Micah Saul: This project is built on a hypoth­e­sis. There are moments in his­to­ry when the sta­tus quo fails. Political sys­tems prove insuf­fi­cient, reli­gious ideas unsat­is­fac­to­ry, social struc­tures intol­er­a­ble. These are moments of crisis. 

Aengus Anderson: During some of these moments, great minds have entered into con­ver­sa­tion and torn apart inher­it­ed ideas, dethron­ing truths, com­bin­ing old thoughts, and cre­at­ing new ideas. They’ve shaped the norms of future generations.

Saul: Every era has its issues, but do ours war­rant The Conversation? If they do, is it happening?

Anderson: We’ll be explor­ing these sorts of ques­tions through con­ver­sa­tions with a cross-section of American thinkers, peo­ple who are cri­tiquing some aspect of nor­mal­i­ty and offer­ing an alter­na­tive vision of the future. People who might be hav­ing The Conversation.

Saul: Like a real con­ver­sa­tion, this project is going to be sub­jec­tive. It will fre­quent­ly change direc­tions, con­nect unex­pect­ed ideas, and wan­der between the tan­gi­ble and the abstract. It will leave us with far more ques­tions than answers because after all, nobody has a monop­oly on dream­ing about the future.

Anderson: I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul. And you’re lis­ten­ing to The Conversation.

Aengus Anderson: Are you ready to talk about mis­fits? Not like, the punk band, but—

Micah Saul: Damn. I was seri­ous­ly just about to start singing Last Caress.”

Anderson: Oh, you know one of their song names. You are so much fur­ther ahead of me.

Saul: [sings] I got some­thing to say…

Anderson: Let us nev­er speak of them again. No one’s going to take us seri­ous­ly now. And that’s prob­a­bly good.

Saul: Let’s talk about mis­fits. Or specif­i­cal­ly, let’s talk about the mis­fit economy.

Anderson: This con­ver­sa­tion is with Alexa Clay, and she’s in the process coau­thor­ing a book called The Misfit Economy, look­ing at pirates, hack­ers, gang­sters, pris­ons. All sorts of places in the under­ground, where peo­ple are dis­trib­ut­ing goods, mak­ing goods, con­sum­ing goods, very differently.

Saul: Right. These weird black mar­kets, but also gray mar­ket economies that have arisen on the fringes of the main­stream mar­ket economy.

Anderson: Yeah. Typically, economies that have appeared in des­per­ate sit­u­a­tions. And I think a big part of the premise is of course that in those sit­u­a­tions you see a lot of innovation. 

Saul: So, yes. Alexa Clay. As you said, she’s writ­ing this book about these economies. She also works for Ashoka Changemakers. And she’s a fair­ly pro­lif­ic writer, writ­ing pieces for Fast Company, Forbes, Wired, Guardian. And actu­al­ly, we saw her speak in New York when we were both there all those many moons ago.

Anderson: Yes. It was at WFMU’s Radiovision con­fer­ence, and she was talk­ing about pira­cy. We thought, Ah. That would be real­ly cool to bring into The Conversation.” You know, we’ve talked a lot about big­ger eco­nom­ic sys­tems. Let’s talk about these real­ly small, scrap­py eco­nom­ic sys­tems and see how do they change the con­ver­sa­tion. Do they? Or are they just cap­i­tal­ism writ small? Or greed and growth writ small. So let’s dive into it.

Alexa Clay: I think I’ve always tried to under­stand real­ly the ori­gins of things, and was very inter­est­ed [in] eco­nom­ic his­to­ry and real­ly see­ing eco­nom­ic his­to­ry as a way of com­bat­ing just how closed-off our cur­rent ways of think­ing around the econ­o­my have become. And so I looked it ideas from the 17th and 18th cen­tu­ry. You know, ear­ly eco­nom­ic thinkers, that were real­ly more philoso­phers, who thought about the econ­o­my as this vast project of how do we think about well­be­ing? How do we think about hap­pi­ness? How do we all think about our dif­fer­ent roles with­in the econ­o­my as a reflec­tion of the soci­ety that we’re try­ing to create?

So, that’s where I guess my real inter­est in the econ­o­my came from, was real­ly a rebel­lion toward sort of tra­di­tion­al eco­nom­ics. And got more and more think­ing around peo­ple that are mar­gin­al­ized from the core econ­o­my. People that tra­di­tion­al econ­o­mists and eco­nom­ic his­to­ri­ans don’t real­ly look at. And so that brought me into con­ver­sa­tion with gang­sters, with polit­i­cal agi­ta­tors, with peo­ple on the fringes, basi­cal­ly, try­ing to under­stand what what are those moti­va­tions? We have this idea of sort of ratio­nal self-interest with­in eco­nom­ics. But how dif­fer­ent cul­tures and dif­fer­ent kinds of economies get cre­at­ed around the world with­in the black mar­ket sys­tem, or with the infor­mal economy?

Aengus Anderson: What about the tra­di­tion­al econ­o­my or tra­di­tion­al eco­nom­ic the­o­ry? Which of course those things seem like they’re prob­a­bly not even that close­ly relat­ed, but—

Clay: Yeah

Anderson: —we’ll talk about them as if they were. And then we can break apart lat­er if we want. But the tra­di­tion­al econ­o­my. What about that seemed like it need­ed to be cri­tiqued to you?

Clay: I think at a fun­da­men­tal lev­el I just believe in human agency. And I think that every­one should feel like they can par­tic­i­pate and shape the econ­o­my, rather than feel like they’re expe­ri­enc­ing symp­toms of the econ­o­my. When the reces­sion hap­pened, there was all this chat­ter around well, the Fed is going to do this. Or the banks are going to do this. And gov­ern­ment is going to do this. And there was no nar­ra­tive around what peo­ple are going to do. Or how we could sort of rise up togeth­er and do things a bit dif­fer­ent­ly in terms of man­u­fac­tur­ing, or in terms of alter­na­tive ener­gy, or in terms of build­ing more resilient com­mu­ni­ties. There was just…there was­n’t that kind of con­ver­sa­tion hap­pen­ing. And so I think my inter­est is real­ly in broad­en­ing the idea of the econ­o­my so that more peo­ple can feel like they’re includ­ed in the conversation.

Anderson: Why do you think the econ­o­my seems like this kind of deus ex machi­na thing that’s just kind of doing stuff off in the dis­tance and we’re vic­tims of?

