To be or not to be merchandise. That is the question

To be or not to be merchandise. That is the question

The debate about "decomoditization" is old. It started well before the founding of the Vía Campesina Movement (1992) and the nickname created by the peasant activist José Bové - “The world is not a commodity” (1999).

That discussion has developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s among some commodity and futures traders since the adoption by bankers and politicians of the Chicago school's Milton Friedman neoliberal theory.

The origin of futures markets also predates capitalism. Its history is recorded millennia ago in China and India among nomadic peoples who carried goods from one place to another across the deserts of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe and combined the future price (exchange) when they returned to the door of the house of the buyer carrying their orders. The Chinese are the largest, in turnover, and the most aggressive commodity and futures traders in the world.

Markets always existed with or without capitalism, but with capitalism barters have become monetary, that is, instead of exchanging things for other things, for example, a piece of meat for bread, a chicken for a kilo of flour , things were exchanged for currency (money). Hence what was done in a limited way and for subsistence (to meet basic needs) began to have another connotation of values.

One can discuss the exchanges of human beings for food, of children for animals, among many others that also existed before capitalism and still persist with all the hard conquests for human and environmental rights. The phenomenon of commodifying things and people or what should or should not be merchandise, ethics and what kind of values ​​guide these attitudes, regardless of ideologies and religions, should be studied in the light of economic, social, political, legal and scientific science. , above all, in the light of psychiatry. Only the human being kills for pleasure. The other species do not act that way.

Returning to futures markets and taking as an example the case of Chinese mathematician David X. Li, whose elegant formula, the Gaussian Copula, has been replicated by Wall Street traders. David X. Li's method was embraced by everyone from security investors, Wall Street banks, rating agencies and regulators. And it became so deeply ingrained in the “modus operandi” of the financial system that many make money with that mathematical model, but ignore the warnings about the limitations of the use of that methodology and its potential risks. There is no zero probability in future markets. There will always be risks proportional to the size of the winnings. And that, depending on the financial volume of the application, the risks may also correspond to the capacity to drive (speed and volume between high and low) of those markets. Thus, it is estimated that for each gram of gold, the possibility that it will be carried out at a loss is multiplied around 100 times.

David X. Li's model fell apart, producing flaws that appeared since the beginning of the 2008 crisis with the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers Bank, swallowing trillions of dollars and putting the survival of the international financial system at risk, which like a parrot, repeats the same practices without any technical foundation when it comes to making quick money with the mantra: “we have to take advantage of the opportunities that crises provide us”.

Mathematical models

Could the mathematical formula and its author be responsible for the Wall Street diamond?

The tragedy lies in the subprime, the multibillion dollar system that allowed pension funds, insurance companies and hedge funds to lend billions of dollars to companies, countries and home buyers.

The responsibility, in truth, lies with whoever uses the formula inadvertently, even because, in a deregulated market, no one is obliged to use a methodology, unless it is imposed by force of law or by a very powerful lobby such as is happening with the adoption of the TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity - La Economía de los Ecosistemas y de la Biodiversidad), a report that was coordinated by the Indian physicist and economist Pavan Sukhdev. How to use the TEEB and interpret it should also be the responsibility of those who use it. But it does not mean that from the moment the UN adopts that methodology it should not be questioned for what and for what purpose the TEEB was conceived.

As a Brazilian economist, of Bedouin-Palestinian origin, I refuse to accept mathematical formulas and economic models imposed from the top down and from the outside in, testing financial theories with human beings and the environment. I am the author of a mathematical formula that, for security reasons, the notion of risk and not to underestimate the intelligence of others, I have not yet revealed and I do not intend to reveal so soon.

Unlike David X. Li, I did not make it to make money with it and also, following the example of the Indian executive who graduated from Deutsche Bank, Pavan Sukhdev, I did not make it at the request of the bankers, not the corporations or the UN.

