EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

Chapter 6: Towards the Service Economy

10. Broadening the Horizons of Political Economicss
In the next chapter I will return to a number of very important concepts that characterise the service economy, such as pure risk and entrepreneurial risk, vulnerability, moral risk (moral hazard), insurability (the new complementarity between public and private bodies), the effects of the so-called asymmetric information, diversity and complementarity of financial services, the new functions of capital in the service economy, etc.
Here it is necessary to add another word on the problem of ecology and the environment. The questions that for three decades have stimulated this movement – beginning with the Club of Rome – are very like those that have given birth to many studies on political economics, though neither the economists nor the ecologists have cared to sufficiently compare the texts.
The great economists of the past had an essential preoccupation – for some it was even a matter of a moral commitment – the improvement of the human material condition.
This meant making the best use of the earth’s resources.
The ecologists talk about resources in the broad sense, the economists struggle to push themselves beyond what is defined by a price. From this derives the importance in the service economy of analysing and studying the passage between monetised goods and the non-monetised ones. To bring a product under economic scrutiny only when it has become scarce following a process of pollution and ignore the original cause of the scarcity long before it has become visible (i.e. marked by a price) are not satisfactory.
The horizons of political economics in any analyses and theories have to be extended to include the passages from non-monetarised and non-monetised towards the monetised and vice versa.
It is an accepted fact that economics tends to be active and efficacious in the short term. This is not always true: insurance for example covers risks that can appear after tens of years.
The ecologists are right when they suggest that everything possible should be done to preserve the earth and its resources for the long term. On this point they have achieved a great political victory after the word “sustainable” became an accepted word applied to the notion of growth and development.
The great problem that contemporaneously concerns economists and ecologists, however, is the long term forecast. The more time passes the greater the uncertainty that can distract from an objective, in both the positive and the negative sense. Once again we must not be deceived about the significance of science. There are no absolute good results, but there are better results. To believe in the possibility of one hundred percent scientifically certain forecasts means running the risk of falling into the same trap into which so called scientific Marxism fell. Let us not make the same mistakes: That would be a new and very serious form of social and political pollution.
If the “precautionary” principle that is often spoken of means anything it is of the reduction, the control of risks and vulnerability, of repairs to and indemnification for damages. It is often said that zero risk does not exist: to want to believe this is the greatest risk. Does this mean we should never go to bed, the piece of furniture on which a great majority of men die? We must, we want – I hope – to live: to understand, to reduce, to manage, to utilise risks. And to sleep.


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