In the past year, millions of people have been involved in discussions about health care reform, but have these been “civic conversations “? From shouting matches at town hall meetings, to White House summits., to hundreds of hours of television talk, to neighborhood discussions, to street demonstrations, the topic has elicited a variety of voices from different groups. For the most part, however, I think we have witnessed what one could call “social discussions” rather than “civic conversations.”
Of the fallacies we hear in modern economics, few are more pernicious that those that attribute action to the “market.” The master example is Adam Smith’s substitution of the “invisible hand” for the tobacco lords, plantation owners, and slave traders, who brought about misery to the slaves in the Americas and “opulence” to Smith’s circle of friends in Glasgow. The legacy of this deception continues to infect current economic thinking.
This is not a book I had been waiting to write. At least I didn’t think so. Now that it is finished, I can see that it belongs to a particular personal story that began with my participation in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, in 1965, surfaced again years later with my work in the ethics and diversity training programs at Levi Strauss and Company, and now continues with a tale of slavery and economics. That is my story. It is not, however, the primary story of this book.
The book sets up a contest between two economic frameworks: one is based on property relations and focuses on the accumulation of property; the other is based on civic relations and focuses on the making of provisions. The first one treats the planet and people as commodities and values them by the price they can fetch in the market. The second one treats the planet and human communities as living providers and protects them for this and future generations. In this book, the second framework wins. If it doesn’t win, we all lose. This contest is not between capitalism and socialism or between government control and private control. It is a contest between an uncivilized and a civilized economy.