The Meaningful Economy
Musings of a Non-Economist

Why is it good that
we wreck ourselves and our families with overwork,
to produce goods and services
that we don't need
and which wreck both society and world?

Introduction 2

Nothing is meaningful in itself. When we treat something like the economy as though it has meaning in itself, it might appear to flourish for a few decades, but eventually it falls. That, it seems, is what has been happening with the world and national economies.

This book is not just about the so-called recession, but may be relevant to it. As I write, the recession still continues, longer than experts expected. I write at a time when the British Prime Minister has warned about 'red lights' flashing, warning that we might be going into a third recession. The 'old normal' cannot understand the 'new normal' (as they are calling it). I propose that the 'new normal' can be understood if we think primarily in terms of meaningfulness.

Introduction 1

Consider two questions:

By addressing the second question, Meaningful Economics also addresses the first. It provides an integrating foundation for them, a wider picture into which they all fit. Meaningful Economics confines itself to the field of human activity that is economic in nature, but gains its confines from philosophy rather then seeking to encroach on other areas. In so doing it finds we can understand the ways in which it relates fruitfully to other areas - technology, education, health care, the natural world, transport, religion and ethics to name a few.

Questioning Assumptions

Some original thinking about the notion of economics and economy seems not only useful but urgent.

A New Way of Thinking about Economics

Many think the foundations of the economic system are being shaken and we need a new way to think. This page suggests one new way to think. It tries to recognise the intricate, all-pervading aspect of economy in human life, the interwovenness between personal, family, organisational, business, national, international and global economic functioning, both public and private, both formal and informal economic functioning, and that the economy of everyday life is at least as important at the 'big', 'visible' things. ==== now intro from paper on walk.


Meaningless Bit 20 January 2013: university, careers, jobs

# 20 January 2013. 80s-00s Young people encouraged to go to university, aim 50%. Now 10s, many are without jobs, let alone careers, and sit at home all day watching sport on TV. The assumptions and expectations were wrong. Going to university is meaningless. What made it meaningful was the expectation of a career after it. But that is meaningless. What made it meaningful and possible was an ever expanding GDP. That is meaningless.

# Meaningless Bit: importing 8 January 2013

Why, in the uK, do we import blueberries all the way from Chile? Why do we import £10m per day of fresh fruit and vegetables and £3 m per day of 'ornamental products' from abroad? Problems:

Answer: only because we stubbornly give absolute priority to business freedom, and to our luxury. These are meaningless ultimately.

Priorties of Managers
(Which things do managers respect most, and give most attention to?)
Meaningless Economy Meaningful Economy Why?
  • Shareholders
  • Advertisers / Media
  • Suppliers
  • Customers
  • The product
  • The wider world

  • The product
  • The wider world
  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Shareholders
  • Advertisers / Media

Because the Meaningful Economy sees its mission as helping the world manage its resources while the Meaningless Economy has no mission other than its own interests.
Managers operate in that mindset, absorb it unquestioningly and then epitomize it.
The idea that the sole role of business is to increase owner value. "The market can deal with environmental issues." But what happens is that, e.g. in energy, people distrust the energy companies, "What's in it for them? What are they hiding". So people turn against responsible energy usage. Should not have absolutized the economic aspect. Every aspect is important, responsibility, generosity and faith as well as economy.

# 9 November 2012. Meaningful economy can explain why this 'recession' has lasted years longer than was expected. BBC Radio 4 Today 1.11.12 interview "No theoretical basis".

# 9 November 2012: Payment Protection Insurance over-selling, charging customers 5? times what it really cost (Lloyds-TSB).

# 9 November 2012: Import ash trees despite ravaging fungus that has killed 90% of ash trees in Denmark. Why? Ostensible reason: scientists thought it was the same fungus that was already here (so no point in banning imports). But why did they not check, given its devastating effects? I suspect that it was because they were operating in a mindset that trade is paramount. Also EU rules would not allow.

# 10 August 2012. The economkc collapse. UK economy still zero growth rate 5 years on. still in recession. We had been borrowing lots - but borrowing for meaningless purpose. Borrowing is ok if for a good purpose other than determined by economic means.

