Book Review: ECONOMICS UNMASKED
From power and greed to compassion and the common good
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD
- Fullerton Observer, Mid Feb 2012, p 14
- Surf City Voice, 29 Jan 2012
If you are looking for a passionless primer on modern economics spouting platitudes about how western style capitalism, unregulated markets and globalization are fail proof and good for all, this book is not for you.
If, instead, your guts tell you something is seriously amiss when the gulf between the rich and the poor is ever widening and the health of the planet is on a steady decline, then you will find this book vital and loaded with truths.
The authors are a physicist and an economist who joined forces in this exposé on how the predominant economic paradigm driving the world’s economies today is based on less-than-lofty values: greed, competition and accumulation. These values are so universally sanctioned that no apology is deemed necessary even though it can be shown that wealth accumulated through such a system leads to immeasurable human injustices and environmental ills.
The book discusses how this paradigm fosters rapid economic expansion “at any cost” to people or the planet. It is fed by the uncontrolled consumption of fossil fuels and a belief that consumerism is the path to happiness. Furthermore, the paradigm functions to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a small minority.
Several myths underlying the economic system, which have successfully evaded scrutiny, are also brought to light. Most fundamental is the notion that perpetually increasing economic growth and production are a necessity, and even possible, on a finite planet. A case is made that such magical thinking is the root cause of global warming and depletion of natural resources including oil and gas, fresh water and biodiversity. The authors warn of the inevitable environmental crash in our future if a more sustainable economic system is not adopted.
Other myths debunked include the views that globalization is inevitable and the only route to development and that competition and integration into the world economy are necessarily good for poor nations. We are reminded, for example, that the natural resources of poorer nations are very often plundered and their local industries destroyed by rich nations under the pretext of globalization. In addition, democracy takes a back seat to corporate power when international institutions like the World Trade Organization dictate laws and regulations that nations need follow which effectively enable corporations to “rule the world.”
An over-arching theme of this book is the de-humanization of mainstream economics, where the GNP (gross national product) is revered as the ultimate indicator of a nation’s progress, when in reality the GNP has become detached from the real measures of a nation’s success: the health and economic security of its peoples and their freedom to act in pursuit of their own best interests. The authors stress that a shift to a humanized economy will necessitate that culturally approved values of greed, competition and accumulation be replaced by solidarity, cooperation and compassion.
The key premises upon which a humanized economy would need to be based are also laid out. Among them are realizations that the purpose of the economy is to serve the needs of people and not the reverse, that the economy takes place within the biosphere so permanent growth is impossible, and that reverence for life trumps all other economic interests.
Although “Economics Unmasked” was written just before the Occupy or 99 Percent movements had names or affiliates, it’s fair to say they seem drawn from the same wellspring of moral outrage over the social and environmental injustices attributable to the prevailing economic model. The fundamental difference perhaps is that the book authors’ academic backgrounds enabled them to lay out a forceful imperative for and roadmap to a more moral economic paradigm whereas, accurate or not, Occupy and 99 Percent have been criticized for lacking clear messages and solutions.
Activists within these movements, as well as sympathetic onlookers, would no doubt benefit from reading this book to help them better articulate both their grievances with the status quo and proposals for change. And to those who might take offense at any criticism of capitalism, know that this book is in no way a blanket indictment of capitalism, just of its recent incarnation.
The authors are Philip B. Smith, a recently deceased physicist who recognized that the discipline of economics lacks the value-free pursuit of truth ideally embraced by hard sciences like physics, and Manfred Max-Neef, an academic economist who, when confronted with poverty in the flesh, became a dissident of mainstream economics upon realizing that everything he’d been taught left him bereft of any real understanding of poverty and its solutions.
“Economics Unmasked” was published in 2011 in the United Kingdom by Green Books.
An excellent review of an important book! So it’s true; the science of Economics isn’t all dismal, nor is it populated solely by dismal people. There is hope!
We respectfully desire to introduce you to Socioeconomic Democracy, an advanced socioeconomic system that can and eventually will significantly help to realize all humanity’s legitimate thirst for universal justice, democracy, peace and well being. We commit to being available for any assistance, clarification, further general development, and specific application the reader may desire and request. We invite you to participate in the democratic resolution of all the unnecessary interlinked problems of society.
As John Kenneth Galbraith laconically observed, “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” May we think! Unexpected (by some) and certainly right on cue, the global Occupy and 99% movements emphatically present the necessity and inevitability of Fundamental Global Change.
