This is a transcript of the Ideas podcast Economics and Social Justice which was first broadcast on CBC Radio 1 on October 13 and made availabe to download on November 20 2006. It was recorded in June 2006 in Vancouver. From the CBC Ideas podcast page:
Economics and Social Justice

Pier Luigi Sacco teaches the economics of culture in Venice. He's interested in concepts of post-industrial economics, co-operative enterprise and game theory. In a discussion recorded in Vancouver, he and social commentator Avi Lewis, talk about changing theories of economics as key to narrowing the gap between rich and poor.

Download Economics and Social Justice [mp3 file: runs 53:10]
Mr. Sacco's first language is Italien and this accounts for the odd grammar in his presentation, a note I feel nescessary for the textual version. - Timothy

Economics and Social Justice

Pier Luigi Sacco & Avi Lewis

PLS: In our economies historically for centuries there has been a strong demand for basic goods which means foods and of course garments and housing, protection, and basic medical care and whatever, and these goods are absolutely necessary whatever your cultural context, and whatever your geographical location. So basically, traditional economics has to do with meeting these basic needs. And these basic needs are somewhat universal, ok?

But what has happened, quite recently is that a very large part of our world economic system was abe to call itself out of what we could call the survival economy, which meant the representative individuals in this world can think of themselevs as being freed by this threat of survival. What do I mean by that? Well, how many of you just waking up this morning thought of getting enough food as a real concern? Well possibly, if you talk about food the concern was not getting enough of it, but possibly, I mean staying away enough from food. So this is the problem.

I mean for virtually all the generations that preceded us, the opposite concern was the rule. What a post-industrial economy is, basically, is exactly a world in which people do not think of themselves in terms of needs. But possibly in terms of desires which are something totally different.

Desires are disposable and they don't ... they are not as mandatory as needs, whatever the advertising campaigns can tell us, so, the issue is that when we are in a survival economy basically we think of needs when we are outside it, needs are replaced by something else, what? That we call desire.

Needs are structured so deeply, our way of thinking to economics, that even when we are out of this phase we still keep on thinking that way and this creates a lot of distortions that reflect on the way we think about global justice. What do I mean by that? Basically needs induce the concept of scarcity, ok, because when you are hungry or at least you face the possibility of being hungry but at the same time you have to ensure your children enough garments or a decent education or whatever, there is of course a dramatic trade-off between this, and so the essence of economics in this context in just trading off possible uses of the same resources.

There are people who actually say, and I mean for a long time they said that correctly, that the essence of economics is exactly this. Finding out intelligent, efficient ways in economic parlance to allocate resources to different alternative uses, which means exactly scarcity the resources are not enough to meet all possible uses that are productive from your point of view. But in an economy in which actually the problem of getting the food to survive or any other kind of your good that meets basic needs is actually solved because you don't think in those terms. What is the driver behind economic choices? Well, it would take a long, a long time to argue that in detail, but I invite you to think in terms of identity.

The hallmark of a post-industrial economy is that basically people think in terms of identity when they make their choices. What they actually do is think in terms of, 'if I buy this, how will other people perceive me?' or 'if I buy this, what kind of person I am for buying this?' Why this is becoming so relevant? Well, before answering to that, let's just look at how people in the marketing departments actually address you when they try to sell you those goods. Well, they address you exactly in this respect.

The product itself is somewhat disappearing from the centre stage. What's just coming up is the kind of person who buys this kind of goods or the symbolic representation of the good, rather than the good itself, to the point that actually, they don't even make promises about what exactly that product delivers. What they promise is how you'll feel about the good, which is totally different.

The economics of identity is a tricky field because it's entirely new. We don't know anything about it. Why should these problems be threatening? Well, consider this, if scarcity is the hallmark of the economics of survival, what does it mean thinking in terms of scarcity in the economics of identity? Basically, what becomes scarce in this context is not the availability of goods, there are plenty of them, is a sort of invasion, we simply can't just protect ourselves by this attack of goods I mean popping up everywhere.

But, what becomes scarce is 'who can you pretend to be'? Thinking of this ... what's the actual rational behind TV shows like, let's say Big Brother or American Idol? Basically, the idea that passing enough times through the media, through the television, you acquire a special essence that in some sense makes you shine, ok? Just because you passed through it and it makes a difference because you were there, whereas most of the people have to be other side of the TV set.

