Sunday, July 18, 2010

Of Growth and Value

I feel an irresistible urge to hammer on this point, because 'out there' in the wider world, growth still seems to be The Golden Thing to end all suffering, and yet at the same time no one is really talking about value, at least not in sufficient numbers.

First a quote from an interesting article I found at Reality Sandwich:

"The consequence of all this pyramid building is that there are not enough goods and services on Earth to equal, at current prices, more than a small percentage of the face value of stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other fiscal exotica now in circulation. The vast majority of economic activity in today's world consists purely of exchanges among these representations of representations of representations of wealth. This is why the real economy of goods and services can go into a freefall like the one now under way, without having more than a modest impact so far on an increasingly hallucinatory economy of fiscal abstractions."

My reading of this is that such perverse hankering after 'wealth' is a direct consequence of a deep and pervasive cultural forgetting of where value lies. This from John McMurtry (The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, 1999, p109):

"Speculation in money value itself has become an epidemic overwhelming economics at 50 or more times greater than the value of all trade in goods and services."

From Bernard Lietaer:

"George Soros, who's made part of his living doing what I used to do - speculating in currencies - concluded, "Instability is cumulative, so that eventual breakdown of freely floating exchanges is virtually assured." Joel Kurtzman, ex-editor at the Harvard Business Review, entitles his latest book: The Death of Money and forecasts an imminent collapse due to speculative frenzy."

We are culturally insane, lost in, or given over to a blind frenzy we (often violently) hope will keep all this fictitious wealth real. If we juggle fast enough, long enough, with sufficient skill and technological glitter, the whirring house of cards we have magicked into existence will stay firm, no, become firm, become we know, deep down, it is not. It will not happen (hat tip Jesse):

Automatic Earth sums the chart up well:

"US homeowners lost more, by a factor of 26, than they "gained" through clearing mortgage debt. Thus, if we estimate that there are 75 million homeowners in America, they all, each and every one of them, lost $93,333. "

With collapse, insanity and decay in clear evidence everywhere we look, even in this time of obvious historical, even millennial significance, in the mainstream to talk of not-capitalism (capitalism being a mere few centuries old), to talk of genuine alternatives is to be a fool, ignorant. Bizarrely, capitalism remains, even among many openly discussing ways out of this mess, and certainly on the news and in the papers, efficient, free, democratic, natural, and so on. If I weren't such a placid chap I would be screaming 24/7 in amazement. This blog is my placid scream.

McMurtry again (1999, p53):

"But if this system is progressively more efficient and productive, as its essential legitimating argument claims, why must people be increasingly less free and secure the more efficient and productive it becomes?"

Why indeed.

The way out of this mess is also the end of the status quo, the end of capitalism. So much has to change, so much of what we think we know must be re-learned, and that in the true scientific light of humility and in the open spirit of 'I don't know', down to the lowest depths of every assumption that supports our human world, no matter what, change will be collapse. Change now can only be collapse, and no one in the status quo wants that. Too great a proportion of our structures -- intellectual, political, social, philosophical, mythical, psychological etc. -- are rotten to the core.

So, people, what is value, why is growth good, and what is the pursuit of perpetual growth absent value?


Debra said...

Oops, Toby, I am sorry I covered over your new post. I am outside of calendar time, you know... even more so, since we are on vacation, and I looked at the date on this one, and it rang a bell, but not enough to stop me... I will be leaving on Tuesday, anyway for three weeks, so you won't have to worry about my covering up your posts for a while !!
Somewhere in Jacques' book is the statement along the lines that the new techne/technological line that Renaissance scientific thinking opened up generated... a new demand for a greater money supply, in order to FINANCE all those new, sparkling martial (but not just...) tools.
The more technological our society becomes the more money it needs to bolster up the technology.
Logical, huh ? I don't think that it's JUST capitalism. I think that it the way WE are currently defining capitalism that is the problem. I also think that our problems are greatly the result of a dearth of ALTERNATIVES to buying and selling. (And unemployment is NOT a great alternative to EARNING A LIVING (!!!!!) BY BUYING AND SELLING (objects or services...). It won't take us far.
The feudal system BY REMOVING THE TRANSMISSION OF LAND from the buying/selling circuit established several things : establishing a value OUTSIDE of buying and selling, attached to the land (thus maintaining CONNECTION with nature in SOME form).
i keep harping on the fact that in order for something to "mean", we have to have organized an OUTSIDE to this something that we consciously recognize as having value. If we organize an outside that we denigrate as having NO value, well, that does not do the trick. That is polarization. (I'm developing this thought, don't quote me on it, I may change my mind next week...)
The purpose of the aristocratic CLASS, historically, was to organize an OUTSIDE to buying and selling, and WORK, too, while we're at it.
Remember that the aristocracy was not supposed to work ? And NOT to buy or sell, either ??...
i think that we are suffering from the bottoming out of the FUNCTION of aristocracy. (Which means that I am a proponent of the Ancien Regime, incidentally... which is NOT the same thing as espousing absolute monarchy, dixit Jacques...)
I think that a new feudalism MIGHT be interesting.
What could a new feudalism be ?