Clay: From a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, it has­n’t always been that way. A lot of peo­ple point to the sort of…this mar­gin­al turn, right. When peo­ple became real­ly pre­oc­cu­pied with this idea of util­i­ty. And towards the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry when econ­o­mists real­ly began to be focused far more on tak­ing ideas from sci­ence, from dis­ci­plines like physics, and apply­ing them to eco­nom­ics. And so as eco­nom­ics tried to become more sci­en­tif­ic and play the game of parad­ing itself around as a sci­ence, it real­ly lost the abil­i­ty to actu­al­ly cater to a more ground­ed, human kind of con­ver­sa­tion. A con­ver­sa­tion about dis­tri­b­u­tion of resources. A con­ver­sa­tion about how we should sort of run our indus­tries or think about inno­va­tion. It became much more math­e­mat­i­cal dur­ing that time.

Anderson: How does that math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­la actu­al­ly apply to what’s going on in the real world? Does it describe it rea­son­ably well?

Clay: I don’t think it does. I think it depends who you talk to. I’ve always been real­ly sus­pi­cious of dis­ci­plines that try and dis­tance them­selves so much from what they’re study­ing, this sort of move towards objec­tiv­i­ty to me, when you’re with­in a dis­ci­pline that real­ly touch­es peo­ple’s lives. Interest rates cor­re­late with our own moods, for example. 

So, one of the biggest things that inter­ests me about the econ­o­my is this rela­tion­ship between these mas­sive trends and how we feel as peo­ple at an indi­vid­ual lev­el. I think most peo­ple, when they feel things that they think are real­ly subjective—you know, they have all these dif­fer­ent kinds of emo­tion­al states. I think a lot of that is tied to eco­nom­ic events that are out­side of their con­trol. And there’s not a real­ly good under­stand­ing of how these dynam­ics work togeth­er. How these objec­tive phe­nom­e­na begin to influ­ence our sub­jec­tive wellbeing. 

The best exam­ple is per­haps look­ing at ideas of con­sump­tion. So, you can look at objec­tive indi­ca­tors of what it means for us to be in the sort of age of affluen­za, or this consumption-based soci­ety, and you can see that under those con­di­tions peo­ple become more short-termis. You can see that play out in terms of the kinds of returns that com­pa­nies are look­ing at, or even sort of hedo­nis­tic things that peo­ple will do, want­i­ng to buy some­thing now rather than wait till later.

Anderson: And that’s in a consumption-based economy?

Clay: Yeah.

Anderson: So, you might not see that in a more production-based economy?

Clay: Yeah. I think that’s right. I think because of this consumption-based econ­o­my, you can see increas­es in peo­ple’s unhap­pi­ness, right. This has been well doc­u­ment­ed. But I think that’s some­thing that’s real­ly excit[ing] about the econ­o­my that we’re switch­ing into, which is more about this sort of mak­er spir­it. This this idea that every­one can har­ness or become a pro­duc­tive agent with­in the economy.

And so, I think that sense of not only this idea of mak­ing increas­es hap­pi­ness, but you real­ly belong to some­thing. You feel like you actu­al­ly have a sense of pur­pose. And I think every­one should have that oppor­tu­ni­ty. Everyone should feel a sense of belong­ing, feel like they’re active­ly shap­ing some­thing. That they’re not this pas­sive respon­dent to these eco­nom­ic forces. 

Anderson: This makes me think of the fourth per­son I spoke to in this project, who was Colin Camerer, the neuroeconomist.

Clay: Yeah

Anderson: We start­ed with a lit­tle bit of neu­roe­co­nom­ics and talk­ing about how clas­si­cal eco­nom­ic the­o­ries don’t take into account psy­chol­o­gy, basi­cal­ly. And that as we are learn­ing more and more about psy­chol­o­gy, we’re able to get a bet­ter sense of how peo­ple make choic­es. Is that some­thing that’s moti­vat­ed your work as well, as you’ve start­ed think­ing about the econ­o­my? Were you influ­enced by neu­roe­co­nom­ics in any way?

Clay: Definitely. I think neu­roe­co­nom­ics is some­thing that owes a lot to his­toric the­o­ries of the mind and the econ­o­my. And so, when you say that psy­chol­o­gy has­n’t real­ly been this bed­fel­low of eco­nom­ics, it real­ly has, and maybe they sort of sep­a­rat­ed and became divid­ed. But back in the 17th and 18th cen­turies, the foun­da­tions of eco­nom­ics was based on psy­chol­o­gy, was based on a lot of rich insight from the sort of moral sci­ences of the time. And I think that’s what’s real­ly inter­est­ing. Because I don’t think you can design an econ­o­my with­out fac­tor­ing in human beings, and with­out fac­tor­ing in how human beings are going to feel with­in a cer­tain situation.

I think neu­roe­co­nom­ics is pos­si­bly used more for sort of hypo­thet­i­cal sit­u­a­tions. I would fault it for that. It’s more descrip­tive in ambi­tion. So it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly dis­cov­er­ing new mod­els and how we would actu­al­ly live and be with­in those mod­els. It’s more real­ly try­ing to fal­si­fy cer­tain ideas or under­stand­ings of human beings. But it’s done a lot to say hey, we have empa­thy. But you know, 17th cen­tu­ry thinkers thought we had empa­thy, too.

Anderson: So, we talked about the cur­rent sys­tem lead­ing peo­ple to maybe feel a loss of agency with­in it. I want to flesh that out a lit­tle bit more and get into why that’s not a good thing.

Clay: I think human agency is just crit­i­cal to every­thing we do and all the illu­sions we have about free­dom and choice in democ­ra­cy. And I think what­ev­er it is that I end up doing, and I think what the mis­fit econ­o­my as a project is about, is actu­al­ly the first step in bring­ing human agency back into the equa­tion. Speaking to peo­ple who don’t have a voice in how the cur­rent econ­o­my works and yet are a vital com­po­nent of it. 

When you look at agency his­tor­i­cal­ly real­ly, and under­stand all great inno­va­tion is based on this prin­ci­ple of human agency, this idea of inven­tion, a thought occurs to us and we can try and bring it into the world. You know, life is short. We’re only leave here for a lit­tle while. And we all have some kind of respon­si­bil­i­ty to feel like we are con­tribut­ing in some capac­i­ty. So you don’t have to be an ego­ma­ni­a­cal sort of dic­ta­tor to under­stand what human agency is about.

Anderson: It can just pro­vide a type of ground­ing and mean­ing and…

Clay: Yeah. 

Anderson: So we’ve got this cri­tique of of the present, with a lack of agency. Let’s move into the pirate economies. The uncon­ven­tion­al economies. Let’s talk about a few of them first. 

