Trevor Hancock: Guy Dauncey and the economics of kindness

I received both supportive and critical comments in response to my recent columns on the local economy, although nobody swore at me — which means I am not as good a columnist as Jack Knox! One writer even went so far as to say my writing gave him the shivers, although my brief pleasure at the thought that I was that good were quickly dispelled by his next sentence, in which he wondered what closet I had been hiding in for the past few centuries.

Two of the responses — of which the above mentioned was one — provided reasonably lengthy critiques outlining their objections. But what struck me about both of them was their shared view that the present system was pretty darned good, and that, in any case, there was no alternative, or at least no desirable alternative.

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One writer supported neoliberalism, suggesting that I had not offered an alternative to capitalism and he assumed — correctly — that I was not proposing Soviet totalitarianism/ communism. The rich, he said, should not be blamed for being successful and providing jobs that give people dignity, purpose and a place in society. Try telling that to workers whose jobs have been shifted offshore, or who are working multiple non-unionized part-time jobs with few or no benefits, all to benefit owners and shareholders.

My other critic suggested I wanted to go back to medieval times, with moats, drawbridges and ox-drawn carts. He put his faith in the ability of technology to address the environmental and social issues we face. But often technologies contribute to the challenges we face, although it is the application of those technologies through the dominant social, political and cultural forces shaping our world that are the root of our problems.

So let me turn to Guy Dauncey for an alternative that is neither communism nor medieval. Dauncey has been an interesting, thoughtful and — in the best sense — provocative thinker, writer and activist on ecological and social issues in this region for years. I first came across him when he was involved in the proposal for an ecologically sustainable development at Bamberton in the early 1990s. While it was never built, the thinking that went into it was leading edge at that time.

Now he is working on a book on the economics of kindness, which focuses on a caring and co-operative economy. He recently shared some of his thinking in an online webinar for Creatively United for the Planet, a local community organization led by Frances Litman that links the arts, creativity and environmental activism. His thinking also substantially shaped a recent brief on Rebuilding B.C. from the Green Technology Education Centre.

Dauncey argues that there are four fundamental causes that underpin our current ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust economy and society: Faulty economic ideas on both the left and right of the political spectrum that suggest we are subject to the ‘laws’ of economics, the “ancient impulse to dominate” rather than co-operate, our ecological ignorance and what he calls the “loss of our civilisational story.”

He argues, as did I, that “selfishness is enshrined as an economic law” and that “kindness and co-operation are dismissed.” Domination, he states, brings us conquest, ownership, colonialism and slavery — and, he might have added, the subjugation of women. I would also add William Leiss’ observation that domination of nature leads inevitably to the domination of human nature — and that applies both ways, I suspect.

Our ecological ignorance is profound, and shows itself best —or worst — in the exclusion of “natural capital” (along with social and human capital) from our measurement of wealth and the treatment of these forms of capital by economics as “externalities” that can be ignored.

So we need a new civilisational story, Dauncey suggests, in which “eco” replaces “ego” and — implicitly — in which “we” replaces “I”. He calls this the economics of kindness, others call it the economics of wellbeing. Both elevate wellbeing, social justice and ecological sustainability above the mere making of profit and accumulation of wealth, especially excessive wealth.

The economy, in other words, is the means, not the end. Next week, I will delve more deeply into the alternative economics he and the Green Technology Education Centre propose for B.C.

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