This entry is written entirely for the purpose of sharing perspective. It was prompted by the debate between two readers stemming from the last blog post. No expertise is claimed by anyone but the right to have an opinion – they are entitled to have them. So am I. This is ‘just a thought’.
Economics is, essentially, the study of human behaviour as exhibited through spending, buying, selling and savings. Basically, money is a form of expression or language that everyone speaks (and NEEDS to) and yet, like our own speaking languages, the body of knowledge keeps expanding and changing and we do not, as a rule, keep up. The result: we do not know what we are talking about. We do not know where we are headed.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.
(Money is also a ‘storage of energy’ – but that is a topic for another day.)
Our spoken languages have categories, specialties and/or dialects. English, especially, has science-talk, techie-talk, street slang, normal conversational English (as does Greek, Mandarin, etc but English is the primary techie language) and there is all sorts of different job-related lingo. There are approximately 170,000 words currently in use in English, 45,000 words in the dictionary NOT used much anymore (methinks, eh?) and the average educated person only uses between 20 and 30,000 words. Throw in ever-evolving techie-talk, street slang and plain-old grammar and ‘speaking English properly’ today is a daunting task mastered by very few. Speaking fluent economics is impossible.
Economics is, in many ways, a language substitute as well as a sub-language (in this blog topic, for sure) and, thankfully, the language is not as complicated or as full in vocabulary as English. It is, however, somewhat harder to understand and the concepts related to economics are just as complicated (it is a subset of human behaviour after all). Ninety-nine percent of the folks don’t speak even a smattering of Economics. And, surprise! like slang, it is also evolving so some so-called economists are also no longer fluent. Bottom line: few people understand economics and fewer still can communicate their understanding in common language.
The ‘substitute language of Economics is the counting of money or ‘accounting’ and data metrics and statistics, all are often used as a ‘common form’ of communicating the concepts instead of us having to learn all the concepts and special words. Numbers are the economist’s shortcuts. Side bar: when I taught business planning, my students were asked to write their business plan as well as they could and then attach their projected numbers. The exercise was to see if the ‘numbers’ read as a precise translation of their sales pitch. In effect, I taught them to wrote two plans: one in English, one in numbers.
Because we know words, we are, therefore, all supposed to know what an ‘estimated drop in durable goods’ is supposed to mean. We are supposed to be ‘happy’ when the price of oil goes up when, indeed, most of us are unhappy when it does. The rationale for the money-talkers explanation is that, “When oil prices go up, that is an indicator of work being done and the economy must be growing, i.e. the numbers are going up. Ergo, we are happy to see the economy grow.”
People (even economists) still think that way. To be fair, rising oil prices is an indicator of more work being done but it is NOT an indicator of all the more damage to the climate, more investment in wrong places (like wars, throw-away plastics and wasteful consumerism) nor is it an indicator of who-gets-what or the long term cost to the planet. Oil prices rising indicates only profitability and business in the short term for a percentage of people. It is a narrow point of view.
The point: the language of economics is ‘workplace jargon’ and is both inadequate and misleading. And I, personally, suspect that is on purpose. Why? Because most of it is stupid but it always serves the wealthy.
Side bar: if your house burns down and you rebuild it, economists add that cost to the GDP. Yippeeee, the economy is growing! That is just plain stupid to my way of thinking. Replacement is not growth. AND, if all the salmon in your area die from disease or something, that is NOT deducted from the economy. And that is even stupider.
Eco-minded economists lament that the cost-to-the-environment is never factored into the price paid at Walmart for a plastic kids pool (for instance). And we consumers don’t seem to ever really ‘get that’ lament. We don’t want to. But we know it is true and we do ‘get that’ in some stupidly obvious and too-late concluded examples such as oil spills and thousands of abandoned oil wells sprinkled hither and yon (although the clean-up costs are added to the GDP) and maybe the loss of over 40% of the world’s wildlife is noted but, generally speaking our ability to see beyond cheap gratification is impossible. We are like Lemmings grabbing a quick bite as we head for the cliffs.
But let us segue back to “What does that mean for me and mine in our situation? We have to pay the mortgage! We gotta eat! You are talkin’ like I am gonna have to pay more taxes!!!”
Well….the carbon tax is supposed to be a baby step in factoring in the cost of our living on the planet. Of course, it will not work. It can’t. It’s stupid, too-little and too late. And, anyway, Nature has already provided the REAL answer and some people can already see it. They call it SUSTAINABILITY. Best quick-read of REAL and possible sustainability is Lovins and Hawken’s book: NATURAL CAPITALISM, published by the Rocky Mountain Institute in 1999, and a life changer for me.
Sustainability is survival. Non-sustainability is extinction.
Occasionally, a species will dominate it’s environment too much and go extinct. That can and has happened. But most species found a balance somewhere along the line. Too many wildebeests for the savannah and the lions start reproducing. Too many lions eating lots and lots of Wildebeest tends to balance out both of them over time….I am guessing it only takes a few generations (for lions and wildebeest). We are clearly too much for our environment – at least the modern consumer is. We are not sustainable.
THAT is the problem.
But we are the apex predator. And more than NOT having to fear the lions and the alligators, we will eat just about anything. Lions eat meat. Wildebeest eat grass. We’ll eat both of them and then go for chocolate ice cream. And there are many, many more of us. More than that, we ‘eat the earth’ (mining and such) and there is no natural balancing force…….
……..well, there is, actually. We do have a few natural enemies and they can reduce our numbers enough to create some kind of balance. Diseases are the most common contrary or balancing force from heart disease to ebola, from diabetes to Covid. We don’t see the really microscopic little guy until that enemy has landed in our blood stream. But we have a Goliath enemy, too. The earth also fights back. It, too, likes balance and when the balance is out of whack, the earth resists and tries to restore the status quo. Climate change is what some are calling that.
“What is the point, Dave?”
We are all out of balance – especially problematic at this modern, globalized scale, too. Trudeau is NOT responsible. Harper was NOT responsible. Even that bastard Trump is not nor will ever be responsible for the predicament we all face. I am a politician watcher and commenter but, really? They are NOT the problem – just part of the problem because we all rely on the head lemming.
It is not about a small group of self-branded liberal conservative fools meeting in hotels. Not even well positioned and rich fools meeting in Davos are to blame. Our problem is the system we have all embraced. Until we can build in balancing factors to Capitalism (as described in Natural Capitalism), we are headed for the cliff. It is really that simple.
“Dave! I can’t practice Natural Capitalism on my own!” It is hard. I know that. But Ray Anderson did it. So have others. Look up the history of Interface Corporation – they make carpet. The guy was a genius.