What would a right-brained economy look like?

At first glance, I would expect it to be something along the lines of Ivan Illich'sconvivial society,with small walkable cities, vibrant regional economies, tools that dovetail with the body and senses (rather than abstracting us from the body), a large freedom and autonomy from distant rulers and corporations, a sensitive relationship to the natural world, and a deep societal aversion to structural violence or poverty.

Sounds idyllic, no? Surely, it would be self-regulating and self-organizing too?Suffering perhaps a minimal state apparatus that is kept on a short leash?

But let's back up a bit. Early states were formed with two ingredients: a massing or concentration of human subjects, by force or slavery if necessary; and an ample food supply, usually rice or wheat or other easily stored grains. See James C. Scott'sThe Art ofNotBeing Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, where over and over little "civilizations" or city-states appeared in premodern Malaysia as soon as these ingredients came together. The driving force, however, of this "self-organization" was a dopaminergic exploitation of others for their muscle energy as soldiers or laborers or rice farmers, and the stored energy of the rice itself. This ant-hill pattern hasn't changed much to this day, though the energy takes different forms (fossil fuels freed the slaves in a sense) and money and debt are now ubiquitous.

Yet if we look at attachment psychologists like John Bowlby and Daniel Stern and Allan Schore, we see a very different source of energy driving self-organization, and it is this that we must look to for a right-brained economics. The resonance of the mother with the child's emotions, especially positive emotions, energizes the child, sends it into a higher orbit of joy and excitement. And this energy, according to Allan Schore, causes the energy dynamos of the brain cells, the mitochondria, to proliferate madly, bringing more and more energy into the growing brain, and enabling more complex structures to form, some of them regulatory (see Schore, "Early Organization of the Nonlinear Right Brain").Thisis self-organization of an entirely different order, and the energy we receive from others all our lives and from culture and music and books and ideas, enables us to reach our full potential as thinking, feeling humans.

So a few random thoughts, a bit pie-in-the-sky to be sure:

  • John Bowlby, working with teenage delinquents, had the brilliant intuition that these deprived boys were "stealing love" when they were snatching purses or other material goods. Deprived of early maternal nurture as children, these small boys grew up to be the nearly sociopathic,affection-less juvenile thieves that Bowlby studied after the war.The link between being nourished (with food, or money) and being nurtured (with love) runs deep in us.

  • Fossil fuels made the clanking, hissing machines and factories of the Industrial Revolution possible. And the brutalization of men. And mass manufacturing, which drove the old craftsmen out of work. Am not being nostalgic for those days now, but let's think a bit out of the box here: How we might have a very different society if we weaned ourselves from fossil fuels or if they were used minimally.

  • If we impress on ourselves the importance of this nurture or nourishment of any child or adult, and how their growth into complexity and self-regulation and sensitivity and intelligence will enrich our world both materially and culturally, shouldn't every effort be made to use our social wealth to foster this?

  • Have we not learnt from our recent experience with quantitative easing of the money supply (which basically created money and gave it to the banks, in a misguided effort to stimulate the economy), that we can create sovereign credit, money created by the state, not loaned into existence by banks? Imagine, then, if this sovereign credit were used to create a basic income for every man, woman and child, using our social wealth (which is the real sense of the money supply) to create a more intelligent, more sensitive, and more creative people.

  • What aboutquantitative easing for the people? John Muellbauer, an economics professor at Oxford University, recommends exactly this. See also James Hughes of Trinity College in Connecticut on how the anti-austerity movements in Europe are aharbinger of deep social changeand of an end to commodified labor. A basic income guarantee, first broached byTom Painein the 18th century, is an idea whose time has come, supported now even by the likes of Milton Friedman. See the websiteBasic Income Earth Networkfor the exciting work being done around the world to make a guaranteed basic income a reality. And check out this excellent Belgian documentary on the Basic Income (with English subtitles).

  • Most studies suggest that people will still be motivated to work even with such a basic income. The reason for this is our dopaminergic brain loves to have goals and to exercise its intelligence. So when children and young adults are well provided for, they will, I believe, take keen interests in the world and life and seek to discover, to create, whether it be making furniture or farming or puzzling over some fascinating technical problem. So even as some of our most eccentric geniuses have come from comfortable families or aristocratic families in the past, I think we would see a flourishing artisanal economy evolve in the place of our capitalistic megamachine with its mass manufacturing and mass-mediated culture.

  • Modern Money Theory, developed by a very interesting group of economists at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, explores this idea of sovereign credit and its feasibility. One concern I have about these folks is that they are, like most economists, still wedded to the idea of endless growth and to the idea that mass manufacturing is a criticial piece of this. Having said that, though, these economists, Michael Hudson, Bill Black, Randall Wray and others, are always on the right side, in my opinion, of the economic issues besetting us today. But, at the end of the day, they are still limited by the old socioeconomic worldview. Update April 20, 2015:Iceland has proposed a revolutionary new finance system, taking the creation of money away from the banks. See this article and theaccompanying110-page white paper commissioned by the Prime Minister of Iceland.

  • A ubiquitous feature of…self-organizing systems is that they are stabilized by feedback mechanisms.-- Lee Smolin,Time Reborn(2013), p. 219. And the feedback mechanisms are usually a balancing of opposites, such as emotional expansion/arousal and withdrawal and conservation (see Schore, "Early Organization of the Nonlinear Right Brain," and his bookAffect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development). Without this balancing, serious developmental disorders are inevitable (e.g., in sociopsychology, the unchecked emotional expansiveness of narcissism). In the economy too, excessive expansion can lead to imbalances of all kinds. Michael Pettis, a brilliant and out-of-the-box economic analyst, speaks of how poverty and inequality and excessive wealth (concentrated in one nation or a small elite), create malinvestment, overproduction, speculation, unsustainable debt, and a fatal deterioration of a country's economy (see his bookThe Great Rebalancingor his brilliant essay on the Greek debt morass,"Syriza and the French Indemnity of 1871-73"). He of course is focused on "sustainable growth" (probably an oxymoron, at least in today's fossil-fuel-driven economy), but the same ideas could be applied to our new paradigm of individual development toward complexity and self-regulation (and intelligence). It seems in the natural order of things that our entire society should prosper. And a sensitive regulation of the money supply is critical to this fair distribution of our social wealth and a rebalancing of the economy.

  • In an ecosystem or an economy, imbalances and a failure of self-regulation create stress, which in turn leads to regression to earlier, less efficient modes of self-organization (seeInto the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life, by Eric Schneider and Dorion Sagan, p. 208). The authors speak of ecosystemsregressingunder stress, where the ecosystem is then dominated by faster-growing, less evolved species, and where the interconnected harmony and energy flow of the ecosystem is fatally impaired. But self-regulation can often neutralize environmental stressors. A simple example of this self-regulation is a tree that down-regulates its photosynthesis, metabolism, and transpiration when water in the soil diminishes (Into the Cool, p. 223). Seems an object lesson that even a small child can understand.

Let's close here by circling back to Allan Schore and developmental neuropsychology, to that first relationship of neuroemotional resonance with the mother, which (1) amplifies positive affect in both baby and mother, and (2) whose energy flow enables the development of complex, self-regulating structures in the body and brain of the infant. Yet "nonoptimal environments do not supply sufficient quantities of nutritive matter and modulated energy to the growing brain" (Schore, "The Nonlinear Right Brain") and are the source of endless psychobiological disorders and diseases. So it is with the larger society. We must create an optimal environment, both nurturing and self-regulating, for the intelligent, richly creative, and thriving human economy of the future.

David Hopkins 2019