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The hug economy

The hug economy

By Paco Puche

“The idea of ​​a market that regulates itself was a purely utopian idea. An institution like this could not exist in a lasting way without annihilating the human substance and the nature of society, without destroying man and without transforming his ecosystem into a desert ”, said Polanyi in his famous work The Great Transformation published in 1944, in which he explained the collapse of nineteenth-century capitalism and the tragic events of the first half of the twentieth century.


Following the preferences of Federico Aguilera (who has requested my introductory contribution to this book on the new economy, which is also culture, of water), I begin by quoting Mishan in order to explain what the author intends with this text: to set himself the task of "Convince people of the need for a radical change in the usual way of observing economic events (knowing) that ideas that seem at first to be doomed to political impotence, can have a deep impact on ordinary men and women."

Economics as a discipline has had different foundations throughout its particular history, although at present that mode that we call neoliberal seems to dominate. This model is based on conceiving the market as an instrument and institution with self-regulatory capacity and on considering society as the sum of individuals who, taken one by one, know what they are doing: they are sovereign and no one should dictate their behavior when they buy, which are not others than obtaining the maximum profit.

“The idea of ​​a market that regulates itself was a purely utopian idea. An institution like this could not exist in a lasting way without annihilating the human substance and the nature of society, without destroying man and without transforming his ecosystem into a desert ”, said Polanyi in his famous work The Great Transformation published in 1944, in which he explained the collapse of nineteenth-century capitalism and the tragic events of the first half of the twentieth century.

His strong thesis was that this fall was not the result of wars or socialism or fascism or the laws of the economy but of "the measures adopted by society to avoid being annihilated by the action of the self-regulating market" because He added, "the true criticism that can be made of the market society is not that it is based on the economic, but that its economy rests on personal interest." Sociability is so fundamental that this attempt to scatter its components is, in the long run, unsuccessful.

That kind of ‘petitio principii’ that upholds the “natural” character of exchange and barter has rather been a very rare human inclination, as anthropology has not stopped showing us. Therefore, the market is an institution created by society and subject to specific rules according to the times. There are different types of markets and to speak of a “free market” is somewhat contradictory. It is fair to conclude with Bromley that “(the) market does not exist. Rather, there are many, many ways to build domains of exchange, each one reflecting previous collective expressions and notions of who counts and what is valuable and useful ”. That is why Federico Aguilera makes the intention not to tire of insisting "to distinguish between markets as mechanisms and the institutional framework - or rules of the game - under which those mechanisms operate."

If F.H. Knight when he states: “no specifically human motive is economic”; we can say that these mobiles are basically social. And boldly advancing along this path led by Humberto Maturana we can affirm that we have remained blind not to see the obvious which is that “love is the emotion that constitutes the domain of actions in which sharing food, recurring interactions in a coexistence in sensuality and tenderness, as well as the collaboration of the male in the care of the children, could take place as a way of life that, through its conservation in the primate lineage to which we belong, made possible the recurrent consensual behavioral coordination that gave rise to language ", and conclude with Maturana himself that" we maintain not only that love is the basic emotion in the configuration of the human in the evolution of the lineage of bipedal primates to which we belong, but also that biological evolution it does not take place under competitive pressure, or in a process of maximizing selective advantages, even though one can always speak after teriori as if it had been the case after constructing a particular phylogenetic history ”. As seen closely echoes of Lynn Margulis and her symbiotic Planet resonate.

From a conception of the economy as a “natural”, individualistic, self-regulating and selfish entity, we have moved on to another way of understanding the economy as a communal, instituted, cooperative and emotional reality.

If the definition of L. Robbins, that economics is the science of scarce resources that can be applied to various ends, we pass through the gaze of Geogescu-Röegen, we know that scarcity has to do with the second principle of thermodynamics which means that “we cannot use a given quantity of low entropy more than once”, but in terms of ends, the economy cannot remain within that wide range of possibilities: it is necessary to specify.

For Georgescu-Röegen “the primary objective of economic activity is the conservation of the human species” and “the exit from the economic process is not an outflow of waste but the pleasure of living. This question represents the second difference between this process and the entropic advance of the material environment. Without acknowledging this fact and without introducing the concept of pleasure in living into our analytical weapons, we are not in the economic world, nor can we discover the true source of economic value, which is the value that life has for each individual who is life-bearing.

K. Boulding, back in the seventies of last century, discovered the economy of love, that plethora of donations or one-way transfers that arise from love and whose specific function is social integration. Moreover, he considers that the instability of capitalism can come from certain delegitimization of exchange that can take place because of strong preferences for integrative relationships that are much more satisfactory, personally, than the mere exchange for money.


As we will have to face the realities that the metaphor "the space vehicle earth" suggests, sooner or later (today rather soon) we will have to move to a system of recycling materials and the use of solar energy. In this necessary transition, he confesses that “my own values ​​strongly incline me towards a society in which donations and especially reciprocity, play an important role; in which the sense of community is strong, but also in which the community encourages freedom and individuality. (…) The theory of the donation economy is a modest foundation for the ideology of the future. I believe that without this foundation the ideology that will guide us towards the future cannot be built ”.

Investigating the success or failure of a certain economic model, from the perspective of this economy of love, will have to do with the greater or lesser happiness that it brings to the population as a whole and not with that model in which what is measured it is the increase in the production of “goods and services”, which does not usually go into the details of what are “goods” and what are evils, nor in the “services” that are harmful - as is the case of manufacturing cluster bombs and teach how to handle them-, nor wonder between who the products are distributed and at whose expense -here would have to count on other generations and other living beings to do the complete accounts-.

