The Barefoot Economist: Celebrating the life and work of Manfred Max-Neef

It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of  long-time Gaia advisor, associate and, now, ancestor, Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, who passed away last Thursday 8th of August at his home in Valdivia, Chile.

Image: Right Livelihood Award

But it is with joy that we celebrate Manfred’s life and contributions to building a more just and beautiful world.

Manfred devoted his life to promoting alternative forms of development and became known as the ‘barefoot economist’ for his commitment to addressing poverty and social inequality, and caring for the other living beings with whom we share this planet. He was also an early critic of growth-based capitalist economics and a father of the emerging de-growth movement.

Speaking in an interview with Democracy Now! in 2010, Manfred described, with typical clarity, the basis for the new economics he envisaged:

“The principles, you know, of an economics which should be are based in five postulates and one fundamental value principle. One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy. Two, development is about people and not about objects. Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth. Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services. Five, 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.” – Manfred Max-Neef.

In 1983, Manfred’s powerful work and insight was recognised with the Right Livelihood Award. He will be deeply missed, says Gaia’s Director, Liz Hosken:

Manfred was larger than life- in stature, in intellect and in spirit. He was a mathematician, musician, poet and philosopher as well as the ‘barefoot economist’ he became known as. Manfred challenged the dominant assumptions of capitalist economics long before it became acceptable to do so. One of his most important contributions, which influenced Gaia and many of our partners, was his research and book ‘Human-scale Development’, which focused on how humans can achieve happiness and well-being not through hierarchy, but through relationship with each other and Nature.

One of my fondest memories of Manfred, who often stayed at Gaia House when he travelled through London, was talking to him about his fondness for and exploration of gnomes… yes, gnomes. We will sorely miss Manfred’s wisdom, insight and humour in these challenging times.”