Monday, April 13, 2009

Parsing Prosperity

by the Sandwichman

Here is a quick narrative analysis of the Prosperity without Growth report from the perspective of the proposed Persona parsimoniae counter-narrative to Economic Man:
As the economy expands, so do the resource implications associated with it. These impacts are already unsustainable....
A world in which things simply go on as usual is already inconceivable. But what about a world in which nine billion peole all aspire to the level of affluence achieved in the OECD nations?
Absolute limits? Check. The means for satisfying material desires are limited absolutely, not just transiently, by physical laws and/or social institutions.
Material possession do play an important symbolic role in our lives, allowing us to participate in the life of society.
Two kinds of preferences? Check. Persona parsimoniae has two different kinds of preferences -- organic needs and aspirations for social distinction, the latter of which is referred to in PwG as the symbolic role of material goods.
...the current turmoil is not the result of isolated malpractice or simple failures of vigilance... It was undone by growth itself.

The growth imperative has shaped the architecture of the modern economy...

This model was always unstable ecologically. It has now proven itself unstable economically.
The age of irresponsibility is not about casual oversight or individual greed. If there was irresponsibility it was systematic, sanctioned widely and with one clear aim in mind: the continuation and protection of economic growth.
Habit rather than calculation? Check. Utility "maximization" is mostly a function of habit [and emulation] rather than calculation. The key term here is "imperative". Growth is thus not seen as an option but as a compulsion. The system imposes this compulsion, not individual motives of greed.

Conclusion: Prosperity without Growth contains a virtually ideal instantiation of the Persona parsimoniae model.

Why am I doing this? Because not only are the assumptions about Economic Man, in the words of Walter Bagehot, trivially "not so" but they are also, more importantly, not so simple. And because no one can stand against a universal Subject unless it is a universal Subject itself. What I am proposing is an more plausible, but at least as parsimonious, alternative to the faux simplicity of Piltdown Economic Man.

No comments: