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In the trailer of Naomi Klein’s intriguing new documentary Disobedience, she states that “the laws of nature and the laws of economics are in conflict.”
She is correct if she means ‘Neoliberal economics’, but there are other types of economics grounded in the reality of an economy being part of a society, which in turn is part of our natural world, whose functioning, in the long-term, is completely dependent upon the healthy functioning of community and place. Such constructive economics also live within the reality of social and natural systems being complex and adaptive *beyond* the dead ideas of mechanical determinism.
Those alternative economic disciplines are, therefore, more focused on reality and a constant striving to understand. A nice change from the arrogant cultish certainty of Friedman’s Neoliberalism, effectively exercises in the technocratic Scholasticism of computer modelling completely divorced from the real world.
I think we have to be clear that there are ‘good’ economics, and ‘bad’ economics. State communism was a bad sort. Equally bad – or perhaps worse – is corporate-backed Neoliberalism.
Within that context of shifting our metaphysics from machines to complex adaptive systems, I’m not overly happy with any concept of ‘laws’, whether within nature or more particularly within economies. There are some ‘principles’ that may be general within specific contexts, but far fewer ‘universal laws’. It is a subtle point, but ‘universal laws’ that relate to hard sciences like physics, are not transferable to complex adaptive systems like ecology & sociology (of which economics is a part – as a subset of both).
But there are principles. Markets feedback in generally short timeframes – more wheat, lower price type of self-regulating feedbacks. Many natural and social systems feedback in generally much long timeframes – slow decline in marine ecological functions of which fish are a part, forest ecosystems, soil systems, aquifer systems, and the big beast climate systems. The immediate trends do not signal the tipping point. Same with social systems of power, disenfranchisement, etc. Everything is alright for the Ducs of Versailles … until it isn’t.
There effectively is no self-regulating feedback that curbs exploitation and degradation because the effects may not occur for many human generations. You are rich and retired to a nice place in Parnell and Honolulu with a flat in London and another in NY, and then long, long dead before the effects of your actions come back to hurt your family.
It is really profitable to rort a forest from an innocent (call it merely a market thing, ‘arbitrage’; the Solomon Island chief didn’t realise the value, but that’s his problem), to mine it, to reinvest in drift netting, to reinvest in sucking an aquifer dry because some idiot government in New Zealand has no concept of Commons or colonial history, etc. ad infinitum until you come face to face with the abyss. But what do you care. You die before the abyss is beneath the feet of our future, or it happens elsewhere, or you can shield yourself with your money and political influence. You’re ‘rich’, and in your tiny little mind you’re ‘successful’, an ‘achiever’, a ‘winner’. When you’re not at all. You are beyond despicable (choose your own anglo-saxon term of deep disdain).
And so we push the ball up the edge of the resilience bowl thinking everything is ok ….. until it isn’t.
Markets are not aware of any of this. They are not omniscient, ‘all-knowing’, as is the incredibly stupid neoliberal assumption (I mean … what possesses idiots like Friedman to posit such crap???)
Markets – because they are unaware and only deal in the short-term and narrow consequences ……. will never be effective as sole regulators within connected long-feedback natural and social systems.
In fact, they exacerbate the trend and generate accelerating vicious treadmills of decline – less ecological capacity –> more junky dependency on artificial inputs (great for GDP!) –> less ecological capacity –> yet more inputs –> eventual collapse.
And then, the problem of the market’s myopia and lack of wisdom is very, very, very much exacerbated by an over-abundance of arrogance and hubris. In other words: narrow technocratic obsessions; greed; selfishness and power.
We promote these very vices as virtues (bewildering!) with public honours to bankers and corporate ‘partnerships’ in things like the TPPA and Paris COP 21 at our very peril. And that is exactly what we have done in this world since Reagan & Thatcher unleashed the neoliberals and their corporate backer Hyenas of Commerce around 1980.
This is where Klein is on the button, yet again. This type of faith in markets and the benevolence and meritocracy and omniscience of money and power will always be in conflict with out social and environmental future. It is madness. The mad are running the show, and they do not have a clue what they are doing because they have their heads in the next quarter’s spreadsheet, or the next deal and commission. They are fools. Completely and utterly. If civil disobedience expunge this madness, then so be it.
We need a return to a world where values (of what is good), deep and broad understanding of complexity (‘ken’, not technocratic ‘wit’), and wisdom and imagination should always direct policy making and strategy. We should put markets where they belong. As useful tools within a context. Never as master. And we should never elect the unwise, or allow any mega-corporate anywhere near policy making. They are unwise by definition because their focus is short-term money, not a meaningful future.
At the very bottom of that mega-corporate heap are the deal makers. You can spot them. They have a track record in financial trading, in gambling, in shady corporate deals, in the manipulation of messaging to the public, in the modus operandi of con artists setting up The Sting for the love of it.
Look to those who desire to rule.