Talking About Economy

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Mircea Cantor
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Talking About Economy
a project by BIG HOPE: Miklós Erhardt & Dominic Hislop
www.bighope.hu
T here are no s erious ‘theoretic alfoundations ’for any of the vers ions of globalization, inc ludingthe
inves tor-rightsvers ions . T he internationalec onomy is far too poorly unders toodfor there to be s ystematic ‘theories ’in any s erious s ens e.*
Noam Chomsky
Thinking and talking about economy is increasingly becoming the exclusive
territory of political-professional ‘experts’. Through this the question is gradually losing its philosophical aspect and becoming alienated from everyday
life. As a consequence of the propaganda generated by the ‘experts’, economy is largely perceived of as a complex entity that stands for itself, which
the outside public are unable to comprehend or control, and about which
there is only space for a reactive attitude. The project ‘Talking about
Economy’ is intended to challenge this position.
In the process, taking the above quote from Noam Chomsky as a starting
point, we asked 10 economic players from Dunaújváros, an economically
troubled industrial ‘new town’ in Hungary, each of whom represented different spheres of economic life, to share their thoughts on economy. We posed
them the following questions: What is economy’s role in society? How would
they describe a good economy? How would they describe a bad economy?
What is your personal relationship to work? The same questions were then
put to workers in the same jobs in Berlin, most of whom have already experienced a fast track economic adaptation during the process of reunification.
Two wall paintings and video installations documenting the first part of
these two investigations have been exhibited in concurrent exhibitions at
the ICA in Dunaújváros and at Sparwasser HQ in Berlin. This publication
documents the first step of an ongoing investigation.It collates edited comments made by participants and has been produced as part of the
‘Unoccupied Territories’ exhibition at Galerie K&S in Berlin, which is in turn
part of the ‘Hin and Her’ artist exchange programme between East
European and Berlin based artists and curators.
The often banal, often unsure, and also often very strong statements given
by the participants, strengthen notions of independence and personal resistance and are an attempt to empower participants to engage with conceptual
territory from which they currently alienated.
*Noam Chomsky, interviewed by Toni Gabric, ‘The Croatian Federal Tribune’, 7 May 2002.
Thanks to all participants in Dunaújváros and Berlin, Inga Zimprich, Elske Rosenfeld, Lise Nellemann, Hajni
Somogyi, Tamás Fehérvári, Ioan Godeanu, Attila Tordai, Mircea Cantor, Sparwasser HQ, Young Artists Studio
Association, The Reinigungsgesellschaft: Henrik Meyer and Martin Keil.
What is ec onomy’s role in s oc iety?
Economy is the leading concept; without it there isn’t a
real social context among
the actors of economic life.
Society defines itself through economy.
If we think about it, the archaic communities dissolved because economy started to gain bigger dimensions. As soon
as it’s not about mere survival, it gives it
a certain basis to life.
In the past this place used
to be totally packed, people
used to queue in rows of
three, it was noisy and people talked about sex and cars, but today
all they go on about is the economy, and
how hard up they all are.
From my point of view if
economy is good then it’s
good for my boss and then
it’s good for me - I can’t
measure it otherwise. It’s that simple. At
the moment with low salaries and high
prices, it’s difficult to live.
If you imagine that German
history experienced the
accident of the Third Reich,
because of the economy, an
economy that did not work before, then I
would have to say that you cannot
underestimate the role of the economy.
The economy is important, but it is not
the only important area of your life and I
believe that for your general state of
mind, work plays a part, but not the only
part and, I’d tend to say, not the most
important part.
If the economy’s well,
humans are well. But the
economy itself is important
for the general population.
Come to think of it, if there was no economy we’d still be sitting here bartering
with stones or something.
Well, the purpose of it would
be, to ensure wealth to
those living in the country.
In my opinion, here it works
such that whoever lives well, can thank
themselves for it and not the economy
generated by the State because, to be
honest, in this country there’s such a big
mess that all the values, all the money
that there would be here, go in too few
pockets. Though two years ago I said
that this shameless stealing can’t get
any worse - now it seems it could.
Well, on a simplistic level I could say
that social life has three levels: an economic, a political and a cultural level.
Economy has a very important role by creating the
conditions so that a social or
a political system can be
formed. Economy decides how much
people can spend on culture, for example. This is a simplification and might
also be the influence of a Marxist way of
thinking but it’s clear that economy has
a fundamental role.
How I would answer that, I’d
say, how the economy
works, that's hard to say.
