Podcast – 2015.09.18
Eddy: Good evening, my friends, and welcome to the first ever podcast “THE MORAL ECONOMY”. I am your host Eduardo Eusepi.
Firat: I am your other host, Firat Nar.
Andrew: And I am your other other host, Andrew Fassett.
E: As this is our first ever podcast, it would be a good idea to answer the question, WHAT IS THE MORAL ECONOMY?
F: Besides (NOW) being a podcast, The Moral Economy is three things: a website, a way of life, and an organisation.
A: For the first thing, the moral economy is a website is located at www.mainstreamidea.com. That is W W W DOT Main Stream Idea DOT Com.
E: On this website you will find a portal to COLLABORATIVE interdisciplinary research, advocacy and activism, as well as a collection of artwork, memes and even poetry on the subjects of justice, democracy, equality and economics.
F: The aim of this website is twofold: First, it is a tool for propaganda, to advocate the creation of a more moral economy, and Second it is a tool for people from all walks of life and levels of education to come together and discuss just how we are to create a more moral economy.
A: When you go to the website you might find the format confusing. Moral Economicus, Political Culturalism, Poliphilecon Mythscicult? What the hell are these things?
E: And if you click on most of the links, they lead to nowhere.
F: But that’s because we want to hear from you. This is a collaborative project, and the more people we have on board the better.
A: So if you do want to write something with us, select a heading from one of the each the three categories:
E: Moral Economicus!
F: Political. Culturalism.
A: And Poliphilecon Mythscicult, and start writing. You can send your ideas to moral economy @ mainstream idea dot com.
E: That’s moral economy
F: @ mainstream idea
A: Dot com. We accept drafts, proposals, and abstracts. And only one of us has to approve your work for it to be published. The catch is that we will work on the article, too, asking for references, adding comments and suggestions, or plain reworking arguments.
E: Don’t worry, that’s the idea of collaborative writing. It’s both peer-written and peer-reviewed.
F: And we’ll be keeping tabs on what topics you write about, so if we’re ever writing something in your area, we’ll drop you a line.
// PART ONE
A: I guess that’s it about the website. Now Eddy and Firat will take over.
E: As we said before, the Moral Economy is a way of life. That means it’s a philosophy, especially a political-economic philosophy, but importantly a moral philosophy; and as you will surely find out soon — and as our name strongly suggests — we believe there is no such thing as morality without economics, and equally no such thing as an economics that is not at the same time intrinsically tied to answering moral questions.
F: Whatever you may understand under the concept of morality, we argue that any moral economy will be an economy that is for all of us, not merely for a select few — the bourgeoisie, the one percent, however you name them. Not only that, but the idea of an economy for all of us means that this economy must necessarily be based upon direct democratic principles, i.e. the establishment of direct democratic institutions in the political realm, treating politicians not as ruling representatives of the people with their own power, but as trustees, caretakers or custodians of our political-economic system, whose job is not to decide what we do as communities, but to put into effect those decisions that a community makes through direct deliberative democratic decision-making.
E: This is encapsulated in the idea that any vote for a politician or party in our current forms of representative democracy is essentially a vote against your own right to choose for yourself. The government, as we see it, should not have to power to choose for us; rather, that power should be reserved for the people, and the government’s role as a limited institution is to do exactly as the people say, with some accountable freedom to choose how to enact the policies of the people.
F: To put this in other words, we understand the people to be the experts of their own preferences, that is their own wishes and desires, whereas the government as custodians should be experts on how to implement our chosen preferences. That means when people vote for custodians, they vote for doctors, nurses and psychologists when the people decide on a health-care system that keeps us healthy. They vote for physicists, biologists and climatologists when the people decide to fight climate change and pollution. They vote for teachers, child psychologists and parents when the people decide to create an educational system in which truly no child is left behind.
E: More than that, not only do we need to have more direct democracy in our politics, we need it in our workplaces. It is abundantly clear that without turning the means of production (what to produce, how to produce it, where it should be produced, as well as how the product is distributed and who gets the surplus) over to the workers and communities, then no political system, however democratic, can succeed, and likewise, without a directly democratic political system, no we won’t be able to build democratic workplaces.
