I’ve been doing some reading for a class I’m taking at Xavier, and in the midst of a wonderful essay by Wendell Berry, I found one of the clearest statements about the present economy and our economic goals. So often, you have to read the words of brilliant writers and thinkers ten times through, looking up their million-dollar words in dictionaries, to finally get their meaning. This writing, however, is clear, accessible, and easy to understand with a little bit of work. If we apply the same energy to thoughts like these that we do to clearing out our schedule to watch the X-Factor, we might find our intellectual capacities expand beyond where we thought we were previously capable.
Enjoy, chew on this gift from Wendell Berry, and let’s practice this vision of a better economy together!
We live, as we must sooner or later recognize, in an era of sentimental economics and, consequently, of sentimental politics.
Sentimental communism holds in effect that everybody and everything should suffer for the good of “the many” who, though miserable in the present, will be happy in the future for exactly the same reasons that they are miserable in the present.
Sentimental capitalism is not so different from sentimental communism as the corporate and political powers claim. Sentimental capitalism holds in effect that everything small, local, private, personal, natural, good, and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of the “free market” and the great corporations, which will bring unprecedented security and happiness to “the many”- in, of course, the future.
The economic theory used to justify the global economy in its “free market” version is again perfectly groundless and sentimental. The idea is that what is good for the corporations will sooner or later- though not of course immediately- be good for everybody.
That sentimentality is based, in turn, on a fantasy: the proposition that the great corporations, in “freely” competing with one another for raw materials, labor, and market share, will drive one another indefinitely, not only toward greater “efficiencies” of manufacture but also toward higher bids for raw materials and labor and lower prices to consumers. As a result, all the world’s people will be economically secure- in the future. It would be hard to object to such a proposition, if only it were true.
The “law of competition” does not imply that many competitors will compete indefinitely. The law of competition is a single paradox: Competition destroys competition. The law of competition implies that many competitors, competing without restraint, will ultimately and inevitably reduce the number of competitors to one. the law of competition, in short, is the law of war.
This idea of a global “free market” economy, despite its obvious moral flaws and its dangerous practical weaknesses, is now the ruling orthodoxy of the age. Its propaganda is subscribed to and distributed by most political leaders, editorial writers, and other “opinion makers.” The powers that be, while continuing to budget huge sums for “national defense,” have apparently abandoned any idea of national or local self-sufficiency, even in food. They have also given up the idea that a national or local government might justly place restraints on economic activity in order to protect its land and its people.
Unsurprisingly, among people who wish to preserve things other than money, there is a growing perception that the global “free market” economy is inherently an enemy to the natural world, to human health and freedom, to industrial workers, and to farmers and others in the land-use economies; and furthermore, that it is inherently an enemy to good work and good economic practice.“