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.
‘’A Road Map for Natural Capitalism” by Lovins, Lovins and Hawken. You pose a question regarding what can the average person do to assist Natural Capitalism? Be mindful and be aware of our individual activities.
We can do more. Almost every business endeavour can reclaim, re-use, re-purpose and recycle. So far it is not deemed profitable enough – easier to throw away. I get that. Business is hard enough without adding extra cost-incurring processes. But ultimately, we will all be polluted and covered in micro-plastics. It will be too late then. AND there is a whole new family of recycling industries awaiting deployment if we just do as Ray Anderson did. It is not enough to just be mindful and careful – we actually have to be proactive in some ways.
We are all entitled to our opinion…yes? I at no time disagreed with your opinions.
And, and, and….you, of all people, are more exempt from the accusation than most of us! You re-sell, re-purpose, recycle and make cashflow!! That is your business!! In a sense, you are a model of the Ray Anderson principle. In my opinion, one does NOT have to be all things for all problems. Growing your own food, fixing your own car, building your own house, making-do and repurposing is very much an OTG thing even if we also burn gasoline (a great deal less, tho) and buy crap. We import whiskey and parts and do all sorts of ‘bad’ things. But we also do a lot of good things. It is not enough but it is better than most.
As the old tv commercial said, so truthfully:
“It is all about Balance.”
Here, there, and just about EVERY Where.☺
Well done post JD. david.
Being mindful…in the Fraser Valley near Chilliwack four X four trucks are driving over salmon spawning beds, and they are seemingly not being aware that they might be harming the future salmon runs which they might rely upon in the future. The was a recent TV feature. Mindful and aware.
Dave mindful and aware is not an opinion it is a survival strategy. Dave and Sally, you are without a doubt mindful and aware.
Even The Economist magazine refers to “Economics as “that dreadful science”.
I whole hearted agree that most politicians are not responsible for the dire situation this planet is in.
The Right Whale is down to 360 animals. And an even fewer percentage are breeding females.
If ship whale strikes and fishing nets ensnaring and lobster bouys have their way…..
We will see the extinction of a majestic species in the next decade, perhaps two.
The US govt has just implemented stricter requirements for lobster traps , nets, ship speeds etc.
Greed being greed.
The Lobster fishermen immediately opposed the new rules because it would affect their profit.
The container ships complain it affects delivery times.
On and on and on.
Lobster is essentially considered a delicacy, not a necessity.
My extended family fished lobster for decades.
I would rather see 100,000 lobstermen out of work before I see the end of the Right Whales.
“Much wants More” was a revealing statement my grandmother would say about greedy people.
We need to rethink our footprint on this planet because the “disposable” plastic containers are burying us.
Policy goals and targets are helpful, especially if they have broad community support. A carbon price can work but it is time consuming and vulnerable to political opportunism. As you mentioned, we don’t have time for that now.
There was a great story on Verna Sahajwalla on tele last night. She is an absolute inspiration and is finding all sorts of new ways to recycle our waste and create new manufacturing businesses in the process. This does require seed funding, including from government. Check her out.
Tracy many of the various provinces of Canada have had a made in each province since around 2008 a Carbon Tax. Conservative provincial governments have been opposed to Carbon Taxes. Provinces with Carbon Taxes have benefited. Wikipedia has an interesting posting on the various iterations of Provincially devised Carbon Taxes and the Federal alternative Carbon Tax for those Provinces that have not devise a made in each Province scheme. Politically the Carbon Tax has been hotly contested for ideological reasons. Petroleum production is a sunset industry in most of Canada. General Motors of America says it will cease the production of gasoline engines by 2035. Big oil is developing alternate fuels for motors that have a smaller Carbon footprint than gasoline or diesel fuels. Some suggest that hydrogen may be a fuel of the future. Canada has a contingent of Global Warming skeptics who favour the mining of the Tar Sands in Alberta. Vast areas of Northern Alberta have been environmentally degraded by strip mining. Alberta has some heavy oil upgraders but sending heavy oil offshore by tanker or to the USA Gulf Coast by pipeline is cheaper than building more upgraders. I’m sure you will be told that Carbon Taxes are a drag on a country. But well researched information of the value of Carbon Taxes exist.
I view Carbon Tax as…..another immediate cash cow for the politicians and their ever desperate attempts to slow down ballooning deficit spending.
Most politicians care about the next election and nothing long term like global warming.
It will be the private sector that leads the way, not politicians.
As you have said GM and most other auto manufacturers (VW, Ford, etc) will lead the way by abandoning ICE vehicles in the next 20 years.
They know which way the wind is blowing.
It will make movies with “gas stations” eventually look dated.
Alberta will have to “dig deep” if they are going to wean them selves off oil and gas. Hopefully that doesnt mean coal.
It will be interesting to see who will pay for all Quebec’s “equalization” payments after that.
But if China continues to burn coal, make concrete and steel( contributes 9% of all the world carbon),build empty cities to keep employment up, ….one billion people want the “western comforts with Chinese characteristics” and it will take 1.5 planets to provide it.