Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ursula LeGuin on Economics

11/18/2008--In the midst of the short-term financial catastrophe that has enveloped much of the world, we must also think about the longer term. What kind of economic life should humankind have? Replying “market” to that question is not a complete answer. The question is, what assumptions about the nature of human beings are implied by the market? Perhaps we need to reject at least some of those assumptions.

Here is LeGuin’s take on economics from her novel The Dispossessed. The description is of Shevek, the anarchist physicist, trying to learn economics.

“He tried to read an elementary economics text; it bored him past endurance, it was like listening to somebody interminably recounting a long and stupid dream. He could not force himself to understand how banks functioned and so forth, because all the operations of capitalism were as meaningless to him as the rites of a primitive religion, as barbaric, as elaborate, and as unnecessary. In a human sacrifice to deity there might be at least a mistaken and terrible beauty; in the rites of the money-changers, where greed, laziness, and envy were assumed to move all men’s act, even the terrible became banal.”

Our new economic arrangements, whatever they are to be, must begin here.

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