2221. Words and economics

To show the need for rethinking, 
“As the economist Robert Heilbroner once summarized the conventional wisdom, capitalism “is not sacred but secular” and “would be impossible in a sacralized world to which men would relate with awe and veneration.’

Excerpt From: Eugene McCarraher. “How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity.” Apple Books. 

Which is just wrong on Heilbroner’s part.. Capital comes from the birth of a new calf, cap, head, and what could be more sacred, more related to awe and venerations than the process of birth ? Capital is the next generation. Veneration comes from Venus, the goddess of love and sexuality, desire.

2220. Bad assumptions, rational man, weakens economics.

When a science starts with bad convenient assumptions the mistake is likely to overwhelm later. In economics we have the rational man. In a transaction   two rational people with the same complete information engage in an exchange. What economics fails to explain is why one is selling and one is buying. The psychological state of the two are in fact radically different, often hope on one side and despair on the other.

Leaving out the psychology of real life means that economics cannot deal with politics, revolution, the use of wealth and the abuse of poverty, climate,  nor the human cost of sequestering families for months. It raises the question, what is economics therefore good for?  It helps bureaucracies with fake numbers like unemployment and GDP that serve the 1%.  

Beyond that it serves a career structure, but for what?

 One view is that it legitimates the running of society by experts by giving the appearance that all is well because the bridge of the Titanic is manned by people of wisdom. We have not developed a leadership capable of looking at major facts.  The earth and the species go ungoverned. 

The problem is, when we need wisdom we don’t have it.  A recent book by Boris Frankel The Fictions of Sustainability, has –

“This book is an attempt to overcome a pervasive ‘analytical apartheid’that characterises so much socio-economic policy on the one hand and so many environmental analyses on the other. I was particularly struck by this in January 2014, when I read a draft copy of Wolfgang Streeck’s article, ‘Taking Crisis Seriously: Capitalism On Its Way Out’  What troubled me in particular was the complete absence of any mention of the greatest present-day crisis confronting us all, namely, the climate emergency threatening catastrophic climate breakdown. Leaving aside a minority of critical political economists, Streeck’s omission of any discussion of environmental issues remains common for both mainstream economists and Left political economists. It is the widespread disregard of crucial ecological issues (or their token inclusion in the odd sentence or paragraph) that motivated me to write this book.”

This could all be seen as an invitation to do more serious and less fig leaf economics. On to 2021.

2219. Capitalism and fairness

A major part of the problem and a defining aspect of our current situation is capitalism. It feels liberating and oppressive. Rules of the game. Some winners, some who work for the winners and way too many who lose out. It is mystified but quite easy to understand. Those who have it can make decisions for themselves by spending and for society by how they invest. Democracy and capitalism are two ways society makes decisions. Unfortunately capital is able to buy leverage in the democracy through media, “representation” an the banking system. All are potentially active in a democracy but only some have capital. How capitalism came to be is a more complicated story. It begins with herding societies and the birth of new calves. Called head, or cap in the Latin of the Roman Empire , and passed on down to us.

That simple act of sexual reproduction led to increase and that increase — new head of cattle, was the basis for what follows. Grassland was free , until too many head of cattle, so the land was divided equally (the meaning of nomia in economy) but people realized there was not a fully fair way to make the divisions. Some land was just better and some worse for cattle raising, or any other crop. This problem of unfairness -the inability to divide the world into equal portions — defines the modern dilemma and the main recent attempts to create equality — communism, socialism, fascism, (all reactions to capitalism) failed. Probably because they all held on to the industrial factory system and dull bureaucracy. If we add to this matrix the emerging hierarchy of the powerful within the tribe morphing into empires, you can feel how the some have and the some have not arises easily.

This increasingly complex matrix (leading to the movie by that name) blended then with contracts, memory, lending and return (I lend you 100 head of cattle, you in the next breeding cycle have a hundred and fifty, you give me back my hundred plus ten. From these ancient times till now the changes are a mystification protecting the rich from the inquiring minds of the rest through complexification through law, regulation and contract — and culture. Obviously the distribution of wealth now is based on things done in the past: wars, trading, theft, especially the use of law to legitimize various forms of taking. If you inquire into the history of he land where you live you will discover all these aspects. What looks like a landscape is crisscrossed with invisible lines of contract, ownership and regulations. The problem for us is, what do we do about the accrued unfairnesses.

