Anarchist Homework #1 on Globalization; Debunking the Myths
Globalization; Debunking the Myths is a graduate-level text adopted in upper-level political economics courses at 43 universities worldwide and written by my dear friend, Lui Hebron, a libertarian professor with a Ph.D. in political economy. Lui and I met online (because I have a thing for economists). With mutual interests in joy, justice, education, and international affairs, we’ve remained friends, even if our self-proclaimed political ideologies lie on opposite ends of the spectrum.
I am a high school economics teacher, and to have that job, one doesn’t need to be “an economist.” To which, I say, thank God. Not because it means I have a job, but because I relish the opportunity to deeply examine economic drivers, economic consequences, economic assumptions, the resulting economics education, and how any one of them might be improved upon. In the process, I've felt more aligned with anarchism as an approach to systemic design than anything else. Most people associate anarchists with issues of governance, or a lack thereof. But for me, understanding economics is more essential to understanding how to rethink power struggles. In fact, understanding economics is arguably the most important issue of our time.
Luckily, we learn by teaching, but also, hopefully, through debate. As a political economist, Lui’s willingness to engage my questions helps challenge and refine my own thinking, as I endeavor along a path of re-imagining economics education toward one of designing for peace, prosperity, regeneration, and wellbeing for all.
After all, what credentials do I have to radically alter the economics curriculum as it has been written?
More aptly, what evidence do we have that we should continue along with more of the same?
This is the first of what will hopefully be many unsolicited homework assignments I am submitting to my uncompensated teacher and colleague, Lui Hebron, as I open to the first pages and begin to read through his book. Coming up upon the fourth edition, Lui is mindful of what the publishers, teachers, and students are looking for: what sells, what fits, and what gets jobs. Lui is admittedly writing his economic textbook from the rationale self-interest of what will most easily continue publication and generate sales. Yet, he is also conscious of increasing global crises and wants to contribute to solving economic challenges, not perpetuating them. He is also cognizant that as the crises mount, the dominant narrative becomes questioned, and the winds may begin to shift.
My homework is unassigned, unsolicited, and uncompensated, but serves multiple purposes that each has at their core the singularity of self-interest and compassion for the world. The clearest and most straightforward purpose is simply to deepen and refine my own understanding and communication of economic fundamentals- one doesn’t often get the opportunity to talk shop. Other purposes involve pure curiosity- how might these ideas challenge and deepen the author’s thinking?
Lui’s book is consumed at the graduate level, and therefore offers a bit more nuance and critique than the high school and undergraduate economics courses that are fairly consistent throughout the world. The main curriculum taught throughout reflects a neoliberal frame of free enterprise economics. (A free market upheld by central banks and regulated as little as possible by national governments or international bodies.) However, the underlying economic assumptions and conclusions at the graduate level do not deviate to much from the main story with scarcity and self-interest as the main characters.
My assertion is that the damages inflicted by the existing global economy are far too dire to debate. It is time to design! We waste time debating the reality of the damages (like climate change), and even more time is wasted debating whether the benefits outweigh any acknowledged failures (like the loss of habitat). Does all this discourse on the merits of globalization simply uphold the status quo of dominance, death, and destruction? I am not anti-globalization, but I am anti-dominance, death, and destruction. I believe it is possible to reframe economics education and economic thought at the high school level, to learn to apply design-thinking toward more peace and prosperity. Can the same principles be proactively adopted at the graduate level to offer insights and solutions to those entering careers in international development? How much can we rebuke a paradigm of zero-sum economic thought? Can we embrace the positive and inevitable qualities of increased interconnectivity, while rejecting that unconsenting casualties are inevitable?
As myself and others reimagine economics education as a means to create real change for communities around the world, the curriculum must be diverse enough, yet consistent enough to be adopted anywhere in the world. So it is for the world, as much as it is for myself, that I seek to challenge the basic assumptions of Lui’s motivation to maximize profits, and explore how radically the winds of his narrative might shift.
First, Lui must be persuaded, then he must be willing to take the risk, betting future book sales on which way the wind will blow. When it comes to the evolution of human culture, which came first, the culture that created the system or the culture as a response to the system? Cultural evolution is not a passive phenomenon. The long arch of history does not inevitably bend toward justice, nor does it have to take so long to get there. Where we go involves a decision about what direction we want to go, and how we chart our course is influenced by where we come from.
So a little more about my background. My graduate studies focused on public health education, and more specifically on international agroecology education as, what I felt, was the best strategy to cultivate individual, community, and environmental health. But under the dominant economic paradigm, farming and spreading the message of compost rarely generates sufficient income to raise a family. So I took a paid job. I became a teacher. Through Spanish, history, and economics, I was teaching about human relationships and comparative culture. Throughout Latin America, and throughout history, the most influential factor in the creation of culture was economics.
I had come to the classroom with little in the way of formal economics education. Therefore, I sought out as much as I could digest in the way of professional development, online resources, articles, books, podcasts, and even activist groups that could help explain how the economy worked. I found a sickening cesspool of unforgiving ideological assumptions in the “dismal science” of economics. It pervaded the textbooks and professional development seminars with the same mantras of scarcity, self-interest, and the great mystery of poverty. But I also discovered a treasure trove of promising yet marginalized solutions throughout history and throughout the world. These solutions created real wealth for those who most needed it, and the only thing they destroyed was the power to be exploited.
Ultimately, an anarchist and libertarian have more in common than not. We are both optimists about what human nature will do with personal freedom. The difference, as I see it, is a libertarian believes that true freedom is a lack of governance, as long as there is enough governance to protect private property, of course. An anarchist on the other hand, views that as a continuation of oppression. The anarchist wants to redesign systems for human cooperation so that governance is participatory, localized, and agreed full consent of the governed is reached.
