Categories
Economics Future

The State of the World – March 2019

I’ve been very busy for the past month and I haven’t written anything here. Of course, that’s no surprise to anyone – we are all very busy. Very very busy. Especially in the United States and other developed countries. Personally, I think that’s by design – I believe it’s a massive control mechanism based on the model of ‘idol hands are the devil’s work’ or to put it more clearly ‘busy people don’t have the time or energy to create problems by rocking the boat’. Our busy-ness (business) is a control state’s dream come true.

I admittedly have a problem with thinking – I think too much. My brain never shuts down but just chews and chews and chews on things and carefully observes what comes out of the cud. Mind you, I’m not saying I’m a genius or above average intelligence (I don’t believe I am), I’m just saying that I have a problem with being cerebrally inclined and where most people can shut that annoying part of their human-ness down and watch a good sporting event or let some annoying event slide off of them – I don’t seem to possess that capability – although meditation definitely helps.

But back to the world. We are moving rapidly towards a massive societal change. I think of it as humanity being in lifeboats from a sinking ship on a giant river. There are only so many boats for the survivors to get on and we’ve occupied them – our boats have careened towards a massive split in the river – the current has picked up considerably – some boats have gone to the left, some have gone to the right, and some have stayed in the center – we know that there is danger ahead on all courses – but we aren’t sure what it is.

The middle course, the human tendency towards totalitarianism and massive control and exploitation seems to be carrying the bulk of us. Totalitarianism always ends with an explosion and a huge loss of life. So, let’s just say that for those on that path, the channel narrows and pours down into a deep chasm at the bottom of which is a huge deposit of raw sodium (which explodes on contact with water). Most on that course won’t survive.

On the right is total free market capitalism – a very small number have followed this because it is scary and loud and disruptive and dangerous – there is a big waterfall at the end and it cascades down to a paradise that ends with humanity achieving all that it dreams of – but it’s almost impossible to reach because every time a stream gathers some force – it branches off towards totalitarianism – ‘protectionism’, ‘protected capitalism’, ‘controlled markets’ and more.

On the left is what I call cooperationism – this is another paradise branch of the stream with a healthy world, healthy people, and all of the ills of humanity solved through cooperation – but of course, the tendency towards totalitarianism creates things like ‘war communism’ ‘centralized control’ and other ‘we’re smarter than you and will decide what’s best for you’ systems.

So, the bad news is that humanity is heading towards a 98% chance of full totalitarianism and the explosion that follows – there is virtually no chance for our survival. The good news is that there has never been such a great chance that we can fix ourselves and our way of thinking. Do I think we will? No. Do I hope we will? Hell yes. There are many small streams which are running towards paradise scenarios.

People are finally rethinking cars and ‘reinventing the wheel’. People are looking at the planet as what it is – a giant spaceship that carries all of us through a dangerous universe. I believe that more and more people are starting to see the very real possibilities and power of working together despite cultural differences.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us in March of 2019. We are on the verge of a tyrant seizing power in the United States, the peaceful cooperation of Europe seems to be crumbling with Brexit, the world has been so degraded by our actions that we have somewhere between 20-100 years before it is uninhabitable for us, unemployment is down and servitude is up, and – finally – there are technological disruptions coming on such a massive scale that the old apple cart is going to get blown up. We don’t have a choice about changing – we will have to.

Categories
Economics Future Politics Review

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri – An Honest Review

I just finished reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri. 

In my life, I’ve read many thousands of books. This is the one I wish everyone would read. Seriously. It had a few issues – but ultimately – at this moment in time, if someone were to ask me “What one book do you recommend that everyone on Earth read?” This is the one I would choose.

Yes, I admit it. In the moments or days when I finish reading a particularly good book, I am like a 13-year-old after his first kiss. My emotions are engaged, endorphins are spinning through my head and I have hormones coursing through my veins. I’m sure that everyone doesn’t react to a good book like that – but everyone reacts to something like that – because we are all humans. And ultimately, that is what this book is about – it’s the story of humans from begining to present without any fluff, lies, exaggerations, or unprovable beliefs or theories.

In many ways, I feel like this was the book that I have been looking to read for decades.  The reason I got a degree in anthropology, traveled all over the world, and worked in archaeology was because I am fascinated with humans and why we do the things we do. If you want to see why I love this book as much as I do, go have a look at the one-star reviews on Amazon. Religionsists, nationalists, statists, ideologists, and other people who Hariri calls out as delusional. The ultimate message of Hariri’s book is this :

We just aren’t that important.

