I think it still depends on what you mean by ‘work’. The economy does a lot of things, it can do a lot of things, it is claimed that it does a lot of things. It’s even quite often very efficient at some things.
Unfortunately, those things aren’t everyone’s idea of the best way to run society, and our economic base feeds into every aspect of our society. Our current models of economics are very good at exploiting resources, for example. It is economically viable (and therefore encouraged) to dig oil out of tar sands or find gas by injecting vast amounts high pressure toxic chemicals into groundwater.
Depending on your point of view, that is the economy working, or that is the economy destroying us.
The economy provides us with a set of metrics with which to look at the world. It gives us GDP to compare countries by, and it lets us measure our debts in terms of that. It provides us with reams of statistics with which we can navel gaze and stare at until it looks like we know what the world is made of.
I don’t think the economy works. I don’t think it helps us do the things we need to do, it is currently just a framework that makes us focus on absolutely the wrong things. There’s enough dogma (much like mine, unfortunately) about how things are supposed to be that policies can slowly strangle a country whilst still appearing to be the right thing to do.
The economy is a giant tangle of interacting desires. It isn’t really a whole thing that can be looked at objectively. Its everything from the price of chips to the interest rate. It’s billions of monetary transactions, the rules that shape them and the desires that make them.
Can that ever work? Is that really a monolithic thing that can be teased and cajoled and explained and understood?
We’ve decided to rely on it, make it the basis of our everything, and lately, it can’t help but feel like an out of control monster. Every week there is a new story about some major crisis that the only solution appears to be throwing more made up money at.
A large part of it is because that efficiency we talked about at the beginning, comes from an economy built around reducing the friction that gets in the way of unadulterated greed. Recognising greed as one of the most powerful human motivations, we encourage it, so that we can keep the numbers increasing.
No matter how efficient that may be at certain things, I don’t think its the right way to do things. In a world of finite resources and delicate balances, efficient greed can’t be the main motivation.
To make the economy work for society, we need to change it, probably fundamentally.
More than anything, money can’t be the only thing we value.
It’s made up, and it’s not what really counts.
Illustration by Rosie