Assimilating the happiness survey to consumer preferences when buying, assuming their sovereignty, is inappropriate because both production, propaganda, and market rules are on the side of the richest and most powerful companies. That the beverage that is consumed the most in the world is the one that is spent the most in propaganda shows how far the much vaunted consumer free choice goes. The so-called 'Say's law', that supply creates its own demand, is only true in practice if it is given good help.

All the works that C. Hamilton gathers in his work The growth fetish (2006) related to the well-being and happiness of people show that, once basic needs are solved, if our relationships improve we feel happy, if our bank balance improves , no.

In the case of the ‘Americans’, the following diagram is quite explicit:


It is clearly seen that, while in the last 50 years the incomes of Americans have risen significantly, the percentage of people who say they feel happy has not changed in that time (it has remained around 30%). There is a clear disconnect between well-being, happiness and increased income.

Tomi Ungerer's story The Three Bandits (1963) tells the story of three ruthless highway robbers who unceremoniously accumulate wealth, but who, in one of their activities, find the unexpected: a defenseless girl orphan sleeping at the bottom of a carriage. They fall from the horse, are seized with tenderness, take the sleeping girl in their arms and shelter her in their den. The story concludes with the three ferocious bandits denying their past and dedicating the rest of their lives to caring for helpless children.

During the 1970s, a protest movement emerged in the upper Himalayas, led by village women, to prevent logging companies from destroying the forests. The women hugged the trees and claimed that the forests were not storehouses of wood but a source of ecological security.

In 1981 the government imposed a ban on logging in the Himalayas. "With that act of hugging the trees as members of their own family, ordinary women managed to mobilize energies more powerful than those of the police and the brute force of the logging interests combined," Vandana Shiva tells us in her last book titled Manifesto for a Democracy of the Earth (2006). This is known as the ‘Chipko’ Movement, because this term means hug.

At this point we have ended up talking about three economies: the economy of markets, the economy of love and the economy of nature; We can call these last two economies of embrace and could be symbolized in the drawing of the tender bandit. Vandana Shiva in the aforementioned book also speaks of the three economies:

The economy of nature, which is the first and primary one on which all the others rest. It is what ecological economics says that the economic sphere is a subsystem of the biosphere.

The livelihood economy, which is the one practiced by the two-thirds of humanity that are dedicated to artisanal production, peasant agriculture, fishing and the indigenous management of forests and which also includes all those areas in which Human beings produce in balance with nature and reproduce society through collaboration, mutuality and reciprocity, that is to say, embrace.

And the economy of markets, which the author says there are two types: some rooted in society, who are at the service of people and they are the ones who give them the form and the rules and who become places of exchange. , meeting and culture; and others configured by capital that excludes people as producers and in which "greed, profitability and consumption take the place of people's needs", or as Adam Smith said, back in 1785, " those who have the greatest interest in defrauding and imposing themselves on the public are those who often dictate the regulation of commerce ”.

The 'Chipko' Movement represents very well this economy that I have called the embrace and that links with the economy of love of Boulding and Maturana, with that of the aims of Georgescu-Röegen, with the economy of nature and the livelihood of Vandana Shiva , because these women hugging the trees express love, brotherhood, dependence on forests, reverence for nature and struggle for life.

The image of the amorous bandit would be his best banner, as we have already seen. As Naredo sums up, "it would be a matter of establishing a new kind of 'pantheism' that would restore respect for the complex systems that make up the biosphere and natural resources" (Economic Development and Ecological Deterioration, 1999).

The new water economy that Federico Aguilera proposes is among these same paradigms and sensitivities. He, along with a few others, has been the one who has invented what we now commonly call the new water culture. The word culture, in Sanskrit, refers to those activities that hold a society or a community together. Therefore, if the new water economy is impregnated with this new culture, we are necessarily talking about creating links.

Indeed, it is enough to read what the new water culture consists of for the author of this book, to see what we have said: “a new water culture rests on three basic pillars. Ecosystem management (water and territory management) (…), that is, insertion of the economy within the limits of ecosystems; improvement of knowledge and change of mentality, which requires changing the questions (…) and, finally, deepening in a democratic decision-making that counts with the people ”.

The new water economy for those who, like Federico, defend this new paradigm (with new visions, new questions and new solutions) consists of a complex economy or a living economy: an economy that unites nature (ecosystems), the sustenance (the territory and the people) and markets. An economy that is both public (institutions), private (markets) and social (community and participatory democracy).

As Vandana Shiva defines it, “living economies are created with nature and through solidarity between people”.

When Federico defines water as an economic, ecological and social asset, he is talking about the three economies. When Javier Martínez Gil talks about ‘fluviofelicidad’ he is talking about the economy of the hug.

There is no abstract economy, outside of time and space, but what exists is a historical economy, inserted in the biosphere and built by a society. As Mishan said at the beginning of this heterodox prologue, this new paradigm may be that radical change necessary in the observation of economic events, which one day may penetrate the thoughts of ordinary men and women.

I open this book, dedicated to water, the economy, the paradigm shift, democracy with the people, and many more things by hugging my friend Federico Aguilera, with whom I am doing this exciting journey together.

Paco puche, Bookseller and ecologist. Foreword to the latest book by Federico Aguilera Klink, The New Water Economy (Madrid: Libros de la Catarata, 2008), in which it is stated that water fulfills different functions, as an ecological, economic and social asset that, in addition to being necessary, they have to be compatible. Collaborator of EL OBSERVADOR / www.revistaelobservador.com


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