"On life and the market", by David Edwards.

From an early age, we try to fit children into the world. Instead, perhaps, we should reflect on how the world should fit children.

“Grown-ups love figures... When you tell them, you've made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? " Instead they demand "How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? " Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince” (1943).

Saint-Exupéry was not a child when he wrote those lines. However, “The Little Prince” continues to delight children and adults because it embodies the spontaneity and common sense of children. It expresses the wonder and wisdom that, today, would be reduced to “thinking outside the box”.

But what if the real problem is the box and all the little boxes all around us into which we are forced?

Children are not collections of cells waiting to become human. They have personalities and characters. By the age of five, children have reached 90 per cent of their total brain capacity. That, by itself, should gain respect from those of us who are over five and still working on the remaining 10 per cent.

We are no longer children. However, we should treasure and nourish their process of exploration. We should celebrate and cultivate the joy of learning in an environment that is safe for listening, imagining, creating and living human values.

We share our common humanity with children. Humans can feel good. We can feel bad. We can care. We can be nasty. We can laugh and cry. And, we can do it together.  

On the other hand, the market has no friends. It has no face. It has no name. It is not alive. It has no human values or moral compass. To the market, we are all isolated objects or targets.

So, how did it go from being a mechanism of the economy enshrined in long, boring books to be an article of faith? Would you worship your toaster?

It may be considered radical or even revolutionary, but I would like to venture that the purpose of the market is to help make the economy work while making money. Its mission is neither to serve humanity nor to control it. If that is the case, is there any reason that it should seep into every nook and cranny of our lives and darken our existence?

Let me briefly depart the world of market make believe to the reality and challenges of our daily lives.

In the struggle against the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, the world came together and rallied around as if it were fighting a war. Billions were invested by governments, social partners worked together, medical research was accelerated and public health systems were improved. The scope expanded to malaria and TB. These diseases still exist, but they are no longer sure killers.

Today, we have a pandemic of work-related stress and burnout. It is making people miserable. It disrupts and destroys families. It causes serious illness and death.

We have a global warming emergency that threatens to destroy the planet. The burden of dealing with it is much heavier than either governments or market actors seem willing or able to bear.

These are only two of the lethal dangers to our happiness and our lives. Neither can be solved by the market. The market may be able to contribute, but not as an unguided missile.

Can humans join together and become so powerful that we can put the market in its place and go about solving these and other problems? Can we throw off our shackles and live by values and not just prices? Can we penetrate the fog coming from the giant fog machine in the sky to see and grasp what is really important?

That requires that we act together and that we mobilise our reason. However, many of the most important things in life are not tangible. They cannot be measured or easily observed.

Here again, we are helped to probe more deeply by the “Little Prince”:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”


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David Edwards

David Edwards is the General Secretary of Education International.

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