Lots of people hate to hear that, but there it is. We just aren’t that important. The universe is 13.5 billion years old. 6 million years ago our common ancestor that we share with chimpanzees emerged. 200,000 years ago – humans emerged – not just us but at least six distinct species of humans. Our species survived but probably had a hand in wiping out the others somewhere around 40,000 years ago. From there we spread out and just 12,000 years ago stopped being hunter-gatherers. Next we made kingdoms and religions and invented money and empires. Just 500 years ago the first industrial revolution began and 200 years ago the scientific revolution and so on and so forth until right nowwe are on the edge of the fourth industrial revolution. The bottom line is – our history is a blink of an eye in the history of the universe, the solar system, the planet, life, or even human species.

Hariri delves into the great questions and emerges with great answers – although, admittedly, sometimes his answers rely less on facts than on suppostions based on history, science, and medicine woven together. Essentially, the book looks at our political, economic, religious, social, and tribal constructs and demonstrates in the only way possible that they are imaginary and no more real than anything else we might imagine. If you read this book with an open mind you will learn two things 1) As a species we are pretty terrible and 2) On the whole, we are improving and getting better.

While the ‘-ists’ may hate to hear it – the truth is that humans and everything we have done so far – it’s all pretty unimportant.  None of it really matters —empires, religion, capitalism, communism, nations, wars, movements, revolutions – none of it matters.

Except that actually – it does. It’s started to matter. We’ve entered a new era. We’ve started on a portion of our path where we might come to matter a great deal…or we might disappear with the other human species that came before us. In fact, it’s almost certain that we will disappear as we become something else, something wonderful, something brand new in the universe.

So, for those who hate to hear it – we aren’t that important but if they would have read on  with an open mind they would have gotten to the real message. We do matter. The way we do things matters. Why we do things matters. How we do things matters.

I can understand why so many readers/reviewers got upset. It’s not easy to have someone slaughter your sacred cows. It’s not easy to hear that your religion isn’t the chosen one, your country isn’t the best one, your diet isn’t the most ethical one. To be honest, I was bothered by some of these things too – and I found myself saying things like ‘this guy is obviously pushing a vegetarian agenda’ which is probably true – but why shouldn’t we treat animals better? Why shouldn’t we eat less meat? Why shouldn’t we strive to protect biodiversity? Why shouldn’t we acknowledge that we treat other people terribly? Yes, it shakes our foundational beliefs – the ones that were put in place by our ancestors who knew less about just about everything than we do today, as a species. Maybe we need a good shaking. Actually, strike that maybe. We need a good shaking.

Ultimately, Sapiens is a very needed message of hope in a time of fear, dread, uncertainty, doubt and change. It’s a very welcome message.

Read this book.

 

Categories
America Politics

Where Does Capitalism Lead?

I’ve established (many times) that I am not psychic. So I won’t spend a few paragraphs guessing where the world economy (or the American economy) is heading. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. We are in uncharted waters.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what capitalism is and what it isn’t. One thing I’ve heard frequently is that the Chinese economy has moved towards capitalism – that is not true. First of all, let’s get a definition of capitalism out of the way. Websters offers the following:

an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

There are three key concepts here – private or corporate ownership and control rather than state (although I think corporate ownership is something altogether different), the use of investments for control, and competition in a free marketplace.

Ownership and Control of the Means of Production
In reality there are four types of economies. Primitive, Command, Market, and Mixed. In a primitive economy the means of production belong to the producer. A command economy gives control of the means of production to the state. A market economy gives control to the market itself and a mixed economy combines aspects of command and market economies – for example – the government controls education and the post office in the USA.

So, capitalism itself in a pure form would be a pure market economy with no government intervention or control. Essentially, capitalism leads to big fish swallowing small fish and small fish trying to get big enough to swallow smaller fish and eventually to swallow big fish. Capitalism may start with a level playing field (in an idealized world) but eventually it leads to Disney owning Marvel, Pixar, ABC, and every other entertainment company while Google swallows every new technology company, Facebook eats all the social fish, and JP Morgan eats all the other banks. In the meantime, the capital itself is consolidated into not just top corporate hands, but also into top tier individual hands – the 1% of the 1%. Capitalism is not about making a profit from your work – all economies are built around that. Capitalism is about mergers and acquisitions of the means of production, distribution, and disposal. It’s fish eat fish until there is only one fish that has nothing to eat and then we have a ‘Too Big to Fail’ situation where government steps in and saves the big fish – at which point, we are no longer talking about capitalism and free markets – we are talking about a command economy with the illusion of capitalism.

This is where capitalism leads. As I said at the outset, I’m not psychic. I can say for certain that capitalism leads here because it is where we are. As the World Bank and IMF sail into the bizarre waters of Quantitative Easing on the winds of salable debt and free spinning currency production – we have left the market economy behind though we still cling to the idea that a free market is running. In truth, the US economy has been a mixed economy for a long long time. We are closer to a command economy now than we have ever been. And part of the reason this has been allowed to happen is because people have this crazy idea that capitalism means making a profit. China is not capitalist. And yet, they make huge profits and have more entrepreneurs than any country in the world. China is a command economy. The US is a command economy with bizarre monetary leftovers of a market economy.

