The Flaw of Our Economics is Ontological

3 04 2011

All modern theories of economy are based on the idea that the person is completely a self-contained, isolated individual. This concept of the self comes out of the Enlightenment philosophy of the West (esp. Descarte, Hobbes and Locke). It has led to the prominent axioms of our understanding of economy today: individualism, competition, a monoculture globalization.
If you change this self concept, you will change the economy, as Herman Daly succinctly explains in the article clipped here. Rather than identify oneself as an unconnected “atom,” identify oneself as constituted in one’s relationships. Even as a business person, I am who I am in my relations to fellow workers, suppliers, customers, investors, and not only in my non commercial relations such as family, friends, neighbors, etc.
Such an “ontological” distinction (i.e. as to what is this thing called “my self?”) has huge implications for economics. Am I a discrete entity, or more of a localized field of consciousness?
Many people who are familiar with transpersonal psychology are aware of this concept of self. But it has not even begun to percolate in the economics profession. I am an economist who also has been trained in group dream interpretation. In this process, one feels the “social field of the self” very directly. I’m trying to map this into economic theory and action.

Amplify’d from

Homo Economicus Versus Person-in-Community

by Herman Daly

The problem with Homo economicus (the abstract picture of a human being on which economic theory is based) is that she is an atomistic individual connected to other people and things only by external relations. John Cobb and I (For the Common Good) proposed instead the concept of “person-in-community” whose very identity is constituted by internal relations to others in the community. I can only define myself by reference to these relations in community. Who am I? I am son of…, husband of…, father of…, friend of…, citizen of…, member of…, etc. Shorn of all these relations there is not much left of “me”. I am defined by these relations, and therefore they are internal to my identity as a self-conscious, willing being, not just external connections between some abstract, atomistic, independent “me” and other people, places, or things. Similarly, my relation to the environment is not just external, the economist’s term “externalities” notwithstanding. I am literally constituted by what I take in from the environment. My connection to air is not just external, it is an internal relation manifested in my lungs — I am an air-breather, just as I am the brother of…. This is an ontological statement about how the world is, how people are, not a wish about how they should be. The customary vision of Homo economicus is a wish about how people would have to be for neoclassical economics to work! Homo economicus is a misleading picture of people, consequently neoclassical economics is a misleading theory, and policy based on it has been badly misled.