What is an Economy, and what is it for?

According to dictionary.com, an economy is “the management of the resources of a community, country, etc., especially with a view to its productivity”. In western society, we often understand our ‘economy’ only as it relates to the free market. This is fine to a certain degree, because producing stuff can provide meaningful employment, and money let us do important things like eat, pay for a place to sleep, and buy fair trade coffee (yum!). The problem in industrialised countries is that we have taken it too far – we have come to use the science of economics as our ultimate ’sense-making tool’ for both planning and mapping the progress of the human family. This has led to over-consumption in the west, exploitation in developing countries, and a ecological crisis worldwide.

We need to start looking at human well-being more holistically. If this means expanding the term ‘economy’ to include social, environmental and cultural factors, then that’s fine… although it is ironic that the majority of serious proposals to take these things into account use the same language as the economists do right now (human and social capital for an example.. must we turn everything into a good to be consumed?).

Personally, I think this is where the emerging dialogue around Sustainability adds value. The ‘Four Pillars’ model of sustainable development, touted by the United Nations, is a very positive step toward seeing a healthy, holistic way forward for all human beings. If we are to talk about Economy at all, it must be in such a way that seeks to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


~ by humblemonkey on August 9, 2009.

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