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Theories about Choices of Technology, part 3 in Understanding the Global Economy

Understanding the
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I dedicate Part III to my brother, who wrote the screenplays for the HBO production Earth and the American Dream and for the film Powaqatsi, sequel to Koyanisqatsi. I dedicate Part III to my friends who support R. Buckminster Fuller's concept of design revolution. Fuller, who realized that politics was often useless, devoted his life to serving humanity through his inventions, such as the livingry technology, which enables us to do more with less.1

Neither the ecological films that raise consciousness nor Fuller's theories and inventions are theories of international trade. Their relevance to my topic is that if you believe in them, as I do, then you might think that you do not need an international trade theory. Green films such as Ecological Design, as a tribute to Fuller2 and Ancient Futures: Learning from the Ladakh, by Norberg-Hodge,3 contrast the modern energy and resource-intensive, inhumane technology with the pre-modern and postmodern soft-energy paths. The difference is palpable. Modern cities, like Dante's hell, are made up of ugly sights, unnerving noises and noxious smells. Images such as fields cultivated by peasants with centuries-old sustainable technologies, a permaculture site, or a community woven into nature such as Findhorn, remind us of the proverb—We are nearer to God's heart in a garden than anywhere else on Earth.

Planet Neighborhood,4 a three-hour PBS TV special (underwritten by Bank of America) goes a step further with its theme that green is profitable. The sustainable way to make money is to use eco-friendly technologies. The way to organize communities is to cultivate a mentality that is at once greener and more entrepreneurial. The video shows the innovative biological system to purify the polluted Lake Champlain designed by a leading bioneer
in the Fuller tradition, John Todd. It is unclear from the film whether Todd believes that market forces and private property can or will rectify humans with the Earth, the new engine of civilization will be green technology, which, once invented, institutions and motivations will insure its adoption and green-tech, once adopted, will create lifestyles in which poverty and violence are rare. The documentary points out that we chose the wrong technology and, thus, the wrong way of life. Instead, we should choose the right technology, thus, the right way of life. The factor that determines our choice of technology is the money not shown on the screen since it is purely numeric and less visible. Financial statements project no images because they are pure monetary abstractions.

Not everyone who claims that mass production technology built the global economy, rather than the inverse, is a filmmaker. Instead of considering the views of the extreme technological determinists, I will examine the work of two authors who present a sophisticated and moderate argument that assigns a causal role to technology choice in history. Their moderate argument is more credible and likely true. Michael Piore and Charles Sabel argue in their book, The Second Industrial Divide: Possibilities for Prosperity,5 that the quasi-mechanical market forces (described by Bluestone, Harrison, et al) do not provide an adequate account of how the global economy developed. Piore and Sabel project their interpretation of history in order to argue that wise choices of technology improve all life. I will assess how technology and markets influence each other via my analysis of Piore and Sabel's study and as the analysis relates to my evaluation of the premise that it is mainly our technology choices that make the global economy.

Fig. 1 Quasi-mechanical market forces

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II.i Technology as explanation

Piore and Sabel do not employ the linear concept of causality in which a cause produces an effect. Instead, they design a method for explaining the economic history and write that  

Suppose that at some future date and state of knowledge in the natural sciences and the practical arts, technology will offer multiple paths of possible development. The path we follow is a matter of choice and our choice depends mainly on political and economic power. The adopted technology will be one that corporate power believes will serve its interests and ideals.

An example of an ideal that influenced the choice of technology is the patriotism of the Japanese elites who, after the Meiji Restoration, decided that Japan needed to adopt the Western-style of mass production.

After a new technology becomes accepted and entrenched, a corporation will take the following steps:

During such an industrial divide, the path that technology and, thus, industry and society will take is uncertain. The mass production technologies steel, automobiles, meat packing, consumer durable goods and chemicals might have developed with different methods. In general, mass production might not have happened at at, though it did. The decision to adopt mass production techniques was a national political decision made by powerful elites, though not in the United States. Once having chosen mass production, each nation had to follow through with it. Thus, what had not been possible a few years earlier in the 19th century became a necessity overnight.

