Altruistic Economics: The Gift Culture and End of the Culture of Extinction

By Newton, Jonathan M. | Pacific Ecologist, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Altruistic Economics: The Gift Culture and End of the Culture of Extinction


Newton, Jonathan M., Pacific Ecologist


"The ability to govern without overt coercion depends largely on the ability of those in power to exploit systems of belief that the larger population shares."--Antonio Gramsci

With serious global crises appearing on many fronts it's clear our current alienated, resource-wasteful economic activity and antiquated banking and money systems are inadequate, and the source of our problems, writes JONATHAN M NEWTON. To solve the life-threatening problems we face we must reconnect with nature and the life of all to create an inclusive economics for the wider good. Kindness and selflessness in human economic communication is an ancient part of our history without which we cannot survive.

At the 2007 Soil Association Conference in Cardiff, British writer, Jonathan Porritt said the 21st Century could become an "age of chronic famine." (1) A year later in 2008 the United Nations reported a global food crisis with food riots now occurring regularly across the world. In 2009, the transition period of climate change and global resource depletion is clearly here and the industrialized world's current economic model and its myths face a rude wake-up call. The quaint economic assumptions of "the selfish pursuit of wealth" (2) on a planet with infinite resources for infinite growth, and infinite sink capacity for wastes, along with dominance of the market as arbiter of human affairs now face increasing criticism from within the ranks of the economic profession itself. Such criticism is timely and welcome, given international markets face yet another grave financial crisis and the world's precious ecological stability is visibly fraying. It is finally becoming clear on several fronts that our current resource-wasteful economic activity and its antiquated banking and money systems are inadequate. American researcher Richard Heinberg estimates the total value of American-based mortgage bonds is $10.4 trillion with 30% or $3.2 trillion of this expected to be eventually lost in property defaults and devaluation. Trillions more are likely to evaporate from related derivative markets, totalling $540 trillion. (3) To put these enormous figures into perspective, US GDP is $15 trillion; and total world GDP is estimated at $48 trillion. There is a possibility the world is teetering into another great Depression, resulting in bank and currency failures with enormous social repercussions. American Economist, Marcellus Andrews believes the market fundamentalist ideology of Friedman and Hayek will: "soon slip into oblivion because climate change will push all of us to understand that unlimited capitalism is, in the end, inextricably connected to the disposability of human beings", (4) and the ecology of the planet.

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The dominant economic system is one of systemic, pervasive eco-toxicity and social divisiveness with an innate tendency towards creating monopolies and inequality. Consequently our most fundamental understandings and expectations of what an economy is actually for must be revisited. English Economist James Robertson believes as time goes on it will become "increasingly obvious in fits and starts to more and more people around the world that we are blundering headlong towards a 'combined system collapse' of climate change, over-population,, food supply, energy, etc which will continue to gather interactive momentum for some time longer." (5) Robertson believes a small, but growing number of people "see the need and possibility for a 'combined system renewal,' which will be a process of re-orientation of all the collapsing systems for a new direction." This will encourage autonomy and better treatment of the ecological commons. (5) But to achieve community renewal and restoration of the biosphere requires an honest assessment, evolutionary change and a revolutionary willingness to tackle root causes of our problems.

Social pathologies of modern life

These causes are systemic as analyst Steve Welzer notes: "our lifeways have become unmoored from the community/nature matrix," (6) framed within an ugly monetary and socio-economic paradigm embodying and developing a pernicious system of patriarchy, artificial scarcity, competition, domination, and anthropocentrism. …

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