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Arnold Heertje humanizing the economy

April 3, 2013

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Arnold Heertje

Arnold Heertje is an economist, author and a provocative voice in the Dutch public debate. His analyses of the current situation regarding the economic crisis and the symptom it is according to him of a larger social paradigmatic shift. Heertje argues that we have lived in a quantitative and dehumanizing economic paradigm which has alienated human beings from their labour and social being. The consequence is that humanity now ekes out its existence under the industrial tyrannical twins of obsession with numbers and measurement of efficiency in every walk of life, whilst ignoring its fundamental needs. This crisis is the implosion of that model and should be used to initiate the shift towards the new paradigm, which has in his mind everything to do with sustainability and a return to human proportions. The new economic model should give notion of its comprehensive character, not only being defined by finance, but also including social and qualitative aspects like peoples personal needs and ambitions, and collective interests such as the environment.

Heertje: Current situation – getting out of the crisis from FreedomLab on Vimeo.

Never let a good crisis go to waste: Rahm Emanuel, who was chief of staff to President-elect Obama, said in November 2008, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” he was describing the opportunities for reform presented by the financial meltdown. The day of financial market hegemony and market fundamentalism was over it was believed. Since the convulsions triggered by Lehmans, everything had changed, we were told. Austerity is neither humanizing our economy, or offering us an alternative future, that should be better and brighter.

The default setting is social because it is humanizing: Highly successful participatory systems are also by default social, and much of what drives the communications revolution as we have identified is the need for meaningful connection. I would argue therefore from a designer’s perspective we need to embed sociability into everything, from the buildings we design to the software code we write, the processes we create, the business and organisational models we conceive, the governmental institutions we create and the means by which those institutions operate. The multidimensionality of humanity needs to be coded into the fabric of all those things. Embedded sociability must be something that we all sign up to and be conscious of. We need to migrate the silos in organisations, where people feel they are just component parts in a machine, and provide them with opportunities to express themselves and feel they’re part of a bigger whole. We need to provide a sense of an open learning environment, where people can learn the things that are important to them, to enable people to find joy in what they do. We need to evolve how we work, and in so doing evolve the institutions and organisations that we commit to every day of our lives.

Teaching a system upgrade: Recently, I was teaching on the Enterprising Futures course at The Schumacher College – my task was to demonstrate how we might build an economy more human in scale – now that does not mean cottage industries but it does mean that what we create accommodates humanity. I agree with Heertje that the focus on quantifying everything as though we are machines has brought great damage to our world. And we can see this faultline running through our education and healthcare systems – to the point whereby they fall over. We are testing and inspecting our institutions to death literally so as in the case of the Mid-Staffs hospital that was run on a quantitative economic model that dehumanized its staff to the point thousands were dying in a place they should have been getting well.

Many of the institutions, organisations and systems that we still use were designed and built for a more simple society and the increase in the complexity of our world is placing an unsustainable load upon those institutions, organisations and systems. One could argue our industrial world is now struggling to adapt, socially, organisationally and economically. We are struggling to rethink what-next and better looks like.

Human(OS) - rough consensus running codeSo what might a smarter paradigm look like? This smarter paradigm could be healthcare that is based on prevention and wellness vs. cure, it could be a platform that enables patients and clinicians to learn to together how to treat chronic disease, that reduces wrong and over-prescription of drugs and the clogging up of the waiting rooms in hospitals. It could be Crowdfunding that enables the funding of solar projects by a local community that can also provide small returns on investment, or it could be microfinance to help the unbanked. It could be a global community of passion that comes together to co-create a business sharing in the rewards of recognition of good work done by the community and also a revenue share of the profits made. It could be smarter cities that gather big data to enable us to better manage the resources we have. We have to design for what I call the Human-OS, (operating system). Schools that are so well designed that they become places of joyful learning, that reduce truancy and increase academic achievement and where the learning is directed towards a child’s own unique learning journey rather than a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter approach. It could be a car company that says its a community and builds its vehicles five times faster at 100 times less the capital costs – The radical re-design of business. Or could be a way of working organically with the grain of nature to produce higher yields and quality.

A new framework: these all add up to a new framework / blueprint that shows us the possibility of what Arnold Heertje means by humanizing the economy. They offer us a new literacy in how we create, and make for a more resilient meaningful world. If you would like know more about how No Straight Lines can help you on that journey.

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