The central economic aspect of mass production is that it requires long production runs. A firm has to produce and sell many units in order to recoup the costs required to start production, as it is expensive to stop and start. Frequent shut-down and start-up of assembly lines, in order to respond to fluctuations in market demand, destroys the low cost per unit of a product and the raison d'etre of mass production. Furthermore, a firm that stops production when the market falls and surplus peaks will, thus, lack the supply to take advantage of the next surge in the market demand; the firm will be undersold by competitors who, during the downswing, prepared themselves to manufacture more units at less cost per unit.

The story of mass-production is one of chronic excess capacity, coupled with obstacles to fine tuning capacity to match demand. The principles can be illustrated by this simple hypothetical case: Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Australia, Germany and Canada decide to mass-produce refrigerators. The result is a world with more fridges than buyers of them. If fridge factories run at 25% of capacity, then costs exceed revenues and nobody makes money. Then suppose that one of the countries, say Japan, decides to reduce capacity in the light of reduced demand. Then (simplifying the hypothetical by assuming free-trade) instead of selling fewer fridges, Japan may decide to sell none at all because if, say South Korea, goes ahead and expands capacity in spite of slack demand it will have longer production runs and, therefore, lower unit costs. The stakes are high, those who win conquer the mass markets. Those who lose end up with closed factories because they cannot make a profit.

Investors do not want to or cannot endure instability and high risks such as those in the hypothetical refrigerator example. The advent of mass production technology, therefore, brings with it the need to manage the market and to stabilize demand. The following are outlines of the major historical explanations:

Thus, Piore and Sabel reverse the causal analyses of the theories of comparative advantage and globalization of production. Instead of the market forces determining the technology that will prevail, the new technology dictates how the market must be molded to fit the new requirements.

The classic age of steady demand for mass produced goods was the age that the USA dominated the world economy after WW II. In the 1970s, however, the regulation of the world economy broke down and disorder has reigned since. The defeat of big labor symbolized the regulatory breakdown by ending 1) the practice of pegging wage increases to productivity gains and 2) the advent of free-floating exchange rates among the world's currencies, which took away the privileged status held by the United States dollar. The causes of the breakdown are thought to be a series of shocks rocking the international trading system as evident in the

The most far-reaching and long-term postwar development was the saturation of the consumer goods market in the industrial countries and the consequent penetration through trade among the industrialized economies. Because of the saturation, it became difficult to increase economies of mass production through the expansion of domestic markets alone. Further development along the trajectory of mass production brought the major industrial economies into direct competition for one another's markets and for those of the developing world. In addition, the saturation of goods markets exposed the limits of the postwar regulatory system.7

Piore and Sabel see two possible paths for the global economy: 1) regulate mass production technology by reviving and extending to the global level the market management mechanisms formerly in place in the United States and in several other countries. That would require the international standards of Keynesian economic policies, market-sharing agreements and labor standards with collective bargaining, and 2) create a different economy based on different technologies.

III.ii Technology as prescription

Let us assume that technology choice is 1) driven by more than blind forces beyond human control and, 2) once a choice is made, has far-reaching consequences. Piore and Sabel illustrate those facts by tracing the history and outcomes of mass production technologies. It is reasonable to generalize that the adoption of any technology has far-reaching costs and benefits, including the likely cost of risk that the technology will have to be regulated.

A third assumption we can make is that technology choice requires that humans adopt sustainable technologies.8 If one interprets sustainable to mean conducive to sustaining life, as distinct from meaning that the particular technology employed is one that could or should be used forever, then this third assumption must be true. By definition, it would be desirable to adopt only technologies that make human life unsustainable if it were desirable to end the existence of the human species. This third assumption is more than a truism, however, it is an essential indictment that alleges that the technological course we follow is unsustainable. It implies, among other things, that establishing Keynesian economics on a global scale in order to rescue modern energy/resource intensive mass production would be undesirable, even if it were possible it would be disastrous.

Those who downplay or overlook the radical implications of assumption #3 do not argue that we should use unsustainable technologies. What they argue is that the transition from current technology will not require major institutional shifts because either 1) the market itself will guide us to wise choices, or 2) problems are mainly technical ones that will resolve at the technical level.9

John Todd, a designer of sustainable biotechnologies wrote that—Mass production has created the potential for destroying everything humans desire. If, as Aristotle and a long tradition held—The good is that toward which human desire aims, then Todd affirms that mass production is leading us away from the good.

Buckminster Fuller calculated that resource constraints are such that the designs for living that prevail in the industrial societies spread around the globe would meet the needs of 44% of the world's people. He concluded that, "A design revolution that does more with less is a moral imperative because the alternative is to condemn more than half the world's people to misery."— Fuller

A utilitarian ethics defines the good as the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The ethics of care sees the moral life as attention to human rights, which are the needs of others. The latter would imply that, if Fuller's facts are correct, it is true that doing more with less is a moral imperative as is the ingenuity, which the architect Paolo Soleri equates with preserving the Earth while meeting everyone's needs.

Fuller projects a world population of eight billion and then calculates the resources needed to provide a single family dwelling for each family. One conclusion he reaches is that the end sought is unattainable. The other is that an attempt to reach it would spell disaster for the Earth.The difference between the two conclusions is minor. Amory Lovins states that sustainable technology is a moral imperative for another reason. It is unjust to future generations to bequeath them a planet with fossil fuels exhausted, biodiversity reduced and the atmosphere poisoned. Even if it is true, as optimists assert, that techno-genius is boundless and will devise solutions to problems as they arise, it is not fair to put our descendants in a circumstance where they and the Earth survive only if the speculation that is the optimism about technology proves to be true.10

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The advocates of sustainability assert that a human-centered ethic is too narrow; instead of using the revealed preferences of consumers as the standard of value, they urge that we think of living systems as wholes and use the welfare of the whole as the standard of value. Humans should be partners with nature, as Bill Mollison concludes that — Our ethic should be the care of the Earth, not just the care of our own species.

E. F. Schumacher, echoing Gandhi, argued in Small is Beautiful that the appropriate scale technology could and should be used to generate work in the countryside and, thus, (among other benefits) to stem the tide of migration to India's overcrowded cities. Among other considerations he thought relevant to technology choice were whether it is 1) conducive to enjoying work, 2) gives scope to creativity and 3) is consistent with what the Buddhist knows as right livelihood. Although Schumacher held no special brief in Buddhism, he did write that — Economics could be improved by a meta-economics taken from the spiritual teachings of any of the world's great religions.11

Anthropologist Mary Bateson and other green writers suggest deriving norms for sustainable living by studying the ethics of so-called primitive peoples. They continue to use ancient, nevertheless, sophisticated techniques for sustaining communities and relationships with the soil and wildlife. Our challenge, the challenge for the developed world is, however, greater than theirs. Adopting the success of the original people is not enough because the human population we need to sustain is much larger now.12

A principle often suggested for a technology at peace with nature is that humans should live within the Earth's energy budget. Every year a certain amount of new energy arrives from the sun. Instead of drawing down on the Earth's stored energy year after year, humans need to learn to give back as much as they take and to leave the Earth no poorer at the end of the year than it was at the beginning. This principle is an example of the more general idea that we have to reform our human economics into subsystems of the larger systems that function to make the biosphere habitable for all life. Compared to the ethical arguments for green technology, the ethical basis for neoliberalism and comparative advantage theory are formal, while the green arguments are substantive. For example, when economic indicators that depend on the revealed preferences of consumers to measure prosperity or welfare, the procedure is formal because the writer merely counts data and does not make value judgments or critical analysis.

Ethical skepticism is an integral part of the market liberalism tools. Without needing to know right from wrong, good from bad, or without presuming to have an opinion about such questions that would be valid for anyone but oneself, one can, nevertheless, derive an ethic by asserting everybody's right to make choices. Thus, consent is the source of legitimacy. The economic theory of the market and the ethical theory of self-determination are two means toward the same end, one affirms the other. If consumers decide to buy coal-fired power-plants and hamburgers, then that is their preference. How many of them they buy will be counted in measuring welfare, in calculating the gross domestic product and in evaluating the success of economic policies.13

Green thinking, by contrast, makes substantive value judgments. Green thinkers have studied what it would take to move Homo sapiens off the endangered species list and they assert that what is necessary for the survival of the species ought to be done. The free choices of consumers have been overrated as the basis for policy decisions that ought to insure our sustainable economic well-being. Schumacher realized it and wrote that:

Amory Lovins criticizes the market as a decision-making mechanism for the sole reason that it rests on the ethical legitimacy of the purchases consumers make. Lovins points out that the market will discount the importance of the Earth's long-term significance to zero in just a few years, over a minute period of geologic time. The market interest rate (the mirror image of the discount rate) is a measure of consumers' preference for satisfaction in the short term. The moral interest rate, which is imperative, is the inverse that is to save the Earth's living systems for the future.15

Piore and Sabel show that the need to advertise to create desires that match the outputs of mass production may well be a reductio ad adsurdum of the ethics of freedom. If the ethical basis of the system is consumer choice, then the basis crumbles when it is necessary to manufacture consumer choice in order to stabilize the system. Similarly, Bluestone and Harrison's account of the defeat of labor by the power of capital to move elsewhere undermines the argument that wages are fair because they are set by free agreements. Thus, it is tempting to

At its core, however, the green argument goes beyond correcting the current economic distortions that deny sustainable choice to the economic actors as consumers, producers, advertisers and the Earth. The greens present an economy based on sustainable choices in which all economic actors are secure and stable. The green warning is that if we do not choose the prescribed green tech, the result will be the demise of nearly all species, a list that includes ours.

III.iii Technology as Metaphysics

Fuller warned that the challenge before the human species was to graduate, so to speak, before it is too late; he wrote:

One might be tempted to regard the philosophy of the design revolution as the metaphysics of humanity's graduation. It might seem to be an adequate worldview because its focus is based on life, which is the Earth's systems. Only half of the reform needed to reign-in the current economic metaphysics needs to focus on technology; the other half concerns social relationship.17 To clarify, I will sketch a way of looking at the history of metaphysics. It is useful to think of humans within the context of the Earth's living process in terms of two related structures: 1) the technostructure governing the relationship of humans to the environment, the tools that comprise the physical world and the science that makes it work and 2) the command structure governing culture, which includes political and social relationships.

Homo sapiens is the species that the anthropologist Clifford Geertz defines as the animal for whom culture is its adaptation to its ecological niche.18  From the earliest anthropological records, we see humans inventing various technical and command-structures. Human interaction with the earliest technologies was organized and directed by mythology, as is shown, for example, in Hesiod's book, Works and Days. The time for plowing, planting, harvest, celebration, and all the roles that individuals played in those activities had meaning and guidance via religion. Indeed, the origin of language—the communication and guidance quasi-mechanism that is characteristic of our species—is inseparable from the earliest stories (myths) that humans told one another.19

Philosophy and, later its offspring, the sciences arose in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Greece, India, Mesoamerica, Peru and other cultures with technostructures, command-structures and languages. The original intention of Western philosophy, from which science later grew, was to use the expertise achieved in the technostructure to reform the command structure. Plato advocates the idea that, as he wrote:

There is no law higher than the episteme, [craft-knowledge] of the different specialized technai, techne [the root of technology].20

