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Recession Raises the Question of Meaning

The facade of a sound world suddenly crumbles. Supporting the economy with financial injections is not wrong. But where are the triple-digit billions really flowing? Are the funds made available to the productive economy or are they sinking in the swamp of a degenerate global system?
RECESSION RAISES THE QUESTION OF MEANING

By Reinhard Koradi, Dietlikon

[This article published in: Zeit-Fragen, 1/5/2009 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.zeit-fragen.ch.]


Could the current economic crisis also be a chance? At first, the worry over one's job and the security of one's savings account and pension certainly dominates. Owing to wage- and pension-cuts and higher taxes to the state, the freely disposable income (income left after all "non-discretionary expenditures" like rents, health care premiums, contributions for old age provisions, taxes and so forth are deducted) could fall so that preservation of familiar living standards becomes impossible. We must learn to renounce, concentrate on what is essential, overcome egoism and fill human solidarity with new meaning. There is nothing to whitewash or gloss over. The majority of workers, the population entering retirement will have to tighten their belts. Many women, men and children will be forced to endure much distress through poverty.

Building an economic system that promotes the well being of all people and no longer allows a little minority to gain enormous wealth through the poverty of the great majority of the world's population has not always succeeded. In these days, the question of the meaning of the economy is raised with bristling sharpness.

One can only be surprised over the official opinions of leading politicians of western industrial countries in the last months on the financial- and economic crisis. The crisis cannot do us any harm, they say at the outset. While the financial crisis can enter our latitudes, the financial system is intact. We have nothing to fear. However the fašade of a sound world suddenly crumbles. Alongside the American financial institutions, big European banks (including Swiss banks) fall into (financial) dislocation. Rescue packages are hastily resolved. "There will not be an economic crisis" was the constant refrain. Now one government after another admits we are in a recession. Packages of billions are earmarked.

RELICS OF A POLITICS LONG OVERTAKEN BY REALITY

Supporting the economy with financial injections is not wrong. But where are the triple-digit billions of support funds really flowing? Are the funds made available to the productive economy, small- and medium-size businesses or are they sinking in the swamp of a degenerate global financial- and economic system? Taking over "worthless toxic assets" may secure financial institutions for a certain time but will not help all people of this earth secure an economic foundation for a dignified existence. As long as increased growth, liberalization, global free trade and international competitiveness are the dominant economic goals, the rich will profit at the expense of medium-size businesses, trades and less well-to-do people.

When the Swiss government negotiates an agricultural trade agreement with the EU in Brussels, when Avenir Suisse (mammoth Swiss bank) holds stubbornly to its liberal ideology of market liberation and decries the demand for food sovereignty as a myth or the Swiss parliament does not see the necessity of supporting the price of milk with a quantity regulation, these are relics of an economic policy long overtaken by reality.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE ECONOMY?

Do we go to work every day to stimulate growth, increase international competitiveness and further develop the global market? Is it the increase of stock prices or the prospect of maximum profits that ensures productivity on the job? While this motivation may be true for a privileged minority, work and economies mean much more for the majority of people. People want to be productive and creative. They desire new challenges and expect meaning from work. We engage in the economy to produce or buy the goods that secure our existence. In a division of labor economy, the population according to need exchanges products and services. The shoemaker goes to the baker, the cabinet-maker to the locksmith and the hairstylist to the butcher and so on. The market and money were created to simplify exchange. Originally money was only a means of exchange closely tied to the circulation of goods. The economic cycle and the circulation of goods primarily helped secure the existence of the population in the immediate hinterland. The geographically conditioned regional market developed into the national and later international global market. New unknown products came on the market. Import and export brought new economic impulses and inspired new economic models. The ways of the real commodity economy and the money economy were separated. Securing existence gave way to the goal of increasing profits. Speculation replaced the real commodity economy and made some people very rich and many very poor.

We may not forget the disgraceful uncontrolled exploitation. The one-sided orientation in the global economy led to dependencies and neglect of the primary tasks of the economy. The basic supply of the population, the security of jobs and meaning through employment were sacrificed to the dictate of the global competitive economy. In industrial states, farmers, small- and medium-size family enterprises fell under the barrel of "world market prices." The free market and the profit of mammoth international conglomerates devoured supply security. The needs of the indigenous population were sacrificed to the four freedoms (personal freedom of movement, free exchange of goods, free exchange of services and free capital transactions).

Still people are not now living globally. The great majority spends the largest part of their life in the same place, the same region or homeland. They live, work and develop in their immediate environment. The economy must accept the fact of regionalization. When we build an economy to give meaning to our life, ensure our existence and nurture cultural and social values, this can only be a regional economy. From this perspective, global economy can be best understood as a complement to the regional economy.

ECONOMIES FOR AND WITH PEOPLE AND NATURE

An economy that prioritizes human needs and nature is primarily regional. The goals of a regional economic orientation would be the most extensive supply of the resident population and creation of foundations so people can gain a livelihood from their own strength, not global competitiveness. Making available essential products and services out of their own resources within a natural living space would be central. Food, housing, educational institutions, cultural assets, health care, energy provisions and local transportation are among these essential goods and services. Unlike the globally oriented economy, self-support, independence and stable de-centralized economic structures should be promoted through regional economies. Then a global interconnection - if desired - could occur through a free cooperation of many regional economies.

With a regionally oriented economic mode, producers and consumers are near each other; production and distribution become more transparent and thus more feasible. What promotes environment-friendly production processes also leads to a higher product quality. The local resources will be optimally exhausted; existing capacities would be freely exhausted. Life, work and cultural activities could be carried out better. Solidarity and community would be strengthened. Transport routes would be shortened sparing the environment and the pocketbook.

Regional economics can be converted into practice in different ways. Decentralized small-scale production- and distribution systems promote innovation and contribute to a stable supply economy and employment. Small- and medium-size operations would take over marketing, production and logistics functions. Most businesses rely on simpler technologies and profit from the proverbial nearness to customers. The regional economy is an ideal prerequisite for cooperative forms of organization and non-profit work and could rely on a regional currency.

What would happen if countries - all independent nations - pursued an economic policy that prefers regionalization to globalization, emphasizes the basic provision of its own population as the first priority instead of international competitiveness and does everything to make possible an existence-securing and dignified life?

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