2071. Economics as management of wealth vs. management of the commons.

Provocation 223

Economics, as management and as theory

Physics has always tried to grasp the hardest problems:  planetary orbits, , gravity, light, magmatism, energy. The result is we have  a fairly, actually beautifully, coherent view of how the physical world is.

Biology has not done quite so well. There is confusion about evolution – is it an increasing  pluralism or unfolding convergence, and can there be a theory of what will be the next species. And what does life really mean. And why does it seem that the deep structure of all all life comes fro one  molecule (I exaggerate, but not by much). Whereas physics deals with the timeless biology moves more in the realm of change.

Economics however seems to have worked to avoid contact, much less exploration, of the key  and interesting facts:  what is wealth, what is capitalism, how is the material world connected to the political world, how peoples’ individual fates are determined by the contingencies of material and power. Economics, mostly in the realm of change (“creative destruction”) tries to stick to the strategy of timelessness (protecting property). 

A simple explanation is that,  like law, economics serves.  There are deep issues in the law but mostly bypassed by the profession. Economics seems to be the same, but whereas law was designed to protect private property it, alog with economics, mystified  the origin of private property. Curious because the history is readily available. Carl Schmitt’s extraordinary book,  Nomos of the Earth,  has lots to say, but goes mostly. unread. He looks at the word nomos , the same as the second part of eco-nomy,  and meaning by Plato’s time “laws”,  the collection of legislated documents,  but earlier had to do with  declaring some land “ours”, appropriation, and then dividing among us to match the grazing needs of our cattle, equal distribution, and only then, its use. The Movement from equal distribution to just a list of laws took two hundred years. The point is, we are confined in our thinking to the end point of a process and not its interesting beginning. What is an arc in history we treat as a timeless universal. We treat property as if god given (Locke and many others). Private comes from the latin pri vatus,  to set apart from the public. Private was not given by god, it was taken from the commons.

Economics in avoiding all these issues, ends up as an accessory to the concentration of wealth and fails to help develop thinking to manage the commons. This might end up being fatal  to our species if we fail to undertake the intellectual challenge.  We need to understand wealth and its use, the (possible) need for power and its rewards, but we are not doing the thinking. Money is managed but the commons is not.

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