So the only reason why this makes you different is the fact that very few people in relative terms can achieve that. So that's a new form of scarcity and in it's most impressive way it has nothing to do with your personal characteristics. You can be simply a hanger, ok, just hang around your hip dresses ok, and I mean, that's enough, insofar as you pass sufficient number of times through the media.

This is a very peculiar effect that was for example described with a visionary - extraordinary visionary - wisdom by Andy Warhol when he argued about the fact that everyone has the right to have a quarter hour of celebrity. Ok? And that's exactly what's happening. A quarter of an hour of celebrity because ok, you pass through it, but it's like a battery, whose charge progressively goes down, ok, because just passing through it, but nothing else happens. If you have no talent of course this happens but just for a while. But nevertheless this is thrilling and what is even more thrilling is the spectacle of the people who fail. The ones who participate to the show but cannot get through it. So, the identity can be highly competitive and so can create scarcity exactly as goods can be scarce. This new kind of scarcity is much more threatening to a degree.

In the old economy in which being on the wrong side of the game means being starving, ok, ok you are desperate to a degree but you can find some way to ... find out a reason for that. Ok, I am poor but I'm gaining eternal life because I am on the poor side but if you are denied in your own identity, what you can go? I mean you are just crap. And that's terrible. This is a new form of suffering. Absolutely.

That's becoming an issue. I think that most forms of compulsive behavior that are mounting in societies like ours can be traced back to this. I mean the amount of frustration that each single person in this kind of economy is going to swallow every day is overwhelming. From the point of view of economic development this is absolutely good news because one of the consequences of this is that people are increasingly recurring to compensatory forms of consumption that adds up substantially to the GDP.

What has all this to do with global justice? Well, the point is that in an economics of identity people do not even know about what old scarcity is. They simply don't know. I mean, the generation of people who that now let's say, teenagers, how could they meaningfully relate to a world in which there's not enough to eat? Can you imagine, it's like Mars. Just to make an example, I was born in the middle of the 60s, and in Europe in the middle of the 60s, if you were born there for example in Italy as I did, you would have a granny that was alive and young during the Second World War in which they were starving and so when I was growing up I heard tales about starvation or possible starvation and that was part of my world.

So I was in some sense midway through but those generations that had parents and grandparents that did not experience in turn this kind of things. In some sense are completely outside the economics of survival and they are so deeply rooted into the economics of identity that for them scarcity in a real sense is an abstraction. Total abstraction. For this kind of people in some sense, the only reason for getting interested into the images of people starving are, 'well I'm not that bad after all'. I mean, there is someone in the ranking which is lagging far behind. So it's quite a consolation, to a degree. Have you noticed, how often for example, in magazines, the advertisements of luxury form consumption are mounted in the same two page opening in which you find let's say photo services about Africa, or whatever; is much more common than one could reasonably expect.

So in this kind of context, can we reasonably expect that people are willing to give up a substantial part of their income or their possibilities to make significant transfers to the other part of the world in which there is this scarcity in the traditional sense, well most people politcaly I mean as a society, as a voting society would answer you 'not at all, I mean my problem is that I not enough income, how could I give that up? I mean, I'm just lagging behind my neighbor has a mansion that is twice as big as mine. Ok, I have to keep up with him. So can you ask me that? Absolutely not'.

That's exactly the reason why all this populist policy of promising tax cuts are basically so effective throughout the world, in particular throughout the Western World in which their electorate tends to be exactly that kind of electorate that is very sensible to this kind of messages. So the point is we cannot really realistically talk about global justice if we do not change the way in which we build our identities here. Because otherwise, there are no political conditions for implementing any redistributive policy that dares a real chance to change the things.

What is even worse is the fact that even in the so called underdveloped economies, the economics of identity is bitting. And is bitterly biting, which means that you can find places in which people have hardly enough income to feed their children but they have parabolic antennas to watch the TV and they find their own forms of luxury consumption which is linked to identity because we live in a globalized economy also from the communicational point of view. And this kind of incentives exactly as they as they bite in the Western countries, they bite in the same way possibly even worse in the so called under-industrialized ones.

But then the point is to implement global justice, the first thing to do is to think in terms of human development. But what is interesting is that is the issue of human development as I will explain in a moment, is equally importent for the sake of global justice, both in the under industrialized and in the post industrial countries.