Metaphysics as the first philosophy became the subset of philosophy, which unified discourse in the West with parallel developments in other civilizations. Metaphysics provided, as the cultural cosmology of mythos had, a common base and context for the main uses of language. Metaphysics became the conscious articulation of the worldview that defined humans, societal roles and our place in nature. The coming of modern society was the coming of an economic society. As one notable historian wrote, "In general, economic relations became removed from social relations. The economy took on a life of its own."—Karl Polanyi

Instead of it being as its etymology implies: household management, the economy became the overall international context, which provided all the necessities of life and defined the social institutions and the worldviews for increasingly more of the world's people. A new command structure emerged as a democratic one in the sense that according to its ideology each person had sovereignty. Money emerged as 1) the medium of exchange and account and 2) the store of value. Therefore, money governed human relations, defined rights and duties and provided the logic for managing human activity: deciding who would do what and when it would be done.21

Philosophers invented modern philosophy, which was regarded as the anti-metaphysics. It began as polemics against the metaphysics of academia. Philosophy carried on the social function of traditional metaphysics by providing society with a unifying discourse and logical foundations that justified its principal institutions. Central to the new philosophy was 1) an ethics of freedom and property rights, which gave authority to markets and market forces and 2) the empiricist and rationalist theories of knowledge, which suppressed reactionary tendencies to revert to the ancient cultural cosmology, which might have thwarted progress. The ethics of freedom made sacred the democratic command-structure, which was consistent with using consumer choices and the market as the justification for modern industry.

Within the code and execution of the new command structure, the technostructure was to have constant revision by institutionalized science, which used the critical scientific method. The job of science was (still largely is) to research and develop never-ending upgrades in technology. In practice, what philosophy had made as a matter of principle was what had to happen because entrepreneurs needed (still do) constant technology upgrades in order to stay ahead of their competitors. The new metaphysics known as the anti-metaphysics, therefore, carried on the traditional social function of providing a common discourse. It was equipped with the intellectual tools to unify the technostructure with the command-structure.

Putting the evolution of the technostructure in the context of its interaction with the command-structures shows why it is a mistake to make technology a metaphysics. That is to say, it is a mistake to see all problems and all solutions as technical. The design revolution is only half the revolution. So, if Fuller is correct—that with the current technology, it is doable to meet the needs of only 44% of the world's people—it follows that meeting everyone's needs requires that we learn how to do more with less; however, it does not follow that if sustainable technologies were adopted then everybody's needs would be met all needs could be met, though still it does not follow that they would be met.

Technology has a certain force of its own, so that it is as much a cause as it is a effect of historical events. It does follow that market forces, property laws, and other culture, at times, influence history as well. However, it does not follow that if we make the right technology choices we can ignore the issues that divide investors from workers and divide both from the unemployed. In regards to social issues, the inventors of green technology want Homo sapiens to graduate to a sustainable species.As we graduate, we preserve the democratic ideals of modernity. We choose equality, democracy and self-sufficiency by designing cheap and simple tools that ordinary people can control gain full employment for everyone in pleasant, meaningful work, choose humane habitats that strengthen community and gain the skill to do more with less by conservation and ingenuity to bring within our reach meeting everyone's needs.

Markets, laws and mentalities need to change so that the good intentions that are built into human and eco-friendly technologies will manifest. All that, however, depends mainly on whether humans can, if we will, relate in a more humane and ethical way to one another. The search for resources that build better human relations needs to include: 1) anthropology as the history of culture and 2) the histories of religion and of the philosophy within it. Through the study of how cultures have been constructed, we will learn to use the tools and skills that construct culture. With the tools and skills to build community, we can bring forth the mosaic of diverse lifestyles compatible with living together on the Earth: our common mother.22


1. In general, see R. Buckminister Fuller, The Buckminister Fuller Reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972. Fuller wrote:

R. Buckminister Fuller, Critical Path. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981, p. xviii

2.  Phil Cousineau, "Ecological Design: Inventing the Future" a film directed by Brian Danitz. Brooklyn, NY: Ecological Design Project, 1994

3. "Ancient Futures: Learning from the Ladaka." a film co-directed by Helena Norberg-Hodge based on her book of the same title. Oakland, CA: Video Project, 1993. Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladaka. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991

4. "Planet Neighborhood", a film. Washington, DC: WETA-TV and National Academy of Engineering, 1997

5. Michael Piore and Charles Sabel, The Second Industrial Divide. New York: Basic Books, 1984

III.i. Explanation

6. Piore and Sabel, cited just before, p. 38

7. Piore and Sabel, p. 184

III.ii. Prescription

8. Generalizing a premise taken from Piore and Sabel, I arrive at a principle typical of the green thinking—given the premise that technology choice has a far-reaching cost and benefit, we should choose sustainable technologies; thus, we should choose technologies conducive to building the world we want to see. Here I characterize as green those who, like Buckminister Fuller tend to 1). explain the world we know as determined by energy/ resource-intensive technologies and 2). advocate improving our world by choosing renewable energy resources and resource recycling technologies. The green movement is a holistic macro-cultural movement that embraces important ethical principles, which seem, at first, only indirectly linked to the issue choice of technology and green technologies. For Paul Ekins, the green cause is, as he wrote

Paul Ekins, The Gaia Atlas of Green Economics. New York: Doubleday, 1992, p. 34. As well, Ekins praises the enabling state of Kerala, India. p. 79. One can believe, as Paul Ekins does, in internalizing costs, redistributing property and the enabling state of Kerala; thus, one can be assured that following these principles will, as well, favor solar and wind energy, small organic farms and bicycle paths. The two are of the same vision. I omitted, however, from Part III those aspects of the green thinking that seem peripheral to the choice of technology, only to keep the focus on technology.

9. Nobody argues in favor of unsustainable technology. Everyone agrees that sustainability is good.—T. F. Allen and T. W. Hoekstra in, "Toward a Definition of Sustainability," Covington and Lebano, eds., Sustainable Ecological Systems, Fort Collins, CO: USDA Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, 1993, p. 98. One of the significant political achievements of our time is the international adoption of principles of sustainable development as a philosophy for global, national and local economies. Peter Miller, "Canada's Model Forest Program: the Manitoba Experience," in Lemons, Westra and Goodland, editors,  Ecological Sustainability and Integrity: Concepts and Approaches, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1998, p. 135

On the other hand, academic departments, policy research centers and professional journals exist devoted to treating the achievement of sustainability as a technical problem for scientific and economic analysis; this approach does not require reconsideration of the rational bases of science and ethics, i.e. of a metaphysics. See, for example, the proceedings of the First International Conference on Ecosystems and Sustainable Development published by Uso, Brebbia and Power, editors Ecosystems and Sustainable Development, Southampton, NY: Computational Mechanics Publications, 1998. For a sustained argument showing that market rationality and other rationality employed in public policy analysis do need to be reconsidered, see John Dryzek, Rational Ecology: Environment and Political Economy. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987

10. The views of Todd, Soleri, Lovins and Bateson herein are recorded in the film Ecological Design, cited above. See also, John Todd, Re-inhabiting Cities and Towns. San Francisco: Planet Drum Foundation, 1981. Paolo Soleri, Arcology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1967. Amory Lovins, Soft Energy Paths. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1977

11. E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, New York: Harper and Row, 1973. Schumacher wrote:

E. J. Mishan, 21 Popular Economic Fallacies, New York: Praeger, 1970, p. 245


While most economists find the ethical standing of preference obvious, philosophers and other social scientists (e.g., Sagoff 1986) generally find the concept of revealed choices unconvincing as a standard of welfare, much less as an overall theory of the good.