F: To elaborate, we will summarize the arguments put forth by Richard D Wolff, an economist who acquired his PhD at Yale university, and is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City. For more information on what we are about to present, you can go to rdwolff.com, that’s wolff like the canine animal with two Fs, his website, or democracyatwork.info, the website of his orgnisation, Democracy at Work. To repeat, that is R D W O L F F double f dot com and DEMOCRACY AT WORK DOT INFO.
E: What Richard D Wolff refers to as democracy at work is none other than the idea that firms, enterprises, non-and-for profit organisations should no longer be organised along hierarchical, top-down lines, but along bottom-up or horizontal lines. That is, the workers who work in a firm should come together, treat each other as equals, and democratically decide what to produce, how to produce it, where it should be produced, as well as how the product is distributed and who gets the surplus. This means, in short, that enterprises should no longer be organised along capitalist lines, but along socialist or communist lines. That’s socialist and communist in their true meanings of democratic economy, not their actually realised forms of state capitalism, like in China and the former Soviet Union.
F: Wolff therefore advocates the forming of WSDEs, Worker Self-Directed Enterprises, which he envisions as the practical, institutional implementation of democratic economy around the means of production -that is what we produce, how we produce it, and how we go about distributing it. This is only a brief summary, and we encourage you to go visit Richard D Wolff’s websites as well as the democracy at work youtube channel, where he discusses marxian economics as they apply to our current events.
E: We furthermore want to propose is that not only do we need Worker Self-Directed Enterprises in order to bring about a democratic economy, but also what we term Democratic Marketplaces. In a nutshell, these are, to quote from our website,
E: “public, online institutions that put decision-making power into the hands of individuals and communities, so that individuals and communities have a direct, democratic means by which they can control which goods (and services) are produced (or provided), how they are produced, who produces them, how much is produced and at what cost.”
A: End Quote!
F: The idea behind democratic marketplaces is to put WSDEs together with democratic crowdfunding tools, so that the people who pay for products also get to have a say in what features these products have. To quote again from the website:
F: “Butcher, Bakers and Brewers as well as Device Developers all across the world provide their products on a more-or-less on-demand basis, meaning that while they benefit from the economies of scale that public and club goods could potentially provide, their one-purchase-per-use nature means that they are sold as private goods. Yet what happens when a butcher sells expired meat, a baker sells maggoty bread, when the beer contains harmful chemicals (besides alcohol!) and when software crashes and wipes a person’s files? Either a government agency has to step in or, as in most scenarios where a product is bad but not harmful, users have to accept a corporate “as-is” policy.
E: “Therefore while these goods may be privately sold, a proof of purchase should nonetheless guarantee the user the same rights as the user of a club or public good, including the right to get together with other users and have the product changed or make new products, as well as the right to punish the developers when they do not meet their promises. These rights should be self-evident, and we should not require a government agency that is subject to corruption and inefficiency problems of its own in order to punish bad and dishonest business practices.”
A: End Quote!
F: Combined with democratic marketplaces, Richard Wolff’s Worker Self-Directed Enterprises or WSDEs become people’s self-directed enterprises, which we think is exactly in the spirit of his project. Instead of either relying on capitalist market mechanism or government agencies to serve our needs and protect our rights, we advocate none other than institutions in which we serve our own needs and protect our own rights. In other words, democratic institutions for a moral economy, which we term democratic economy.
E: Okay, so all of this has been in to answer the question, what is the moral economy as a way of life? The final question is, what are we as an organisation? The truth is, we do not see that we can separate the two: the organisation from the way of life. A person is a sum of all three things — their actions, their words, and their thoughts. Therefore we see that our thoughts should be put into words and action, our words should be thought about and acted upon, and our actions should correspond to how we think to ourselves and talk to others.
F: That’s why our goals are a mixture of thought, communication and action. To quote the website,
F: “The Moral Economy is an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary group of writers, researchers, artists and activists. In very real terms we wish to understand the underpinnings of our economic, political and moral world, as well as to develop practical models for applying and living those understandings, to in other words be the change we wish to see in the world. Our hope is that these models can be shared and improved upon and perpetuated, in order to educate, enlighten and emancipate human beings.”