In the under-industrialized ones of course, it has to do with the fact that human development as Armatya Sen, the famous Nobel Prize for Economics authoritatively teaches, means that if you are learned enough to understand what are the real choices that you are facing, then of course you have a real chance to use the resources, the scarce resources that have to improve your condition, so the point is, what kind of policies are really needed in terms of human development in a context like ours to implement global justice? Well, the point is that we have to discard as quickly as possible these mechanical transposition of the logic of scarcity that we have learned from our past to the economics of identity.

Which means that we have to cease thinking in terms of competitive identities. Identities which are scarce. It's absolutely not necessary. You can construct your identity through goods that are not available to someone else but you can equally construct your identity in terms of access to meaningful experiences.

The point is that in the first case, all you need in income and this can be perverse mechanism because for getting this income, you could give up for example opportunities of social interaction that lock you up progressively into a situation in which you alone and you need more consumption just to mend this. You know?

But, constructing identity through access to experiences means investing on yourself. Because for these experiences to be appealing to you you have to develop all the information and capabilities that are needed to be into these experiences in a meaningful way. If for example you have opportunity let's say to go to a beautiful concert but you don't have the basic skills that are needed to attend in an enjoyable way a difficult kind of music. If you don't have these basic skills in some sense your world of experiences is too small. And you just compensate for this smallness in terms of access to goods.

If you actually managed to build an identity which is based on the access to experience, you need less and less reliance on the material side of compensation for the simple reason that compensatory consumption is no longer needed. And is of course frees up lots of resources that can be redistributed in a situation in which you don not perceive these as threatening your standards of life.

So the actual issue is we are building an incredible gap in our society between our possible access to experiences that are really satisfactory in terms of well being. Our societies are constructing landscapes of experience for people that are absolutely unprecedented; no society before ours puts so many individuals in the position of experiencing so my different things so stimulating so easily. But at the same time our society is not developing at all the human skills that are needed to enjoy them.

On the contrary, there's a very strong incentive in making people dumber and dumber for the simple reason that this makes you more manipulable and in particular more exposed to this salient compensatory consumption. So the point is that policies have to be readdressed to stimulate social dynamics that lead people to invest on themselves.

Not only this betters the functioning of a market economy, it betters democracy first of all. For the simple reason that people who are aware of the possibilities because they invest on themselves and so know exactly what are the tradeoffs behind one choice are of course carry in their own democratic, the democratic decisions much more information then people who simply ideological respond to things they don't understand.

So they point is that global justice I think is mainly a problem that we have to solve at home paradoxically in the sense that if we begin solving this problem here and in the first place create a different way of relating the production of welfare and the control of resources in our part of the world, then it becomes so much easier to redistribute part of it in a politically sustainable way.

And an impressive confirmation of this comes from a graph on which economists, I mean the more open minded ones, have been thinking about in past ten years or so and this graph simply plots the average income per capita in the various economies in the various societies against self-perception of well being as measured in a representative sample in the local population of each given nation. Well it turns out that below $10,000 dollars (american dollars) per capita the relation between availability of income and perception of well being is extremely steep. Which means that even $100 more makes an enormous difference. Well, this is exactly the economics of survival. But what happens beyond the threshold of roughly $10,000 per capita? The same curve that was previously steep, almost vertical, becomes suddenly horizontal. There's practically no gain in terms of perception of well being. When you double the average income per capita of an economy beyond the level of $10,000 per year per capita. This means that, it doesn't mean that money becomes inessential beyond that level, of course, but it simply means that the channels through which we build our well being are simply different. They are no longer the same.

What we really need is to begin a totally new different of economic policy in which the real target becomes the mindscape of the people. If we are able to enlarge the mindscape of the people then we build room for social justice on a global level. Thank you.

Avi Lewis: Hi there. How are ya? I'm actually doubly delighted to be with you tonight to tackle this subject which is very close to my spleen. The role of economics in global justice. First of all I'm excited because it's one of those modest, manageable, almost snack sized subjects that can be easily dealt with in the half-hour I've been alloted. But I'm also delighted to be talking to you about economics because I'm not an economist and it's rare that someone not formally trained in the arcane interstices of underlying inflation rates, liquidity, and Laffer curves is given standing in any public discussion of economics and that I will argue tonight if part of the problem.