Tyler Cowen, "The Scope and Limits of Preference Sovereignty", in Economics and Philosophy Vol. 9, no. 2. p. 253, 1993. The reference is to Mark Sagoff in, "Values and Preferences", in the journal Ethics: Vol. 96, 1986, p. 301 reprinted in Charles K. Wilber ed., Economics, Ethics and Public Policy. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD: 1998, p. 357

13. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful

14. Amory Lovins, Ecological Design

15. Free choices are not always the choices conducive to sustainability, which is a logical consequence of the green premises that green thinkers sometimes overlook. It is easy to overlook it where it makes no difference to the conclusion, i.e. where the outcome criticized is both unsustainable and the result of binding choices; for example, needing to drive a car to work because energy-efficient transportation is unavailable.

16. R. Buckminister Fuller, Critical Path. p. xxvii. Fuller wrote:

All that science has discovered is that the Universe consists of the most exquisitely inter-reciprocating technology.

17. Howard Richards, A Philosophy of Peace and Justice: Letters from Quebec, letter 3, et al.

18. The allusion to Clifford Geertz is to his essays, The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. Apart from the idea that culture is the human species' adaptation to its ecological niche, the ideas in these paragraphs are mine from A Philosophy of Peace and Justice: Letters from Quebec (passim).

19. David Korten finds that the traditional worldviews of non-Westerners are still more conducive to sustainability than the liberal scientific metaphysics of the modern West, from which economics emerged. He finds that a metaphysical monism shaped traditional Asian cultures. David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World. (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995) See also, P. A. Payutto, Buddhist Economics  (Bangkok, Thailand: Buddhadhamma Foundation, 1994) See Schumacher's chapter, "Buddhist Economics," in Small is Beautiful, cited in Part III.ii, note 4

20. Plato, Laws as discussed in A Philosophy of Peace and Justice: letters from Quebec, letter 14. Plato opens with a reference to the common idea that the gods have instituted the laws of the city, but he then goes on, as in The Republic, to develop rational criteria for instituting laws.

21. Polanyi in his book, The Great Transformation, as cited in note 2 to section 1c above, wrote about the extracting of economic relations from social relations. He refers to the historical genesis of the institutional structures that is the world market and its concomitants, which produced modernity. It is not that modernity existed first and then produced the global economy; on the contrary, the extension of markets worldwide was a major causal factor in the genesis of modernity. In contrast, the Chilean green economist Max-Neef wrote that:

It is necessary to counter a logic of economics, which permeates modern culture, with an ethics of well-being.

Manfred A. Max-Neef, Human Scale Development: Conception, Application and Further Reflections. New York and London: Apex Press, 1991, p. 64. Max-Neef calls for a metaphysical shift that reverses the shift Polanyi describes, a shift that reinstates economic relations in social relations. Max-Neef does not, however, endorse just any social relation, but instead, he proposes a conceptual framework for social relations as governed by an ethics of care, one that organizes life to meet needs. Charles K. Wilber and Kenneth P. Jameson advanced the idea of re-embedding economics in society, at the end of An Inquiry into the Poverty of Economics. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1983. See also, by the same authors, Beyond Reaganomics: a Further Inquiry into the Poverty of Economics. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1990

22. Ideas that are as well within A Philosophy of Peace and Justice: Letters from Quebec, cited in 9 section 1c


1. Based on your experience and the facts you see, give an example of a technology and the market forces (as competition for growth and profit) that underlies it, which have had an effect on the global economy. p. 41

b. Which of the two categories of influence do you think has a more important effect upon the global economy?