It was out of the conviction that it was necessary to introduce a benign cell into the body of the cancer economy that produces metastasis, like the one in the 2008 crisis, that I have developed it. I started the design of this formula in 1990 motivated by the Iran-Iraq war, with my practical experience as an operator in the mineral, gold, oil and derivatives markets (derived from assets or futures). As I said before, the discussion on decommoditization occurred long before the founding of Via Campesina and the notoriety achieved by José Bové with his anti-globalization and anti-industrialization struggle inspiring the World Social Forums.

About the formula I have created, it is a numerical sequence that decodes the matrices of environmental commodities. It is the decomoditization of the conventional pattern that determined the system that promotes commoditization. As the word decomoditization is more complicated and difficult to explain, becoming an expression as much as the word commodity, I coined the expression environmental commodities. On this issue I clarify in the article Post-Rio + 20 - Conceptual reflections on the commoditization of common goods.

I understand the history of the Indian activists against commoditization, since they have been the main victims of these irresponsible and utilitarian models by the students of Milton Friedman's neoliberal school. Interestingly, the coordinating executive of the controversial and questionable TEEB report is an Indian.

But, it will not be because the word commodities is demonized with good reason we should omit it, ignore it or even replace it with another that tries to minimize its consequences without discussing the essence of its meaning or how we can combat the system that has become a big problem. socio-environmental. Who said that commodity has to be what it is? Here in Brazil it has been used for 517 years without translating it and, mainly without reply. It was the Europeans and Americans who made us swallow it with their technological way of making us produce them, paying a pittance for them, while rural producers, farmers and peasants, run all the risks of climate, harvest, financial, in addition to the pricing risk.

Thus, as a doctor's prescription prescribes “diclofenac sodium” a techno-scientific name, it speaks of biodiversity, ecosystems, biomes in the “biologues”, I use technical and scientific names in economics and finance to prescribe a remedy, I don't dare apply it without first analyzing with society if it will have a positive or negative effect. Nor do I intend to produce it alone, since I consider that alchemy a set of many factors, requiring the involvement of various socio-environmental actors in this long operation. Regarding conceptualization, it is still something that, in order to have the desired result, must be assimilated by a considerable group of thinking minds. Otherwise, it will not be a concept, it may or may not be a pile of interesting ideas.

I agree with the ecofeminist and scientist Vandana Shiva when she states: “food is not a commodity”. In fact, food cannot be reduced to some export products, for example, soybeans, sugarcane, beef, pine and eucalyptus. The word commodity does not find a literal translation in Portuguese, that is why it appears in financial literature in English, as it is a worldwide expression in finance and foreign trade.

Right to food

As human beings we eat many products, and it would be better and healthier if produced without poisons, such as agro-toxins. Unfortunately, this way of producing is still part of our urban diet (fast food). These are the “foods” that are bought in the supermarket and at fairs, with few exceptions, with agroecology competing for restricted spaces in supermarkets and at prices that are inaccessible to most mortals.

Scientist Vandana Shiva says something that must be considered in light of economic science, since commodity production neither nourishes us nor supports us financially. Long ago it ceased to be an economic alternative, generating employment and income in the countryside to be a concentration of capital in the hands of those who have capitalized with the "timely" lack of agricultural policy, sovereignty and food security that are currently part of the most Urgent demands of peasants, landless, traditional communities and forest peoples: agrarian reform and the right to land.

However, it cannot be stated that “food is not merchandise” using the word in Portuguese without explaining it. The statement "food is not a commodity" does not find support in reality and in the imagination of ordinary people (not politicized). It can be a word of order, an expression derived from the just and necessary speech of José Bové, who found support in Via Campesina. That if it finds support in the reality in which we live in that market economy, by affirming that "the world is not a commodity" - whatever language it is in - "the world is not a commodity."

