Monday, December 22, 2008

Reboot I: What We Really Want of the Economy

What we really want of the economy is a stable and steadily progressing system that is designed to be capable of providing for the material comforts of people when they are capable with a social safety net to take care of people when they are incapable, with an eye to future growth enough to ensure at least the same level of comfort and economic security to the new members of the human race.

This means several things:

1. Food Production. This is a double-edged sword at the meta level. At every bout of improvement in food production, the world population simply explodes - which calls for ever increasing efficiency in food production. There must be a point beyond which the population is too big to be supported by the natural environment without us all end up eating rubbish.

2. Industries. This has got to do with our level of technology. While we marvel at how the human race has mastered the use of materials, we have to dig up the materials and process them before they can be remoulded to shape and design that we like. If we do not like these dirty heavy industries, then we have to rethink our means of transportation and communication and entertainment and labour-saving devices.

3. Services. In this category are accountants, lawyers and financiers, plus all those other things that the whole world is trying to sell to each other under the banner of tourism - things such as food and lodging, the "personal touch," adventure and all things that require a human being to serve another human being. Under this head are Old Religions and the New Age. So would be the developers of real estate. Is this where we would all rather be concentrating in the future?

4. Social Safety Net. It is an enlightened society that provides for its young, aged and the unfortunate as well as the unemployed. When there is a society safety net, there may be a drop in the economic growth rate because people feel confident and do not have to work so hard to earn that extra in order to safe for the future; the alternative is a scrambling for money and wealth at the expense of welfare. The enlightened society may not appear impressive in contemporary terms in physical terms, but there could be greater happiness and sense of security and belonging.

5. Way of Life. At the end of the day, we are talking about the choice of our way of life. To decide on our vision of what life is all about and what we want out of life and the oppportunities offered to us, we are deciding on our way of life - and hence the way we choose to die. There is a price to pay for every choice we make and the question is whether we are prepared to pay the price. In my mind, therefore, there is no utopia - but at least we choose to suffer our own mistakes. (This to me is the essence of democracy and free choice.)

6. Policy. National policy defines how a nation lives and likewise international policy defines how the world lives. The way things are in the world tells us that policies are not right. In fact, the world has become increasing more hostile to human beings and life. Policies should be designed with more meat. I think whoever started this craze for speed in economic growth and labour efficiency has done a great disservice to the world. Policies should be proposed and studied and debated with greater regard to detail. We should move from Grade 3 policy formulation to Grade 1 policy formulation. At the very least, we should know exactly what we are trying to do. We need experts.

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