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Economy as a Victimizing Mechanism Erich Kitzmüller Universität Wien and Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien 1. The Enigma of Modern Economics The effects of the present economic system are remarkably ambiguous. When we compare modern society with any preceding society in history it becomes evident that the ability to produce wealth is its distinguishing feature. It also is evident that the most highly productive and technologically advanced societies of the world are at the root of grave social and ecological disturbances that are pushing humankind to the edge of global catastrophe. The scope and complexity of the adverse effects and risks, of the degradation to the natural surroundings and to social cohesion, are unprecedented in history. Although those phenomena are well known, they are not widely understood. The positive effects of modern economics are evident. The outstanding capacity to produce a vast array of technical instruments and rational organizations which serve as problem solving tools have opened the way to a level ofprosperity, and indeed of affluence, that is unparalleled in the history of civilization. In sharp contrast to this story of success is, however, the equally impressive record ofdestruction. The gulf between those who possess vast material means and those who possess the minimum for survival is widening both on a global scale and within individual affluent societies. The relation between increased productivity and ecological destruction seems to parallel that between growing wealth and growing human misery. The high rate of exploitation of natural resources and the artificial changes in climate are endangering the viability of future generations to the extent that the extinction of species and cultures is, finally, not a vague, futuristic threat, but a clear and present danger to life as we know it. The economic performance of the prosperous nations today, and of modern society in general, invokes a number of critical issues that need to be 1 8 Erich Kitzmüller addressed. Why have the developed nations been so successful in achieving their high productivity through the efficient utilization of systems of organization and participation? Why have those particular success-making qualities enabled them to dominate in such a global and universal way, while their competitors retreat into an increasingly marginal economic existence? Why does the paradox exist between the global richness and success of certain societies and the destructive nature of their output? The logical cumulative question is, then, Why is the current economic system both extraordinarily productive and destructive? Paramount efficiency in the production of wealth and success Never before has society been so efficient in accumulating wealth. This is the most striking feature of the upper financial strata of humanity, of, for example, the OCED countries. Whatever factor can be singled out, the formula remains the same: high levels of input of energy and other resources, and high output in terms of tools for production and consumer goods. For decades the general trend of income, savings, investments, and consumer expenditures, whatever their fluctuations, has been upward. In spite of the grievances and alleged cases of injustice, ever growing prosperity and affluence has become the normal expected result of the economic process. Wealth is produced not only in terms of achieved output, but also in terms of the capacity to tackle any difficulties through an expansion of the economic process. This may be the most important feature of present economic performance, even more important than its excellence in increasing the output of goods and services. Wealth is accumulated, moreover, not only in terms of material goods and services, but in terms of the options we have in reacting to the reality of needs and scarcities. The real products themselves become enhanced options that specify particular means to improve technologies and to apply rational solutions to troublesome situations and, thus, to identify those situations as problems and to solve them. In the context of modem society, wealth is essentially the twofold process of the means for domination on the part of both states and companies, and of ever growing liberties. The premise is to win access to exemplary, that is to successful and happy, life styles. AU the while the focus of attraction may shift from power to the anticipated pleasure of consumption...


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pp. 17-38
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