2. Chronic excess capacity results in overproduction, which defines the global chapter of the mass production story. Do you see, or have you known a consequence of this lack of foresight and/ or misguided ethic?   p. 42

b. How would you explain to a child the imbalance between supply and demand, which results in the divide between the vast storehouses of unsold goods, which includes shelter and the masses of the unemployed homeless, overcrowded schools, prisons and hospitals? Explain why you view it as mostly an 1) an unintended contradiction of capitalism, 2) intentional failure of it, or 3) some of each? p. 44, p. 45

3. The chronic issues of society include poverty, pollution, population and the increasingly wealthy, shrinking owner-of-production class. To resolve them, which of the courses below do you think the global economy should or will take? 1) global regulation of mass production, 2) owners will choose both improved tech and regulation 3) a different economy based upon different technology and/ or 4) it will not change for the obvious reasons.  p. 42

4. Consider the ethic of freedom without responsibility—in the following contexts: driving, sexuality, parenting, voting, purchases, health care choices, relocation of production to another nation and others you might find. Can you link some common global corporate practices with the negative outcomes of the activities as carried out by individuals, partners, families and other small groups?  p. 48

5. Mass production has an added mechanistic aspect part of the code of competition as a subset of accumulation, a market force. As you see it, what is the main market force driving excess capacity?    p. 42

6. As implied, what questions about the application of green tech do you think justify or require the diagnosis and treatment of the metaphysical basis (or lack) of it in the global economy and its linked structures? p. 50,  p. 51

7. Consumers want the secure energy and goods of green tech, yet most are unwilling to pay more for it just to save the Earth (e.g., consumers resisted CFL bulbs due to the price). Which of the two desires do you think now has more of an effect upon appropriate and sustainable choices for all new technology?

b. Do you foresee that the two motives will merge in the mind of the consumer or will education, trend setting and fear have to change the mindset?  p. 42

8. New and improved products and technologies as better values with lower prices usually will boost consumer confidence and spending. What obstacles do you see that would prevent a company from retrofitting its production into sustainable technologies and eco-friendly goods and service-related practices? p. 42

9. The belief that technology will solve problems, crises and avert calamity leads consumers to rationalize, "why me worry," complacent apathy. Choices of technology form, at least, the outward cause of our current crisis. Thus, by risking our future and shared environment with such an attitude, we are either: gambling, paralyzed by shock and denial, ill informed, or all of these. What strategies would you try to remedy these forms of alienation and apathy?

b. What steps would you take to alleviate this pervasive ignorance and anxiety?  p. 118—note #47

10. Greenwash is a pejorative term for the practice by corporations of making deceptive ads, public relations and labeling information that claim to 1) use of green technology, 2). practice green procedures and green philanthropy, or 3) manufacture or provide Earth-safe goods and services. In your view, what long term risks does greenwash pose to the Earth due to the short term boost in consumer confidence outweighed by the increase the trend of Earth-conscious choices by consumers?  p. 40

b. What might you suppose occurs to a consumers confidence when the greenwash is revealed? If you feel moved, research the three entities involved with the video documentary Planet Neighborhood, aired by PBS, underwritten by Bank of America and produced by the National Academy of Engineering. How do you see the agenda of greenwash that BOA and the NAE use in relation to the fact that both have thus funded important information for public consumption? p. 40

Description: To what extent does the theory of technology choices explain the rise and rule of global economy? Part 3 examines this as the next logical step in Understanding the Global Economy, as (1) an analysis of the scientific theories that explain the global economy, (2) an expose of the economic rise and rule of free trade as enforced by trade pacts between corporations and central governments, and (3) a resource for building an ethical, sustainable economy based on research, knowledge and so cio-cultural solidarity.

Keywords: aggregate demand, anti-metaphysics, causality, chronic excess capacity, collective bargaining, command structure, design revolution, discourse, ethics of care, ethics of freedom, ethics, Fuller, GDP, global economy, green tech, human rights, individualism, industrial divide, international trade theory, Keynesian economics, labor, market demand, market forces, mass production, meta-economics, metaphysics, modernity, neoliberalism, overproduction, profit, property, revealed preference, right livelihood, self-determination, sustainability, sustainable tech, technology, technostructure, trade


Part IV: Kaldor's theoryTOCcover pagetop

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