# the UK government and media and people forgot about envl and poverty justice as soon as economic collapse. Copenhagen summit 2008 the USA etc led in envl irrespy, in guise of self-protection. Then the economic collapse. God's judgment?

# Keynsian investment should always be into things that are meaningful not meaningless. We usually use it on: » pleasures, comforts » iconic projects » boosting GDP » getting better pay for workers » convenience » competing up the league tables. These might be meaningful in one aspect, but they absolutize that aspect over all others. Leading to ultimate failure. I must explain why each of those not meaningful.

# 7 August 2012. On why M.E. is helpful and important: e.g. Hedgefunds mixing risk. getting the right meaning for risk is important, otherwise unforeseen disasters might occur. If someone had objected at the time to what hedge people were doing, nobody would have listened, because "where's the evidence?" - it had not had time to accumulate. But with meaningful economy we can find out what is the right thing to do even before the evidence is accumulated, before disaster struck. M.E. says: risk is not a commodity but a commitment. Commitment depends on generosity and justice especially. So risk should be entered freely, without forcing people to take risks they know not.

# UK survey of 6000 parents: x% spend 10-49 hours per month ferrying children; x% spend 50 hours or more. 12 April 2012 bbc radio 4 today # 'Unfair competitive advantage' - e.g. minicab drivers in London cannot use bus lanes while black cabs can, complain of unfair competitive advantage. But why is it important, Meaningful, that minicabs have same rights as black cabs? 27 April 2012 after hearing BBC R4 Today. # 7 May 2012. Greeks and French have voted against austerity. But what if my non-austerity means not just austerity but poverty for someone else? # 14 May 2012: SOmeone once told me they would rather steal something than be given it. Why? » because of the thrill of achieving something by one's own cleverness; being given it is boring (aesthetic aspect) » is it not a little demeaning to be given it? pistic aspect Now, get evidence that it is the thrill of achieving something by one's own cleverness that drives much in the financial and business and economy areas. Psychology of financiers? Pensions Fuel prices (keeping warm in cold climates) Family disposable income Charity, gifts Voluntary sector Churches and religious organisations Banks as repository for wealth Investments in industry and business Entrepreneurship Gambling Fun, art Investments by gambling Promises, agreements and contracts for casino economy Contracts for services Shares Having spare capital to invest Technological advance, innovation Maintenance Competition Choice of supply Choice of customer Buyer-seller markets Environmental destruction Energy Climate change emissions Repair of damage Externalised costs Prevention of problems (e.g. climate change, malaria) Market prices The going rate for 'top' people Value to customer Goods v services Manufacturing v service economy The bulk of customers in society (average customer) Government vision Tax Deliberate alteration of prices Public v private Subsidies Growing fat Feeling you have enough Feeling the pinch Anomalies in pricing (e.g. £6.25 to Hadfield, £7.75 to Manchester) Scarcity Shops Distribution Travel and transport Special prices, offers Encouraging people to buy Salespeople Marketing Desire to obtain Nations Corporations Globa finance Ownerless corporations (weak shareholders), Ownership v. governance of businesses Institutional shareholding Need to pay every higher bonuses in order to "get the best" Insurance Risk Companies Small companies Breaking even (bottom line) Income Expenditure Profits Management Labour Owner value (shares) Labour value Ownership Enterprise Innovation Quality of products Debt Foreclosure on debt Liquidation Online retailing Return on capital Return on investment International investment banks City of London (employing French selling to Chinese) Rewards Deposit guarantees National banks Investment banks Deposits Need a lot Money used to do good; Socially useful finance Salesmen in split-up energy companies Living wage London weighting Productivity Equality of pay Currency Exchange rates State currency Standard of living Cost of living Race to bottom Bonds Amount of high quality human effort devoted to trivia (aesthetic or fashion) merely to try to shift money, tricking the fashion-led e.g. supplement of F.T Commercial secrets Financial reserves in banks High-status sales are most-meaningful sales. Arms sales are among the highest-status sales of most countries, especially those countries that want to be 'top'. This is stupid.