The incompatible clamor for reduction of national, state, regional and municipal monetary debt, while insisting upon the provision of increased necessary governmental services for the already rich or hapless poor; the demand for reduced local crime and killings with “cost-saving” and “deficit-reduction” police layoffs, while tolerating/advocating increased global crime and killings with mercenary/military-industrial buildup; the plethora of unearned bonuses of nearsighted Banksters and brutal bludgeoning of necessary Budgets; the crescendo of cries for “unregulated” personal profit possibilities attempting to drown out the chorus seeking safe working conditions in dangerous, life-threatening and life-killing employment; the demand for more jobs, while neglecting the onslaught of economically efficient (and profitable, for whom?) technological advancement; the truly sad yet farcical salary conflicts between private and public sector wage earners, unionized or otherwise, surreptitiously encouraged by the economically comfortable who, equipped with “theoretically justifying Economics Science textbooks” care about the welfare of neither; the increasingly familiar statistic that the “top” 1% of most any population controls more wealth than the “bottom” 90%, serving as a point of pride for a non-thinking citizenry of a laudably self-interested society espousing a contempt for a meaningful minimum wage; the stupid confusion between Income and Wealth; the increasing quibble between those who claim raising the retirement age and those who suggest reducing the retirement age can “help” solve the “lack of jobs” problem, while neither side considers either the advancement in automation or the rape and reduction in natural resources; the purposefully personally profitable neglecting of the impossibility of unlimited growth on a limited planet, so-called “offshoring” of jobs and personal/corporate profits; unconscionable Empires; unconscious politicians; vulture vs. venture capitalism; and on and on, all add to the confusion and deadly conflict of humanity.
Clear and unambiguous definition of these and numerous other critical matters is, of course, essential, if meaningful progress is to be realized. The definition of Socioeconomic Democracy, an advanced, fundamentally just and democratic socioeconomic system follows. It is on the basis of this definition of Socioeconomic Democracy that a straightforward psycho-politico-socio-economic Platform can be and has been articulated. It is the case that peacefully progressive political parties about the globe are now considering locally appropriate forms of this Democratic Socioeconomic Platform for adoption.
Socioeconomic Democracy is a theoretically consistent and practically implementable socioeconomic system wherein there exist both some form and amount of locally appropriate Universally Guaranteed Personal Income and some form and amount of locally appropriate Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth, with both the lower bound on personal material poverty and the upper bound on personal material wealth set and adjusted democratically by all participants of that democratic society.
As described at length elsewhere, Socioeconomic Democracy both creates economic incentive and provides necessary monetary funds to cause significant reduction in an almost surprisingly diverse array of unnecessary yet painful and deadly individual, societal and global problems. These problems are produced by currently inadequate, inaccurate and/or inconsistent assumptions, theories and practices of contemporary economics and politics. These unnecessary problems can be eliminated by a thoughtful and resolute application of meaningful democracy.
These intimately intertwined problems include (but are by no means limited to) those familiar ones associated with: automation, computerization and robotization; budget deficits and national debts; bureaucracy; maltreatment of children; crime and punishment; development, sustainable or otherwise; ecology, environment, resources and pollution; education; the elderly; farcical “free-market” fantasies, the feminine majority; inflation; international conflict; intranational conflict; involuntary employment; involuntary unemployment; labor strife and strikes; sick medical and health care; military metamorphosis; natural disasters; pay justice; planned obsolescence; political participation; poverty; racism; sexism; untamed technologies; and the General Welfare.
Memorably expressing his mixed emotions regarding the troubling topic, Sir Winston did indeed observe “that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.” From Aeons before Churchill to this very day, humans and their ancestors have grappled with the virtues and vices of tyrannies and “class warfare” imposed by individual dictators, small groups of elites, sizable minorities and large majorities.
A successfully functioning Democracy requires, by definition, at least a majority of informed and thoughtful citizens participating in the political process in a wide variety of ways, ranging from essential theoretical developments to myriad practical activities. Those interested in contributing, in any sense, to the further development and realization of the ideas and benefits presented here, which are applicable throughout the world, are urged to get in contact with us, when you are ready. We further wish to reiterate our desire and determination to collaborate with all other individuals and organizations committed to all the other necessary aspects of the general survival and healthy developmental challenge confronting the human race.
The following are a few relevant links connecting to material describing the evolution and exposition of the theory and practice of Socioeconomic Democracy:
1) Center for the Study of Democratic Societies
2) Socioeconomic Democracy: An Advanced Socioeconomic System
3) “A Democratic Socioeconomic Platform, in search of a Democratic Political Party”
4) “Socioeconomic Democracy: A Nonkilling, Life-Affirming and Enhancing Psycho-Politico-Socio-Economic System”
Global Nonkilling Working Paper #4|2010
5) “Socioeconomic Democracy: A Nonkilling, Life-Affirming and Enhancing Psycho-Politico-Socio-Economic System”
Also appearing in PelicanWeb’s Journal of Sustainable Development
6) “Introducing a Socioeconomic Democracy”
Prepared for Pakistan Futuristics Institute Silver Jubilee Publication: 4
Islamabad, Pakistan, 8 May 2011.
This article includes an analysis of the many similarities and a few minor differences between Socioeconomic Democracy and Zakat, one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
7) A list of the historical development of the ideas of Socioeconomic Democracy, as presented by this writer, starting in 1968, is available at
8) A Biography of this writer is available at
Robley E. George
Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Societies
Coordinador, Nonkilling Economics and Business Research Committee