Let's see: food is merchandise, yes, because we still have to buy it in the supermarket, in the bakery, in the markets and other places. Also, the State will not provide free food. Mere illusion to believe that the State will give free food to the entire contingent of more than 7.5 billion human beings on this planet, not counting, of course, other living beings.

Surely, as Vandana Shiva argues, “food is not a commodity” because, in the end, intensive monoculture (a single crop), which is one of the five main export products, does not feed us and we cannot stop feeding with other varieties that are more important and guarantee food and nutritional security, such as roots, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, green leaves, shells, honey, spices, milk, eggs, flours, various meats (beef, sheep, pork, poultry) fish, seafood, not counting the plants that heal. Medications can be traditional or alternative. Why do we kill ourselves with conventional medicine, with drugs that vitiate and cause collateral damage?

Thus, I propose to adopt another phrase that seems more appropriate to what is being communicated: "food is a human right and that of other living beings." You cannot leave other living beings out of that question considering what you learned with the eco-historian and environmentalist Arthur Saffioti, who presents the challenge of the new contemporary organicist naturalist paradigm.

The mechanistic paradigm is still permeated in the westernized human being, now in a practical way. On the other hand, a new paradigm emerges, which could be called the contemporary organic naturalist. Instead of "I think, therefore I exist", consider now the "computation, therefore I exist". Computing is processing information and transforming it into knowledge for life. All living beings -unicellular or multicellular- compute. Then all can be considered subjects and objects.

If we understand that “food is a human right and that of other living beings”, we raise a flag that will find support in people's imaginations and will raise a fundamental question: why do I have to buy expensive and bad food in supermarkets? If what is in the supermarket can be considered food. If you give an industrialized papinha for your baby, will you be feeding him?

With these inquiries, among others, we provoke concerns and, in this way, we promote a more efficient and philosophical discussion in minds, hearts and stomachs, making people aware of what we are finally producing and consuming.

We can begin by philosophizing like the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare: "To be or not to be merchandise: that's the question."

  1. Decomoditization - action of not producing merchandise with an industrial pattern, maintaining differentiated criteria such as artisan and traditional productions of sweets, cheeses, flours among other foods and products.
  2. Milton Friedman was one of the most prominent economists of the 20th century and one of the most influential theorists of economic liberalism. Chief Apostle of the Monetarist School and member of the Chicago School, as well as defender of laissez faire and the free market. Friedman was an advisor to the Chilean government of Augusto Pinochet and many of his ideas have been applied in the first phase of the Nixon government and in much of the Ronald Reagan government. He was the father of the theorist David Friedman. Available in
  3. TEEB: The initiative The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity was born in 2007 during the meeting of ministers of the Environment of the G8 + 5 in Potsdam, Germany, and began to function in 2008 under the coordination of the executive Pavan Sukhdev, of the Deutsche Bank The objective was to cover the economic value of ecosystem services and biodiversity in order to protect it from further destruction and predatory actions. The final report of the study was released in 2010 during the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan.
EL KHALILI, Amyra. Poster RIO + 20: Reflections conceituais on the “commoditization” of two common bens. Available in Portuguese:> and Spanish>
EL KHALILI, Amyra. To be or not to be a commodity: you are a questão !. Forum for Urban and Environmental Management - FDUA, Belo Horizonte, year 13, n. 74, p.77 -80, Mar./Apr. 2014.
SALMON, Felix. Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street. Available at: .
UNMÜßIG, Barbara. None of them intends to place labels under nature. Interview with Pavan Sukhdev. Make it available: .
OLIVEIRA, Péricles de. Agronegócio, an exhausted model. Interview with Vandana Shiva.Brazil of fato. Available at: .

By Amyra El Khalili
Collaborator of Dialogues del Sur. Amyra El Khalili is a professor of socio-environmental economics and editor of the networks Movimiento Mujeres por la P @ z and Alianza RECOs - Networks of Community Cooperation Without Borders.

Video: To be or not to be - Kenneth Branagh HD HAMLET (July 2021).