This is a manuscript on which I have been working for the last few years. I am trying to formulate a value based approach to economics. This will generate several new insights such as the notion of shared goods, the realization of values in different spheres, and the reinterpretation of concepts like richness and poverty. It makes for a substantive approach to life rather than the instrumentalist approach that currently prevails. I have been applying this approach in all kinds of situations in the professional and cultural world and would dare to claim that the value based approach is more practical than the main body of standard economics, at least when a good life and a good society are what we strive for.
I am developing this approach in Doing the Right Thing. Earlier I spoke of the cultural economic perspective but the value-based approach turned out to stick better. It is an approach to economics based on values; it starts from the premise that economic life is about the realization of values.
Many activities, many organizations aim at the realization of qualities. A theatre company wants to realize great theatre, Green Peace wants to contribute to a sustainable world, a socially responsible business wants to do good. But how to determine that they all actually realized their goals, that they have a noticeable impact on the quality for which they are aiming? People of the organizations themselves would like to know and so do their (financial) supporters. But we do not have good measures to determine quality. We fall back on unsatisfactory derivatives such as numbers of visitors, positive reviews and the like. The problem is, of course, that quality is not to be captured in numbers. The Quality Impact monitor is an instrument to monitor the impact of activities on quality. It is value based and makes use of perceptions and valuations of the stake-holders. At this point still in a pioneering state, it hopes to be an answer to questions of many.
My first research interest concerned the nature of economics as a science. I have tried to interpret economics as a human science and to depict economists as real people with real lives trying to make sense of the economic world and, in the last century or so, of the system that the modeling practice has generated. Together with Deirdre McCloskey I have propagated a rhetorical perspective. In my book Speaking of Economics I developed the metaphor of the conversation to make sense of the world of economists.
In the Netherlands I have been engaged in several political discussions, most prominently of those the discussion about the euro. From the very beginning, in 1991, I have been questioning the validity of the idea of a single currency for such a variety of countries and economies. The recent euro crisis was an affirmation of those criticisms. The system, however, is tough and can withstand sanity and real forces for quite a while. In the end the euro will fall. It is a logical outcome. My main objective, however, is not the euro but to contribute to a discussion about what makes for a good society, and a good life. I surmise that a good society and a good life depend more on the realization of social and moral values and that economic values are subordinate to those.
I am an educator. My whole life I have been teaching. For me teaching is about the generation of insights, of getting us to think, to reflect, and to be in conversation with each other. Good education is for me a matter of good conversation. Education, then, is more about Bildung, the shaping of our character, than about the transfer of information and knowledge, although that is part of the process. I have tried to found a university based on this approach, Academia Vitae but did not succeed. Presently, I am part of a group trying to bring to life the Academy for Liberal Arts. The premise is that the humanities, the arts and the sciences are rich sources for a fulfilling life.
In the discussions about the euro I encountered the idea and practice of parallel and complementary currencies. This got me to think about the monetary system, an interest that I already had as a beginning economics student. I am now convinced that a system of parallel and complementary currencies is needed to deal with the challenges of a dynamic and flexible economy with an increasing importance of local economies in a global context, and the need to the realization of meaningful goods and practices.
A few years ago I stumbled into the problem of the crafts. The modern world seemed to have all forgotten about the crafts, yet they are too important to be overlooked. With Ph D students I conducted an international survey of the crafts in a variety of countries. We hit upon the notion of craft culture: some countries like Japan, Germany and Italy crafts have a strong craft culture as the crafts are cherished and nurtured. In several publications in Dutch and in English (under preparation) we are pleading for a restoration of the craft culture in other countries.