Clay: So the mis­fit econ­o­my, it’s a label we just made up, real­ly. But it’s a sort of brand or iden­ti­ty that we think is pow­er­ful because for some rea­son every­one feels like an out­sider, at some lev­el. But the exam­ples that we explore in The Misfit Economy are real­ly folks in the black mar­kets, in the infor­mal, in the gray mar­ket economies. And so we talk about 18th cen­tu­ry pirates and under­stood how some of their egal­i­tar­i­an mod­els that they used to gov­ern their pirate ships are things that we could apply today. We were in India and we hung out with gang­sters in Mumbai and real­ly tried to under­stand what is moti­vat­ing them, how the life of a gang­ster was chang­ing, and the kinds of things they thought about.

One of the the best inter­views I had was recent­ly with King Tone, who is no longer allowed to go by that name, but is the leader of the Latin Kings out in New York, for a while. And when he was lead­ing the Latin Kings, he was try­ing to sort of piv­ot it as an orga­ni­za­tion to become much more of a social move­ment. And the cops at the time, the FBI, felt real­ly threat­ened by that. Because they would­n’t do it on the terms of the gov­ern­ment. And so in prison, he was read­ing a lot of peo­ple like Martin Luther King, peo­ple like Malcolm X. These oth­er kinds of social change heroes, and real­ly learn­ing from them, under­stand­ing from them, try­ing to fig­ure out his place with­in this land­scape. And com­ing out, it’s then hard, because every­one wants him to take up the reins of the gang again and go back to that life. And so he’s now this totally…he’s got this dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ty. And he’s got to fig­ure out for the first time how to play enough by the rules of the sys­tem so that he does­n’t get in trou­ble. That he can sort of prove him­self. While also help­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly youth. Folks that he real­ly iden­ti­fies with. Trying to get them more oppor­tu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­lar­ly eco­nom­ic ones. Trying to get them bet­ter inte­grat­ed into soci­ety. And just know­ing that the like­li­hood of that is very slim.

Anderson: So, what is the eco­nom­ic les­son we learned from him?

Clay: What he teach­es us is real­ly about change man­age­ment. He had inher­it­ed an orga­ni­za­tion. The for­mer leader, King Blood, basi­cal­ly had this rep­u­ta­tion for vio­lence. He had to total­ly rebrand this gang. And he built alliances. He reached out to local civic lead­ers. He reached out to church­es, to all these dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions, to real­ly cre­ate a dif­fer­ent mes­sage behind the Kings.

And what’s inter­est­ing is this start­ed out as a sort of inter­nal task force, this secret inter­nal task force with­in the Latin Kings. This kind of cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion, rebrand­ing, with­in the gang. And so it was­n’t him com­ing out say­ing, We need to do this.” But he worked and lis­ten to every dif­fer­ent bor­ough that he was rep­re­sent­ing, to fig­ure out how he could repo­si­tion this gang more along the lines of a cul­tur­al institution.

Anderson: I find it real­ly easy to relate to this sto­ry and go, I can now think of the gang as a com­mer­cial enti­ty,” right, as a busi­ness. But that is me apply­ing my under­stand­ing of the tra­di­tion­al busi­ness econ­o­my to a gang. How would I go the oth­er way around and say here’s some­thing that the gang does dif­fer­ent­ly that I can then apply to the tra­di­tion­al economy?

Clay: Well, I think one thing—two points, real­ly. One is that gangs, dur­ing their hey­day, they were mas­sive orga­ni­za­tion. A gang is no longer that. A lot of the heads of these orga­ni­za­tions have been tak­en out strate­gi­cal­ly by the FBI. So they’re now much small­er. And they oper­ate much more nim­bly. And so I think you had this mas­sive trend of big gangs, and you’ve seen this trend in big com­pa­nies. And how com­pa­nies are fac­ing sim­i­lar ideas about how they should actu­al­ly sort of down­size or spin off ele­ments. And this isn’t a direct what com­pa­nies can learn from gangs,” but the sort of tra­jec­to­ry of down­siz­ing that gangs have fol­lowed is now one that com­pa­nies are begin­ning to explore.

I think much more inter­est­ing is look­ing at gangs as learn­ing orga­ni­za­tions. Understanding how they learned. They actu­al­ly devel­oped, in the Kings, dif­fer­ent cur­ricu­lum around how to do things, around empow­er­ment, around just ideas, cul­ture. They have a whole reli­gion. And this is some­thing that I think com­pa­nies can apply, too, is actu­al­ly devel­op their capac­i­ty as learn­ing orga­ni­za­tions. And I think the whole approach to cur­ricu­lum devel­op­ment that the Kings had is one that oth­er orga­ni­za­tions could ben­e­fit from. And inter­est­ing­ly, now it’s one that King Tone is think­ing of how he can cre­ate a cur­ricu­lum for youth empow­er­ment, and actu­al­ly devel­op an inter­est­ing kind of pro­gram to do this in New York, and Brooklyn specif­i­cal­ly. So, not being tied to the gang, but it’s an inno­va­tion that hap­pened in the gang that he’s now using as a kind of civic program.

Anderson: You’ve looked at gangs. You’ve looked at pirates. You’ve looked at prison economies. Is there a cen­tral theme that you’re pulling from them in terms of how they might cri­tique the cur­rent econ­o­my we have? Has that informed your cri­tique of it?

Clay: Definitely. I think the whole thing we’re learn­ing in The Misfit Economy is around a greater spir­it of infor­mal­i­ty. And that’s some­thing that we see that orga­ni­za­tions today are in des­per­ate need of. Because they’ve become far too for­mal­ized and dehu­man­iz­ing, specif­i­cal­ly large cor­po­ra­tions. So, the pen­du­lum towards for­mal­iza­tion has just become far too strict. I think one of the great­est flaws with a lot of orga­ni­za­tions is they tend to cod­i­fy rules or prin­ci­ples that make sense for cer­tain deci­sion sce­nar­ios with­in a con­text. And then the con­text fades, and you still have that rule. It’s like junk DNA, except it’s still sort of infect­ing the cur­rent log­ic of the organization. 

Anderson: Some of the con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had in this series have real­ly got­ten into the under­ly­ing log­ic of mar­kets and of cap­i­tal­ism. And when I think about these mis­fit economies, it seems like they fit into that pret­ty well. They’re just like small­er ver­sions of big­ger cor­po­ra­tions. But it’s the same under­ly­ing mind­set of com­pe­ti­tion and get­ting ahead. Or am I mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing them.

