Monday, November 01, 2010

You are not in control.

If Matt Taibbi and Eric J. Weiner agree that US infrastructure and land have gone on the auction block, who am I to argue otherwise? I have retreated to farmland, sold my stocks and whittled my dependence on the health and savings institutions that this schizophrenic nation sets up in congress one year and tears down on Murdoctored News the next. And when the authors agree that the buyers are sovereign funds pumped full of cash by our own insatiable consumption and banker-crafted and corporation-friendly trade policies, why would any of us be hoping that a less rapacious model of globalization will alleviate or prevent economic suffering of the marginalized majority of people either in the states or abroad?

Its a fun exercise to just run through the entire listing of current titles in economics at B&N or other outlets. They fall mostly in to a few categories:
  • the business-will-make-you-rich kind seem to run on either of two theories...the author knows a secret the rest of the market does not and you can learn the trick, or "You Just Need a Bigger Ego to be a winner". It is refreshing to see Dan Ariely on the same book shelves.
  • the Intrigue-of-Big-Money and power. The long list of titles of this genre go into every boardroom and stateroom looking for bad guys...and what a surprise! They found some. That category includes both the invisible hand of the collective or divine as Adam Smith imagined it and the invisible hand of some cabal of bankers or secretive super rich. No matter: all such musings focus not on the cause but on the carnage, the irresistible and morbidly appealing accident scene that fearful and neurotic humans bring forth from a rich planet, a sorry miscarriage of cleverness in the absence of wisdom or simple kindness. Just as romance novels are over-sized love stories for dull love-starved readers, I suspect this Financial Intrigue genre is only read seriously by the empty pocketed non-players hoping for a glimpse into that other world that has trodden so heavily on their own.
  • The institutions-just-need-a-tune-up. Stiglitz and Charlton [linked above] are in this category. They propose tuning an engine that runs on blood if you ask me.

It were better to look not in to the crooks, witting or unwitting, nor into their institutional tools but into our own spendthrift hearts. I find a fourth category of books on economics, one that is probably dismissed by the wealthy who actually benefit from the current order and from the common, globalizing sense that sane priorities must place profit or at least subsistence ahead of sustainability. The nature of the beast is that we will always put our subsistence ahead of the sustainability of anyone else's future. The prescriptions of these authors who say that you can mend the world by taking charge of your own habits are reported by their publishers to be "new ideas" and to bring a ray of hope to the dismal prospects offered by the dismal science. Don't I wish. Its not wrong to ask that we think more of the world of trees than the world of money...its just not human nature. And it saddens me to observe this because I do agree that empowerment begins in the micro-economic realm where we, the plankton of the economic food chain, really could just say NO if we were at all in the habit of conscious, informed choices and a modicum of deferred gratification.

Jeffrey Sachs is one writer who sees clearly enough how we got here and then gets a bit dreamy about how we can turn to new institutions and schemes of socially and environmentally equitable negotiation in order to salvage human history:
So there is yet another respected source saying the mighty US is losing control of the financial destiny of its citizens...but I must repeat myself here: why would we expect any such detour from the unvarying selfishness that permeates all that has been done to date by nations and sects and individuals? We would need people raised in a different world if these new institutions would be embraced. I would hate to have the kind Mr. Soros hear this but from where I stand, it appears that the works of the generous wash away like sand castles built at low tide. Watch what happens this Tuesday.

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