Monthly Archives: July 2014

Barefoot Economics


Posted earlier as a Facebook note on 17 September 2011 at 08:23

 What is “barefoot economics”

Chilean Barefoot Economist Manfred Max-Neef explains;

“Well, it’s a metaphor, but a metaphor that originated in a concrete experience. I worked for about ten years of my life in areas of extreme poverty in the Sierras, in the jungle, in urban areas in different parts of Latin America. And at the beginning of that period, I was one day in an Indian village in the Sierra in Peru. It was an ugly day. It had been raining all the time. And I was standing in the slum. And across me, another guy also standing in the mud — not in the slum, in the mud. And, well, we looked at each other, and this was a short guy, thin, hungry, jobless, five kids, a wife and a grandmother. And I was the fine economist from Berkeley, teaching in Berkeley, having taught in Berkeley and so on. And we were looking at each other, and then suddenly I realized that I had nothing coherent to say to that man in those circumstances, that my whole language as an economist, you know, was absolutely useless. Should I tell him that he should be happy because the GDP had grown five percent or something? Everything was absurd.


So I discovered that I had no language in that environment and that we had to invent a new language. And that’s the origin of the metaphor of barefoot economics, which concretely means that is the economics that an economist who dares to step into the mud must practice. The point is, you know, that economists study and analyze poverty in their nice offices, have all the statistics, make all the models, and are convinced that they know everything that you can know about poverty. But they don’t understand poverty. And that’s the big problem. And that’s why poverty is still there. And that changed my life as an economist completely. I invented a language that is coherent with those situations and conditions.”


He proposes 5 postulates and one fundamental Value Principle

1.The economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.

2. development is about people and not about objects.

3. Growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.

4. No economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.

5. The economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.


And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.


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