Toby said...

"The purpose of the aristocratic CLASS, historically, was to organize an OUTSIDE to buying and selling, and WORK, too, while we're at it."

Very interesting, as well as the thoughts leading up to this point.

Yes, I see (as I said in my big post on debt and interest) the difficult ending of elitism engulfing us now. The 'capitalist' system you describe has contorted itself through many socioeconomic forms but is now out of rope, out of options, out of healthy juice. It's gangrenous and poisonous.

Jacque's musings on technology/endless money are accurate but not complete, at least not as you have presented them. The technological direction or motivational impetus, due to the intellectual/philosophical harness we have clothed ourselves with, is the issue. Eisenstein's Separation, which precedes even farming to some degree, is at root here. Only a total embracing of symbiosis and interdependency can help humanity change course. But I can't paraphrase Eisenstein without quoting all 560 or so pages, so I'll leave that it to you to get the book one day.

Also, let's be strict with the term capitalism. It is not as old as the hills, is a word coined by Marx, and will no longer be capitalism should we radically change our notions of ownership, money, government, hierarchy etc. I'm not keen on feudalism either. I hope for a change of direction towards a non-elitist, loose-hierarchy, apolitical (in terms of party politics) resource-based economy. And it is the direction that interests me, not the goal. The means are everything since there can never be an end. Ends are illusions.

Debra said...

Toby are you reacting to where you see we are now ?
You talk about TOTALLY embracing symbiosis.
You know... these days I try to be careful of the words I use. Because using the words is being used by them, and sticking them into circulation.
Few words carry as much weight as the words "total", "every", "always", for example.
I think that THOSE WORDS bring to pass what they mean, in a strange way. THEY are totalitarian words, aren't they ?
As though... totalitarianism is EMBEDDED in our language anyway..
My "solution" of not using certain words is a bastard one anyway, and it based on the illusion that i can CONTROL the words I "use", whereas... as my Rachel Corrie post points out... it is hard to tell WHO/WHAT is "using" who with the words question, isn't it ??
On your parallel between Jacques and Eisenstein, I would say that it is probably impossible to separate out motivation/ideas and techne. It is not as simple as a horse and cart metaphor. Ideas drive techne, which in turn influences ideas. Like the web idea.
The www works because... language is one big www. We cannot invent anything that does not bear the imprint of our language on it.
As to capitalism and what it means... look at how the word "science" has changed meaning, Toby, over 900 years. And it remains "science", now, doesn't it ?
As for the direction... we are already heading there, I think. We may not necessarily recognize it, but we are...

Toby said...

Agreed. But I am less disciplined in these comment exchanges than when I write for blog entries and elsewhere. And your caveat about language use is an important one. I have no illusions that I'm somehow the guy with the answers. Mine is but one voice among billions contributing what little it can to the 'direction', as we call it.

And I agree, we are already on that path to some degree. There's a certain inevitability to it.

About capitalism: it has the word capital in there. That's ownership. Any system which is not using capital to make money-profits for the owners of capital is not capitalism. Period. Some words are very floppy, some less so. Capitalism is a quite unfloppy one, it's just that 'ownership' has been with us for yonks so seems 'natural' and unchanging. The version of anarchy I hope for cannot be capitalism too. No way. That's not a passionate dislike of 'capitalism' -- it was ok for a while -- it's just a statement of how I see the definition, which is quite clear cut.

Debra said...

LOL. I think the only thing I am disciplined about these days is piano playing...
I am cultivating... stream of consciousness thinking as a way around rationalism AND BECAUSE IT'S FUN.
To the extent I am capable of it, that is...
What comes to my mind is not necessarily what I say, or write, but... sigh. That control question again. LOL.