Clay: I think cap­i­tal­ism isn’t this sort of mono­lith­ic thing. Capitalisms, plur­al, sort of exists. And so even with­in mis­fit economies, you find in cer­tain instances some­one is entire­ly self­ish in a sit­u­a­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it involves drugs. Like, you can see ways in which peo­ple are moti­vat­ed by mon­ey, and that’s a huge moti­va­tion. When we look at hack­er com­mu­ni­ties, you can see oth­er moti­va­tions at work.

Saul: I don’t think there’s one mod­el where you can say, These economies are con­form­ing to one sort of ide­al type that we have for cap­i­tal­ism at large.” But I think what’s inter­est­ing through The Misfit Economy is to explore all the diver­si­ty of economies that are real­ly out there and actu­al­ly see them reflect­ed in the main­stream econ­o­my, too. You know, it’s not like in the mis­fit econ­o­my is this total­ly oth­er sys­tem that we haven’t heard of. We’re all human beings, and economies evolve based on the design con­straint of the fact that we’re human. 

And I would­n’t even say that they’re all— You know, there are cer­tain mis­fit economies that are utter­ly sort of Marxist or offer some grand alter­na­tive. But yeah, I think they are small tweaks, or dif­fer­ent ways they think about gov­er­nance or moti­va­tion that can some­times be help­ful as a mir­ror to our cur­rent system.

Anderson: Wes Jackson was a thinker who I spoke to. We got into growth, and the fal­la­cy of growth; at some point lim­it­less growth in a finite sys­tem. Is there just a mad­ness in the genet­ics of our tra­di­tion­al eco­nom­ic sys­tem, where it kind of does­n’t know how to stop grow­ing. Like, to stop grow­ing would lead us to a ter­ri­ble eco­nom­ic prob­lem. Do these infor­mal economies or mis­fit economies help us with that, or are they fol­low­ing the same pat­terns of con­tin­u­al growth that the large econ­o­my is.

Clay: Yeah, and I think the growth con­ver­sa­tion is one that is real­ly inter­est­ing. I think par­tic­u­lar­ly when we look at dif­fer­ent kinds of com­mu­ni­ties that get formed, every­one defines progress dif­fer­ent­ly. And so if you believe in growth as a kind of progress, then you sign up for that game. But cer­tain­ly in the mis­fit econ­o­my there are oth­er games at work that peo­ple play by.

You know, hack­ers play by very—you know, it’s not like they’re try­ing to sort of grow, per se. Pirates, cer­tain­ly there’s a sense that booty, or increased rev­enue is a good thing. But they don’t have quite the same vari­ables around growth. And cer­tain­ly with gangs, you see gangs real­ly down­siz­ing and not want­i­ng to grow at the same lev­el. And it’s impos­si­ble now, real­ly, to often dis­tin­guish between social cap­i­tal and and gangs, because gangs have just become these sort of com­mu­ni­ty networks. 

There are def­i­nite­ly alter­na­tives to growth. I think the chal­lenge with growth, which is this awful pari­ah that every­one is plugged into, is to real­ly under­stand the alter­na­tive there. But it’s just so hard because growth is the game that every­one is play­ing. And you real­ly need to be able to make an alter­na­tive that is appeal­ing to peo­ple to get them to jump. From a psy­cho­log­i­cal per­spec­tive, if you have too much tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion or too much growth, peo­ple don’t adapt well. If you have too slow growth, peo­ple feel very stag­nant. So it affects peo­ple at a per­son­al level.

Anderson: Do you think they feel stag­nant because we’re sort of con­di­tioned to expect it? I’m think­ing like, if we were to tele­port into the Middle Ages, would they have felt stagnant?

Clay: Probably not, right, because you’re liv­ing for the after­world. So the idea of growth, your ori­en­ta­tion to it, real­ly depends on your rela­tion­ship with time and where you put your empha­sis. And I think a lot of cul­tures around the world today would­n’t even abide by the same idea or sense of progress that we have. 

And even in eco­nom­ics, it’s real­ly the most crass kind of progress that we’re look­ing for. We’re not look­ing for spir­i­tu­al progress. We’re not look­ing for growth and wis­dom, you know. We’re real­ly look­ing at growth in the worst terms, even in the most short-termist kinds of terms.

Anderson: So, there have been lots of peo­ple in this con­ver­sa­tion, the big con­ver­sa­tion of the project, throw­ing out dif­fer­ent ideas of progress. What’s your idea of progress?

Clay: I always real­ly resent­ed this idea of this sort of sense of there being a kind of telos that we’re sort of evolv­ing towards. This idea that there was some­thing uni­form­ly, nor­ma­tive­ly, bet­ter to strive for. I don’t think I have one defined idea of progress. I think at an inter­per­son­al lev­el, I like to be around or meet peo­ple that I think have real­ly com­mit­ted to their own evo­lu­tion and explo­ration, and feel sort of enriched. But I almost like anti-progress, in a lot of ways. I think under­stand­ing and pre­serv­ing those things that you don’t know makes for bet­ter knowl­edge, and for a bet­ter kind of per­son to be around. And I think we’re all so rushed—

Anderson: What do you mean by that?

Clay: Um, it’s kind of— I mean that’s the nature of Socratic wis­dom, real­ly, is just pre­serve those blind spots, you know. You need to pre­serve your igno­rance, and under­stand and bring empha­sis to those places where you are igno­rant, because that’s what makes you a bet­ter human being, a bet­ter decision-maker. We spend so much time try­ing to fig­ure every­thing out, and so lit­tle time actu­al­ly just con­tem­plat­ing things that we real­ly don’t know. And that’s real­ly important. 

And keep­ing those lev­els of uncer­tain­ty, I think that’s where every­thing comes from. I love the sort of Amish kind of fig­ure. Or some­one who could see progress more by the rela­tion­ships that they’re mak­ing, or all these oth­er ways, against this idea of tech­no­log­i­cal progress, or some­one who thinks we’re at the height of civ­i­liza­tion. I just don’t think that’s fair. I guess I can’t believe in progress because I have a belief in just fair­ness. And I feel like every­one should be enti­tled to their own idea of progress. And not even progress, but just be able to feel like they can cre­ate their own stan­dards for what’s impor­tant to them.

I don’t know. What would you think? Would you have an idea about where you’re try­ing to progress? I mean, it’s inter­est­ing, too. Like, even things like this. Often these kinds of radio shows or exper­i­ments that one takes, the less agen­da you have the bet­ter off you’re going to do. And so, if you can aban­don the idea of progress for some­thing like this, it often just…right?