Failings of Traditional Economy

  • Barclays Bank fined £290 million ($450 million?) in June 2012 for fixing the exchange rate during 2005 - 2009. First they fixed it too high so as to increase their profits, then they fixed it too low when financial downturn occurred so as to make markets believe they were stronger than they really were. In both cases, lying. I recall that during the recession Barclays made a show of not needing government help. It turned out that the root of the problem was attitude, and making the bank the most meaningful thing on their horizon. When a thing is most meaningful then all other things are subjected==== to it, subservient to it.

  • In the UK NatWest Bank's computer system failed, so that all transactions were halted for days. As a result, not only did many people go unnecessarily into the red and lose their credit rating but for example what was due on a house was not paid on time, so they lost the house and became homeless. Problem: error in updated version of batch scheduling software, inexperienced operative in India, offshored.

  • Example: Quantitative Easing by USA, designed to protect the US economy, created a huge wall of money that stoked up massive inflation in developing countries. So bread and rice prices rose enormously. Maybe this contributed to fuelling the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. But at the same time it brought misery to all others. The failings were:

    No wonder it did not work in the longer term, and brought gross harm. Meaningful Economics says we need to take every aspect into account in our economic deliberations. 30 January 2012

  • We have massive choice of marginal differences, especially online


    Many things in current economic behaviour is meaningless. Not absolutely, because nothing in this created cosmos is absolutely meaningless, but relatively. Relatively meaningless involves:

    Here are some examples of behaviour that is meaningless, at various levels.

    Must do

    # need to work out the mechanism by which focusing on meaningless stuff disrupts, undermines, jeopardises economy.


  • Everything is meaningful, that is 'for' something, and the meaningfulness of it determines, or at least strongly influences, the activities, plans, strategies, rules, visions etc. that occur within, related to and around it.
  • Explain aspects

  • Explain shalom and that each aspect should serve the norms of all others not just its own norms.

  • here: argue why last three aspects help economics healthy; it is needed for the following

  • "To get the brightest and best to run our corporations, we must pay the going rate; they'll go elsewhere to wherever pays most." is the excuse heard by many wanting to defend the massive bonus payments and salaries of their colleagues. But have we really got the 'brightest and best' by paying massive amounts? It was those 'brightest and best' that caused the financial crash in 2008. // How can we explain this, and what to do? // Explain: Meaningful Economics says that all aspects are important in running corporations, including the attitudinal aspect of self-giving, the juridical aspect of justice for those whom we overlook, and the faith aspect of the underlying vision and aspirations that pervade society. It is these that make a corporation run well, especially setting the foundations for the longer term. Those who will go where the money is the most break all three of these norms: they are self-centred, they overlook justice to those not so well off, and they instil into society at large a worship of money rather than of the True God. // What to do? Resist them, call their bluff, get rid of them, and then concentrate on developing good people who will function well in all aspects especially these three, as well as the economic aspect of carefulness. It is necessary for us all to take responsibility to keep healthy our functioning in these three latest aspects, not to assume they will be taken care of by others - at least so it is in a democracy where there is freedom of press. And today it is those who are maxed in economic aspect who are seen as leaders, icons and role-models to set the aspirations and attitude and values of society. // Often, added to the excuse is "It's a globalised economy!" True - and the principles of Meaningful Economics are especially relevant for the global economy, especially these three aspects. In a nation it might be possible to keep the vision and attitude healthy while being selfish in money, but in the global world there is nobody who has the power to take responsibility for global justice, attitude and vision, so we must all take responsibility by each and everyone of us setting example. 30 January 2012