But while I'm not classically attuned to the delicate instrument that is the economy, I am like any self-respecting punk guitarist able to bash out a few heart felt chords. I've actually taken two crash courses in economics in my life in two very distinct times and places. The most recent was in Argentina where I lived for a good chunk of 2002 and 2003 making a film called The Take and where I was privileged to observe first hand the extraordinary emergence of a host of alternative local economic systems; democratic co-operatives, horizontal micro-enterprises, neighborhood trading clubs with their own local currencies and worker run businesses from tourist hotels to running shoe factories. And this flowering of economic innovation and participation grew out of the rubble of a ruined economy. In a country that followed all the economic perscriptions of the day and had nonetheless found itself drawn into a dramatic collapse.

But my first crash course in economies was back in 1999 when I launched a nightly televised debate show just as the APEC scandal was breaking in Canada. We had activists kidnapped by unidentified security agents in sedans with tinted windows, students pepper sprayed while sitting sedately in a roadway, free speech advocates arrested for holding signs that said 'free speech' and our government planting rows of trees along procession routes to protect visiting heads of state from the ugly site of real-time dissent. And as the revelations emerged the daily debates where about who knew what when and who gave the order and who was in charge, but the larger question, was why? As the debate about the APEC scandal was strategically buried, anti-dramtically bored off the radar, buried in reports and inquiries, it became clear that economics was the why.

Not the discipline itself of course, but a particular orthodoxy within it. And the commitment of our government to the primacy of that program overall other considerations. And as part of that political moment, I also learned something else about the apparent economic consensus. I learned that economists had not always been obsessed with low inflation, fiscal discipline and growth, growth, growth. I learned that the role and focus of economics itself had recently been transformed.

This fact was recalled to me just last month [May 2005] in an op-ed written by Arthur Donner, and eminent Canadian economist, and Doug Peters, a former bank economist and Liberal MP. Not exactly Lenin and Trotsky if you know what I mean. And their piece began, 'There has been a monumental shift in mainstream economics over the past 40 years'. Donner and Peters say that when they studied economics is the 1960s, the role of economists was essentially to design policies that had a number of fundamental objectives. Stimulating growth of course, but also full employment and the reduction of inequality in society. And those last two goals have fallen completely off the map in the last 30 years. The vision of a society in which everyone has a livable wage and dignified work and where huge chasms of inequality don't dominate both the national and global landscape, not the mindscape, the landscape where we live, these goals until very recently were what economics was for, something that Pier Luigi also said.

So I wont to take the rest of my time with you tonight to briefly examine three critical questions. Why those priorities have disappeared, what the effect of that shift has been, and how we can take the discipline of economics which has frankly just become too big for its boots, and put it back in its rightful place. So the disappearance of the principle of redistribution I submit, is a profound loss to economics.

We've known for a very long time that there's enough food produced on the planet for everyone, and yet there are always famines. The world spends more than a trillion dollars a year on arms, a mere 20th of that would bring the AIDS pandemic in Africa under control, put every child on that continent in school, and rebuild shattered societies; but even to make that juxtaposition today is to appear a wild-eyes idealist. Redistribution at this point in history is heresy.

And I think I understand part of the reason why. It has to do with dreams of pure science, with mathematical infatuation, with the lure of certainty. Somewhere along the line in the last thirty years in the twilight of Kenseyian economics, and the triumph of Milton Fredman's monatarism, economics started getting hungry for scientific legitimacy; started aspiring to be a capital-s Science, with immutable laws and universal truths. In the course of this quest, economics became more exclusive. At this point only self-described technocrats, (a whole new class which has arisen with great power in the global economy) only self-described technocrats who claim to be beyond ideology, their eyes fixed on the celestial mechanism of the market, only superhuman oracles like Alan Greesnspan now have the deep knowledge considered necessary to tinker with the sensitive machine known as the economy.

And when economic rules became more fixed, an economic orthodoxy cemented like a thirty year epoxy. Global financial bodies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank started applying the same economic formulaes to very different economies all over the world. And the economic goals of low inflation, fiscal discipline and growth, became ends in themselves. And we forget that they were only tools. Economics as a discipline is diminished as a result.

But at the same time the reach of economics has grown enormously. The same principles of market logic are brought to bear on health, education, social services, trade agreements bring every human good and service into their orbit; food, energy, water, jeans - greenhouse gas emissions are now seen as a marketable commodity.