A: End quote!
E: Okay! So before everyone starts backing off, rolling their eyes and thinking, “What a bunch of idealistic hippies!” we want to say that the most important thing is that we start a conversation on how we go about building a more moral economy. We see conversation as the first step, since our words are a bridge between our individual, internal thoughts and our collective, external actions. And that is the purpose of this podcast. While in the beginning we will mostly be advocating our ideas, we hope in the future to conduct interviews, to answer audience questions, and to engage our audience and encourage them to start a real conversation.
// PART TWO
E: So now that we have gone into who we are, we would like to devote the rest of this podcast to an issue that has been all over the media for the past few months. That is the current refugee crisis. For this I will hand things over to Firat and Andrew!
F: The first thing to mention is that the Mainstream Media refers to the refugee crisis as a European refugee crisis, and not a middle east refugee crisis or a global refugee crisis. As evidence of this, a google search of “european refugee crisis” in quotation marks has five hundred and twenty thousand hits, whereas a google search of “middle east refugee crisis” has merely twenty two thousand hits, and “global refugee crisis” has eighty thousand five hundred hits.I think it is important to point out that this is a very euro-centric way of looking at the crisis.
A: And that’s a problem. Of course the refugee crisis has affected Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence in the Middle East are making their way into Europe, and European governments and people need to figure out what to do about this. According to Democracy Now the UN expects eight hundred and fifty thousand people to cross the Mediterranean in into Europe 2015 and 2016, and already 366,000 have arrived in Europe this year.
F: Furthermore as of August approximately 2,500 people are believed to have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe so far this year, according to Democracy Now reporting from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
A: So let us quote from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees website:
A: The latest figures available show that the number of refugees of concern to UNHCR in mid-2014 stood at 13 million refugees, up from a year earlier.
A: A further 5.1 million registered refugees are looked after in some 60 camps in the Middle East by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which was set up in 1949 to care for displaced Palestinians.
A: The refugees of concern to UNHCR are spread around the world, with half in Asia and some 28 per cent in Africa. They live in widely varying conditions, from well-established camps and collective centres to makeshift shelters or living in the open.
A: More than half of all refugees of concern to UNHCR live in urban areas. They all face three possible solutions: repatriation; local integration or resettlement.
F: The figures show that this is not a European crisis, but a Global crisis. So why do Europeans, and with them the US, call this a european crisis? We see two reasons.
A: The first reason is that it serves to justify restricting the inflow of migrants. If the politicians and media can control the conversation, and that conversation basically says, “Eight-hundred and fifty thousand? That’s a European crisis! That’s way too much! We Europeans can’t handle that!” then it becomes easier for them to reject people at their borders.
F: True, eight hundred and fifty thousand is a large number, but Remember that eight hundred and fifty thousand persons is only equivalent to zero point one one percent of the total European population. Let me repeat that. Zero point one one percent. In political-economic terms that is a negligible number, easily outweighed by the moral considerations. What is, after all, more important? That Europeans maintain their standard of living, that they do not have to share their streets, their buildings, their schools filled with people with darker skin and a different religion? Or is it more important to reach out and heaven forbid help their fellow human beings?
A: Of course the former is more important, in the eyes of the politicians, the one percent and the media. After all, if we did the latter, it would raise questions of why we don’t help people in our own countries. In fact, this question has already been raised, sadly not by advocates for human rights, but by right-wing figures who are against taking in any refugees.
F: We are not saying that this is what the one percent, politicians and the media are thinking when they mention the european crisis. While I am sure that many are, the fact is that controlling the conversation like this serves their purposes even if they are not aware of it. Remember that the one percent in Europe could single-handedly solve the crisis, give every single refugee a place to stay, an education, a job, you name it, and the one percent would have more left over than they would know what to do with it. But if we did this for the refugees, then we’d have to do it for all Europeans, and that’s a slippery slope.
E: BÄH! SLIPPERY SLOPE! HUMBUG!