Anderson: I com­plete­ly agree. I mean, that’s one of the lux­u­ries of being able to work on a project like this. And one of the rea­sons I sort of want­ed it to be the weird for­mat that it is. Because that makes explor­ing a lot of these things, on their own terms, easier. 

One of the things that I like about the series is it’s putting forth a lot of ideas of types of progress. Normally, talk about in terms of the good. What is the good, and how do you have a prac­ti­cal society-wide con­ver­sa­tion about the good? Does it always boil down to an ara­tional assump­tion (and whether you call that your notion of progress, or your notion of the good, or val­ue). And if it boils down to those, as it seems to do every time, can you have con­ver­sa­tion? And does con­ver­sa­tion matter?

Clay: And that’s what eco­nom­ic should be about. I mean, it’s one’s rela­tion­ship with the good. The econ­o­my is about a sys­tem of pro­vid­ing us with basic things so that we can live the good life. And then that becomes cor­rupt­ed by econ­o­mists to be this thing called util­i­ty. Which becomes then increas­ing­ly abstract­ed. But it’s real­ly that con­ver­sa­tion. Yeah, what is your rela­tion­ship? What are you try­ing to maximize?

Anderson: I spent a lot of time think­ing about the phi­los­o­phy under­neath eco­nom­ics. But not as eco­nom­ics being or need­ing to be in some way con­ver­sa­tion that is innate­ly philo­soph­i­cal. But I guess if you’re talk­ing about the dis­tri­b­u­tion of goods, then—

Clay: But it’s what you val­ue, right?

Anderson: Right. Right. And that’s… It’s that interesting—like the dou­ble use of the word val­ue,” right? It is both the val­ue with­in the econ­o­my, the val­ue as a moral thing with­in one’s under­stand­ing of the world. This makes me think of of the con­ver­sa­tion I was hav­ing with Douglas Rushkoff about quan­tifi­ca­tion. Going back to our more clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics the­o­ries, which quan­ti­fy a lot of things. And when those the­o­ries start to real­ly become nor­mal­ized every­where and you stop see­ing them as the­o­ries, and it just…the quan­tifi­ca­tion of eco­nom­ics, always think­ing in terms of price or quan­ti­ty, that can bleed over into quan­ti­fy­ing a lot of oth­er things. And maybe that makes it hard­er to have that con­ver­sa­tion about progress, about those oth­er forms of progress. 

Clay: This debate also hap­pens a lot with­in the NGO world, social entre­pre­neur­ship, what­ev­er you want to call it. As peo­ple try and think not only how do you mea­sure things like num­bers, prof­its, etc., but how do you mea­sure the good that you’re cre­at­ing. Maybe you’re sav­ing the envi­ron­ment, or you’re sav­ing” peo­ple of some dis­ease, or what­ev­er. How do you begin to mea­sure that? And I think the chal­lenge there is, once you begin to quan­ti­fy things, you intro­duce an idea of progress to a pro­gram, right. Because then you mea­sure your­self against things that you begin to mea­sure. So, you have these num­bers that then take pow­er away from peo­ple to actu­al­ly begin to change ele­ments of the program.

Yeah, I mean, I think quan­ti­fy­ing can be real­ly dan­ger­ous. But at oth­er times it can be real­ly help­ful. I remem­ber I had this cool con­ver­sa­tion with David Harvey, who’s a Marxist. I can have a Marxist moment, you know? But I could nev­er just ful­ly be with­in a sort of Marxist per­spec­tive. And we were talk­ing about wet­lands. And I was talk­ing about some­one I knew that was doing his best to quan­ti­fy nature. So, look­ing at how you could basi­cal­ly cre­ate a sense of the wet­lands’ val­ue to this com­mu­ni­ty. And he was quan­ti­fy­ing, quan­ti­fy­ing. And he even­tu­al­ly end­ed up sav­ing these wet­lands, because he could show, in an eco­nom­ic argu­ment, their big­ger val­ue to this community. 

And Dave Harvey thought that was an inter­est­ing exam­ple, but he also thought it was cap­i­tal­ism tak­ing over nature. Now nature needs a val­ue. And with­in the Marxist lens, every­thing becomes sort of com­mod­i­fied, right. So now he’s doing this with nature, to defend it. Sure, it defends it. Maybe that’s a small vic­to­ry in the present. But it’s just part of this big­ger nar­ra­tive where every­thing is get­ting quan­ti­fied and giv­en num­bers to.

Anderson: Hm. I would think—and maybe this is just me show­ing my ignorance—that a Marxist per­spec­tive would be influ­enced by a lot of the same val­ues. Because ulti­mate­ly if you real­ly want to jus­ti­fy sav­ing the wet­lands, you can do it in a way… So, I was talk­ing to this this geo­engi­neer, David Keith, and he was talk­ing about, look we can we can talk about sav­ing nature all day long. And he’s like, I can give you these var­i­ous anthro­pocen­tric argu­ments for why it’s in your best inter­est.” But he’s like, real­ly you just want to save it because you want to save it, go out, be in it, done.

Clay: Yeah.

Anderson: And I would think that Marxism, like a more cap­i­tal­ist approach to the wet­lands, would kind of still see it in mate­r­i­al terms. Because that oth­er thing, that go be in nature thing, is com­ing from a total­ly dif­fer­ent, ara­tional space, right. It’s a spir­i­tu­al atti­tude towards the envi­ron­ment, which can coex­ist with Marxism or cap­i­tal­ism, but isn’t part of either of those things.

Clay: But I think— So, I total­ly agree. But I think Harvey’s point is he brings cap­i­tal and space. He has all these real­ly inter­est­ing ways of look­ing at ways in which cap­i­tal comes to dom­i­nate our inter­ac­tion with a giv­en space. And so that nature only has val­ue because it’s plugged into this frame of ref­er­ence, it’s becom­ing increas­ing­ly quan­ti­fied and we look at it through eco­nom­ic val­ue. And I think it’s ulti­mate­ly, for him, encroach­ment, real­ly. This comes to pen­e­trate all of our lives. And the big sort of Venn dia­grams that a Marxist would look through is his­tor­i­cal­ly we had this big cir­cle of soci­ety. And econ­o­my was a small cir­cle with­in soci­ety. And soci­ety cre­at­ed norms. And the econ­o­my was just local mar­kets; it was­n’t that big. And now we have, today, this big cir­cle of econ­o­my and the small cir­cle of soci­ety. And the eco­nom­ic sys­tem that we live in informs so much of our norms, behav­iors, etc. And that tran­si­tion is a rough one, because it means that you can’t pro­gram the econ­o­my in the same way. That you used to be able to sort of con­trol soci­ety, and its norms, and its morals, etc. You don’t have that same con­trol, because soci­ety is being marginalized.