Now this elevation of economic rules to the status of scientific doctrine, and the homogenization of economic policy around the world, is producing some predictable results. In many countries the rules on paper are indeed working, producing low inflation, smaller governments, greater profits. But for some reason increasingly difficult for economists to explain, the trickle down is not working. Or maybe it's proving to be just that, a trickle.

Inequality, both between nations and within nations, is reaching epidemic porportions. Last year [2005] Canadian CEOs got an average raise of 39%. I don't know how you did. Last year the median income actually declined to $24,000. Forty percent of single mothers in Canada live in poverty, and so does on in five Canadian women. Two thirds of Canadian families fall short at the end of the year and have to dip into savings or go deeper in debt to get by. And all this wealth, all those beautiful numbers of the past dozen years have done almost nothing to transform the economic situation of the vast majority of our First Peoples who live in a hidden, less industrialized country within an industrialized country. No matter what economic measure you use, and I did my homework so I know some of them; Geni coefficients, decial analysis, quintal analysis, census and tax data, wealth and income data, the gap between rich and poor just keeps growing in the midst of the best economic performance we have ever enjoyed as a country.

And the scary thing is that the policies designed to reduce inequality, the tax and transfer system, the welfare system, unemployment insurance, and the minimum wage, have all been 'reformed' in the same period. As a result, they are not succeeding in closing the gap the way they were designed to do and they way they have historically done in earlier eras. And so we're witnessing in Canada the rise of a permanent underclass in which women and children and Native Canadians and new immigrants are over represented.

Now, you may feel that I've been a little hard on economists tonight, and it's true, that not all economists are so fixated on the numbers that they're blind to the real world effects of increasing inequality. In fact, there is one economist out there who sees this with great clarity, and is speaking with admirable honesty about it, although to an admitingly small audience. So I'd like to share with you some of his thoughts, and shine a brief light on him and his team, because I think the work they're doing tells us more about the direction of our economy than almost anything else I've read in years. Allow me to quote and summarize his work at some length.

'The world is dividing into two blocks, the pluotonmy'
(yeah, that's plutocracy-economy)
'the plutonomy where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few and the rest. The key plutonomies are the US, the UK, and Canada. Plutonomies have occurred before. In 16th Century Spain, in 17th Century Holland, the Gilded Age and the Roaring 20s in the US. What are the common drivers of plutonomy? Technology driven productivity gains, financial innovation, capitalist friendly and cooperative governments, an internal dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law and the patenting of inventions. Often these wealth waves involved great complexity, exploited best by the rich and educated of their time. We project that the plutonomies, the US, Uk, and Canada will likely see even more income inequality disproportionally feeding off capitalist friendly government and globalization.'
I know what you're thinking. This is one of those Marxist sociology profs at York. This is ... he's quoting from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives press release. In fact the economist responsible for these ideas is Ajay Kapur, the head of Smith Barney Citigroup's Global Equity Strategy Group in New York. So let me share with you the conclusion that Ajay draws from his now infamous plutonomy thesis.
Buy shares in the companies that make the toys that the plutonomists enjoy. Our plutonomy basket includes names like Bulgari, Porsche, Ermays, Ralph Lauren, Four Seasons, Sotheby's, and Tiffany. As the rich have been getting richer so to stocks associated with the rich have performed extraordinarily well, generating returns of 17.8% per annum since 1985. We think plutonomy is here and is going to get stronger. It's membership swelling from globalized enclaves in the emerging world and if plutonomy continues, if income inequality is allowed to persist and widen, the plutonomy basket should continue to do very well.
Now Ajay and his team are smart guys. They've got their eyes fixed firmly on the numbers. And they're following the evidence to its logical conclusion. They're also just doing their jobs. It's kind of like science. But I think there's one element of the plutonomy thesis that they're missing. And in the spirit of the scientific method let me add it, in the hope of advancing their important work. Beyond all the wealth produced and consumed by the plutonomies there is a little extra revenue stream that has helped to create and sustain this situation. Over the last decade or so the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has been tracking global capital flows and it has identified a feature of our global economy that Ajay and his team have neglected.

The plutonomies of the world are on welfare. They're receiving a massive annual subsidy from the other economy. Poor countries. According to UNCTAD, we've had almost ten consecutive years of what economists call a negative net transfer of financial resources from poor countries to rich countries. In 2002, the negative net transfer was $200 Billion dollars, money that moved from the global south to the global north. In other words, when you add up all the trade and aid and investment going south and you balance it against all the debt payments and interest payments and foreign exchange coming north, you find that the poor countries on the planet are transferring their wealth to the plutonomies year after year. By 2004, the figure had grown to $350 Billion dollars.