I think definitely a big role,
especially the unemployment
statistics, a lot of that is to
do with the economy.
If economy consists of the industry, of
the foreign currency, you can’t really
say. I don’t think we have to have the
ideas for it and well, you think about it,
how it might work but I couldn’t explain it
to you off the top of my head. I think in
today's society, work plays enormous, an
enormous if not even the foremost role,
because if you work, you have a flat,
you can afford a few things, you’re
respected and the manpower is needed.
You can see that the economy is relatively important if
you have been to other
countries, if you’ve been to
an Asian country, be it India, Indonesia,
even Russia, where they have at least 5
extra people for the same job. Where
on a bus, for example, you don’t only get
the driver, but also two assistants that
stamp the tickets or sell them and in
every museum you have one person sitting in every room, you don’t get that
here. Everything here is done from the
perspective of what makes money.
Maybe the only thing of
Marxist ideology which is
still valid, is that being
defines consciousness. And
it is especially decisive to consider in
what circumstances Hungarians are living, and this then influences everything.
Here where we are, in Dunaújváros the
forecasts aren’t positive and this’ll surely
have an effect on the culture, on our living standard, on everything we are connected with.
An important one, but not an
end in itself. A means for
people, that’s what it should
be and not something that
determines people’s fate, not vice versa
- first people, then the economy.
Do you remember the archaic communities from your
studies? Well, that must
have been a good thing.
There must have been problems, there
too, but everyone had their small area of
responsibility. You see, in a Brazilian
rain forest, the members of that tribe
won’t die of a heart attack at forty,
because they don’t have any reason to
do so. They go to hunt, kill the animal,
cook it, eat it, bring up the children then
they teach them how to hunt, that’s it.
Everybody does their duty in their own
field and that’s it. The whole thing
around economy is overcomplicated
now.
H ow would you des c ribe a good ec onomy ?
Well, what’s a good economy. I guess that everybody
benefits from it, let’s put it
like that. That is not like
what we have today.
Naively speaking, I am not
an economist, I would
describe a good economy as
such that it makes a high
percentage, effectively almost everyone,
in this country economically content.
That is, the incomes are sufficiently
high, and people’s self-image or their
feeling of self-worth is being satisfied
through work.
I think that the people who
can manage a good economy, haven’t been born yet.
Because here I think such a
big change in attitudes is needed - but
those currently in the network, won’t
change their attitude. For example, the
notion of live and let live would be
important.
The only common interest is
that the quality of life
improves. But if you look at
the current economic figures... I think over the last forty years
which were marked by socialism, we
have lost the continuity with those things
that had been working well in the economy in the thirties. Those threads were
cut. After the regime change, wild capitalism entered here and created such a
catastrophic situation that you couldn’t
see through it. Some people gained
incredible fortunes, but the biggest part
simply disappeared. Under socialism
people had a certain social safety net,
this is undeniable, but in certain circumstances, that can’t be called human,
because without freedom of expression,
even though the bread was cheap, that
can’t be considered a very good period.
But still things could somehow work,
people had some money, they had some
possibilities, they had their jobs.
A good economy is one that
carries people along with it,
doesn’t select by differentiating between people it can
use and worthless people and one that
helps people to take care of the central
aspects of their lives and to enable people, according to the principles of the
American Declaration of Independence,
to practice their right to live, their right
to freedom, their right to strive for happiness, I think this is of crucial importance.
In my opinion the continuous
rotation of power, the rotation of politics are not really
good for simpler social strata, including myself and my family. At
least for two terms there should be one
party in power and then maybe they
could do something. In a good economy
there’s no arguing, like ‘it’s my mistake,
it’s your mistake’. Everything works,
from raw material supply, through organisation to production.
It has to give work to people, so that each member of
a given population can participate in the division of
labour. It has to give goods, commodities, so that people can have food to eat
and a place to live in. It has to provide
services and, this is an important factor,
economy has to be in harmony with
nature because it’s possible that today I
can exploit nature and can make a lot of
money in a short term, but economy has
to have a long term aspect, too. If it
doesn’t respect it’s resources, how it can
renew them? To sum up, economy has to
provide jobs, and whoever is outside of
the division of labour; the elderly, the ill,
children, economy has to maintain them
and the third thing is that economy has
to be sustainable, it mustn’t exploit
nature.
If I imagine a good economy, as that which Marx
wrote about in ‘the Capital’,
which was nice and good, it
should really work in a way that everybody can meet their expectations
through their own jobs - I’m not really
speaking about money because as they
say, ‘money doesn’t make you happy’.
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