Anderson: Which is a real­ly strange flip on its head. And it also seems like when you do that flip, when the eco­nom­ic sphere becomes big­ger in some ways than dif­fer­ent social spheres, how do you then address the eco­nom­ic sphere, right? I mean, it’s become real­i­ty. It’s become invis­i­ble in so many ways, you know.

Clay: It’s inter­est­ing to look at it say, through mar­riage, right. Marriage is some­thing where we would have…or even dat­ing. We would think about it through these terms of courtship, of meet­ing some­one. People write poet­ry about it. There are all of these feel­ings there. It’s some­thing very spe­cial. But you can also look at it through a mar­ket per­spec­tive, right. And increas­ing­ly you see ways in which mar­kets are com­ing to deter­mine who peo­ple end up with—

Anderson: Oh my God.

Clay: —and how peo­ple mar­ry. In India for The Misfit Economy, we met a lot of match­mak­ers, which was super inter­est­ing. We were stay­ing at one guy’s house, and some­one deliv­ered this resume at his door. And it was basi­cal­ly a mar­riage pro­pos­al. It was the first step of a mar­riage pro­pos­al. And I was in New York recent­ly and hung out with some­one who had a whole Excel matrix with dif­fer­ent guys list­ed that she’d dat­ed, and she was doing a sort of com­par­a­tive analy­sis. She was from a finance back­ground. But to me that’s real­ly scary. You can see the ways in which mar­ket log­ics are creep­ing into pri­vate life. And so deci­sions that used to be about oth­er things. Are now very much…have been grasped by the market.

Anderson: And so what I won­der is, here we are talk­ing also about the big Conversation, with the cap­i­tals, where we’re hop­ing to have a bet­ter future with a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple. And how do you have the Conversation in a world where quan­ti­fied think­ing is so nat­u­ral­ized? Where you have a spread­sheet of dif­fer­ent peo­ple who you will spend your life with, maybe. And that if you don’t feel that way, where’s the com­mon language?

Clay: Is your fear that peo­ple who devel­op a more insu­lar kind of cul­ture, they’re not going to be able to speak to one another?

Anderson: That may be some of it.

Clay: Yeah.

Anderson: And the oth­er part of it may be that there’s actu­al­ly noth­ing to talk about.

Clay: I think you can bridge those things. I think peo­ple are liv­ing in ide­olo­gies, right. And so the point of con­ver­sa­tion is to sort of strip us of those ide­olo­gies and human desires. You know, those haven’t changed much. You can look back at ancient times and you can see that peo­ple pret­ty much had all the same emo­tions, were talk­ing about basi­cal­ly the same things. So, I think it’s real­ly just the abil­i­ty to decon­struct ide­olo­gies, and to do that through real­ly hon­est and direct con­ver­sa­tion. And I think what’s scari­er is peo­ple can’t real­ly see them­selves as dif­fer­ent from the ide­ol­o­gy that they take on.

Anderson: You know, what I was talk­ing about with Lawrence, the philoso­pher, was enlight­en­ment lib­er­al­ism, in the most opti­mistic, pos­i­tive way you could pos­si­bly imag­ine. Saying, look we’ve got this plu­ral­is­tic com­mu­ni­ties. What do you do? Well, you have to agree on some def­i­n­i­tion of being rea­son­able. To be will­ing to enter into con­ver­sa­tion with­out the use of force. That was his low­est lev­el good.

Clay: But, right so you’ve exclud­ed now like, ter­ror­ists. Or all these oth­ers, potentially.

Anderson: Right. And he acknowl­edged that. And that’s kind of the ten­sion in that whole strain of thought. Like, say you want to have a rea­soned con­ver­sa­tion with a fun­da­men­tal­ist. For them to engage in that con­ver­sa­tion with you, they have to be more of a lib­er­al than a fun­da­men­tal­ist. So, essen­tial­ly to have that con­ver­sa­tion with them, they have to be…you.

Clay: And I think the oth­er— I mean the whole con­struct is kind of Rawlsian, right? Like, you have this—

Anderson: We talked a lot about Rawls.

Clay: Okay. Yeah, I real­ly don’t— The British…I did school in England, and they make you read a lot of Rawls, too. But I nev­er liked it. It’s so hypo­thet­i­cal. It’s just so like, Okay, let’s all use this same delib­er­a­tive ratio­nal­i­ty and agree on the ways in which we would come togeth­er in con­sen­sus.” And I think from a gov­ern­ment stand­point it’s real­ly dif­fi­cult to say this is the one for­mu­la” that we want to sort of take.

There’s this fun­ny book with­in eco­nom­ic his­to­ry. It’s called The Passions and the Interests. And it basi­cal­ly describes the sit­u­a­tion under which some­one that might try and beat you up instead—because you have money—just wants your coin purse, and how mon­ey or cap­i­tal­ism actu­al­ly comes to tame the pas­sions. I think you can say maybe a lot of the sort of vio­lent dri­ves that we have have sort of been sub­li­mat­ed towards these cap­i­tal­ist pursuits.

Anderson: Does that rely on most peo­ple hav­ing enough to lose that they don’t resort to violence?

Clay: Right.

Anderson: Like, a floor of afflu­ence, basi­cal­ly. And if you fall beneath that floor of afflu­ence, then our mar­ket soci­ety is not going to pla­cate you.

Clay: I think you can see that with ter­ror­ism, right. A University of Chicago pro­fes­sor looked into this, but basi­cal­ly showed that those who sought refuge in ter­ror­ism were real­ly ones that were eco­nom­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al­ized. It grew so fast in areas that had­n’t been part of sig­nif­i­cant wealth gains in the Middle East, who had­n’t been part of that oil mon­ey, exact­ly. Certainly there are lead­ers that don’t fit that descrip­tion, but on the whole you see that it was real­ly eco­nom­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed. And in a lot of areas, it’s sort of sad­den­ing the degree to which being eco­nom­i­cal­ly includ­ed, and hav­ing access to that income, can sub­due a lot of the great pas­sions that peo­ple have. If it takes them away from vio­lence, it’s prob­a­bly a good thing.

But it also—just get­ting back from a trip to China—it’s so dystopi­an over there. Everyone that I met in—you know, I did­n’t go to the West of the coun­try, which is a bit more cul­tur­al­ly intact. But in Beijing and Shanghai, it’s the pur­suit of mon­ey. There aren’t real­ly many oth­er things that peo­ple are think­ing about.