  • There will always be some 'inefficiency' (as accountants see it) in an organisation run according to principles of Meaningful Economics. Because the aspectual functioning that really matters and really makes healthy economics will not generate financially measurable effects. Justice for the overlooked (which prevents the stoking up of anger and trouble later, at least), self-giving attitude (which makes most other people grateful and generous and generates 'extra good'), and true vision (which inspires people to take this attitude and courageously fight for right). These it is that ensure financial and other health. But most of what they do cannot be seen nor measured not set budgets for (whether of time or money). These things can only flourish when people have a modicum of 'leisure' or leeway in their time. And this leeway is very visible to accountancy-minded as waste that can be cut. // Of course, leeway 'leisure' time can also be abused, by people being selfish and wrongly envisioned. Vicious circle; Catch-22 here. If society is already self-centred in attitude then everyone who has 'leisure' leeway will use it for their own self-centred ends, making things worse. Moreover, people of goodwill will not have the space in which to develop the 'extra good' that makes society's attitude more healthy. Except for some courageous committed people who believe it right even at their own costs (try 'New View' people!). Capitalise on such people of good faith and goodwill, look out for such (they occur in unexpected places throughout society) and give those people space. 30 January 2012

    Activating Meaningful Economics

  • Ask "What's it for? What is its meaningfulness? What drives it?" At any level. These determine the activities, plans, strategies, rules, visions etc. that occur within, related to and around it.
    Example: A shop in a rural village in the UK. What's it for, what primarily drives it?



    Greece has been highly indebted. The problem, according to some, is that it has few exports. Only three. Shipping - but its shipping is owned by people outside Greece, so the money does not enter the Greek economy. Tourism - but the infrastructure is wanting. Agriculture - but it is difficult to get the product to the (external) market.

    That seems to demonstrate three problems with the traditional approach to economics, which Meaningful Economics might be able to address:


    Self-protection is bad. It transgresses the ethical aspect of the meaningful economy and, as such, it will lead to problems and hinder the development of a good meaningful economy. Self-protection hinders investment.

    Investment is good, insofar as it is a giving of the self, a letting-go, a generosity, a giving without guarantee of reward. That, perhaps, is why investment works, and why a society in which there is investment tends to be more prosperous. The usual explanation for why investment works, namely that it stimulates human work, creativity or innovation that would not otherwise occur, has some validity, but it is not the full or even the most important explanation. It explains the functioning of investment in its formative aspect. But the later aspects are more meaningful and impinge on the formative. The ethical aspect, as the second-last, provides meaningfulness for most of the other earlier aspects.

    Making Money For Self

    Now let's go down to the level of the individual person who is active in business. They are always on look out for a way to make money. (Note the subtle shift away from "to meet people's needs".) They hear someone say "Cost of getting it wrong is much greater than the cost of using a head hunter." (This morning 10 February 2012 they were talking about why use head hunting organisations to find England's next football manager.) Now, my immediate inner response was, "Ah! If I had the skills I would become a head hunter, because there are many who believe that, and will pay me whatever I ask because of their fear of getting the wrong person." Notice the selfish motive in me. Notice also how I now see my business not as meeting human needs but as a way to get 'them' to give me a lot of money. Notice how I am attracted to the idea because of my-excitement. Those are very common tacit motivations of many in business at all levels.

    But finding a good England manager, is that not 'meeting human needs'? Dome argument could be made for that. But not really. By 'needs' we are talking about important things. Why is England football manager important? Think of it from God's point of view: does it really matter whether England is good at football? What is the meaning of football?

    We are here challenged with meaningfulness. I espouse the notion of a 'meaningful economy'. That is, every economic activity should be towards meaning that is important and good.

    The Happy Planet Index

    The Happy Planet Index, produced by the New Economics Foundation, tries to take multiple aspects into account of economic happiness in its widest sense, in the sense meant here. The 'components' it includes in HPI are:

    See also A New View on Economics for a theological basis.

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    About This Page

    Offered to God as on-going work, this page is designed to stimulate discussion on various topics, as part of Andrew Basden's pages that open up various things from one of the Christian perspectives. Contact details.

    Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all the dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

    Written on the Amiga with Protext.

    Created: . Last updated: 17 August 2012 whats it for. 7 September 2012 slight. 9 November 2012 priorities of managers, PPI, ash trees. 19 November 2012 markets sort out green. 8 July 2015 new .end.