Economics as if people mattered

Our Western economic system might seem unalterable to many. After all, it is the system we are used to. But since its establishment there have always been people who criticized this system and who attempted to change the economical status quo. Corporations nowadays have one goal and one goal only: maximize their profits. From time to time we have to ask the question: What if it was different?

In 1973 E.F Schumacher published his book “Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered”, a collection of essays where he proposed a counterculture to the predominant western culture of consumerism. “Spiritual health and material well-being are not enemies: they are natural allies.”, Schumacher writes.

In his essay about Buddhist economics he describes how modern human labor is a nuisance for both, the employer and the employee. “Now, the modern economist has been brought up to consider “labor” or work as little more than a necessary evil. From the point of view of the employer, it is in any case simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a minimum if it cannot be eliminated altogether, say, by automation. From the point of view of the workman, it is a “disutility”; to work is to make a sacrifice of one’s leisure and comfort, and wages are a kind of compensation for the sacrifice.”

Already in 1973 work was considered a “necessary evil”. Since then, our working culture has become more and more accelerated. Corporations try to get rid of employees to reach the “right” numbers in their balance sheets, which means an even bigger workload for the remaining employees, and leads to an increase of stress induced diseases in our society. People don’t seem to matter too much to corporations in a consumerist economy. Only profit does.

How would an economy look like where we prioritized people over products?

That question is at the heart of this years Gemeinwohl-Fest. It will take place on the 13th of February at the Volkstheater.

The event is hosted by Gemeinwohl Ökonomie, a movement that proposes an Economy for the Common Good. At the heart of the movement is an economic model that focuses on the common good and cooperation instead of profit-orientation and competition. One of their main points of criticism  is the fact that the current economic system confuses the goals of economics (quality of life) with the means to reach these goals (profit).

This idea is the most recent attempt to propose a feasible counter concept to our current consumer culture. On an economical level the idea is to have corporations that define corporate values that take the common good into account. The movement has met a fair amount of criticism itself, but the most important goal of any proposed counter concept has been reached: people are talking about an alternate economic culture and are toying with the idea to upset the status quo.

If you want to be part of the discussion, it is not too late to participate at the Gemeinwohl-Fest. Get your ticket here.

Photo credit: Cover image by Unsplash

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About Verena Ehrnberger

Verena works as a data privacy legal expert and studies philosophy at the University of Vienna. Always juggling multiple projects, she is seriously addicted to coffee.

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