Concern with the US economy seems to have taken on a near-religious fervor these days. Congressman Jack Kemp talks about "no longer worshipping at the shrine of the balanced budget." Economist Arthur Laffer scribbles a crude graph on a cocktail napkin and a million "supply siders" are born again. Wall Street speaks -- if not with the tongues of angels, at least with prophetic authority -- and the President listens in anguish.
But wait a minute, comes a voice from the wilderness. You've got it all wrong. You're working with a set of assumptions and values that are not only out of date but dangerously misleading.
Hazel Henderson is a self-described "independent, self-employed futurist," an iconoclast unburdened by an academic degree, a terrific synthesizer of new modes of thought, one who would not be offended by critics who call her a crank.
She is also a prolific writer and lecturer who has gained the respect of many academics and national leaders (including at least one former president). In her latest book, "The Politics of the Solar Age," she sets about "defrocking the economics priesthood," thereby revealing the "three hundred years of snake oil" that has brought us to simultaneous high inflation and unemployment, not to mention dangerously depleted natural resources.
Her central thesis is that economics is not a science (not even a "dismal science"), but merely "politics in disguise."
She says, "The United States is still the most innovative society in the world." She has no more use for Marxism, per se, than she does for capitalism, but most of her criticism is directed at US industrialism and the economic philosophy behind it.
"One might even say that the beneficent 'invisible hand' envisioned by Adam Smith has become for increasing numbers of americans a clumsy, heedless 'invisible foot,' which tramples on social, human, and environmental values, rather than responding to them," she writes.
Ms. Henderson is a disciple of E. F. Schumacher, and there is good deal of "Buddhist economics" -- a little more yin and a little less yang than most theorist espouse -- in what she has to say. But "Small is Beautiful" is not the sum of her message.
She draws on many, many scholars -- physicists, historians, sociologists, even some politicians and economists -- to form her view of the future in a world that will have to become less linear and competitive, more cooperative and interconnected.
"Think globally, act locally" is what wew all have to do, she says. Having organized an environmental group that helped improve air quality in New York as well as having been called upon to offer advice in various forums around the world, Miss Henderson practices what she preaches.
Although she sharply disagrees with "Reagonomics," she can sound much like the President when she says, "We have to have faith that eact of us has the capability of being much more than we have ever been callled upon to be before," and the like.
Unfortunately, she can also sound like Alexander Haig, when she uses words like "throughput" and "conscientizing." But that is a small nit to pick in a book that is lively and enlightening.
I had a long and very enjoyable chat with Hazel Henderson when her first book ("Creating Alternative Futures") came out three years ago. I have been looking forward to her new book, and I am not disappointed.