Anderson: You men­tioned a moment ago some sort of cau­tious opti­mism. On the whole, are you opti­mistic about the future?

Clay: Yeah, I think so. I’ve seen signs of things com­ing recent­ly that have the real pow­er to be trans­for­ma­tive. It’s fun­ny, I was talk­ing to some­one who’s in her fifties and mon­i­tors East London, which is a very hip­ster kind of area. And she basi­cal­ly said, The hip­sters are cur­ing their apa­thy through knit­ting.” And you can see the growth that these kinds of hob­by­ist art forms with­in these com­mu­ni­ties that used to be large­ly apa­thet­ic youth, as a gen­tle sign of opti­mism. But it’s also like, this whole mak­er spir­it is some­thing that I am tremen­dous­ly excit­ed about. I think we’re going to do man­u­fac­tur­ing, and think about pro­duc­tion, in very dif­fer­ent ways, and it’s going to become much more democratized. 

And this idea of a cit­i­zen sec­tor. This idea that we won’t have to be depen­dent on large cor­po­ra­tions to pro­vide us with things. That we can cer­tain­ly learn from them, but that they’ll either have to sort of evolve rapid­ly and become more agile and nim­ble and embed­ded in com­mu­ni­ties and soci­eties, or they’ll real­ly have to go extinct. That’s one trend that I’m see­ing. But cer­tain­ly there are a lot of oth­er big kinds of trends out there that could total­ly ham­per it. And being in China, none of what we’re doing here mat­ters at all. Basically, what­ev­er China does and locks into, from the per­spec­tive of the econ­o­my and the envi­ron­ment, is how the future is going to be guid­ed. A lot of our real­i­ty will be deter­mined just because of the sheer size of pop­u­la­tion, and the fact that we’ve been sell­ing off our econ­o­my to them. So, yeah. I mean, I think opti­mism but also like oth­er vari­ables at work.

Anderson: Does con­ver­sa­tion matter?

Clay: Definitely. I mean it’s all about con­ver­sa­tion when, par­tic­u­lar­ly insti­tu­tions, have such hack­neyed lan­guage. And the moment that you start talk­ing about some­thing real, peo­ple sort of light up. I haven’t worked with cor­po­rates very much. But when I do it’s almost like ther­a­py for them. That’s the only ser­vice that I would ever pro­vide as a con­sul­tant, is the abil­i­ty for them to think in a fresh lan­guage about what they’re doing. And to begin to sort of reimag­ine what they could do with the resources that they have. 

We deter­mine our ideas of progress with lan­guage. We deter­mine nar­ra­tives that act to guide us, that moti­vate us. And stum­bling upon a new kind of phrase can just open up entire­ly new pos­si­bil­i­ties. And that’s what hap­pens with the econ­o­my, and that’s why con­ver­sa­tion about the econ­o­my is so impor­tant. Because if you can get one per­son to reframe some­thing, or to think about some­thing slight­ly dif­fer­ent, it can be real­ly transformational.

What is it that you want to achieve? What is it that you want to val­ue? It’s our sort of first line of defense as human beings. It’s what we can sort of pre­serve our­self against the mas­sive forces of cap­i­tal­ism and of cor­po­rate pol­i­tics and things like that is, lan­guage is the thing that can cut through all that.

Aengus Anderson: Well, we’ve worked through this one a cou­ple of times and it’s real­ly taxed our eco­nom­ics vocab­u­lary. So here goes. This is num­ber five, and were rolling.

We’re talk­ing about the econ­o­my in a real­ly big way here. I think prob­a­bly one of my favorite things Alexa does is she talks about the econ­o­my as a moral philo­soph­i­cal issue. 

Micah Saul: Right. Comes from our own moral­i­ty and is the engine for dis­pens­ing the good life, what­ev­er that means.

Anderson: Kind of the mate­r­i­al side­kick of all of our lofty fan­tasies of what a soci­ety should look like.

Saul: Or at least that’s how it start­ed.

Anderson: But it cer­tain­ly does­n’t seem there now, does it? I mean, I don’t find a lot of moral phi­los­o­phy in the Wall Street Journal’s busi­ness reporting.

Saul: Or the Financial Times.

Anderson: So, that’s bro­ken apart. And now I think Alexa’s argu­ing, pret­ty per­sua­sive­ly, the econ­o­my’s treat­ed as a thing of its own, hav­ing its own rules, its own log­ic. It’s a game that we made and we for­got that we can make it any way we want, almost.

Saul: It’s become one of those big sys­tems that we talk about through­out this project. It’s too com­plex and inter­con­nect­ed and ouroboros-like for any human to actu­al­ly wrap their brain around it.

Anderson: And the upshot of that being that it’s real­ly hard to feel like you’ve got a lot of agency. At least unless you’re at the very top, right?

Saul: Right.

Anderson: Most peo­ple don’t feel like they can real­ly change the eco­nom­ic mod­el. And they’re right. That’s the oth­er part. They are right in feel­ing dis­em­pow­ered. So what’s bad about the loss of agency? I mean, she talks specif­i­cal­ly about, you feel dis­em­pow­ered as a per­son. That makes you unhap­py. So there’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal aspect of it.

Saul: I think there’s an inter­est­ing sort of vicious cycle there, where if you feel dis­em­pow­ered, you are less inclined to try to exert any agency over it, and it’s going to get far­ther and far­ther from its moral or philo­soph­i­cal roots. 

Anderson: Until you’re los­ing at the hands of the econ­o­my so bad­ly that you have to be an agent. Well, and that’s where you get a mis­fit econ­o­my. You get an econ­o­my for peo­ple who are out­side of the tra­di­tion­al econ­o­my. It isn’t serv­ing them, and they are…they’re still agents. They are cre­at­ing their own sys­tems out there on the periphery.

Saul: it’s kind of cool that she diag­noses this larg­er sense of dis­en­fran­chise­ment, and then kind of looks at the few places where you can find peo­ple who are not pow­er­ful who are agents. We should real­ly con­nect to Gabe Stempinski’s con­ver­sa­tion here. 

Saul: Yes.

Anderson: With the shar­ing econ­o­my. And a lot of lis­ten­er com­ments were peo­ple who felt that while the shar­ing econ­o­my may be a great idea, it was not the Conversation with the cap­i­tals because it was sort of an adjust­ment to the sta­tus quo rather than a real­ly new idea. It was­n’t a cri­tique of the growth sys­tem. It would­n’t ulti­mate­ly lead to any­thing more than maybe the Jevons para­dox, cre­at­ing greater effi­cien­cy in how we use resources, thus allow­ing us to grow further.