Now I find the negative net transfer of financial resources to be a shocking and revealing figure. But I also believe that it's the logical consequence of economics as pursued these days by plutonomies and their institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This is the predictable result when the goals of economic growth, low inflation, and fiscal austerity are pursued as ends in themselves. So how do we change the role of current economics which has transformed us into plutonomy planet - a reality show soon to be studied by Pier Luigi and his colleagues?

We've tried growth and the rising tide. It has demonstrably not worked. If inequality is increasing despite unparalleled growth in a country like Canada, maybe it's time we tried something else. And that something else is another kind of economics, that puts its highest value on income equality, on livable wages, on full employment. In other words a little principle that got forgotten in the past thirty years called redistribution. Now unfortunatley redistribution of the wealth is so far out of fashion in the economic conversation that to mention is immediately consigns you to the margins of mainstream debate. Redistribution is the economics that dare not speak it's name.

But on the margins of plutonomy, redistribution is making a comeback. It's not popular in Washington, it causes virtual apoplexy among orthodox economists, but it's a trend that I think should be watched and welcomed and encouraged. You can see the policy at work now in the response that it's receiving in Venuzela and Bolivia. Those governments were elected on a promise of redirecting the resource wealth of their nations to the poor; to primary health care, to literacy, to fighting unemployment. But it simply can't be done by growth. The pie doesn't grow once it's baked! It has to be divided differently. And unfortunately that means taking a slice away from someone who is a little too rotund from feeding on the plutonomy basket. And so Venezuela and Bolivia are reclaiming public control of their oil and gas and other resources, much to the consternation of foreign multinationals, but much to the delight of the poorest sectors of society. Here in the plutonomy of course redistribution is still a dirty word. I believe though that the concept is buried, but not forgotten.

Take the National Hockey League. Take it, please. Last weekend, here in Vancouver, the owners and the scouts and the players gathered for the annual draft. A quick refreshed on the mechanism of the NHL draft for those of you who have forgotten. The NHL Draft consists of seven rounds with each team assigned one pick in each round, the fourteen teams that miss the playoffs during the previous NHL season hold the first fourteen picks in each round, subject of course to a lottery which ... ok, it's confusing. It's better left to the technocrats who administer this complicated system.

But the principle of the NHL draft is perfectly clear. It's there to ensure an equitable distribution of talent. The league recognizes that without some sort of mechanism to balance the teams, the richest owners would just buy all the best players and the sport would be totally unfair and boring. So every year, they gather all the hot young players, the new growth in the system, and they make sure that the teams at the bottom for once go to the top of the pecking order. The Stanley Cup champion picks last.

The system has been working for decades. Once a team gets into the playoffs and it's basically anybody, just about any team can win. There is genuine equality of opportunity among hockey teams. Now the NHL is a pretty market driven system, players are traded and bought and sold, stars command the salaries and endorsements that the market will bare. And despite the emergence of a slightly more command and control style economy in hockey since the lockout and the subsequent salary cap, hockey operates quite successfully in the market economy. A little pocket, within capitalism, operating with its own set of rules that fly in the face of orthodox economic thinking.

In fact is you know where to look there are pockets of alternative economics cropping up with increasing frequency all over the planet. The Canadian Cooperative movement is experience a resurgence, as more and more people want the way they do business to reflect the values they embrace. And cooperatives are also springing up (particularly worker-owned cooperatives, the most grass roots and democratic form) to respond to market failure which is where co-ops have historically always emerged. Alberta cattle farmers dealing with the fallout from the BSC crises recently formed a worker co-operative to try and get better prices for their product. Alberta farmers! These are exciting times

And if you spend a little time with corporate management consultants, as I know you do, I know I do whenever I get the chance, you will hear passionate talk of horizontal companies that utilize consensus decision making and have holistic employee engagement. So if the rhetoric is slipping out that maybe a sign of progress as well. The fair trade movement is growing with astonishing speed, reflecting a sincere desire among many consumers to see producers in poor countries capture more of the purchase price of coffee and chocolate and clothing and other goods.

