Challenging Traditional Economic Theories: A Conversation With Jo M. Sekimonyo
Jo is the founder of “En Charge,” an independent and non-partisan organization that promotes the participation of young people in social, political, and economic dialogues at the national and global levels. Jo’s writing and activism focus on economic injustice, poverty, and egalitarianism. In this interview, Jo challenges classical macroeconomic theories such as the business cycle theory and preference theory, and shares thoughts on tackling global debt problems, as well as explaining his new economic ideology called ethosism.
HEY, WELCOME TO WORLDAUTHORS.ORG! WHO IS JO M. SEKIMONYO? I am a theorist, human rights activist, political economist and social philosopher. I am the founder of “En Charge”, an independent and non-partisan organization that promotes the participation of young people in social, political and economic dialogues at the national and global levels. Much of my writing and rantings focus on economic injustice, poverty, and egalitarianism. What I can add that isn’t on Google yet is that I’m an entrepreneur, media owner, and investor. I am the founder of “ethosism.com“, a social media platform, a fun and safe space for global dialogue from different perspectives. I would also be running for president in the 2023 Congolese elections in December.
YOU CHALLENGE CLASSICAL MACROECONOMIC THEORIES SUCH AS BUSINESS CYCLE THEORY. HOW SO? The business cycle theory, which suggests that economies naturally go through cycles of expansion and contraction, has been a cornerstone of modern economics for decades. The traditional business cycle theory is no longer be sufficient to fully capture the complexities of today’s global economy as it is failing in predicting and responding to such shocks. Some economists argue that factors such as globalization and technological advancements as reasons why we need to rethink the traditional business cycle theory. But, instead, I’m putting on the table a more nuanced framework, which takes into account the unique characteristics and challenges of today’s interconnected and rapidly evolving global economy, based on the paradigm shift of the 21st century. At the end of the 20th century, one way or another, we all joined the human centipede, on the production or service side of the global economy. What is different this time is that the working class has become very efficient through technology and sophisticated individual means of participating in a business or enterprise. This led to overproduction and the cheapening of our needs and wants. But then the psychological contract between the working class and the captains of industry remained the same rule of distribution of wealth and power, even if the postulate has long since lost its validity. The oxycodone of the developed countries and their populations, which is the accumulation of high debts, added to the excessive inefficiency of the third world and the wages maintained always too low in this part of the world, make it impossible to avoid the very difficult navigation of the global economy. And so, I argue that the economic cycle of the 21st century is caused by the maneuvers of the developed countries, which control the wheel of the world economy, to mitigate their over efficiency. Prior justifications are a subset of this.
WHAT OTHER ECONOMIC THEORY ARE YOU TRYING TO REVAMP? At the heart of preference theory is the notion of consumer preferences which, according to this framework, can be revealed by what they buy in different circumstances, which I disagree with. I argue that only sellers have preferences because they have the power to decide what they will sell. As for consumers, they suffer from the fact that they have to deal with the menu already established by the seller. Therefore, their propensity for action relies on triggering the reverse of their indifference that comes from the sum of values (sentimental, proximity and subsistence). With businesses and enterprises big marketing budget and the number of sophisticated tricks available these days, it’s clear that it’s all about breaking consumer indifference.
WITH ALL THE ALARMS RINGING ABOUT THE DANGEROUS GLOBAL DEBT BURDEN, WHO DO YOU THINK IS THE CULPRIT AND CAN IT BE FIXED? If you Google the five most indebted countries in 2021, Japan, Greece, Sudan, Eritrea and Lebanon come up. But Greece’s estimated total external debt at the time was about $408 billion, Sudan’s about $60 billion, Eritrea’s about $1.2 billion and Lebanon of about 30 billion dollars. For comparison, in 2021 the five most indebted countries in the world based on total debt were the United States (over $28 trillion), Japan ($12.7 trillion), China (over $11 trillion), Italy (over $3.3 trillion). ) and France ($2.9 trillion). The real picture is skewed by the use of the debt-to-GDP ratio which, unfortunately, plays an important role in painting a nation’s overall economic strength. One might suspect that, although clearly misleading, this approach is used because it may favor highly indebted countries that also happen to be the jurors of the global economy and also the largest economies. We need to tackle the global debt problem by pointing the finger at the really indebted countries, the culprits. Then the remedies must also improve the state of universal poverty, which is currently horrible and primitive. The gain should be more inclusive. There is an explainer on YouTube about my proposal on how to do this.
ARE YOU A COMMUNIST? No way, far from it. I must point out that communism is said to sap people potential but capitalism does not reward people for their contribution, especially the working class in which browns and blacks have piled up. Capitalism and communism are often described as opposing economic systems but are not that different. Both lead to the concentration of power and wealth and limit individual freedom and innovation. In both systems, a small group of people often wield significant economic and political power and are able to shape the direction of the economy and society to their advantage. There is no doubt that socialism and communism failed horribly, but now humanity’s stubbornness to stay on the path of capitalism is strangling us. I am an ethosist.
WHAT IS ETHOSISM? I like to start my answer with Bertrand Russell’s solution to economic equity expressed in the 1930s was: “If we wish to diminish the love of money which, we are told, is the root of all evil, the first step must be the creation of a system in which everyone has enough, and no one has too much.” This could easily be misinterpreted as an orientation towards socialism or communism. The purpose of using the quote is really far from that. As I put it in the book, diagnosing how we are grappling with issues in the 21st century– wealth inequality, climate change, and societies reckoning with civil rights, resulting from essentially a major paradigm shift reveals we need to arrive at a new moral consensus that I offer, which is Ethosism.
Today, the most important aspect of the paradigm shift is that people pay and acquire their means of participation or engagement in the business or enterprise. And in the 21st century, human creativity which is the mother of innovation, is the key to prosperity. Thus, knowledge, skills, and brawn are as valuable as gold and money.
Ethosism is an economic and political system in which all participants in the generation of the surplus share it in percentage terms. On this basis, it removes the middleman, the state, from the equation and curbs the proliferation of billionaires while expanding and improving the quality of the middle class in any country that embraces it.
And if adopted by most nations, it will impact the environment by reversing pollution and reducing human-caused environmental change.
ARE YOU FACING THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING YOUR VOICE HEARD? Well, how many times do you walk into a bookstore and find yourself on a shelf devoted to political economy. Add to that, the fact that I’m black makes it hard to capture the collective consciousness due to institutional biases. To top it off, I’m Congolese. Some people, including Africans, automatically downplay my works as yet another whine aimed at triggering white guilt over the inhumane living conditions of Africans in Africa. The intersectionality of the two factors and the offering of solutions to global problems make the crusade a painful experience primarily due to the dominance of Western paradigms, theories and methodologies in global discourse. This hinders the ability to disseminate the opinions of others and limits the acceptance and recognition of others’ theories and assessments. Although people like me must navigate complex landscapes filled with stupid biases when tackling systemic inequalities and promoting economic justice, I firmly believe that we must bring ideas and perspectives to the field, which are essential to achieve a more just and equitable world.
Jo M. Sekimonyo Theorist, human rights activist, political economist, and social philosopher.