Guy Dauncey and the economics of kindness
Dr. Trevor Hancock
22 July 2020
I received both supportive and critical comments in response to my recent columns on the local economy, although nobody swore at me – which means I am not as good a columnist as Jack Knox! One writer even went so far as to say my writing gave him the shivers, although my brief pleasure at the thought that I was that good were quickly dispelled by his next sentence, in which he wondered what closet I had been hiding in for the past few centuries.
Two of the responses – of which the above mentioned was one – provided reasonably lengthy critiques outlining their objections. But what struck me about both of them was their shared view that the present system was pretty darned good, and that in any case there was no alternative, or at least no desirable alternative.
One writer supported neoliberalism, suggesting that I had not offered an alternative to capitalism and he assumed – correctly – that I was not proposing Soviet totalitarianism/communism. The rich, he said, should not be blamed for being successful and providing jobs that give people dignity, purpose and a place in society. Try telling that to workers whose jobs have been shifted off-shore, or who are working multiple non-unionised part-time jobs with few or no benefits, all to benefit owners and shareholders.
My other critic suggested I wanted to go back to medieval times, with moats, drawbridges and ox-drawn carts. He put his faith in the ability of technology to address the environmental and social issues we face. But often technologies contribute to the challenges we face, although it is the application of those technologies through the dominant social, political and cultural forces shaping our world that are the root of our problems.
So let me turn to Guy Dauncey for an alternative that is neither communism nor medieval. Guy has been an interesting, thoughtful and – in the best sense – provocative thinker, writer and activist on ecological and social issues in this region for years. I first came across him when he was involved in the proposal for an ecologically sustainable development at Bamberton in the early 1990s. While it was never built, the thinking that went into it was leading edge at that time.
Now he is working on a book on the economics of kindness, which focuses on a caring and cooperative economy. He recently shared some of his thinking in an online webinar for Creatively United for the Planet, a local community organisation led by Frances Litman that links the arts, creativity and environmental activism. His thinking also substantially shaped a recent brief on Rebuilding BC from the Green Technology Education Centre (GTEC).
Guy argues that there are four fundamental causes that underpin our current ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust economy and society: Faulty economic ideas on both the left and right of the political spectrum that suggest we are subject to the ‘laws’ of economics, the “ancient impulse to dominate” rather than cooperate, our ecological ignorance and what he calls the “loss of our civilisational story”.
He argues, as did I, that “selfishness is enshrined as an economic law” and that “kindness and cooperation are dismissed”. Domination, he states, brings us conquest, ownership, colonialism and slavery – and he might have added, the subjugation of women. I would also add William Leiss’ observation that domination of nature leads inevitably to the domination of human nature – and that applies both ways, I suspect.
Our ecological ignorance is profound, and shows itself best – or worst – in the exclusion of ‘natural capital’ (along with social and human capital) from our measurement of wealth and the treatment of these forms of capital by economics as ‘externalities’ that can be ignored.
So we need a new civilisational story, Guy suggests, in which ‘eco’ replaces ‘ego’ and – implicitly – in which ‘we’ replaces ‘I’. He calls this the economics of kindness, others call it the economics of wellbeing; both elevate wellbeing, social justice and ecological sustainability above the mere making of profit and accumulation of wealth, especially excessive wealth. The economy, in other words, is the means, not the end. Next week, I will delve more deeply into the alternative economics he and the GTEC propose for BC.
© Trevor Hancock, 2020
2 thoughts on “Guy Dauncey and the economics of kindness”
I share your concern about the state of our society, but I am not sure where fancy, ill defined concepts such as “Economics of Kindness”, or worse, “Social justice’ will get us. I think a fundamental problem of us humans is that we are all by nature , opportunistic, no different from other living creatures. We all want more for less.
This leads to two concerns that dominate today’s discussions: our relationship to our environment, and our relationship to fellow human beings. I just want to focus now on the second.
Rutgers Bregman in his book makes the interesting observation that a feature setting mankind apart from animals is our ability to empathize and form communities: we are good by our very nature, he argues. Except that this community mindedness also generates apartness, or Apartheid. Racism in other words. That is an interesting line of thought. It is like trying to define “hot”without the convenient concept of “cold”
For millenia we got away with this behaviour, but globalization has put an end to that. I see this as a huge problem. What can be done?
If people can not voluntarily bridge gaps between communities, we can try to legislate, but what we are doing then is replacing a natural tendency for humans to be humane to one another by imposing force of law. But laws only succeed, if they are generally accepted as just. If they are considered unjust by some, force has to be used “for the greater good.” The only long term justification for force is the ability to change the way people think- call it education or brain washing, and the trajectory from utopia to dystopia is uncomfortably short. Jails are full and we still have crime. A deterrent it certainly is not.
The only real change that I can see within the realm of possibility is to blunt the liberal capitalist system by modifying company law to allow factors other than share holder value to dominate governance, ring fencing to avoid foreign domination, and progressive taxation to blunt the absurd accumulation of wealth. For a country like Canada, dependent on the US for cultural inspiration, and trade, that is a tall order. Our sovereignty is circumscribed.
And we have not yet even dealt with “slavery” a term as slippery as “Social justice”.
Have you ever commented on the differences and common ground you share with Peter Joseph? Policy change within current structures compared to wholesale changes to our current market systems. If so, please send me anything you have.