the quality of life. But only up to a point, the threshold point, beyond which, if there is more growth, quality of life begins to decline. And that is the situation in which we are now.

I mean, your country is the most dramatic example that you can find. I have gone as far as saying — and this is a chapter of a book of mine that is published next month in England, the title of which is Economics Unmasked. There is a chapter called “The United States, an Underdeveloping Nation,” which is a new category. We have developed, underdeveloped and developing. Now you have underdeveloping. And your country is an example, in which the one percent of the Americans, you know, are doing better and better and better, and the 99 percent is going down, in all sorts of manifestations. People living in their cars now and sleeping in their cars, you know, parked in front of the house that used to be their house — thousands of people. Millions of people, you know, have lost everything. But the speculators that brought about the whole mess, oh, they are fantastically well off. No problem. No problem."
manfredmax-neef  economics  chile  2010  interviews  poverty  capitalism  development  barefooteconomics  knowledge  understanding  creativity  ingenuity  society  individualism  greed  cooperation  mutualaid  survival  time  work  perspective  peacecorps  colonialism  neoliberalism  ecosystems  humanism  growth  gdp  underdevelopment  accumulation 
4 weeks ago by robertogreco

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