Associative Economics in school

You may never have heard of associative economics – I had not until recently.

There are seminars and a journal on the subject run by someone here locally (not surprisingly).

At a local Steiner school this week there is a talk for parents on economics by Christopher Haughton Budd entitled “Economics – a guide for the living today”.

My immediate thought was “not a guide for the dead, then.”

But we don’t know – as always with the topic of Steiner, you have to be cautious. What are we to understand from this title?

“A guide for living today” – that would make sense – especially as Mr Haughton Budd will be teaching the main lesson on that day to some pupils. Or perhaps “a guide for making a living today”?
Perhaps there will be some useful tips on budgeting for when they leave school?

For anthroposophists, economics and associative economics appear to be as one.

Looking up Associative Economics I found it is another offshoot from anthroposophy. According to some blurb it “places human beings at the centre of all economic processes”, and is based on “social threefolding” which is another idea based on anthroposophy.

Mr Haughton Budd has been a member of the School of spiritual science since 1979 and this year hosted a conference for those who take  “in earnest the indications of Rudolf Steiner and the work of the School of Spiritual Science as regards modern economic life.”

Here is something on his latest book;        2013_March_Towards_2023_Abstract. He is a founding member of the Associative Economics Network.

According to this book  ” Buoyant finances are the outer sign of a buoyant spirit.”

I think it is interesting to know who visits Steiner schools to take lessons. And I would like to know why the title refers to “the living”.



  1. Jim

    As so often with things Steiner at first sight there seems to be quite a lot about “associative economics” that seems appealing. And I can only speak from first sight, having only had chance to read a little about it. Obviously one thing which bothers me is the generally barmpottery underlying all of of Steiner’s thinking, though to be fair it would not be the first time someone came up with good conclusions from totally false premises.

    The other thing that does strike me is the emphasis on “trusts” and “community”. Trusts in principle are a good thing – they place certain assets in the hands of one person/persons ( the Trustees ) to administer for the good of another person/persons ( the Beneficiaries ). The beneficiary could be an individual ( eg an orphan ) or a class of persons ( eg “the poor of the parish” ). Some trusts have run for centuries and do good service. However increasingly trusts are used to secrete assets out of the reach of the tax authorities or place them in the hands of trustees with unclear responsibilities and limited accountability.

    I’m also suspicious of “community”. It might sound as though it means society at large but increasingly we speak of multiple communities – the gay community, the morris dancing community and of course the Steiner community. As has been noted elsewhere some Steiner groups are relatively open whereas others such as the Novalis Trust clearly have a view of community which does not extend outside their own ranks.

  2. Helen

    I have already dismissed Steiner’s so-called wisdom as nonsense, because once you realise his ideas are based on his “visions”, and his status as a “mystic” nothing of his deserves credence. He has been described as a polymath but the reason he is not referred to today as a respected man of learning (apart from among anthroposophists) is because of his involvement in Theosophy and the supernatural in general. It is hard to take him seriously.
    I don’t know how seriously associative economics is taken. I’ve never heard Evan Davis mention it.
    There is a website;
    but we very quickly find ourselves in a “paradigmatic” environment.
    The economic conference of the Goetheanum, convened by Christopher Houghton Budd, which is within the School of Spiritual Science, has three projects, one of which is “focused on the financial needs of the Anthroposophical Society.


  3. Helen

    About the “trusts”, Jim – I agree they are often more exclusive than inclusive despite what they say about being “for the community”.
    The price of being in a growing number of communities around here is to suspend your disbelief about activities like biodynamics and all kinds of alternative therapies.

  4. Jim

    Biodynamics “works” because even if you strip away all the mystical guff you’re still left with good horticulture ( and lots of cheap labour ).
    Homeopathy doesn’t work – full stop. If you strip away the mystical you’re left with water.
    Oh and biodynamic wines still give you a hangover.

  5. Dr Christopher Houghton Budd

    Hello Helen, if you are genuine about your questions about who I am and what I say, why not ask me direct? I could then tell you more about that title, which is not from me, and my work in the City and elsewhere round the world with mainstream policy makers who, on looking closer and with the eyes of their profession, find in Steiner something – but not of course everything! – of merit. If you are local, I’d be happy to chat over a pint before I leave on Friday. You can contact me via my website:

    Kind regards, Christopher.

  6. Helen

    Hi Christopher, thanks for commenting.
    Yes I am genuine, and yes I am local!
    But I would rather you explained the title here on the blog – probably some readers are interested too. I have been speculating that maybe the title was written by someone whose first language is not English – that would explain the odd wording.

    • Christopher Houghton Budd

      I teach finance professionally in mainstream (and other) contexts. Worldwide there is a demand for financial literacy on the part of citizens and especially young people. But what does that mean: learn to work the system as it is, with all its faults? Or review what will make things work better, taking the crisis out of finance? Governments around the world are now beginning to require financial literacy on the part of all students because, in addition to pursuing a career of one’s choosing, one has to be solvent, liquid and in charge of one’s finances. One has to know where one is in financial terms and have positive cash flow. In short, one has to be astute. It is dependence on financial institutions rather than directly conscious financial behaviour that is in many ways to blame for our current problems. Yes there are errors on the part of economists and policy makers, like assuming markets can be efficient, but these mistakes, mal-practice and all manner of other problems are encouraged and magnified if we trust only to experts for the understanding and management of our money. That is the field I work in, to which, in my professional judgement, Steiner makes a significant contribution in areas such as monetary policy, how to transcend the gold standard, the future of taxation and much else. I was recently asked to moderate a debate in Said Business School in Oxford precisely because of this perspective. In a recent City meeting the discussion was how to create a bridge between today’s youth and central policy making. Such discussions would not include me or my link to Steiner if they were not concrete, technically proficient, relevant and up-to-date. This is what I am engaged in teaching, not only in Wynstones, but in UNESCO schools, universities and other contexts far from the Steiner stable.

      If one wants to reduce the inherent instability of modern finance: three things will do it. Review and update the meaning of price stability; increase the amount of uncollateralised lending to young people; and increase the number of spend-out foundations. This is the leading edge of post-crisis finance. But for all this there has to be an increase, even a quantum increase, in the level of financial awareness on the part of everyone and young people in particular. If it’s good enough as a project under discussion with Buenos Aires City Council, for example, and if Rudolf Steiner’s work can contribute to that discussion, how can this be flaky, non-mainstream, out of track with the essential financial debates of our time, or whatever else you implicitly suggest would be the case if one links Steiner to modern finance?

      Where is the problem in teaching such things to young people so that they do not leave school and walk into the arms of indebtedness (overdrafts, student loans, etc), but enter adult life able to balance their books, manage their cash flow positively, create their own wealth (and therefore their own ‘job’) and achieve, profitably, their aims in life?

      Kind regards, Christopher

      PS: I appreciate you want a public response, but the offer of a pint is still on.

      • Helen

        It is not often I am offered to meet for a pint, so thank you for the repeated offer – my preferred tipple would be a glass of wine (biodynamic or otherwise) but I decline anyway.
        Thank you for the reply also, but I have questions you failed to answer;
        1. About that title…?
        2. When you are invited to teach in the mainstream do you make clear your devotion to anthroposophy ( as mentioned in the June Goetheanum conference you hosted), and your membership of the Anthroposophical Society and the School of Spiritual Science – which are after all central to your kind of economics?
        3. Do you explain Steiner’s belief system ( the basis of associative economics) to students before proceeding or do you withhold that gem until someone asks questions?
        ( a print out on epochs, demons, angels, elemental beings and delineating contours of the soul would handle this without too much fuss)
        4. If as you say “associative economics is a term used in many different contexts”, could you explain how it is that associative economics is unheard of by someone close to me who is about to complete a degree in economics?
        Thank you

        • Christopher Houghton Budd

          Hi Jim and Helen,

          my last post (pun not intended!) as I am leaving Stroud tomorrow. As I tried to say, I work in the mainstream with Steiner as one of the tools in my tool kit. I have a doctorate in banking – a case study of six main central banks in the effect on central banks and financial markets of losing the link to gold, with specific recommendations for the Bank of England. Such a degree one cannot get if one does not know one’s field and has a mono-discourse (only one author). It is not easy to put the essence of modern finance and financial economics into a simple text. The standard text book for undergrads is 25 chapters long! One has no choice but to enter this field oneself on a professional basis, aware of the wide and contrasting literature, and avoiding altogether the soundbite culture of our times. There, if you do that, you will find that not only associative economics, but ANY form of economics that is not mathematical is not taught, cannot get published and does not advance one’s career. (Nor does Evan Davies has an eye for such things.) If one is in any way heterodoxical, forget advancement. Forget Steiner, this includes Schumacher, Sen, Galbraith, Keynes as the advocate of state intervention, but not Keynes the monetarist, and a host of others. It’s no wonder, therefore, that your colleagues have not heard of associative economics.

          As to what I teach, I teach accounting, economic history, business management, monetary policy – all so that a student can pass an A-level, get a degree, or be awarded a Masters. I supervise students worldwide at doctoral level. None of this would be possible if it was thought that I would be slipping anthroposophy into the mix. Why would I? It serves no purpose. If there is one area that Steiner worked in that, in his own words, does not require anthroposophical underpinnings, it is economics. For that, one needs a keen mind, entrepreneurial experience and an ability to do one’s accounts – all things that, to be candid but by their own admission, leave many an anthroposophist gasping for breath.

          For the record, I never speak about Steiner unless asked to do so; and never speak about him to students in school contexts, Waldorf or otherwise.

          Pity about the drink, but I’ve enjoyed the ‘chat’ and hope we can meet up one day.

          All the best, Christopher

          • Jim


            Thanks for the discussion. I’ve no idea whether had it continued we might have found more areas of agreement. No matter – it is an area of Steiner’s thinking of which I was previously unaware and which is worth another look.

            And the important thing is that we can discuss it in a civilised manner without the vitriol which some would like to impute.


  7. Jim

    I’ve had a little more time to look up references to associative economics and so far I haven’t found any that come from outside the anthroposophical perspective. However as you will have seen in the press recently the world of economics is now so dominated by the prevailing free market ideology that even a traditional Keynesian view finds it hard to get a look in.

    It’s not clear what AE is actually saying. There seem to be some rather platitudinous statements but nothing of substance. What actually follows from them for the running of an economy?

    • 2johns

      Hi Jim, associative economics is a term used in many different contexts, only one of which is in the Steiner stable, and even there is it various in its meanings. Such, as we all know is the nature of economics as a discipline – associative or otherwise! if you want some substance (seldom to be found on websites), try ‘Finance at the Threshold’ from Gower. This was expressly commissioned to look through the lens of Steiner’s lectures on economics at the financial crisis and its aftermath. Its target audience was City players – central bankers, fund managers and economists. I have tried to repatriate my rights from Gower, but they decline because the book is “selling too well”.

      My point? It will not do to surf or soundbite your way in the world of modern finance. It is too serious, too dangerous a field to treat lightly.

      Best wishes, Christopher

      • Jim

        Hi Christopher.
        You will I hope understand if I find it difficult to accept without further reason that such an obvious barmpot as Rudolf Steiner could have anything sensible to say about economics. Indeed recent experience makes me wonder if anyone does!
        However we should consider the arguments rather than the man. The problem I have found with the references I have looked at so far is that there are warm words but little substance. So it would be helpful if you could point me towards a reasonably concise exposition of what it actually means. I agree the subject deserves more than sound bites but we need to start somewhere.

        There is little I would disagree with in your earlier post but then neither I suspect would the chairman of RBS. But would he change the banks behaviour?

      • Jim

        Hello again Christopher.

        I’ve just read the first chapter of your book online. I congratulate you on writing mercifully lucid prose, unlike so much of the turgid Steiner related material I have read.
        As you say Steiner is not noted for his contribution to economics so it would be ironic if this is the one area in which he has something interesting to say. It’s too soon to say because not surprisingly your first chapter, though interesting, does not go into much detail. But I’m afraid that at £65 I’m unlikely to be given a copy for Xmas. So some pointers would be appreciated.

        On the teaching question I agree it is important that young people should be financially prepared for life. Whatever the merits of AE I imagine you are realistic enough to accept that the world will not be transformed overnight. So do you teach the world as it is as well as how you would like it to be?

  8. Helen

    I guess we’ll never know then.
    If he’d stayed around until Saturday maybe the team from the Free school initiative would have made use of another member of the School of Spiritual Science on their stall in town – the last one was invaluable.

  9. Jim

    Christopher has left Stroud but maybe he, or someone else competent to comment, is still looking in.

    I gather the concept of ‘true price’ is central to Steiner’s economics. The true price of a product is said to be the amount necessary for a man to meet all his ( and any dependants ) needs until he will again complete a like product. This is quite interesting and in some respects quite appealing, though it has little bearing on the notion of price as in everyday use.

    It does recognise some moral responsibility for the needs of the producer rather than exclusively the consumer’s wish for the lowest possible price and to hell with the consequences. So far so good. It also relates to the future rather than the past – ie not to the cost already incurred in making the product but to the needs until the next is made. Past and future are not watertight since part of the producer’s future need might include paying for materials etc incurred in making the previous product. But still it’s an interesting view.

    It does raise some questions:
    If X takes 1 day to make a product and Y takes a week for an identical product what is the true price? Or is there a true price for X and another for Y?

    What is the obligation on the consumer to pay the true price? In the case of X and Y which true price – it would appear that Y would be in for a hard time unless some other factor such as family or group loyalty came into play.

    It would seem that the true price cannot be known at the time the transaction takes place because at that time the producer’s future needs can only be estimated. Or is that precisely the point – ie to replace a transactional ( cash like ) relationship with one of future support?

    It does begin to feel that it is not a descriptive theory nor yet a practical proposition for economic reform. More like a utopian exchange system to be partially employed within a closed, or semi closed, community such as the Steiner movement.

    Before anyone makes the obvious point that I haven’t understood AE let me acknowledge it – that’s what I’m trying to do!

Any thoughts?

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