Saying TATA to TINA (without looking like some kind of loony)

The Money Culture, Part 5

As the Cold War drew to a close and the Soviet Union began to collapse, Maggie Thatcher said of capitalism and the Washington Consensus “There Is No Alternative.”  The antidote to this is Susan George‘s “There are Thousands of Alternatives.”  While TINA and TATA make handy acronyms for these different perspectives, the TATA argument is all-to-readily dismissed by people who claim the mantle of history: “socialist” states collapsed, and even during the Great Recession it doesn’t look like the US, England or Germany are going to collapse this week, so we won, so that proves we were right and everything else is unfeasable, neener-neener-neener… (I exaggerate, of course, but only a little.)

This week, The Nation has a series of articles under the title “Reimagining Captialism.”  But with the exception of Eugene McCarraher’s article (and to some extent Dirk Philipsen’s article on replacing the GDP with something like Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness as a better measure of how well we’re doing), none of the other dozen or so authors dared to suggest that the solution to “the intractably mercenary nature of capitalism” might be to abandon capitalism altogether.

What some of the more radical thinkers to address this issue say is that neither capitalism nor socialism/communism as it has been practiced are tenable choices.  True, capitalism managed not to self-destruct quite yet, but the cracks are definitely showing.  But folks like Rianne Eisler and the Venus Project visonaries/loonies (and, hey, me too) posit that these economic systems have certain flaws in common, that they are both part of the same mindset.  According to the Venus Project, both were based on a model of material scarcity and the now-false notion that there isn’t enough food/energy/ingenuity to go around unless people work very hard to obtain it.  In The Real Wealth of Nations, Eisler explains that both capitalist and  have been based on a “dominator” model of human interaction (as opposed to a “cooperator” model). Or, as McCarraher  puts it:

Capitalism stands condemned most profoundly not by its maldistribution of wealth or its ecological despoliation but by its systematic cultivation of people inclined toward injustice and predation.

Donnella Meadows explained that many seemingly intractable problems are the result of systems wherein the function or goal is not defined well:

If the goal is defined badly, if it doesn’t measure what it’s supposed to measure, if it doesn’t reflect the real welfare of the system, then the system cannot possibly produce a desired result.  Systems, like the three wishes in the traditional fairy tale, have a terrible tendency to produce exactly and only what you ask them to produce. (Thinking in Systems: A Primer, p. 138)

This is part of the problem with GDP/GNPs and the advantage of alternatives like Gross National Happiness as the measure of system success.  To sum it up even more simply, Meadows said:

The best way to deduce the system’s purpose is to watch for a while to see how the system behaves.(Thinking in Systems: A Primer, p. 14)

How does the money culture behave?  What does it do?  What does it fail to do? They might say TINA, but it seems evident that capitalism and the money culture provide very poor ways to measure things that are actually desirable.

The Kitchen Curmudgeon is working on  GUTGWWW: The Grand Unified Theory of Getting What We Want (pronounced “gutgoo”), but her focus is on process.  What I’ve learned from Meadows’ work is that a better place to begin is articulating What We Want, and finding ways to measure and evaluate progress toward that goal that don’t just measure effort, but in some way signal that we actually are progressing. If “There are Thousands of Alternatives,” there should be some of those that have a better defined function/goal than the money culture.

Bhutan’s GNH Index sets out to measure the following nine dimensions that they decided were good cultural indicators of what they wanted:

GNH Domains 
– Time use 
– Living Standards 
– Good Governance 
– Psychological Wellbeing 
– Community Vitality 
– Culture 
– Health 
– Education 
– Ecology 

It seems like a place to start.

So, what do we want, and how do we define those goals? How will we measure progress?  Then let’s get to work on the GUTGWWW.

TATA for now!

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