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Vaclav Havel and E.F. Schumacher: Truth and Expansions of Political-Economic Alternatives

Vaclav Havel and E.F. Schumacher: Truth and Expansions of Political-Economic Alternatives

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Published by Saul Wainwright

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Published by: Saul Wainwright on Jul 03, 2009
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05/11/2014

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Saul WainwrightPol 4044FFinal EssayProf. Nash
Introduction
Vaclav Havel and E.F. Schumacher are both critically concerned with how thefunctioning of the modern nation-state and its economy has become dislocated fromhumanity and its relationship to nature. They are both equally concerned with the ways inwhich nature and humanity are ignored by this system and they believe that, placing theimportance of nature and humanity center stage, is the only way that our society can andought to operate. Havel sees the role of individuals’ acceptance of the injustices of thesystem as the site for change. He believes that by operating from a basis of personal truth,derived from the recognition of the “mystery of nature”, is the only way to create spacefor political alternatives. E. F. Schumacher believes economics in its current incarnation – a price mediated through money markets – ignores the difference between things thathold economic or non-economic values. Schumacher believes the change will be basedout of a change in the “meta-economics” of society. He therefore believes that byreorienting the focus, or expanding the terrain of economics to recognize qualitativedifferences, rather then just quantitative differences, will result in a “people centered”economics. Havel and Schumacher’s arguments are both based off the same starting point – a critique of the dehumanizing and impersonal nature of our economy and politicalsystem, which is leading to environmental destruction and by rational conclusion, thedestruction of human life. They both believe that the only way to rectify this situation is by operating, as individuals and society, from a place of truth. Despite the very differentconclusions for agency, Havel’s ideas compliment Schumacher’s work and give a political agency to his argument that had previously being lacking, and at the same timeSchumacher’s work gives a terrain for the truth to be expressed in very concrete waysthat contribute to a building up of material (understood as based in nature) alternativeways of living.
Schumacher
Schumacher’s focus on the philosophy (or lack thereof) of economics is central to hiscritique of modern society. Schumacher says that, “[T]o say that our economic future is being determined by the economists would be an exaggeration; but that their influence, or 
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Saul WainwrightPol 4044FFinal EssayProf. Nash
in any case the influence of economics, is far-reaching can hardly be doubted”.
1
Heessentially associates economics with the “central role” of determining what is“‘economic’ and what is ‘uneconomic’” and that these criteria, are above all other criteria, in their ability to “influence over [
 sic
] the actions of individuals and groups aswell as over those of governments.”
2
Schumacher sees the political dominance of economic ideas and says, “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that, with increasingaffluence, economics has moved into the very centre of public concern,” and that throughthis dominance of economic thought and through the act of condemnation of somethingas “uneconomic, its right to existence is not merely questioned but energetically denied.”
3
This concern with the dominance of economics then leads Schumacher to explore what isdetermining the distinction between what is economic verse uneconomic. Schumacher recognizes that in order to get at this question he needs to engage ideas outside of thenormal realm of economic thought – moving towards the importance of qualitative versequantitative distinctions is critically important to this move.For Schumacher the central role that economics plays in society is not a problem, in facthe by no means supposes to replace “economics” with something else. What he wants tohighlight is that economics is a function of something else. That, in essence, economicsdoes not operate distinct from its surroundings or philosophical roots that dominate thesociety at any one stage. What he is concerned with is the overtly scientific focus of economics and its obsession with the quantitative that leads to an “economist– turned-econometrician,” and that they, economists, fail to pay attention to the “
 primacy of qualitative distinctions
”.
4
In other words our understanding of economics does notencompass a large enough spectrum of life. Schumacher has to expand the understandingof economics to one that embeds it into a larger philosophy of society. Schumacher,quoted John Stuart Mill as saying that, the political-economy is “not a thing by itself, butas a fragment of a greater whole; a branch of social philosophy, so interlinked with all the
1
E. F. Schumacher,
Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered,
(London: Abacus,1974), p. 33.
2
Ibid., p. 33.
3
Ibid., p. 34.
4
Ibid., p. 40.
2
 
Saul WainwrightPol 4044FFinal EssayProf. Nash
other branches that its conclusions, even in its own peculiar province, are only trueconditionally, subject to interference and counteraction from causes not directly within itsscope”.
5
 What are these other causes and from where do they originate? In an effort to getat this Schumacher introduces a concept of meta-economics.For Schumacher, “[T]he main subject matter of economics is ‘goods’”.
6
But, theeconomics, as currently constituted, does not make clear distinctions between what are“man-made or God-given” goods. This economy is not concerned with the qualitativedifferences of these goods, whereas, for Schumacher, economists should insist on, “
the primacy of qualitative distinctions”.
The meta-economy is where these distinctions or lack of distinctions are first introduced, “differences may be called meta-economic…theyhave to be recognised before economic analysis begins”.
8
To illustrate these “fundamentaland vital differences”
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Schumacher divides ‘goods’ up into categories. He created thefollowing distinctions; ‘goods’ fall into two groups, primary and secondary. In order for humanity to obtain the secondary goods they need access to the primary goods. These primary goods originate as either renewable or non-renewable natural God-givenresources. The production of secondary goods is critically tied to the access to, or theextraction of, primary goods. Therefore the manufactured and services goods that form part of the secondary group are dependent on the primary group, “An expansion of man’sability to bring forth secondary products is useless unless preceded by an expansion of hisability to win primary products from the earth, for man is not a producer but only aconverter”.
The distinctions between these different ‘goods’ is lost in an economy that brings all ‘goods’ to the market where “they are treated the same, as objects for sale” andthe “market knows nothing of these distinctions”.
 Schumacher does not see the currenteconomic system as fixed or based on some sort of natural laws, for him “economics is a
5
Ibid., p. 34.
6
Ibid., p. 40.
7
Ibid., p. 40.
8
Ibid., p. 42.
9
Ibid., p. 41.
10
Ibid., p. 41.
11
Ibid., p. 41.
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