The Barefoot Economist, Manfred Max-Neef, Talks to E4A

Manfred Max-Neef  Photo credit: Right Livelihood Award

Manfred Max-Neef
Photo credit: Right Livelihood Award

 “I severed my ties with the trends imposed by the economic establishment, disengaged myself from ‘objective abstractions’ and decided to step into the mud”.

Dr. Max-Neef


On Thursday, December 8, at 2:30 p.m., in the last session of the Ethics and Cosmology student-led seminar, the E4A community will share via teleconference with Dr. Max-Neef, a renowned Chilean economist who has contributed throughout his life to promoting socioeconomically just and ecologically viable development as alternatives to the irrational concept of growth of the predominant capitalist economic regime.  He is well known for his “Barefoot Economics” and “Human Scale Development” proposals, as well as his postulates for a new economy after years of living and working in South America. At 84, he continues to contribute to developing a new economic paradigm as guest speaker at important events and congresses, and as professor of the Master of Human Scale Development and Ecological Economics at the Graduate School of Economics and Administrative Sciences at the Universidad Austral de Chile.


Dr. Max-Neef’s first two postulates for a new economy:

  1. “The economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy”.
  2. “Development is about people, not about objects”.


Dr. Max-Neef was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1983, the Kenneth Boulding Award from the International Society of Ecological Economics in 2008, and the Chilean National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights, among other prestigious forms of recognition, including seven honorary Doctorates from different universities in the United States, Colombia, Argentina, Japan and Jordan.


He started his career as an economist working with the Shell Company but in 1957 abandoned the corporate world to help developing nations in South America. During the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, he worked in Argentina at the Fundación Bariloche, a prominent private non-profit organization with the objective “to promote teaching and research in all branches of science, based on a solid, humanist culture and in accordance with the democratic principles contained in the Argentine Constitution”.


He taught economics at the University of California Berkeley in the 1960s and served as visiting professor at several universities in the Unites States, Europe and Latin America. He also has vast experience directing development projects in the Global South with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Pan American Union (now the Organization of American States), and the International Labour Organization. In 1993 he ran as an independent candidate in the Chilean presidential elections and achieved a substantial amount of the minority vote. He was subsequently appointed as rector of the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia, a position he held for eight years and where he is currently a professor.


Dr. Max-Neef was influenced by the late and internationally famous economist, Ernst Friedrich (E.F.) Schumacher. His internationally recognized books, From the Outside Looking In: Experiences in Barefoot Economics (first publication 1981) and Human Scale Development (1991), elaborate on practising Schumacher’s teachings of “economics as if people matter” by encouraging self-reliance through  locally-based economies and the satisfaction of fundamental human needs. In Human Scale Development, instead of the Gross National Product (GDP), he proposed a matrix with nine finite and classifiable human needs, according to axiological characteristics, connected with four fundamental existential needs, to measure progress with common sense, well-being ethics. In addition, in the 1990s he developed the Threshold Hypothesis, stating that, “for every society there seems to be a period in which economic growth (as conventionally measured) brings about an improvement in the quality of life—beyond which, if there is more economic growth, quality of life may begin to deteriorate.”


“So much can be achieved by thinking and acting small. This should not be surprising, after all, smallness is nothing but immensity on the human scale”.  Dr. Max-Neef


Dr. Max-Neef is a council member of the World Future Council, and is affiliated with the European Academy of Science and Arts, The Club of Rome, the Lopold Kohr Academy in Salzburg, the New York Academy of Sciences and E.F. Schumacher Society, now the E.F. Schumacher Center for New Economics. He has written numerous essays, scholarly articles–including in the Ecological Economics journal–and books. His latest book, Economics unmasked: from power and greed to compassion and the common good (2011) is co-authored with the physicist Philip B. Smith.


All E4A community members interested in joining the discussion on Thursday, December 8 @ 2:30 pm EST, contact María Juncos mjuncos@yorku.ca before December 6. We will send you an invitation to join the seminar via ZOOM if you are not in Toronto.


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