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The Theory of Small Wins by Howard Richards

By “small wins” I mean:

1. An accomplishment that is possible within the “rules of the game” (also known as social structures) that already exist at a given time and place. Due to global neoliberalism, expressed for example by the rules enforced through the World Trade Organization (WTO), these rules are perhaps more the same throughout the planet than they have been at any previous point in history; nevertheless they vary a great deal from place to place as well as from time to time.

2. An accomplishment that nurtures the growth of more caring rules (aka structures). One UCT EMBA student ́s support for building community around a school in rural Zambia would be an example.
3. Thinking of myself, or of a particular reader of these pages, something I, or you, or some organization we belong to, can do.

There are already many caring people in the world. They engage in discourses and practices that, if they were more widespread, would tip the odds in favour of making dignified life possible in the long term. Thinking about what I can do is a matter of thinking about how I might help shift the balance in favour of the positive innumerable.

I have misgivings about using the word “win.” It suggests a more adversarial and less cooperative approach than what I have in mind. I keep using it because it resonates with people I talk to. I am open to suggestions from anybody who might come up with a better word choice.

As a next step, I will say more about what I mean by “rule” and “structure” and about why I think small wins can add up to liberation from the basic rules of the game and the basic social structures that at present hold humankind, and all of life, captive.
I adopt the concept of “rule” proposed by Herbert L.A.
Hart (1907-1992) who held the chair of Professor of
Jurisprudence at Oxford.2 For Hart the defining features of
rules are three in number:

1 See Chapter Eight, “The Imaginary World that Holds the Real World
Captive” in Economic Theory and Community Development,
previously cited.

2 H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1961. See also the discussions of rules in Ludwig Wittgenstein,
Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell, 1958: and in Rom

that women usually finished their moral development at stage three and did not advance to higher stages.12
But an ethics of care, while it corrects gender bias, also facilitates another important achievement. As an ethics founded on attending to needs and responding to needs, it
corrects libertarian ethics that set individual utility maximization in stone, set the rules of the game of free market economics in stone, and consequently set giving priority to profit maximization over common good maximization in stone. It bypasses 18th century European jurisprudence, not abandoning justice as fairness, but placing it in a less mythical and more realistic context. A care ethic fits well with
emphasizing the roles of women in the history and prehistory of the species. It puts coping with the crises of the 21st century in a broader context, opening closed doors and closed minds.

Hoping to open some doors and some minds, I would like to suggest a novel idea: The long term prospects for humankind depend mainly on augmenting the numbers of people at stage three or above, in other words on augmenting the numbers of people displaying normal forms and degrees of good will and rationality.

Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice. Cambridge MA: Harvard
University Press, 1982.

and plates can be experienced as rejection, or as a generalized hypocrisy committed by the generalized other; as lying hatred deserving hate in return.
Volunteering to cook or serve community meals may mean attending to glum and embarrassed people who do not look you in the face because they do not want to be
charity cases, because they do not want to be there and wish you were not there either. But at least it proves, even to the most resentful, that their worst fantasies
about their social status are not true. A small win.

5. We need small wins in university classrooms and in public policy debates too. We must deconstruct the illusion that development defined as economic growth will lead to the populations of the developing world enjoying the same (nonexistent) happiness already imagined to be enjoyed by all Europeans and all Americans. Growth will not. Caring will.
6. We must deconstruct the illusion that training more and more people to qualify for employment will result in more employment. Further, it is not possible to pay everybody wages out of wage funds created by the sale of the products their labour contributes to making.20 More generally, one person ́s purchase is another ́s sale; total purchases must equal total sales; therefore it is
impossible for everyone to win the economic game by selling more than they buy, thus ending up with more cash than debts; therefore in market exchange where making money is the objective, there are losers.21 Dignified employment (or more generally dignified livelihoods) for all requires sharing surplus, e.g. profits and rents. John Locke ́s principle that a person deserves to be paid the market value of what she or he produces, which was the basis for Smith ́s theory of wages and for orthodox wage theory ever since, must be abandoned and replaced by Martin Luther King Jr. s principle that we are one human family living in one world house.22 Job
training will not solve the problem. Sharing will.

For a more detailed treatment of this and related points see Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital. London: Routledge Classics, 2003. First German edition 1913.
That the resulting mountains of unpayable debt are inherently unstable was demonstrated in a series of books and articles by Hyman Minsky.
For details see Economic Theory and Community Development,
previously mentioned.

Getting this point across in a classroom or a public policy debate is a small win. Putting it into practice is a middle sized win, perhaps a big win.
7. The transition to stage three may fail because of getting off to a bad start in life a decade earlier, because of trauma and neglect in early childhood.23 To serve the cause of augmenting the supply of rational people of good will, and for other reasons the love of early childhood caregivers matters. Playing beautiful music for the unborn child still in the womb is a small win.
According to a traditional African custom, the pregnant mother composed a song for her yet unborn child, which would become her or his song from birth all through life
and would be sung at his or her funeral.24 Reviving this kind of custom, the kind that celebrates every life of every person, and strengthening them where they
already exist (as in celebrating birthdays), would be a series of small wins. A glorious welcome to the world for the newborn at the moment of birth is a small win.

Kohlberg made this point when I took his summer school course at Harvard. I do not know whether it appears in his published writings.
Another African tradition worth remembering was that the land was thought to belong to the tribe, while the tribe was defined to include its now deceased ancestors and its future members not yet born.

When due to drug or alcohol abuse or for some other reason the mother is incompetent, grandma or papa stepping in as a reliable caregiver is a small win, and the more so if grandpa is reliable too. When the mother is competent, she needs support, especially if she works, hopefully including support from a devoted father, and ideally including support from outside the household because the household itself is supported by what M.L. King, following the American philosopher Josiah Royce, called a “beloved community.”25
Martin Luther King Jr, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or
. Boston: Beacon Press. 1967.