Tim Jackson presents us with a new vision of the economy. One entirely at odds with our current method of organisation:
Let’s be clear. Technical innovation can deliver us a better quality of life, freedom from drudgery, the ability to be more productive. But there are also places where it makes no sense. Certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on people. The care and concern of one human being for another is a case in point. Its quality rests primarily on the attention paid by one person to another. And yet compassion fatigue is a rising scourge in a health sector hounded by meaningless productivity targets.
Craft is another example. It is the accuracy and detail inherent in crafted goods that endows them with lasting value. It is the attention paid by the carpenter, the tailor and the designer that makes this detail possible. Likewise it is the time spent practising, rehearsing and performing that gives creative art its enduring appeal. What – aside from meaningless noise – is to be gained by asking the London Philharmonic to reduce their rehearsal time and play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony faster and faster each year?
An economy that works must have something to do with investing in work itself. Care, craft, culture, creativity: these sectors offer a new vision of enterprise: not as a speculative, profit-maximising, resource-intensive division of labour, but as a form of social organisation embedded in the community, working in harmony with nature to deliver the capabilities that allow us to prosper.
That accuracy and detail producing the value we'd take to be dangerously close to the labour theory of value but other than that little blip there's nothing to argue against here is there?
Yes, sometimes the productive efficiency of the mill or factory is either necessary or desirable, at other times the more intimate human interaction is. Shrug, who has ever said any different? Even Ayn Rand pointed out that Hank and Dagny had their intimate moments.
What we need though is a system to decide when each - or any one of the myriad possibilities - is the appropriate method for this task at this time and place. Take a desk - a flat surface upon which to place writing and drawing things. Perhaps the architect's one should be some monstrous white thing out of Nordic Central, the economic writer's some marvel in oak or chestnut to engrain that value of skilled human labour into the mind, the ones for the children in school should be mass produced, cheap and sturdy, above all, sturdy. Who is going to decide here when that productivity of the Satanic Mill is the correct solution and when the master craftsman?
We have actually tried out various methods of doing this. The Commissars have at times told everyone what to make and what they're going to get. The 20th century showed that didn't work, Venezuela is just the elegant little reminder for our own times. The only system we've tried that actually works is that the consumers get to decide among rival producers over what they want, how it is produced.
Manifestos will come and go but one startling realisation persists. The failed experiment of free-market, neoliberal economics that has haunted modern politics, undermined the fabric of society, disempowered government and left millions behind, may just be coming to an end. Building an economy that works for everyone has become a precise, definable and meaningful task.
That is, we're right back at free market, neoliberal, economics, aren't we Professor Jackson?
For we're right with you in this idea that there are appropriate technologies, appropriate products and methods of producing them, appropriate to time and place. The market is the only useful method we've ever employed to decide among them.