And you know, as we talk about mis­fit economies, I think we need to keep our lis­ten­ers’ cri­tique there in mind and ask, do these mis­fit economies real­ly rep­re­sent anoth­er type of mod­el, or are they iter­a­tions upon the kind of sta­tus quo that we’ve heard pret­ty thor­ough­ly beat­en up by thinkers from Korten to Jackson. People who real­ly crit­i­cize the growth system. 

Saul: You touch on that some in your con­ver­sa­tion with Alexa, but I don’t know that that was answered. I’m gonna take a quick detour, which I think is also going to get us to that same ques­tion, which is anoth­er con­nec­tion to Colin Camerer.

Anderson: Back in episode four.

Saul: All of…eight months ago?

Anderson: Yeah.

Saul: So, for those that don’t remem­ber or maybe haven’t lis­tened, Colin Camerer is a neu­roe­con­o­mist at Caltech. So, Alexa is very aware of neu­roe­co­nom­ics. But she feels it’s too theoretical.

Anderson: Yeah, I think the biggest part of that, real­ly, is where she feels that it’s descrip­tive. It looks at a sys­temic and goes kind of, Here’s how we oper­ate. Here’s how the econ­o­my oper­ates. Okay, those things are dif­fer­ent.” Well, that’s a pret­ty for­mi­da­ble cri­tique, but it does­n’t real­ly give you a new sys­tem. It does­n’t lead to a big moral con­ver­sa­tion about jus­tice. It does­n’t get you sort of the mas­sive change that she seems to want from the mis­fit economies.

Saul: Right. I’m going to turn that around, though, and and ask are these mis­fit economies offer­ing that fun­da­men­tal new idea? Or are they just the larg­er econ­o­my writ small?

Anderson: I think there are a cou­ple ways we can go about it. First, we can say well, she gives us two exam­ples where we’re talk­ing about the Latin kings. We’re talk­ing about first, gangs as a whole down­siz­ing, get­ting more nim­ble. That’s a trend that cor­po­ra­tions can fol­low. To me, that seems like an adjust­ment. That’s not a sea change in oper­a­tions. So we can set that one aside.

Now, mis­fit economies as learn­ing orga­ni­za­tions, that’s kind of inter­est­ing. But is it a sea change in how we think about the econ­o­my? Is hav­ing a dif­fer­ent and more flex­i­ble struc­ture for adap­ta­tion and change in say, a gang or a prison econ­o­my or a pirate econ­o­my… If you applied that to a cor­po­ra­tion and you had an incred­i­bly nim­ble cor­po­ra­tion, does that real­ly change the big pic­ture? Does it say, undo the growth model?

Saul: I think it cer­tain­ly has the poten­tial to, per­haps. But I don’t see a causal link between a more nim­ble learn­ing econ­o­my and…therefore not not based on growth. 

Anderson: And maybe we’re com­ing into this with a false assump­tion that the growth econ­o­my is a problem.

Saul: I guess that’s an impor­tant thing that we inform lis­ten­ers when our bias­es are becom­ing very appar­ent, we should rec­og­nize them and point them out. I too have been very con­vinced by peo­ple like Wes Jackson that our cur­rent mod­el of growth is unsus­tain­able and dangerous. 

The thing is, that actu­al­ly is not nec­es­sar­i­ly what Alexa said, any­where in this con­ver­sa­tion. To be com­ing at it from that angle, we just need to make it very clear that that’s what we are think­ing about.

Anderson: At the same time, even if that was the goal—and I do think that’s an impor­tant ques­tion that needs to be answered—some of the oth­er economies that we did­n’t get into in this con­ver­sa­tion might offer bet­ter clues than say, a gang econ­o­my. We did­n’t real­ly get into the depths of like, what does a hack­er econ­o­my look like? Is that a dif­fer­ent econ­o­my? Does that embody dif­fer­ent val­ue choic­es? I don’t think we real­ly know. Then maybe this is just a lack of my own imag­i­na­tion. I real­ly don’t know if these mis­fit economies are the mod­el for that sort of mas­sive change. I can see them tak­ing us towards more agency. I can see them tak­ing us towards local communities.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: Which are hav­ing much greater con­trol. So, con­ceiv­ably could have a lot more hap­pi­ness. That seems real­ly laudable.

Saul: That’s what I want­ed to say, was that Alexa views one of the biggest issues with all cur­rent eco­nom­ic mod­els is that lack of human agency. If these mis­fit economies are solv­ing that issue, that’s where she sees them as being very impor­tant. And offer­ing new change.

Anderson: Can the mis­fit econ­o­my kind of serve as a step­ping stone along this path towards increas­ing human agency first? Which of course increas­es hap­pi­ness, pre­sum­ably. And then gives peo­ple the abil­i­ty to sort of change the larg­er econ­o­my, in a way that seems impos­si­ble now? So maybe the mis­fit econ­o­my itself isn’t going to cri­tique or real­ly over­haul the big econ­o­my. But maybe it will give peo­ple a tool to do that lat­er? I don’t now.

Saul: It’s fun­ny. It makes me think of a con­nec­tion we had­n’t made yet with the the Happiness Initiative.

Anderson: That makes per­fect sense.

Saul: Right? In some ways, this is very much con­nect­ed with that idea. And I think actu­al­ly they’re com­ing from very sim­i­lar places. People are dis­tanced from the econ­o­my. And if we can reframe what the econ­o­my means and what the econ­o­my is sup­posed to do, and include hap­pi­ness and include con­nect­ed­ness, does that pro­vide the tools to solve those broad­er prob­lems that Jackson points out?

Anderson: That’s a good ques­tion. I think it’s also prob­a­bly a good place to leave it. There are a mil­lion more things we could talk about here.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: But we can’t have an out­ro that goes on for six hours. Though we would like to. And we will prob­a­bly con­tin­ue this con­ver­sa­tion offline, and you should too. Or con­tin­ue it online, with us. 

That was Alexa Clay, record­ed November 1, 2012 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Saul: This is The Conversation. You can find us on Twitter at @aengusanderson and on the web at find​the​con​ver​sa​tion​.com

Anderson: So thanks for lis­ten­ing. I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul.

Further Reference

This inter­view at the Conversation web site, with project notes, com­ments, and tax­o­nom­ic orga­ni­za­tion spe­cif­ic to The Conversation.

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