Rudolf Steiner is not often referred to as an economist, at least not in the Anglo-Saxon world where modern economics has its locus, and yet his 1922 Economics Course, replete with ideas born of his study of economic and financial history but also his direct experiences of business life, are surely paradigmatic in that his primary concern is with the need to think economically. (Synopsis available here.)
These lectures sit in the context of Steiner’s wider view of modern history – especially the key events of his time, notably the Treaty of Versailles and the role of Karl Marx in history – and the responsibility economists have for society at large. In his book Die Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage (The Central Points of the Social Question, but variously and misleadingly published in English as The Threefold Commonwealth, The Threefold State and The Threefold Social Order), Steiner viewed society as a whole comprising three areas – spiritual life, rights life and economic life – each with its own task and logic and therefore governance, but none able to fulfil its role except in coversation with the other two. As regards economic life, this is (or should be!) a worldwide rather than national affair in a cosmopolitan age and focussed on meeting humanity’s economic needs. It entails not going beyond its proper bounds by treating as commodities (and therefore subject to markets) spiritual and rights matters, and especially not land, labour or capital.
In many respects, therefore, the difficulty in appreciating Steiner’s contribution to economics lies in both his view of its societal role and the complexity of its subject matter, especially in the way it is now embedded in the whole apparatus of modern thought. Steiner’s thinking seeks out the fundamentals. While he introduced little new terminology, he indicated in an age of global economy it is necessary to grasp the economic process as such through its inherent dynamic. This needs to be done by understanding that there are three kinds of money, not just three functions, that money is modern global bookkeeping, as reflected in the threefold structure of accounting, and that these things provide essential guidance when working in association with others.