And wherever you see economics used as a vehicle for values of fairness and redistribution, I believe you'll see that it's contagious. The impulse to share society's resources is among our most basic human survival instincts and I do not believe that it's dead. The challenge before us is to reclaim economics as a means rather than an end in itself. The end is a more just distribution of the planet's finite riches. Economics must be harnessed to that task and to do it people are finding that they have to take economics and put it back in it's place. So in little pockets of the global economy people are barging into the experts only domain and insisting that economics be done is a different way and that they are capable of doing it themselves.

And in the month of June, in any city in Canada you can walk into a sports bar and find one beer soaked hockey fan, possilbly in face paint, who can explain the working of the NHL draft in excruciating detail. It may be an unlikely place to draw inspiration but I think it's a tremendous place to start. Thanks for listening. <


Bill Richardson: I was a last draft pick of this job, nonetheless...
AL: That means you did well last year.
BR: ... It's a pleasure to be here

Q1: Just a quick question about the economics ...
BR: Can you speak at the microphone...
Q1: .... of economics of identity, being that it's based on sort of media induced keeping-up-with-the-Jones' type thing from my understanding of it, I wonder if you can comment on the recent developments around Bill Gates and Warren Buffet? And how that might effect people's ... sort of set the bar for people in the future.

[overtalk: something like: 'that's the seven million dollar question']

PLS: ...literally...
BR: Everybody hear that? It's that the question as to do with Warren ... with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett giving away flacks of cash recently.
PLS: That's an extremely interesting question, it's intriguing and absolutely correct in my perspective that you link that to the economics of identity which should not be the first thing that comes to your mind, but it is, because in some sense it is clear now that being able to make this kind of philanthropic initiatives at that level which is about monopolistic at that scale, you know, is a way of colonizing, literally the way in which visible philanthropy is made. So it's particularly telling that as a second comer, as a follower, Warren Buffet handed out, I mean this incredible endowment to the richest one ...richest already existing ...
AL: the only guy richer than him
PLS: Yes the only guy richer than him. So it's extremely telling. I do not want of course to criminalize this guy for being philanthropic, but at the same time this poses really important ethical questions, especially because what they seem to be doing now is investing these endowment in Africa so it's particularly interesting to see what happens and in particular the way in which this kind of policy will interact with the already existing policy of the institutions that are really owning Africa at the moment. So, if one side this would be sort of compliment to the traditional IMF, World Bank strategies in Africa, that's quite perturbing and threatening. I'm really looking forward to seeing wether they take the courage to go in a different direction. I'm not particularly optimistic about that. But it's interesting to see.

AL: You know I thinke there's already some clues.
PLS: Oh really?
AL: I mean the Gates Foundation is the largest funder of AIDS treatment and prevention and other campaigns in Africa of all private foundations and in a way the question of identity is to me, who has the power to change the world? Do governments have the power to change the world or do only the richest people have the power to change the world? Of course governments do but we have accepted a different identity for government which has been part of a thirty years campaign so that we no longer believe that governments have the power to take dramatic action to do theatrical gestures or to fundamentally change the world but we do believe that the ultra-rich do and to me it's miraculous what the Gates Foundation does in Africa because they're prepared to find treatment when under the current Bush Administration treatment for HIV-AIDS is something that they're downplaying in favour of abstinence. The Gates Foundation and other private foundations are stepping in funding the Global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in places where governments are not meeting their commitments. All of which is great except for the fact that it seems so ... risky. It seems so quixotic to rely on the richest people to do those things that we thought there would be collective mechanisms to do.

BR: It's the will of one individual as opposed to the will of nation or the will of a people.

AL: What if Warren Buffet decided to give it to ... the NHL?

PLS: It think that to a degree it could be very positive insofar as it makes philanthropy a more generally redistribution and not so exotic idea in terms of identity. But again instrumentally in this respect is a very bad animal and we have to be very careful to see what happens now, what's the actual cultural dynamics just around this, to understand what will be in some sense the flavour of this kind of initiative and how it's going to enter the mediascape to be perceived and digested by people and by the public opinion.

BR: I think on thing about this too is that it seems to me that you have to work much harder through media to actually learn about the result. The event is so spectacular and there's so much pyrotechnics that's attached to it but the long term is the long term and people's just aren't - therefore the media isn't therefore by and large I don't think.

PLS: Yes

AL: Why don't you in the media fix that Bill?

BR: ...

AL: I always get someone saying that me, I just never have the opportunity to.