Perhaps we can agree that we all want peace. Hopefully, we don’t need to waste any time debating whether peace is possible, but can move toward it as peace designers, with all the curiosity and conscious commitment we can muster. Along the way, our navigation system needs to continuously check-in with what is contrary to peace, and invite diverse and divergent perspectives on how to course-correct. This is design-thinking. Designs are assessed and reassessed according to their ability to move us toward goals of measurable peace, prosperity, regeneration, and wellbeing for all.
In my mind, we cannot dismiss the basic economic assumptions as elementary. These assumptions play a role in the systemic design, and are perhaps at the root of perpetuating some of the fundamental and euphemistically labeled design flaws. These “flaws” are what perpetuate war, death and destruction of the environment, mistrust, insecurity, social unrest, racism, physical and mental health issues, and so on. Our individualistic culture, created and perpetuated in a vicious cycle of biased assumptions and flawed and biased designs, color our perceptual filters of reality. In other words, what we experience influences how we perceive reality, and what we experience is an extremely and unnecessarily harsh global economy.
Scarcity, self-interest, zero-sum reality, and the ability of simplified models and graphs to explain reality are the basic assumptions of economics 101. Globalization is merely the macrocosmic manifestation of the systems that have historically been built on the foundation of these assumptions. To study globalization is to observe, measure, and describe the myriad symptoms of economies doing what they were meant to do: growing, extracting, and siphoning wealth the way any self-loving empire would intend. Is it not time to question the impact of these assumptions on the study of globalization?
That expanding the trade of disposable commodities could be argued as a neutral and mutually beneficial interaction is a red herring that hides the scent of the money, debt, and power that make that trade possible. Money is not a neutral entity, and the medium is the message. If your money is worth more, your economy can grow. And because it was issued with debt, grow it must! The result is history -a never-ending parade of foreign policy goals aimed at reducing competition through racism, destabilization, and deceit. According to conventional economic thought, what is the root of the problem? Human conflict and tribalism. So what is the solution? Expanding economic development!
So it is with this in mind that I engage in a dialogue with my friend, Lui, as he looks toward a future of giving back to the world, alleviating some of the suffering, helping to stop environmental destruction, improving teacher training, and developing the next issue of his textbook on Globalization.
This is the admittedly radical frame with which I enter the book, a book that promises to “debunk the myths” of Globalization. As an economics teacher with no patience to perpetuate the myths of greed and scarcity, I’m on a moral mission to re-imagine economics by teaching design thinking and prosocial skills. We have been in living a crisis of conflict. That COVID made the crisis all the more critical is even more of a case for cooperation.
If cooperation is an indicator of Peace, and peace is an indicator of cultural evolution, let’s measure cooperation in terms of consensual mutual benefit. Let us first determine where we want to go, and use economic indicators to determine whether we are getting there. For instance, the goal of prosperity cannot be measured in GDP, and needs more than Purchase Power Parity. Prosperity is an indicator of thriving, so we need information about personal and collective wellbeing as well.
Even though most of us won’t become certified economists, we are each fully operational daily economic drivers. What do we do with this power? What are our options? What vehicle is the best choice for uncharted territory? Can we change directions? Can we alter the flow of traffic? How can we make economics more comprehensible? How can give people and communities more power to determine their economic realities?
When it comes to teaching economics, and presumably to writing economics textbooks, what informs our curriculum? Are dismal economic realities of winners and losers accepted as if it were a law of thermodynamics? Or are we continuously admitting that this is an unfolding process, our process toward ensuring that all life will thrive?
Economics is far beyond a question of how to goods and services are distributed. Economics is a question of philosophy, physics, psychology, ecology, and even cosmology. The systems and structures that describe modern economies have such a powerful and pervasive influence on human behavior and natural energy flow, it can difficult to detangle their subjective influence from the natural laws of objective reality. Indeed, we would do well to question our assumptions of “objective reality” at every step, since time and time again, cognitive science is proving that our perception is not very reliable.
Modern economic assumptions that underpin our economic architecture on a global scale are arguably influenced by the age-old economic dynamics of dominance and empire. When we begin to see life as interconnected and interdependent, life itself becomes a common pool resource.
The thought experiment that eugenecist ecologist, Garret Hardin, lays out in The Tragedy of the Commons is based in scarcity and self-interest, and claims that there is no technical solution for this. Written in 1968, this paper was used to uphold private property rights and an idea that some lives on the planet are burdonsome. Dismal indeed.
But these assumptions inform the human design of technologies like money, banking, and finance. That we have created a reality where everyone is increasingly dependent on debt-based money has been completely ignored as a technological problem that has contributed to overextraction and exploitation of natural resources.
If peace, prosperity, regeneration, and wellbeing for all point toward utopia, let economics be the exploration of how close we can get.
In doing that, we will read a critical analysis of Globalization with an even more critical lense, looking for where economic assumptions are influencing false or unsatisfactory conclusions, and where a paradigm shift allows for innovative problem solving to achieve a better experience of life for all life.
These are the FIVE KEY ECONOMIC ASSUMPTIONS:
- Scarcity. Society’s wants are unlimited, but ALL resources are limited.
2. Trade-offs. Due to scarcity, choices must be made. Every choice has a cost.
3. Self-interest. Everyone’s goal is to make choices that maximize their satisfaction.
4. Cost and benefits. Everyone acts rationally by the marginal costs and benefits of every choice.
5. Models and graphs. Real-life situations can be explained through simplified models and graphs.