01 April 2014

I Spend, Therefore I Am

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A radical, inspiring, agenda-setting critique that shows how neo-liberal economics has invaded every area of society, including our most intimate decisions

I Spend Therefore I amI Spend Therefore I Am is a truly revelatory analysis of the way that a certain kind of economic thinking – that which puts self-interest at its centre – has invaded most aspects of our daily lives, from the way we make personal decisions to how we view reality and what we consider of value as a society and as individuals.

Roscoe brings to the light the deliberate policies that were put in place for what he calls ‘the re-engineering of civil society’ – a transformation accomplished by withdrawing assistance to the poor, strong property right legislation over the land and capital, and the displacement of an agrarian population into a source of industrial labour.

He contests the claim of economics as a science, and portrays it as a set of tools for measuring and control – a tool that is flawed and limited as by opting to validate through numerical comparisons, we are forced to leave out those aspects of our humanity that cannot be measured, such as the value of a human life.

‘In the middle of this transformation there comes about economic man, driven by self-interest, abstracted from bonds of family, church and state, endlessly seeking efficiency in the face of universal scarcity brought about by the market-based exchangeability of all things.’  – Philip Roscoe, I Spend Therefore I Am

The book brings a fresh insight, real clarity and a powerful new impetus to the argument against a mainstream economic model that shrugs responsibility and ethics off their shoulder with a neatly organised balance sheet.

From the Aristotelian position that a life driven by slavish gratification is ‘the life of grazing animals’, the author invites us to reconsider that what makes us truly human is our capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, and not the bottom line figure.

Drawing from examples of health care to education and online dating, Roscoe demonstrates how the cost-benefit mentality has infiltrated our heads and twisted the view we hold of ourselves and our fellow citizens, erasing the sense of collaboration and community, and suppressing the very values – empathy, generosity and collaboration – that make us unique as social beings and form the basis of human development and life satisfaction.

It comes as no revelation that our identities are formed by culture, but the reverse is also true as cultures are created by our policies, our actions and the ideals of legitimacy we uphold. Roscoe argues that humans are not inherently self-interested, but we are increasing being formed into ‘economic man and economic woman’ by the ways in which the rules of the market have infiltrated our psyche. Comodifying every aspect of our lives, the current economic model, he argues, has shaped a distorted view of happiness and freedom – think of the  mantra of contemporary consumer culture of ‘getting and doing whatever we want, whenever we want.’

By moulding us into the straight jacket of this individualistic view, modern economics, he says, ‘has undone our capacity for relationship’, concluding that the true cost of economics is evidenced by the fact that ‘in an age of unprecedented wealth, we are unhappier than ever before.’

Manfred Max-Neef said: ‘the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.’ In his last chapter, Roscoe invites us to ‘occupy economics’ by using ‘the vocabulary and materials of economic life in way that develops human flourishing rather than corroding it,’ arguing that ‘any serious resistance must come from the ground upwards’ and be ‘grassroots in a meaningful sense.’

Grassroots. Meaningful. As I reflected on that statement, I tried to picture how could that be done in a practical way. How could I ‘occupy economics’ in my own life? Yes, giving more, consuming less and all that, but over all the revelation for me was to pay closer attention to the nature of my wants so I can spot the ‘what’s in it for me’ speculative invader.

This books has made it clear to me that the ‘occupation’ of economics is not out and about in the downtown square with banners and tents, but in the space that stretches between my ears. With the battlefield being my own head and as I strive for a life of fulfilment and happiness, I have no option but to engage and be part of the change.

I Spend Therefore I Am by Philip Roscoe (Penguin Viking), hardback £16.99.

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