2218. Merry Christmas and the history of economics.

Provocation 277.

From Adam Smith through the intense 1880’s  to the  1920′ almost all  economic writing was  in the context of Christianity and god’s project on earth. Writers on corporate structure and the psychology of management were explicitly discussing god and Jesus as the path to the future of which they and the managers (and owners) were the custodians. the path to Eden or Paradise.  The  word economy for the Greeks,  estate management, became,, in the new testament,  god’s dominion and its management. Economists took it for granted that they were discussing what to do with the earth in the context of a Christianity that made each worker  manifesting God’s project.  (it isn’t us capitalists that insist on your work, it is God). Not  the earth as known  to modern  perspectives, but with god’s earth.  Those who in recent decades have written about the history of economics think that the modern reader – and they themselves – are not interested in this side of history. 

The recent book by Mccarraher,  The Enchantments of Mammon: how economics became  religion of Modernity is  a powerful and extremely helpful exception  There is an  INET  podcast with him at https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/podcasts/eugene-mccarraher-the-religion-of-capitalism

Th reason this is so important now is because this thinking created the idea of the economy as a domain, a realm, with it systematic integrity as par t of but not equivalent to society as a shole. If we want to change economics now it helps if we understand the glue  that conceptually holds it together as a system owned by some but not by all, subject to property relations but not to democracy.

This atmospheric  feel for the earth as a Christian project, , a kind of halo,  gave comfort, in those decades before the depression,  that  we humans knew what we were doing.  But as the belief system has faded and , we are left without a belief system that guides our economic project. 

 The earth now is just a hunk if material with chemical and gravitational properties , not ethical ones. our loyalties  and our efforts, we owe to a humanized god.

The fact that we are celebrating Christmas more than the solstice shows how powerful the residuals is, but not enough to give guidance as to goals and ways of acting in the grand cycle of exploitation, production,  consumption and trash.

2217. Belief : fact or tribe?

We hope that logic and fact will persuade people to good policies and actions. But the problem is, they enter into conversations looking for something that feels like them, that develops and protects their relationship to a group. Most of our attempt to persuade threaten to pull the ;listener out of the group they are in and not offering a congenial new group. If you listen to most attempts to persuade the persuader wants to change the listeners ideas but not to invite them in to their own group.

Empires, civilizations, communities are structured around belief systems, ways of understanding that give us the sense that we are right, that we belong, that we are ok in contrast to the others. Democracy, the state, capital, are not facts, they are closely held belief systems that will not change unless change leads to a new feeling of belonging and security, a strong tribal identity.

So many redststate Trump supports can’t be persuaded by facts. They feel that giving up Trump support leaves them without a meaningful group identity and it is just plain scary, a step into the unknown. We must empathize with the strength of their desire to belong and the fear of being alone.

This problem is supported by the increasing lack of community as corporations have worked hard to be a substitutes and to tear apart community belonging, creating a world of belonging for those inside the corporations and marginalizing those outside. The Internetconnects everyone but as islated nodes in the network. What puts us together is also separating us into little ungovernable atoms of intensity.

To add some background, The word truth comes from troth as in the wedding vows. It used to mean faith, as in faith with another, but has moved from the interpersonal “faith with” to the impersonal “fact about.” Humans world wide yearn for relationships and are mostly offered market choices.

2216. Push office costs onto employees

We seem to have gone from work done at home at 15% of all work to now 50% of all work done at home. Corporations are, therefore, unloading office costs on to their employees. This has already happened with cellphone and computers that employees are expected to buy. One result is that income after work expenses are downgrading out income An increased part of my salary goes to computing and office space. Implications are going to be profound but also unfair. (for example, housing costs go up because people need more space)? What reactions can we expect?

2215. Economics, markets and emotions

We like to think that economics is a cool rational way to look at society and that markets are a way for thought to make decisions based on explicit criteria of value.

But look at the way the market really works.  Buying stocks or cars or cereal – 

for example, the ads for cars mostly have a car moving way too fast, spinning out of control, control regained in a landscape of boulders and ditches, ice or mud, places none should drive, but this is the appeal to the potential buyer.  We call this rational?

If we opened up “preferences” to the emotional then economics might be more interesting – and useful.