The trouble with economics is that, thinking we already know what it is, we often choose not to go there. Professional economists themselves are largely responsible; the highly abstract language with which their domain has been ring-fenced designates a protected area whose assumptions must be tacitly accepted before one is given entry. It is therefore a refreshing change to discover an economics that is built on its own logic, a logic which is able both to examine the erroneous thinking that lies at the root of the many and various anti-social outcomes of the prevailing economic order, and which can also find a practical foundation in thinking that starts with the human being.
The appearance of global economy has confronted humanity with fundamental questions. A schism has opened up between those who assign a primary organizational role to the market and those who think that the state should act as economic caretaker. Is this really how the ground lies? Marc Desaules, a Swiss financial entrepreneur, and Dr. Christopher Houghton Budd, a British economic historian, think not. With the release of the Associative Economics Institute’s first publications, A Human Response to Globalisation and The Metamorphosis of Capitalism, a new perspective is brought forward.
Subtitled, “Discovering Associative Economics” and “Realising Associative Economics” respectively, the case is put that neither the market nor the state but the individual human being is the source of economics and therefore only an economics that makes reference to the human being as the central fact of economic life can in any sense be realistic. It is not the authors’ intention merely to engage the readers in worthy sentiments but actually to show right down into the details of corporate structure and accounting practice that the human being is and must be recognized as the basis for a sound economics.
By considering where humanity now stands in its economic journey and what perspectives lie open to the individual trying to make sense of it all, these two companion volumes offer the reader a diverse introduction to associative economics.
Marc Desaules, in describing humanity’s current predicament, attributes it largely to an economics which has adopted a wrong starting point and then taken a wrong turn; for example, by considering the economy as a mechanism, invoking the creed of the market and then imposing competition as a moral and legal requirement. He carefully examines what lies behind current terminology and assesses to what extent it is accurate or appropriate. In laying out his own methodology he adopts the view that one must go from ‘pathogenesis to ‘salutogenesis’ which is to say that one can better appreciate what it means to be healthy by studying health than by studying disease.
To this end he gives an analytic and precise overview of the theory of associative economics, which concludes with a description of an internationally registered quality guarantee mark for those who want to bring these ideas into practice by doing business associatively. In the process, he considers the history of humanity’s evolution in terms of monetary development and the origin of legal incorporation, he gives the picture of a rightly conceived economic life corresponding appropriately to the human organism and he shows that in ‘globalization’ one can discover a characteristic phenomenon of the age which requires understanding above criticism. Most crucially he describes the necessary role for accounting as an instrument for economic consciousness. Akin to the brain in the human organism, it offers a picture not of past events only, but vitally, when we use budgeting to make our intentions real, of a more humane future as well. In this way, the forces of human will become conscious and coherent.
In The Metamorphosis of Capitalism, Christopher Houghton Budd asks if ‘market economics’ is the conclusion of economic history or if it is not merely a staging post along the way. Indeed, if one were to ask, “What will come next?” then the question must arise as to whether the logic of natural law determines economics or whether it is an entirely human science. Does economics happen to humanity or is it something that humanity itself engenders? Dr. Houghton Budd shows that only by undertaking a conscious metamorphosis of our current way of thinking can we move beyond market economics. Then a new economics can be conceived which reflects human priorities rather than simply giving expression to instinctive behaviour. Covering some of the same areas as Marc Desaules, but from a different angle, he explores how imagery is used, for good or ill, by the invisible science of economics and how this can bring humanity to an inner threshold that must be consciously traversed if a real outcome is to be the result. So, for example, such a revelatory economics would render visible the mythical invisible hand; it would also need to employ a differentiated concept of money, which would allow macro and micro-economics to be brought into correspondence. He places a special emphasis on the meaning of ‘accounting and accountability’ and the possibility for an international financial architecture beyond gold.
Much emphasis is laid on the need to take up individual responsibility and in this context he considers Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, taking the view that the time has come for English-speaking people to face up to their instrumental role, both historical and present, in formulating the mode of economics that is at work in today’s world. This, he hopes, will lead to a ‘thorough-going rethink of the nature and purpose of economic life.’
Perhaps the practical focus in which these books takes is best exemplified by the note on which each author ends. Marc Desaules, in his conclusion ‘Over to me,’ looks at the tasks that belong to each of us as consumer, lender/investor, and entrepreneur. It is in this last one that there is most to be achieved; going the associative path means making the commitment to share the journey with others, transparently and responsively. Christopher Houghton Budd calls his last chapter, ‘The World in our Deeds,’ and shows that if we could make a truer connection between the economy at large and our individual circumstances, we would discover that economics is hologrammatic and individually we can indeed write our intentions large even in the smallest deeds.