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Science Can Restrain Runaway Finance

SAINT AUGUSTINE, MIAMI, Feb 23 2012 (IPS) - The urgent need for a paradigm shift in economics and its financial and mathematical models has been widely recognized for decades. Recently, Credit Suisse research as well as complexity theorists at the Swiss Technical University in Zurich have demonstrated the concentration of companies in the current global economic system. They used network analysis of positive feedback effects (the network grows faster as more join, like Facebook). These dynamics also concentrate connectedness and produced a pattern: of the 50 largest companies in the world, 45 are financial intermediaries (‘ Global Finance Lost in Cyberspace”).

The top brass of these companies meet in Davos at the World Economic Forum. These firms (Barclays, UBS, Citi, etc.) operate on outdated economic theories, assumptions and financial models and tend to favour the current cruel austerity being imposed on citizens in Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and the U.S. Their financial and policy models have been critiqued by scientific research in physics, thermodynamics, anthropology and, recently, brain science, endocrinology and the behavioural sciences, as I documented earlier in The Politics of the Solar Age (NY Times Book Review, 1981).

This concentration of corporate power and its outcomes are now evident in today’s global financialization and led to the financial bubble which burst in 2007-9, still causing widespread human misery. Re-inflating these too-big-to-fail banks allows them to continue dominating the actual activities of real-world, local ‘main street’ economies, rather than serving their banking and credit needs. Thus, efforts to reform today’s financial system simply have bailed out the past mistakes so that more crises, booms and busts are likely to continue.

Current scientific knowledge of our planet’s biosphere, its climate, geology and the behaviour of our human species is finally trumping this cultural legacy of conventional economics and political ideologies rooted in 18th century paradigms. Economics is not a science – as most economists will admit. Rather, its core tenets and “principles” are mere semantics: “capital” (too many definitions); “investment” (in what: nuclear power? public transport? green bonds?); “wealth” (money, ignoring all other forms of wealth); “consumption” (education, social services, household spending) and so on.

The valiant work of financial reformers since the 1970s has challenged these paradigms and their outdated models: modern portfolio theory (MPT), efficient markets, rational human actors, capital asset pricing models (CAPM), value-at-risk (VAR), Black-Scholes options pricing model, NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, used by central banks to set interest rates), etc. (” Changing the Game of Finance”). Building successful alternative financial investment strategies, the pioneers of socially responsible, ethical, triple-bottom line, green investing opened a new window into mainstream finance and managed to broaden and shift the focus of asset managers beyond single bottom line money returns (” Transforming Finance 2.0″).

The new scientific findings must now face down financiers and expose their mystifications. Financiers do not provide capital; they are merely intermediaries between savers and businesses in the real economy and borrowers they favour. Often they take depositors’ money and invest it outside the country or simply speculate on derivatives like credit default swaps. At last, we the 99 percent must rein in these practices and reverse the focus on reforms merely tweaking false economic and financial models. These proved brittle and failed disastrously in 2007-8, causing untold human suffering and widespread ecological disruption and depletion of biodiversity. The economic “technocrats” imposition of their “austerity” cuts have made matters worse. Misdirected investments in 40 percent of London’s FTSE 100 were identified as “sub-prime” by Carbon Tracker.

Today we can start with science and our new knowledge of ecology, biomimicry, climate, geology, thermodynamics, endocrinology, behavioural and brain sciences. This real-world approach will help assure that technologies, business models and enterprises are based on the expansion of human knowledge and planetary awareness. We can also take into account new behavioural insights into our own human cognitive biases, expose economic theory-induced blindness to “externalities,” as well as acknowledging our moral and ethical frailties.

Finance and its pretensions must be defrocked and its misallocations of resources re-oriented in due diligence processes that start with science in reviewing all business opportunities. Only after passing multi-disciplinary analyses of their scientific validity and resilience, possibilities of advancing equitable human development within Life’s Principles, will our models of finance and markets be reformulated to create suitable business and funding models. Some egregious conventional financial models are explored in my ” Real Economies and the Illusions of Abstraction” (2010); ” From Rigged Carbon Markets to Investing in Green Growth” (2011); and ” Updating Fossilized Asset Allocation Classes” (2008). Overviews of global financialization and reform proposals are covered at (www.ethicalmarkets.com Reforming Global Finance).

Ethical Markets’ Green Transition Scoreboard® tracks progress toward deeper greening of global economies. The multi-disciplinary “dashboard” Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators are updated regularly at www.calvert-henderson.com . The European Commission’s Beyond GDP programme (www.beyond-gdp.eu), the OECD’s Better Life Index, Canada’s Index of Wellbeing and my paper with physicist Fritjof Capra, ” Qualitative Growth,” the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (2009), all focus on correcting macroeconomic statistics in line with global scientific realities. Join the signers of our Transforming Finance statement! Surveys worldwide by Globescan show that the public in many countries support such statistical upgrades by wide margins. Let’s set aside old dogmas and use all our new knowledge! (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Hazel Henderson is president of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), author of many books, former advisor to the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, National Science Foundation National Academy of Engineering, the Calvert Group, Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society for Arts and the World Business Academy.

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