Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The words of a prophet

Posted by Charles II on June 3, 2013

This is from a 2010, DemocracyNow interview of Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist who won the right livelihood award. I call him a prophet, because he was denouncing austerity in 2010:

MANFRED MAX-NEEF: …I understood poverty because I was there. I lived with them. I ate with them. I slept with them, you know, etc. And then you begin to learn that in that environment there are different values, different principles …

And you learn extraordinary things. The first thing you learn, that people who want to work in order to overcome poverty and don’t know, is that in poverty there is an enormous creativity. You cannot be an idiot if you want to survive. Every minute, you have to be thinking, what next? What do I know? What trick can I do here? What’s this and that, that, that, that? And so, your creativity is constant. In addition, I mean, that it’s combined, you know, with networks of cooperation, mutual aid, you know, and all sort of extraordinary things which you’ll no longer find in our dominant society, which is individualistic, greedy, egoistical, etc. It’s just the opposite of what you find there. And it’s sometimes so shocking that you may find people much happier in poverty than what you would find, you know, in your own environment, which also means, you know, that poverty is not just a question of money. It’s a much more complex thing.

I think most of the unhappiness associated with wealth is that you think you ought to do such-and-such or have such-and-such. If one can get over that and take the losses and disappointments when they inevitably come, it’s possible to be happier.

But the creativity of poverty is an interesting point, too. As any artist can testify, creativity has a powerful effect on mood. When one can’t create, it’s miserable, whereas the moments of creativity are as beautiful as deep love. If one constantly has to work at creativity, it can be elevating. But there’s also the situation in which, despite all of one’s creativity, the situation is so bad that success is not possible. Poverty in the U.S. has elements of the liabilities of wealth–that is, poor people see so many people succeeding and imagine that they are failures–and, for many, success is impossible. It is, for example, essentially impossible for a felon to become a successful businessman at any legal enterprise, even a small one. It’s almost impossible to get a job except at construction or restaurant work. And now the Senate is going to deprive them of Food Stamps.

8 Responses to “The words of a prophet”

  1. MEC said

    Deprive felons of any opportunity to be anything other than felons, and they end up back in the prison system. It’s great for the privatized prison system.

  2. richmx2 said

    What I really appreciate about Max-Neef is that he’s the only economist I ever heard of who recognizes that the field is more theology than science: economists begin with assumptions out of “holy writ” — Marx, Adam Smith, Milton Freidman or (God help us) Ayn Rand — that are more based in faith than in observation. and their studies are more apologetics for their faith than empirical study.

    But then again, Max-Neef seems to take the “typically” Latin-American world-view of those who HAVE to work cooperatively to survive… which is, when you come down to it… all of us. Compare those “networks of cooperation, mutual aid, … and all sort of extraordinary things which you’ll no longer find in our dominant society, which is individualistic, greedy, egoistical, etc.” with the use of the word “solidarity” by that Argentine fellow in Rome who has been talking a lot about wealth lately.

    • Charles II said

      Solidarity is a very Catholic concept. Protestants don’t really believe that we are all part of one body, but sincere Catholics do. A shame that so many of them abuse that body.

      Here’s to hoping that Francis means what he says. His statement about atheists was declared inoperative not long after he made it, so I won’t be too surprised if his statements about solidarity are similarly treated.

    • Marx actually based his work on both a study of the economists who had gone before him — particularly Ricardo and Hegel — and then added observations and data supplied by his friend and ally Freddie Engels from the English factories of the time, particularly those involved with fabric manufacture. When he rips into someone like Hegel or Adam Smith, he’s doing so from the perspective of someone who, unlike modern economists, made it a point to study the work of people with whom who he categorically disagreed on nearly every point. In contrast, few Americans, even economists, ever read Marx, much less study him.

      Spend a weekend reading the first (and best) volume of Capital : http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/

      You’ll be astonished at how well-grounded in reality it is.

      Do so while watching David Harvey’s excellent video lectures on Volume One: http://davidharvey.org/reading-capital/

      • richmx2 said

        Living in a “Catholic” country where Marxism is a perfectly respectable position, I agree with you, but Marxists can be as doctrinaire as the Chicago Boys, if not more so… and whether the conditions of the 1840s are still valid today, that’s another story.

  3. MarkH said

    I don’t think the Democrats are going to let Food Stamps go away.

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