Major policy decisions are often made without a lot of insight into what the direct impact on real people will be. That is largely because ideological rigidity is hard to break out of, and the perception that abstraction allows for greater efficiency in the crafting of policy. When policy makers focus too much on ideological preferences, their thinking tends to become more abstract, dogmatic and magical, ignoring observable facts affecting how people live. This then makes it much more comfortable to equate an initiative’s similarity to their thinking with automatic success and its dissimilarity from their thinking with guaranteed failure or even “evil”.
But most people live in a world where ideology is all but irrelevant. What matters is what is within reach, and also what is not. Allegiance to ideological prejudice tends to undermine the intellectual honesty of any analysis. Economics is transactional human ecology; resources, systems, intentions and collaborations, work together or against each other to build or erode a base of sustainable thriving. If there is not enough food, people get hungry; if there are hungry people, other priorities tend to lose influence; if hunger replaces harmony as an organizing principle, civil society can break down and economic valuations become too volatile to be useful. We forget: the economic principles, assumptions and data we depend on and reference can only have meaning if they tell us something about how people actually live.
We should consider “life on the ground” as the first level of human interaction with value. Individual human need, vulnerability, and potential for mutual thriving, is, ultimately, what economics, of all varieties, seek to talk intelligently about. Historically, existing levers of influence were able to tolerate (afford) an intense concentration of influence “at the top”. It is not surprising, then, that we have a hard time looking elsewhere than the top of the pyramid for the leverage required for broad policy implementation. Of course, if any economic policy of potentially broad impact is going to have the desired scope of influence on lived human outcomes, it will need to permeate the base of influence on which the rest of the structure stands.
If we start from the first level of economic engagement, and aim to build value for individuals, families, communities, and a reliable, adaptable Main Street economy, built on the good sense of good faith and a reliable framework of value, we can more efficiently structure our policy choices to address human needs and wants and lend support to ordinary people’s always active efforts to improve their condition.
This fall, people around the world joined together to fast, in solidarity with victims of out of control climate destabilization; people in the United States are fasting in solidarity with the families of immigrants who are treated as less than full persons by existing law. Fasting signals a connection between vital need and human value. We need to listen to stakeholders, to better understand what policy decisions actually mean in terms of lived human value, and focus on getting solutions right for real people.
[ The Note for November 2013 ]
Building first-level resiliency requires sound thinking about what kind of generative investments build humanizing social resources, at the human scale—in the immediate environment of real people living their lives organically as they do every day in the society in question. We can do this by first harmonizing GOOD-based economic analysis with the testimony of stakeholders and their least self-interested witnesses.
We need to actively consider how best to reform our policy priorities, to ensure our investments are always generative and never degenerative of first-level resiliency—generative resource access at the human scale. 2014 should be a year devoted to building this awareness, having this conversation, and proposing comprehensive schematic reforms to global development priorities.
Many now vocally worry that prevailing market trends are redirecting investment away from the goal of sustaining a broad, inclusive middle class. So, it seems worth asking: What does the conventional way of measuring the economic landscape of value exchange leave out, and can we remedy that marginalization without disrupting the institutions we depend on?
Generative value operates at the human scale. The areas of value generation the market values structurally (through policy and enterprise) should reinforce both the empowerment and liberation of individuals and communities. A transition to GOOD-based economics will make the difference between a deepening of the dominance of scarcity as a rule and reliable intelligent access to operative abundance.
We now face, as a civilization and as a species, an integrated, multi-faceted crisis in pervasive unsustainability, and so we are faced with the challenge of reimagining our role in the stewardship of natural systems. We are moving into a design revolution that will adapt our infrastructure to the need for full-spectrum sustainability.
To achieve an operational upgrade of our economy, we will have to engage in a far more participatory process of policy design and long-term planning than we are used to. The inclusion of new and disruptive voices is critical to understanding how and where new models can be both sharply focused in the moment and adaptable over time, to ensure routine value enhancement for everyone.
Human-scale resilience is a key consideration in the ACCESS to GOOD Project. We can build a smarter society, if we…
- learn to do business without generating climate damage,
- evolve a financial sector that routinely generates climate value,
- ensure the sustainability of vital ecosystems and of our food supply system, and
- operate in a way that expands human dignity while getting all of this right.
For a look at how to build human-scale resilience: