Capital is a way of counting the product of society. “Three new calves”. The word capitalism come from cap, and used as in new head of cattle. The great Middle Eastern and Mediterranean empires were grain and cattle ranches. This way of counting my cattle on my fingers was made extendable beyond the five fingers when it became notches on a stick or marks on a surface. The problems with that way of counting comes when we treat the marks as equivalent to the thing counted, and worse when the thing with the marks is treated as ownership of the things counted.
Provocation: economy vs economics
My French and Spanish are pretty good but not good enough to understand the nuances. In English there are two words, economy and economics. They are not interchangeable. Not so in French where one word economia is used for both.
In English economy is the thing and economics is the study of it.
But the economy is a bloody mess, with wars, slavery, and conquests, such as the opium wars, the US civil war, the oil and coal wars, the denial of oil to Japan leading to WW2, and so on. Empire was driven by economy issues But economics is bloodless . Each phase in the history of economics is rather calm, marginalists, mercantilist, Adam Smith, even recessions are bland compared to the conflict driven history of economies. But economics is supposed to be the understanding of economies. So why the big difference?
Climate change seems important for economies but economics goes blandly along as if not much is happening.
I start with s sense of the depth and maybe impossibility of dealing with Climate Change and its associated problems: migration, oceans, .. Hence urgency to ty to prevent but then to live with … Population is the elephant in the room.
I also have been involved with rethinking economics and have come to some obvious thoughts about capitalism and democracy. Capital is tokens of past productivity owned by some and not all, a system parallel to democracy for making decisions – but the economic system has always favored those who already have wealth and power. Society probably need elites and the question is how are they chosen, educated, and rewarded.
I used to disparage the idea of economics (a Western only word) but then learned that for the Greeks it mean eco home nomos monument, usually translated as estate monument (the Greeks were big on beef so the estates were cattle ranches.)
I take this now to suggest the estate is now for the earth and its management the task. I like the idea from Bruno Latour of “critical zone” as the object of management, the thin skin of the earth that contains all know life, thinner than that of an apple.
A question for me is what is the nesting implied in the relationship of politics to governance to monument (administration) in the context of complexity theory? I am also influenced by Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies.
The nomos in economy , the word, meant, pre Plato, equal distribution. The idea is that you do not need a law unless there is something to be pushed against. In this case the tendency to unequal distribution.
The following: society history cosmos, earth, trndndence are held by all people from Stone age to now, as consubstantial. Our great festivals in the West: Christmas , New Years, Easter celebrate the continuity of the cosmos across long swaths of time. People feel this. Birthdays help children feel part of a cycle with others.
Attunement to that consubstantiality emerges as a goal of cultural education. Attunement to a part is anti social and submaxims individual wealth. Ye t individuals are also important. No great societies without strong individuals, no strong individuals without great societies.
I have a sense that future organization will lead to efforts, mostly local to blend food production and habitat in the same location. Th place of tokology in that and governance will be very important, but as of now tech production held by corporations is holding up new and necessary applications (Carlota Perez).
- There are many serious critiques on aspects of economics but they seem to have no effect. Joan Robinson’s attack on economics as an example. If critiques are good, even brilliant, but ignored, is this not a sign that Economics is not fully scientific? Perhaps we should be attracted by this sign of difficulty and explore it rather than threatened by it.
- We are treating corporate profits as if they are the important bottom line of economic activity, but it only measures the output in profit of a sub-unit of society. The well being of the whole is society and the earth’s critical zone is the real bottom line. So we end with sub maximization big time. Dollar profit goes up but social well being goes to zero as the society sub optimally managed collapses.
3. In a 1982 letter to Science magazine, Nobel Prize economist Wassily Leontief
asked, “How long will researchers working in adjoining fields … abstain from expressing serious concern about the splendid isolation within which academic economics now finds itself?”
“Leading baby food manufacturers knowingly sold products with high levels of toxic metals, a congressional investigation found. this “
From CNN this sfternoon. People, in Order to keep their jobs, must go along with this activity which is deeply demoralizing and or corrupting of their own character. Business tries to isolate itself from societies interference and drags the employees behind the wall were corruption can take place.
The world, our little globe, is moving along the road of troubles. Can we as a species organize our resources, ideas and people to mange this beast.?
It would reuire politics
An ethos os extreme trustworthiness.
Can we do it?
Whether we are able to successfully modify our institutions and ways of living, or collapse as a civilization, re-centering our lives on earth, food and local projects organized around face to face encounters will take place from necessity. People will gather to pool resources. The governance to manage and culture to cohere us will likely mean a mix of local and hierarchical — regional, national, and global initiatives, reinventing regulations, as local projects unfold. The purpose and relevance of markets, states, and communities will need rethinking. We cannot have a a socially responsive n economics which stresses rationality as long as we manipulate markets through irrationality. We like the idea of democracy as a way of making decisions about the future, but technology and capital are just as important forces. We have yet to find a way to integrate the three into powerful lines of action sufficient to stop temperature rise. Will we create a future for the good of all or support a politics which continues to take our wealth from us, leaving behind third world poverty?
We have used our talent to make a civilization out of our dependence on oil and coal, and encouraged population growth for more soldiers, more workers, and more consumers. We seem locked in because there is no way to stop burning that coal and oil, because it is – so far – necessary for generating electricity, running cars, fertilizing fields, moving stuff around, in a crowded hungry world. We have become fragmented and lack leverage to change anything and choose to just hold on. We are supposed to be a democracy and a democracy responds to the needs of the people. But we have representative democracy where we get to vote, not on issues that concern us , but for candidates the system of nominations presents to us as choices. It isn’t working. The news channels, owned almost exclusively by a few large corporations, seem to provide “news” but many themes are just left out as editors understand what the bosses want and don’t want. Much of it is unsaid and guessed at. (see Michael e. Mann’s The New Climate War). The better news outlets give us facts, but not all of them.
We have been oriented towards competition more than compassion and cooperation; we have made a world difficult for children, parents, elders, poor, and animals. Children can no longer just ‘go out and play and come home for dinner as it gets dark.’ Our world now fits fast careers and traffic. We have built society around the part of the life cycle that has income and freedom to spend on marketable technology while forgetting relationships. We remain divided in our aspirations between wanting a life of security, continuity, and rewarding work, versus seeking ownership that maintains control and guarantees dividends for the rich.
The gaming of the stock market means that markets are now playable as a game where the prize, instead of a slow increase in share value through increased productivity (somewhat idealistic assumption), is rapid and unpredictable, and where the prize is to those who most manipulate -game – the market.
In the 1930’s Keynes predicted that by now the work problem of meeting human needs for all, through automation, would be solved. We got the productivity but not the sharing. What went wrong? It is a question of politics, vision, ethics, managment and organization. Lots to do. But start with affirming Keynes vision, and adding the rest is our incomplete task.
Greta’s speech today.