And that leaves everyone who is not in the top 1% vulnerable. The means of production and the power to overcome regulations to production, distribution and disposal exists only at the top of the pyramid. Capitalism leads to vast inequality first and then to an increasingly command economy ruled by corporate or private interests that are dependent on expansion and growth of market share. At a certain point, that expansion and growth can only be achieved by opening new markets through politics and war. And the gross inequality leads to either an altruistic super-state or to genocide of those unable or unwilling to produce for the corporate controlled government.

So where should we be heading? I’m not sure it matters. My personal preference would be a sort of socialist syndicalism market economy. That is, the government controlling certain essential industries (agriculture, medicine, housing, education, security) and worker/user owned syndicates or co-ops competing in a free market for everything else. But the question is moot. We can go nowhere until we see where our current monstrosity takes us.

Categories
Books and Writers Economics money

What I’m Reading: The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

My quest to understand the world we live in continues to focus on capital and finance with The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, like another book I recently read and reviewed, Money – this was written on the eve of a major financial catastrophe – though Ferguson, to his credit, is much more aware of the systemic instability he is writing in than Robertson was. And, unlike the Great Depression, the onset of the Great Recession had already begun at the time of Ferguson’s writing and by the time he wrote the revised conclusion of the paperback version – the major effects had already been felt and dealt with and the recovery efforts were well underway.

This was a good book and offered a wealth of information about the transition of money from hard currency to fancifully re-packaged imaginary money based on money that was loaned but which never actually existed and then even to the most chimeric form of capital yet – the hedge fund. Ferguson’s telling of the birth of banks, stock companies, paper currency, debt markets, and derivatives was both entertaining and informative. I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand capitalism and money.

That being said, Ferguson is a cheerleader of capitalism and an enthusiastic supporter of the positive benefits of money. For Ferguson, there seems to be no possibility of imagining a world in which unfettered capitalism, collecting interest, and central governmental oversight of monetary instruments could possibly exist. There is a palpable admiration present in his tales of swindlers, con-men, and thieves enriching themselves at the expense of honest workers and virtually no empathy present as he ignores the human toll that the financial escapades of men and governments wreak upon five centuries of humanity. He is a gifted storyteller and a talented teacher of economic principles and history – but ultimately, it is clear that he is a capitalist and not a humanitarian.

Still, the book is a must-read as these several notable passages illustrate:

..there were few mourners when the last meaningful vestige of it {the gold standard} were removed on August 15, 1971, the day that President Nixon closed the so called ‘gold window’ through which, under certain restricted circumstances, dollars could still be exchanged for gold. From that day onward, the centuries old link between money and precious metal was broken.

In his chapter about financial bubbles, Ferguson tells the colorful tale of John Law, a murderer fleeing justice in his native Scotland, who managed to take complete control of the French Royal Bank and essentially destroyed the treasury of France (and her citizens) through selling shares in the Mississippi company which was responsible for leaving France bankrupt and in need of the capital that selling the Louisiana Purchase to the fledgling United States brought. According to Ferguson, Law was single-handedly responsible for the founding of New Orleans and the ascent of Britain over France. I would love to see a movie about Law, but I’m glad to have not been one of his direct victims.

And finally, this quote struck me as incredibly powerful. It’s worth holding onto and thinking about deeply.

Longer life is good news for individuals, but it is bad news for the welfare state and the politicians who have to persuade voters to reform it.

And that, is perhaps the most powerful, though unintended message of this book – what is good for the individual is not necessarily good for the capitalist or the capitalist state. Buyer beware indeed.

Categories
America Crime and Punishment Education Environment

Schools are not safe in the USA – Nowhere in the USA is, actually

Another child murdered in a school today in the USA. 8 years old – doing nothing but going to school. I keep thinking of someone telling me it is irresponsible to travel overseas with my child – too dangerous – yes, but not as dangerous as staying home and sending my child to school. I blame this on capitalism – pure and simple. Guns are a business, government is a business, education is a business, crime is a business – people are the raw materials. Capitalism has turned us into resources- anyone ever asked you what you are worth? How do you answer? In cash. We sell our time, we sell our energy, we sell our health, we sell our safety – and the buyers are the masters of capital. We could have a society where people are safe, taken care of, fulfilled – but instead we have a society where some people own other people and we are measured (like it or not) by how much credit we have. Shylock’s Good Man wasn’t good in deed, but good for a debt – and that is how we are judged. It’s no wonder that people lose track of their intrinsic self worth and the intrinsic self worth of others. It’s no wonder that madmen are stealing guns from stores called Armageddon and sending manifestos of revolution to billionaire presidents. How long before someone lights themselves on fire in a way that starts the fire that burns this society down? Not sustainable. Capitalism is not sustainable.