A: The second reason is, of course, that in many ways Europe and the United States have been culpable for the current global crisis. Politicians in the United States don’t like to admit it, but if it hadn’t been for the meddling for all those years — the illegal wars, the drone strikes, the overthrow of democracies and the installment of dictators, giving corporate interests full rights over their resources and allowing them to plunder the lands — then there might not be a crisis in the first place. Europe halso also sewn a fair share of the seeds of chaos, and the cause of the crisis stems back to European colonial occupation of the middle east and africa.
F: This is dangerous talk, and most people who mention this are labeled as terrorists. But that’s just childish. Look, Europe and the United States — seen as the inheritor of European culture and politics — is responsible for the current crisis. Of course the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the oppressive regimes in the middle east are also responsible, but we need to take a historical perspective for how these groups and dictators came into power in the first place. And when we do this it is undeniable that Europe and the United States are ultimately responsible. And if that’s the case maybe we need to stop involving ourselves in the Middle East and Africa, stop exploiting their resources and people, pay reparations and start spreading democracy as we have always claimed to be our cause.
A: And we know that can’t be the case, so instead this becomes a European Refugee Crisis caused by Middle Eastern and African refugees — not people — who are fleeing civil war and unrest in those countries over there, and not a Global Crisis in which we are all involved and all morally responsible.
// PART THREE
F: Now that that is out we have just enough time for one more thing. What this thing is, I will leave up to Andrew and Eddy.
A: Of course many people across Europe have indeed been stepping up to the plate, and whether through donations or through their labour Europeans have been coming together to help the masses of people arriving every day. As we live in Hamburg we will mention one way you can help here in our city.
E: You can donate or help out with your time and labour at the Kleiderkammer in the Hamburg Exhibition Halls. They need most of all people to help sort things, but also cars, trucks, drivers, mechanics, and translators.
A: If you want to donate objects instead of time the most important things are deodorant, razors, shaving gel, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste for adults and children, baby wipes, baby bottles, baby wound cream, female hygeine pads, towels, rags, and so on and so on. A full list can be found (in German) on the website zusammenschmeissen dot deeee eeeee. That’s Z-U-S-A-M-M-E-N-S-C-H-M-E-I-S-S-E-N dot D-E
E: But before we get carried away with ourselves here, let’s remember that charity, however frequent and generous, is not the solution. While it’s a tried phrase, Charity treats the symptoms, not the cause of the disease itself. We need a systematic solution, not a reactionary one. On the other hand, we recognize the need to act here and now, to alleviate the situation for people of the current crisis, as well as look to the future in order to end such crises in the first place.
A: Now you may be asking yourself, “Alright, Eddy, Firat and Andrew, what can we do now to alleviate suffering and ensure this never happens again?” Well there is no guarantee that this will never happen again, at least so long as our current capitalist institutions are in place. So the solution would be to replace those capitalist institutions. That’s why we are proposing a new approach to the crisis.
E: The first thing to consider is, why are people actually reluctant to help? Is it because most of us are selfish? Is it because most of us are racists and islamophobes? Is it because most of us just don’t care about dying children and families torn apart by violence and strife? We don’t think so.
A: Instead, we understand that the root of the problem is economic. Not only economic in the sense that the cause of this crisis is economic in nature, since the roots of the crisis are found in Western economic colonisation. But also in the sense that each and every person who is willing to help nonetheless makes a very rational and straightforward economic analysis: I can donate all of my time, energy and resources to helping as many people as I possibly can, and yet that will hardly do anything, if no one else helps. So why should I go beyond my own means, when, ultimately, anything I do alone will not be enough.
E: But the point of the moral economy is that no person has to go beyond their means in order to participate. Sure, we could just go donate some clothes, cook them some food or wire some money or, but just as voting for a politician basically says “I don’t want to decide for myself”, donating to charity says, “I don’t want to actually help.” That’s because the real problem is not a lack of clothes, a lack of food or a lack of money. The real problem is a lack of choice, a lack of opportunity, and a lack of autonomy — for both the refugees and for us.
