Growth, Greek and Teaching

A Change in my teaching program and implications for politics

Well, the title is a bit misleading – but fact is, for me: as abstract many things are when it comes to teaching economics there are so many things very much about daily lives and daily politics.

Some good news – had been asked to change my program for next years teaching in Budapest at the Corvinus University: A course on Development Economics.

A rather challenging task I think – and that is what I like: challenges.

Teaching about about this hugely contradictory issue of development in such a situation where we can see on the one hand that the traditional development model of capitalism failed – and we may add: failed completely – and at the same time it is strongly prevailing and orienting as matter that strongly guides policy makers. Of course, there is this global dimension – and since Rostow manifested his anticommunism in his pamphlet on on “Stages of Economic Growth” the traditional understanding of development is more or a simple translation of the paradigm of GDP-growth. More recent debates do not make major changes although they stepped slightly away from this tradition by including issues of sustainability and “well-being” – I engaged on some aspects and shortcoming of these debates in the contribution to the International Journal of Social Quality, titled

Economic Performance, Social Progress and Social Quality—Social Sustainability Waiting in the Wings

 But there is more to it – some aspects I developed in earlier blog entries, looking at questions of growth and trying to link it to the fundamental issue of the structural fracture between use value and exchange value. These entries had been titled Sustainability, Non-Sustainability and Crime I, Sustainability, Non-Sustainability, Crime II and Growth and Development and finally the presentation during the recent Poznan-workshop of the EuroMemo-group, which I elaborated very much with Marica Frangakis (Nicos Polulantzas Institute, Athens), also reflected on these issues.

The new course now – teaching is learning, and not just students sitting down and listening bit developing together with the students the new issues – gives an opportunity to develop this further. One point is surely about the systematisation, or should I even say: the precise formulation of the question. Contrary to the mainstream approaches that tend to give first answers, and after that search for the question, there is some need in return to the drawing board …. But then there is another point, namely the systematic (dis)entanglement of the different layers of the analysis. This concerns especially a differentiated approach with respect to local and “societal” dimensions of development, as well as it requires to look at situations of individuals on the one side and collectivities on the other side. As a working thesis we may say that the separation of use and exchange value is very much complemented by a juxtaposition of different aggregate levels. In other words, we see tensional relationships between

  • different aggregate levels
  • individual and social dimensions
  • relevant proprieties.

A thorough approach to this multilayered perspective can help in two ways. It may open a way to approaches to the development that are predominantly based on normative settings. And furthermore it allows us to contribute to a sound debate on methodological individualism.

On some political implication of immediate interest. Greece – more than for instance Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland – is currently in the news. This is in various ways interesting.

One interesting fact is at least worth a side remark: The mass protests going on for a lengthy time now, and actually at least comparably strong in Spain and Portugal[1] did not nurture the same media spectacle as the visit of the German Prime-Minister (Kanzlerin) Merkel. This is very similar to the very old patterns: when the emperor comes, the streets have to be ready for the theatre. And so the protests had been countered with even more violence than there had been before. And a shocking photo had been circulated yesterday on facebook – not one of the many photos showing the brute force of security staff (though they surely had been shocking too), but the shocking photo that showed the decoration for the welcome of AM: blue-white—-black-red-gold—-blue-white—-black-red-gold—-blue-white—-black-red-gold—- – I did not count the flags, enough though to cover many of the victims of this war of the people. – And we should not refrain from saying what it is: a war against a people not just on the open battlefield but on the battlefield of an austerity strategy that is “killing softly” – making it nearly impossible for many children to go to school because they are starving, detaining necessary health services …. – and this happens in a country where only few people have sufficient resources to solve the monetary problems. IF they WOULD PAY taxes, the problem would basically not exist. IF they WOULD CONTRIBUTE to solving the national debt problem rather than contributing to the Swiss, Luxembourgian etc banking profits people could successfully claim what human rights declarations grant on paper but do not allow to be an issue in people’s real life. If politicians would people and their representatives serious solutions could be found – solutions meaning something different than huge programs that (simplified, admitted) shift money from the tax payer in Germany to the banks in Greece from the taxpayer in Greece to the banks in Germany (see also the interview I gave earlier in Athens).

This brings us to the second issue. As easy it is for the Greek government to listen to Merkel rather than to the Greek people it is also easy to speak the old prayer of growth. As important as it is to appreciate the need for a development that is rooted in growth, as important is to start thinking about what growth is about. Sure, as biologist Merkel could easily skip the lessons on Aristotle and Marx (admittedly GDR-education had not been perfect – AM is a showcase for failure) – and so she missed that it is necessary to move a bit further and look at the real meaning of development. Let us for instance refer to Aristotle. He contended that

if every tool, when summoned, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it, just as the creations of Daedalus moved of themselves, or the tripods of Hephaestos went of their own accord to their sacred work, if the weavers‘ shuttles were to weave of themselves, then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers, or of slaves for the lords.

But indeed, Marx referred to this paragraph, writing in the first volume of The Capital (from which I took the previous quote):

Oh! those heathens! They understood, as the learned Bastiat, and before him the still wiser MacCulloch have discovered, nothing of Political Economy and Christianity. They did not, for example, comprehend that machinery is the surest means of lengthening the working day. They perhaps excused the slavery of one on the ground that it was a means to the full development of another. But to preach slavery of the masses, in order that a few crude and half-educated parvenus, might become ― eminent spinners, ― extensive sausage-makers, and ― influential shoe-black dealers, to do this, they lacked the bump of Christianity.

And this marks the point any debate on growth has to take as point of departure – the concrete situation of peoples lives rather than the  abstract calculation of growth figures. A quick overview over developments shows at least two different things:

  • the growth, and in particular the extreme and rapid growth had been gong hand in hand with increasing inequalities;
  • the growth had been in many cases – and Greece is an exemple par excellence – only possible by diminishing indigenous potentials in favour of growth of national and international elites.

In this light, I surely could teach AM some basics in political economy and the course: That development is not about figures but about people in their societies. And the development of societies through and for the people.

Too late for her, I guess – though she should have enough money to pay the fees for the course – unfortunately Mr Orban and his FIDESZ easily succeeded with this program against democratic, accessible education. Still I hope: perhaps one or the other of my students will get into some kind of government position and show: ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE.


[1]             The optimistic interpretation of the relative silence in Italy is that people may be afraid that Berlusconi could interpret protest as people calling him back into office (cannot find the article I read recently in some Italian paper); silence in Ireland is more due to the ongoing belief that god, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael freed the country from the British colonialists and thus god, will know when it is time to move towards a better world).

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