1854. The problem of growth, ancient to modern continuity

Provocation #86 Ancient and modern growth.

Growth now is quite abstract, removed from its biological antecedents, having become a mechanical process of money, tech, finance, innovation, advertising.

But there is another perspective.
I’ve often mentioned, and fascinated by, that capital begins as cap. Latin for head, a new head of cattle. The great early societies were basically cattle ranches. Rome and Greece lived on cattle. The word for interest on a loan in all those languages and Mesopotamia was the same as the local word for offspring, calving or birthing. The possession of a herd meant exponential increase and this became the basis for conscious understanding of compound interest. Growth.

But it required management. Modern economics, I propose, is a mere tweaking on ancient systems built to handle the growing and feeding of people through sophisticated understanding of the growth problem of life and how to manage it. The core of what we call economics was in wide practice very early, by about 5000 BC. (These were much more complicated societies than we usually imagine.) Sex is one of the great mysteries of the universe and economics is deeply concerned, but unconscious, of this power it tries to manage.

When Aristotle wrote his book oeconomia, it mean home-laws, or at the time, estate management. That meant cattle farming. As soon as hunters started herding cattle rather than killing it in the wild, the issue of grazing land and ownership became important to explore and try to make sense of.
The word Greek nomos was earlier anomia and meant equal distribution. That is, the law pressed for equal distribution, not, as now (and in Locke and Smith), protection of the rich. The impulse to create law was to maintain equality whereas the natural process is toward concentration.
The two core issues in the cattle based empires were first, the ritual of killing, distribution, and eating, and second the breeding and ownership.The birth was capital, a new head of cattle – growth. In Mesopotamia 4000 BC the idea of compound growth of a herd was understood and could enter into transactions – based on paper (clay) (not on the intermediate of coin or paper money which had not yet been developed. See the amazing book by Goetzman, Money Changes Everything.)
The growth of the herd put pressure on grazing land, which led to disputes among state, temples and farmers. Growth is clearly the issue in breeding. It needs to be said that the sacrifice was a way of continuing the distributional side of hunter culture by uniting distribution with sacrifice, a distribution on which the population was dependent. The modern welfare state can be seen as a necessity for state survival just as it was in antiquity. Athens in 450BC had a temple owned herd of one hundred thousand head for sacrifice and distribution. These were meat-eating societies.

The modern issue is still how do we feed the people, who owns the process, how do we manage population of people and food? The rest of the economy, the economy of things and finances, are important but based on, requiring, the food/land system, and using the financial instruments that had their origin in growth management and ownership.
To me this leads to the challenge: how do we reintegrate humans with nature, the land, the sun. How is the land and its produce to be managed for human survival, human thriving, human quality of life?
Bring economy back to its origins – estate management, and realize that since the absorption of the Polis of Athens into the Macedonian empire the issues of estate management becomes regional and now earth management for the good of the species . But it can’t be done without innovations in government – hopefully that are technically adequate and while democratic in its consensus building.
The histories of China and India have similar logics at the core of civilizational survival – and hopefully though not yet realized – quality of life for all.

Googling “sex” in April 2017 yields approximately 3.140 billion results. That’s nearly four times as many hits as one gets when Googling “religion,” three times as many as “politics,” and about 50 percent more than “death”—but slightly less than “food.”

(From https://view.publitas.com/p222-9210/gmh-menmarswomenvenus/page/6-7)

So we get hierarchy of concerns


That describes the culture economics tries to make sense of by treating the economy as an isolated system. Growth and its management for quality of life is key. Management for elites to extract wealth from others is a vast detour.

1853. Land without people

land-use restrictions

New Hsieh-Moretti paper  land-use restrictions cut aggregate US growth 1964-2009 by >50%!

Typical economics paper with no reference to people. It is assumed that a land use regime that maximizes corporate values is the best. The constraint is, high prices make it difficult for labor, but the idea is that under rent control conditions which prevent building new housing, labor costs too much.

Land my be crucial for rethinking the future. The cultural/economic evolution goes like this

  • Hunters on open land
  • pastoralists on semi claimed land (shift of value from cattle to land for grazing cattle – a result of population increase)
  • land title (early empires)
  • ability to borrow against land as an asset
  • ability to sell land rather than  areturn it to the state on death.
  • Locke’s logic that land is free and open until it isn’t –

Social experimentation is very hard when the land is all privately owned and not open for any experimentation. This is a deep problem  worth lots of thinking.

I am reading
Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing

1852. Stretch to solution. Possible?

From where we are

to where we need to be

is a long step.

An English prime minister, maybe Macmillan, said “In politics never leap a chasm in two jumps.”

Congress is not representative. Neither party is representative. Yet among the three, power is held out of range of the rest of us. Even that is coming apart. We are smart and compassionate. Another day is going by.

Put another way, the economy and the politics we have are not even attempting to deal with our real problems of climate, income distribution and governance. How best to scale the problem for serious solutions adequate to the situation?

How did we get here? We are in a post reformation post industrial post Westphalian world and interfered with those who were not part of that world.

Where are we? The mess is obvious but each of us only sees a small part.

What to do?  The task is how to knit together human nature and the surrounding environment. Compassion and intelligence. By the more the better.





1851. Thoughts beyond objects.

From Lewis Mumford The Condition of Man.
Condition of Man 

With Thales and Anaximander natural science is born: in Parmenides and his successors, logic. Sport lifts the trammels of material necessity even in thinking: the mind has its own Olympic celebration; and for a moment the highest good lies not in making or in doing, but in quietly seeing: theory and esthetics are the dominant modes of Greek experience. Theory means reflective contemplation; esthetics, ordered perception. Over all spread the new doctrines of logic: an attempt to bring the order of thought and the order of being into a single realm. Kalakogathia, beautiful goodness, is the Hellenic expression for this unity.


From Etymology on line dictionary.

aesthetic (n.) 1798, from German Ästhetisch (mid-18c.) or French esthétique (which is from German), ultimately from Greek aisthetikos “of or for perception by the senses, perceptive,” of things, “perceptible,” from aisthanesthai “to perceive (by the senses or by the mind), to feel,” from PIE *awis-dh-yo-, from root *au- (4) “to perceive” (see audience).

Popularized in English by translations of Kant and used originally in the classically correct sense “science which treats of the conditions of sensuous perception” [OED]. Kant had tried to reclaim the word after Alexander Baumgarten had taken it in German to mean “criticism of taste” (1750s), but Baumgarten’s sense attained popularity in English c. 1830s (despite scholarly resistance) and freed the word from philosophy. Walter Pater used it (1868) to describe the late 19c. movement that advocated “art for art’s sake,” which further blurred the sense. As an adjective by 1798 “of or pertaining to sensual perception;” 1821 as “of or pertaining to appreciation of the beautiful.”

[doug] note how aisthanesthai morphs is to the modern  anesthetic.

theory (n.)
1590s, “conception, mental scheme,” from Late Latin theoria (Jerome), from Greek theoria “contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at,” from theorein “to consider, speculate, look at,” from theoros “spectator,” from thea “a view” (see theater) + horan “to see,” possibly from PIE root *wer- (3) “to perceive” (see ward (n.)).

Earlier in this sense was theorical (n.), late 15c. Sense of “principles or methods of a science or art” (rather than its practice) is first recorded 1610s (as in music theory, which is the science of musical composition, apart from practice or performance). Sense of “an intelligible explanation based on observation and reasoning” is from 1630s.

[doug] There is an implied realm a state of mind and being, where contemplation and perceiving find their object, not as an object but as a mood, a sense, presence of the all, “Alone with the all” I think is a Sufi expression.

Imagine that we slowed down, experience more deeply that combination of meditation and perception and thought. Not forced, but allowed to happen.

Charles Taylor in his Secular Age does well at trying to describe the objectless object of such thought.
A Secular Age

1850. Post Adam Smith

Provocation #85.
Toward Edinburgh post Adam Smith.

Adam smith was both a humanist who wanted a fair and wealthy society and interested in commerce and the rising feeling for a better future through the nations (note plural in “wealth of nations”).

These two paths are actually quite similar, but different in the ways rules are applied.

The commercial side came to dominate. (actually a blend of state and corporations) The penetration of state/corporations/media into everything, reduces family, relationships, the pleasure of sociability – community and cooperation – leaving us with too many isolated individuals reacting to ambition, fear, consumerism, inequality and competition (which guarantees there are losers)…

The economists played a role in creating this culture, important as seen from their own self congratulations, but maybe not so important when looked at as a causal factor in the emergence of the technical/financial as an instrument of power.

It is hard to see historically because of enlightenment individualism and Renaissance sense of power and state.

There is little doubt that the current nexus of increased population, increasing climate temperature; increasing vulnerability of infrastructure, the weakness of governance institutions, and the rise of inequality are the outcome of the choices made.

1849. What is economics?

From a new draft of GardenWorld Politics.

Economics is the description and analysis of economies. But curiously the two words in say French are just one – economie.  Non-western languages have no native word that translates “economy”. The very word economy  that we treat so naturally, is a very unique slice through reality, gathering things not really there and leaving out much that is. Imagine discussing the state of the nation using only words like manufacturing, taxes, ownership, class, technology, banks, money. What would be the difference? I think the word ends to hypnotize us into treating economy as real and society as vague.

The way economic history is usually taught has its origin  in the trade and craft world after the fall of feudalism, maybe a bit later during the renaissance, or even pushed toward us in the globalization and factory world of the 19th century.
It is important to have a grasp of how history has been distorted, mostly by simplification, but to some extent by formalism.

Take for example from Joyce Appleyby’s book

The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism

More effective ways to raise food slowly started to release workers and money for other economic pursuits, such as processing the sugar, tobacco, cotton, tea, and silks that came to Europe from the East and West Indies and beyond. These improvements raised the standard of living for Western Europeans…

Note that”release” sound like “free up”. . The reality was farmers were forced off their ancestral farms and driven into the cities. The pursuits were crops planned and harvested by slave labor of giant proportions (the Caribbean produced more wealth than the thirteen colonies until about 1815. Recognition of these facts puts economy in a different spirit, one much more in need of thoughtfulness and good questions. This history can be seen not as the pursuit of quality of life for all, but of maintaining the privileges of the elite and the burdens to maintain them on the poor.

A second feature of economic history is what can be called “triumphalism”. A led to B led to C (as in physiocrats to Smith to Ricardo to Marshall to Mill to Keynes.)… led to the wonderful achievements of today. There is no sense of what was left out, left behind, or left.

This misses much of what happened before Adam Smith, before feudalism, before the Roman Empire. It misses much of what is deeply interesting about economics: what is it, what is capital, what is property, what is ownership? And it misses much of the reality of today’s economics and economy.

This ignores the great Mesopotamian empires. These are very complex social systems. These empires themselves were the outgrowth from nomadic hunter gatherers and small settled cultures. These too are very complex.

1848. New model of representative democracy 10-10-10

Few know their congressperson who represents several hundred thousand people. The state legislature, the county commissioners, are even more unknown to the voters.The system is broken as can be seen by the results in climate damage and inequality.

What if

each ten adult people based on geographical closeness, elect a representative

and that representative meets with nine other similarly chosn, and that group of ten choses a representative  and that represnetative of a hundred meets wiht nine others similarly chosen and that group of  ten.. etc.

Since this is happening to the whole population  the first round is  200 million adults divided in to 10 means in the frst round 20 million reps are chosen

and in the next round the 20 million chose 2 million and the 2 million chose 200,00 reps

and they chose 20,000 who chose 2000 who chose 200 and that is the equivalent of congress.

In this sytem everyone can see their immediate rep, and who that rep votes for. The participants, the people, the citixens, becaomse slowly awre of the whole chain. Five layers.