A: So the next time you wonder what you can do to help others out, we suggest you reframe the question. It should be, “How can we help all of us?” And when we ask that the solutions cease to be individual, sporadic acts of measured heroism. The solutions become collaborative, deliberative, and above all effective and long lasting. They become, in other words, democratic economic solutions.
E: This isn’t just rhetoric. Here are some practical things we can do. Got hungry people at the camps? Don’t hire caterers or drop off a bunch of food. Create a people’s kitchen and invite refugees to help cook and importantly make decisions on what to cook and how to cook it. Many of the refugees were cooks themselves, or know their ways around kitchens. Instead of giving money to for-profit catering companies, that money can be spent helping refugees feed themselves and gain an income while doing it — while also employing people in our own communities. Food and money donations would certainly be welcome, but let’s cut out the middle-man and form a people’s self-directed kitchen together.
A: And then we can think, “Where do we get our food from?” Food comes from somewhere, and all of our research indicates that it in fact grows on trees. A growing proportion of our agricultural economy is dedicated to growing local, organic, fair trade goods. So let’s start a people’s self-directed farm. What’s fairer, more organic and more local than a farm run and operated by the very people who eat the food with their families and friends? Instead of giving money to for-profit farms, that money can be spent helping refugees feed themselves and gain an income while doing it — while also employing people in our communities.
E: And what about medicine? Clothing? Hygienic care products? Housing? Are there no nurses and doctors, tailors, chemists, or carpenters in the refugee camps? Instead of donating, or finding them jobs so that they “work for us”, let’s all of us work together — refugees and locals included — to build an economy that actually responds to the underlying causes of the crisis, and not just throwing token gestures at the symptoms until they’re covered up again.
A: And before you say, “Hey, we can’t start factories and farms just like that. This kind of helping takes a lot of time and effort! We need to alleviate suffering right here and now!” We will ask you, “Well, what’s the problem?” In the end we need to integrate these people into our society anyway, and ultimately the only obstacle is us. True, this will take a lot of time and effort, but it will take much less time and effort to work together — with ourselves and with the refugees — than to rely on the individualistic logic of charity. It’s the same analogy as, “Give a man to fish, feed him for a day, but teach men and women to crew their own fishing boats, and you’ll feed them and their families for a lifetime”.
E: Mainstream economists say we should help these refugees — and migrants in general — because we have an ageing population, and the refugees can pay into the system. The right-wing and neo-classical economists say we should not help these refugees, because we we should be focusing on the poor in our own land.
F: Oh, now you care about the poor!
E: We’re saying we should help these refugees because it is the right thing to do — and because we have an ageing population and poor people in our own cities and towns who have been forgotten by the system, we should help people in a way that helps all of us. The refugees shouldn’t come here and receive our aide ultimately to work for us. Nor when they come here should they be seen as taking our jobs. Instead we come together to build an economy around the situation at hand.
A: This is at the heart of democratic economics, and the reason we say economy is inseparable from morality. It doesn’t have to start out as a mass movement to overhaul the economic system, overrun factories and overthrow oppressive regimes. It starts out with the question, “How can we help all of us?” From there you can make small groups of friends to organise, to share the burden of donation to charity, but also to go beyond charity. Small groups work together to become bigger groups, and bigger groups work together to become movements — and really the only limit to what we can build is the number of people involved, which is just one more reason to include the refugees in the democratic decision-making processes and start people’s self-directed enterprises to help put an end to this crisis.
F: Just one last point, if I may jump in. When we start asking ourselves, “How can we help all of us?”, we remember that the refugees who arrive in Europe are by and large the wealthier members of the societies from which they came. The poorest members are still trapped back home, facing war, starvation, and often times a lack of services because the doctors and engineers have already fled. The individualistic charity approach of capitalism would have us help only those whom we see here and now, how affect us most readily. The democratic economic approach takes these people into account, and points out that the system that created this crisis also leaves its poorest individuals to bear the brunt of its dire consequences.
A: Alright guys I think that’s enough for today.
F: Yeah okay. See you next time.
E: I would like to thank once again Ria and the Money for allowing us to use their wonderful song Occupy for our intro. I hope you enjoyed our first podcast, and hopefully until the next time!