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A Nation Under Lawyers
Life Beyond Economics
By Hazel Henderson
Indianapolis: Knowledge Systems, 1991

Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept of a paradigm in the early 1960s to describe an all-embracing pattern or model of scientific knowledge. In spite of his many cautions to Hazel Henderson not to over-generalize in applying the concept to the process of social transition, she maintains that it is a useful metaphor that allows us "to re-conceive our situation, re-frame old problems and find new pathways for evolutionary change." This has become an imperative today, she insists, as we move from the industrial age into an as yet ill-defined "post-industrial" future. We are already seeing signs of an emerging, "post-Cartesian" scientific worldview, rooted in biological and systemic life sciences rather than inorganic, mechanistic models. In the political and economic world a similar shift has taken place as citizens have discovered fundamentally new approaches to managing resources, regulating markets, caring for the environment, providing health care and other human services, and conducting their political affairs. These changes are, in Henderson's view, part of an emerging paradigm based on the principles of interconnectedness, redistribution, heterarchy, complementarity, uncertainty, and change.

Political and economic policies are still, by and large, rooted in the "conceptual prisons" of the "reductionistic scientific paradigms," according to Henderson. For example, she notes that mainstream economists tend to forecast from past data and extrapolate trends while proponents of the new paradigm construct "what if?" scenarios, identify "preferred futures," and plot trends to determine cross impacts; they view change as dis-equilibrium rather normal; they are reactive rather than pro-active, assuming that an invisible hand is in control instead of focusing on human choices and responsibilities; they focus on "hard" rather than the soft, "fuzzy," and often uncertain data provided by life sciences and the social sciences; and they adopt a short-term focus (e.g., discount rates in cost/benefit analysis) rather than a long-term focus that recognizes inter-generational costs and trade offs.

Traditional economics still has not fully recognized the costs involved in free markets and unsustainable development, Henderson says. It leads inevitably to what she calls a "treadmill," or vicious cycle, where the traditional GNP-measured economy fails to account for hidden social costs, which builds up a backlog of social needs, which increases local costs of unemployment, pollution, crime, etc., which in turn fosters increased need for taxes, which raises inflation and budget deficits, which aggravates competition and wears down the currency market, which leads to a speculation bubble or recession, which leads to calls for more economic growth, which leads back to measuring economic well-being according to such inadequate indicators as the GNP and the GDP.

Henderson acknowledges a debt of gratitude to Warren Bennis and Philip Slater whose 1964 article "Democracy is Inevitable" has had a lasting influence on her work. Elaborating on their thesis, she maintains that the size and complexity of modern societies and institutions make it both inevitable and desirable for hierarchical structures to be flattened, organizations to be decentralized, and societies to become increasingly democratized at the local level, simply because this is not only the most efficient mode of operation, but also ensures flexibility and stability. She also speaks of the necessity in any democratic system for "feedback loops" where citizens and are in contact with each other and their leaders in a continuous dialogue. This is especially important, she says, since "the public is ahead of the politicians." With the advent of new information technologies, she envisages expanding networks of citizens which will crosscut old power structures, facilitate learning, and "initiate a widespread politics of reconceptualization, transforming our fragmented worldview into a new paradigm based on planetary awareness as well as a new view of human nature."

Henderson refers to this book as a "sampler" of her efforts over the past two decades to "intercept policy debates" by "offering new directions, expanded contexts, connections, and possibilities for creating 'win-win' solutions." This is an excellent introduction to her far-sighted ideas and formidable intellect. In addition to the subjects already noted, she explores the population crisis, the widening gap between the world's haves and have-nots, gender inequality, acid rain and space debris, and the drive to develop renewable energy resources. Throughout the book, her emphasis is not only on developing new frameworks for understanding traditional social, political and economic issues, but, as indicated by the book's subtitle, she is also concerned with overcoming the inadequacies of traditional economic theory. Bettering human societies, perfecting the means of production, and fostering conditions that allow people to fulfill their own needs is essentially a spiritual, as well as an instrumental and materialistic endeavor, she observes. "Binding such a transcendent set of human goals and visions for the future within the so-called 'laws of economics' was and is a travesty."

Copyright 1993 by Scott London. All rights reserved.