03 January 2010

What would Ivan do?

Chase Madar writes:
Elite professional groups, wrote [Ivan] Illich, have come to exert a “radical monopoly” on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a “war on subsistence” that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but “modernized poverty,” dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts. The People's Priest, 'American Conservative', February 2010
Illich does seem to have anatomised a growing problem: our passivity in the face of the growing influence of corporations, and their crowding out of non-corporate - that is, human - ways of doing things. I would include government here one of the corporations. Criticism is all very well, but as Mr Madar says: 'A common, spluttering response to Illich’s polemics was “Just what does he propose we do instead?” Good question.....' Perhaps the answer is twofold: first, that economic development has gone hand in hand with population growth and life expectancy; it might not, in net terms, have raised the quality of life much, but it has certainly raised the quantity of life. We have collectively consented to that trade off, and presumably we could, if we wanted, reverse that decision.

A more proactive answer would be to subordinate economic growth or social change not to corporations (including government again) and their incentives (primarily self-perpetuation), but to the outcomes that ordinary people would wish for. A Social Policy Bond regime, for example, would allow our social and environmental outcomes to be achieved by means that are diverse, rather than dictated by government or corporations. Radical monopolies need not arise, because the most efficient way of achieving a specified outcome will most likely vary according to space and time. Investors in the bonds will be motivated to continuously reappraise their projects; they would have no built-in bureaucratic or ideological wish to convert the rest of us to their way of doing things.

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