Gary Lamb and Sarah Hearn with their new book: Steinerian Economics.
SHINING A LIGHT ON STEINER’S ECONOMICS
Excerpts of an article by John Mason of the Hudson Register-Star
HARLEMVILLE, NY – The Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner died 89 years ago but left an enormous legacy. Not so widely known as his innovations in education, agriculture and medicine are those in economics and social reform. To help remedy that gap, two local residents, Gary Lamb and Sarah Hearn, have published Steinerian Economics: A compendium, published by Adonis Press of Hillsdale, NY.
The book is meant to be a collection of Steiner’s main ideas about economic life, Lamb said. Information is drawn from about 40 of Steiner’s books and arranged in 11 thematic chapters, with chapter titles ranging from “Social and Antisocial forces in the Human Being and Social Life” to “Credit.”
Lamb described Steiner’s economic approach as “associative, collaborative between all the sectors within the economy. It’s a much more conscious approach to making economic decisions than is typically the case in the unregulated market, where there’s market forces determining a lot of prices, resource allocation, etc. … “In the socialist system,” Lamb said, “the state determines what’s to be produced, the prices, etc. “In a market economy, the market with the forces of supply and demand determines what is the most appropriate pricing.
“Steiner’s approach,” he said, “is that prices come out of a collaborative conversation between the producers, distributors and consumers. To determine what should be produced, you talk to the consumers. The pricing results from the real needs of the producers and the disposable income of the consumers. So it comes out of a dialog. “A modern-day example of that is Community Supported Agriculture, where the farmers converse with the consumers and the community members, asking what kind of vegetables they want, how much, etc., and that’s kind of an annual conversation,” Lamb said. “And also the farmers need to convey to the community what they need as producers.
I’d say it’s a much more transparent and open system. “You’re confronted with your decisions,” he said. “If you want a product of a certain quality, and the producer says what it will cost to produce it, then you as a consumer are confronted with what that means for the producer and his ability to produce it, and this also brings in an environmental consciousness, so it elevates this whole thing into very conscious dynamics.”
Another aspect of Steiner’s approach to economics, Lamb said, is the social aspect of motivation. “Today economics is based on self-interested behavior and the profit motive,” he said. The idea is: “The more you can convince people to work out of self-interest, the more they’ll produce, and the better off society will be.” But Steiner’s approach, Lamb said, is that “the more people work out of interest in other people, the greater the well-being of society will be.” Lamb called this Steiner’s Fundamental Social Law. To support this, Steiner refers to the Animal Kingdom.
In bees and beehives, you see a huge amount of cooperation, Lamb said. “Steiner referred to Prince Kropotkin, who wrote about cooperation in the animal world,” he said. “Where there is cooperation, they are much more productive. But it’s also found in the human kingdom. “Our modern economy is based on the principle of division of labor,” he said. “Nobody is working for themselves – we’re all making a piece of a product. Look at an assembly line: Everyone contributes to the whole.” While the human species has achieved cooperation outwardly, for instance in the various specializations of the medical profession,” we now need to achieve it inwardly,” Lamb said. “We have to bring back the experience of the whole, rather than just think of personal profit.”
For contemporary examples of this, he suggested looking at CSAs, community land trusts and the ethical banking movement. While in the modern market economy, the decision of whether to give a loan is based on the expected return, in ethical banking it’s determined by how well giving the loan will help society or the environment.
“For Rudolf Steiner, it’s not just about changing outer structures,” Lamb said. “The people involved have to go through inner transformation. You can create useful structures, but if people are antisocial, nothing will change.”
It’s also important to look at the whole of society, he said. In the Steinerian view, society consists of three realms, economic life, cultural life and legal/political life. “All three are equally important and have their own dynamics that are valid in their own spheres,” he said. “No one of them should dominate the others.” The root cause of World War I was the transgression of economic power into politics, Lamb said. “Our political life became more concerned with economic interests than with human life,” he said. “Steiner said that unless we find a way that each one of the sectors can function on its own basis and not be dominated by another, we’ll continue to have unrest. Wars will continue until we can find a way to honor all three sectors.”
An example of this kind of problem, Lamb said, is that we try to use economic thinking to solve educational problems. A few years back, he attended a school administrators’ meeting. “The governor at the time came in,” Lamb said. “He said, “I’ve just come from a meeting of business leaders, and they were telling me about what needs to be done about education.” I was thinking, ‘what if he came to our meeting first and we started railing about how businesses should be run?’ We shouldn’t be asking business leaders to tell us what should be done in the classroom.”
Lamb and Hearn put the book together to be helpful both for people who don’t know anything about Steiner’s ideas, and for people who are well versed in them and want to go deeper. The book contains a lot of information not easily available in the English-speaking world, he said. At the end of the book there is a resource chapter that lists people and organizations working directly out of Steiner’s ideas.
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