Associative Economics

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Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner is not often referred to as an economist, at least not in the Anglo-Saxon world where modern economics has its locus, but his 1922 lectures on economics may yet be seen as paradigmatic in that his primary concern is with the need to think economically. (Synopsis available here.)

In his introduction to the lectures, entitled ‘Rudolf Steiner, Economist’, Dr. Christopher Houghton Budd endeavours to place Steiner on the map by surveying his overall work and main ideas in this field, as well as his experiences in business life. Themes range from Steiner’s ideas about the appropriate way of thinking in economics and the responsibility economists have for society at large, to commentary on the key events of his time – notably the Treaty of Versailles. It also touches on the evolution of consciousness, an idea largely absent from economics, and looks at Steiner’s understanding of Marx’s role in history. Houghton Budd writes:

”Steiner was insistent that the thinking used in economics was unable to recognise living organisms and yet, in his view, the economy was precisely such an organism. He pointed out that the kind of thinking needed to understand economics died away just at the time when so-called economic science began to emerge. He was of the view that a genuine science of economics had yet to be created, and that to do so would require quite different thinking to that employed in natural science, making the latter unsuitable as a model for economic science.”

In many respects, therefore, the difficulty in appreciating Steiner’s contribution to economics lies in the complexity of the subject matter, especially as it has now come to be embedded in the whole apparatus of modern thought. Steiner’s thinking seeks out the fundamentals. While he introduced little new terminology, he indicated that humanity had entered an age of global economy in which it would be necessary to grasp the economic process through its inherent dynamic. This needs to be done by understanding the nature of money (that there are three kinds) and working in association with others.