Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why Can't We Awaken?

Some excerpts from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's article of earlier this week:

The actual number of jobs contracted by 260,000 to 153,690,000. The “labour participation rate” for working-age men over 20 dropped to 73.6pc, the lowest the [sic] since the data series began in 1948. My guess is that this figure exceeds the average for the Great Depression (minus the cruellest year of 1932).

The long-term unemployed (more than six months) have reached 42pc of the total, twice the peak of the early 1990s. Nothing like this has been seen since the World War Two.

Raghuram Rajan, the IMF’s former chief economist, argues that the subprime debt build-up was an attempt – “whether carefully planned or the path of least resistance” – to disguise stagnating incomes and to buy off the poor.

Asia’s mercantilist powers have flooded the world with excess capacity.

There is no easy solution to creeping depression in America and swathes of the Old World. A Keynesian `New Deal’ of borrowing on the bond markets to build roads, bridges, solar farms, or nuclear power stations to soak up the army of unemployed is not a credible option in our new age of sovereign debt jitters. The fiscal card is played out.

So we limp on, with very large numbers of people in the West trapped on the wrong side of globalization, and nobody doing much about it. Would Franklin Roosevelt have tolerated such a lamentable state of affairs, or would he have ripped up and reshaped the global system until it answered the needs of his citizens?


I am 'happy' to see bald facts presented in this way in the mainstream, though I doubt very much this makes headlines across the world. (I'd be happy to be corrected on this though, because I no longer read newspapers nor watch television, so miss plenty.)

What saddens me is that a list of statistics which together very clearly highlight a deeply broken system yields neither mention of alternatives nor criticism of the roots of the failed system. The alternative to borrowing money is … a rhetorical flourish referencing a solution Evans-Pritchard has already discounted. Alternatives are not to be mentioned by name (does Evans-Pritchard know of them?), are barely even to be hinted at, no matter how broken the system is, no matter how dried out and useless. Roosevelt changed nothing of the fundamentals of money creation, he merely initiated bold borrowing, a bout of the very Keynesian economics dismissed in the preceding paragraph. And why should any national leader 'rip up and reshape the global system' to the exclusive advantages of his or her citizens? Haven't we exhausted all benefits that attitude can possibly deliver?

This wilful blind spot is the cultural problem Götz Werner speaks of (though not deeply enough). We have conflated money with wealth, work with suffering, can only see money as reward and motivator, a brutish but clever manipulator of 'human nature.' How mighty a kick up the backside do we need to even consider listening, with an open mind, to any ideas that suggest we could organize society around different priorities, such as health, trust, and sustainability?

This is the bizarre netherworld we are wandering through. The only signs we see scream “CHANGE DIRECTION!”, but the ringing in our ears and the white noise of the media hold us so transfixed we fail to respond cohesively to the approaching cliff. We can't redirect our thoughts as we so desperately need to. How bad do things have to get before we open to the new?

Post-scarcity economics, resource-based economics, monetary reform, guaranteed income, revolution in education, cold fusion, geothermal power, wind power, eco-cities, permaculture, aquaculture, and much else besides, under the auspices of sensible priorities as mentioned above, are the alternatives we need to explore globally, acting locally while staying globally interconnected and aware. The know-how and resources are there. Only we stand in our way.

3 comments:

Edwardo said...

"Roosevelt changed nothing of the fundamentals of money creation, he merely initiated bold borrowing, a bout of the very Keynesian economics dismissed in the preceding paragraph."

-FDR confiscated gold from the citizenry and revalued it upwards. I don't expect a repeat of that performance, but not for any noble reasons. AEP is a follower of the Austrian school, he would dismiss Keynesian nostrums.

"And why should any national leader rip up and reshape the global system' to the exclusive advantages of his or her citizens? Haven't we exhausted all benefits that attitude can possibly deliver?"

Indeed, why should national leaders, since, despite attempts to appear otherwise, national leaders don't work for the citizenry. Relying on them or other elected officials to do what you suggest would be like expecting the fox to guard the hen house. Before we have a whole new monetary system we will require a new political system. That may happen in time, but there are no absolutely signs of that yet on these shores.

Toby said...

And before we have a new political system we have to want it in sufficient numbers, and do something potent to bring it into being. Consensus is going to be a bugger, the mother of all buggers, if you'll pardon the word play. But I profoundly agree. Change has to come from a very widely distributed power-base. The hierarchical, leadership model ain't going to cut the mustard any more. And wow, isn't that quite the challenge!

Yes, FDR confiscated gold (that has happened in various forms throughout history), but he did not change the money-creation process, which was and is money created as interest bearing debt by private banks for profit. Apologies if your comment was not a correction -- I can't tell if it is or isn't.

Edwardo said...

No, it wasn't a correction, merely an augmentation of sorts.