12 Nov 2007

Why I love Amartya Sen

The Realos take over from the Fundis, and the one-time soixante-huitard peaceniks end up cheerleading Nato bombing campaigns from the comfort of their ministerial limos. argues Dave Osler, provocative in a week when we are voting on whether to have a more 'realistic' structure for the Green Party with one ring to rule us all!

Natalie Bennett mentioned the new liberal conspiracy blog to me at Green Party Executive the other weekend...not being a market liberal it is not quite my thing. Capitalism is not my thing but I don't see socialism as top down. But hey left of centre is better than the other side and the name should wind up the USA right...

Markets rest on enclosure and what could be less free than a fence. Marxism to me is that access to the commons, so I have many vigorous debates with Marxists (I think they sometimes miss the central and rather libertarian bits of Marx's economics) and liberal economists (who forget the conventional economics is far from free).

Nonetheless the liberal left blog looks interesting and is moderated enough so people can get a bit angry without letting the puta madre tribe of dumb trolls on.

And they are even debating whether the left should join the Green Party, Dave Osler puts a polite and well argued case against, fearing the on slaught of the 'realos' however his case is slightly weakened by his own membership of Hackney Labour Party. Worth reading as always from Dave, you don't have to agree with him to acknowledge, he is the star of political blogging in Britain. He is about as centre left as I am though and no market liberal. Marxist economic theory question of the week is our Mecca (more liberal Islam folks soon!), well mine and Dave's.

I think the one guy who is not anti-capitalism ecosocialist or green but is nonetheless absolute fascinating is the Nobel Prize winner Amaryta Sen. None of the crudities of conventional economics, he has a place for politics, power and social analysis.

Economics for him is about positive freedom, so we can all develop and enjoy our capabilities, derived from Aristotle. For him freedom is a requirement for economic progress and the real result of real economic progress.

Without challenging the growth imperative of capitalism, dealing with the distinction between 'use' values and exchange 'values' or as far as I know celebrating the importance of the commons, he still has some interesting things to say.

Found quite a sensitive account of the population issue from him on the web here.

The short-run picture tends to be dominated by the fact that the per-capita consumption of food, fuel, and other goods by people in third world countries is often relatively low; consequently the impact of population growth in these countries is not, in relative terms, so damaging to the global environment. But the problems of the local environment can, of course, be serious in many developing economies. They vary from the "neighborhood pollution" created by unregulated industries to the pressure of denser populations on rural resources such as fields and woods.27 (The Indian authorities had to close down several factories in and around Agra, since the facade of the Taj Mahal was turning pale as a result of chemical pollution from local factories.) But it remains true that one additional American typically has a larger negative impact on the ozone layer, global warmth, and other elements of the earth's environment than dozens of Indians and Zimbabweans put together. Those who argue for the immediate need for forceful population control in the third world to preserve the global environment must first recognize this elementary fact. This does not imply, as is sometimes suggested, that as far as the global environment is concerned, population growth in the third world is nothing to worry about.

Various excellent points here, resource issues/population matter but human beings have the potential to use their creativity to deal with them and coercion is anti-human and ineffective...much for both Paul Ehrlich and Lomborg to chew on!

So my challenge is as an ecosocialist I am gaining from reading Sen, perhaps the liberal liberals who like markets and want a bit of freedom too ought to read him....may be you gain or may be he will help drag you towards Marx and Karl Polanyi, Vandana Shiva and all those sceptical of the cannon of conventional economics.

Can I resist a quick quotation from Karl of course I can't.

Let us make our meaning more precise. No society could, naturally, live for any length of time unless it possessed an economy of some sort; but previously to our time no economy has ever existed that, even in principle, was controlled by markets. In spite of the chorus of academic incantations so persistent in the nineteenth century, gain and profit made on exchange never before played an important part in human economy. Though the institution of the market was fairly common since the later Stone Age, its role was no more than incidental to economic life. (43)

We have good reason to insist on this point with all the emphasis at our command. No less a thinker than Adam Smith suggested that the division of labor in society was dependent upon the existence of markets, or, as he puts it, upon man’s “propensity to barter, truck and exchange one thing for another." This phrase was later to yield the concept of the Economic Man. In retrospect it can be said that no misreading of the past ever proved more prophetic of the future.

No comments:

Imperialism Is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles

Derek Wall ’s article entitled  Imperialism Is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles , argues that Ma...