I was composing a blog along similar lines when my friend, Tom Kupecz of Trenton, Ontario, sent me this and is allowing me to share it with you:
It is difficult these days to figure out what is up with the economy. The world over, capitalists seem to have borrowed way more than they can repay, banks have lent way more than their clients can handle, the soup lines are getting longer, and the authors of our misfortunes are getting even more obscenely wealthy. It might do to look at how we got into this mess in the first place. It may have to do with human nature, not a happy idea, since it would be close to impossible to counter.
People are competitive beasts. When we cooperate it is mainly to make it easier to win in whatever we do, be it work or play. It is only the artsy folk who do not need to get that promotion or win that game. The rest of us are fulfilled by doing better than, well, everyone around us. Studies have shown that to be content all we need is to be as well off as our friends and neighbours; do better than them and we are perfectly happy. If we had twice as much, but they had twice as much plus a little more, we would be in despair. It is very relative.
Now these studies are conducted by social scientists, a set of researchers who seem to be able to prove anything they set out to, but this particular finding feels right. Jealously is very powerful. One of the assumptions here is that having more stuff is better. We measure well being by how much we possess. Watch TV and you see the ads, and most programs, reinforce this idea. The path to happines is paved with shiny new stuff!
We live in a Democracy, the best form of government ever, in a Capitalist economy, the most successful system ever devised. We know this because we have been told so for years. And over time we have defeated all the other systems of government and of economy. At least up to now. As the foreclosures continue and the bread lines persist it may become harder to keep the faith.
A few questions: Why is the US congress locked in ideological squabbling. fiddling while the economy burns? Why are the authors of the economic meltdown more wealthy than ever? Why is the totalitarian Chinese economy succeeding so stunningly? Could it be that we have got something fundamentally wrong?
The basis of Capitalism is the accumulation of money to be able to create business, whatever it may be. Raising the funds can take many forms, but in the end it is the ability to persuade and convince others to lend money that marks the successful Capitalist. Wall Street financiers are very good at gathering together large amounts of money, but they have proven pretty mediocre at applying it sensibly. When the profits from simply selling stocks and bonds became merely huge, the Wizards of Wall Street invented a panoply of "derivatives". The Heart of Capitalism has become a casino where investors gamble on the rise or fall of an index of selected stocks, or bet on the market value of a stock rising or falling in a certain period. And other weird ways of increasing a portfolio's value. This has no relationship with creating business.
Something else that everyone knows is that the Economy must grow, or we face Stagnation, Recession, and Depression. But why? To accommodate the increasing world population? To pay interest on all that Capital borrowed to create business? Or so wealthy Capitaists can become wealthier? Probably all of the above - the first two are driven by the laws of Nature or Finance but the last one is most likely the main driver.
When you can afford to live well, life is good. But what is really good? Once you get beyond poverty and its resultant malnutrition and illness, what makes you happy? It seems that we are fulfilled by our relationships with other people, humans developed as tribal creatures, and are desperately unhappy when unable to interact at the personal level with family and friends. In our frenetic lifestyles we seem to have forgotten that.
Once upon a time we were going to live in a futue Utopia, served by all manner of machines while we fulfilled ourselves, freed from drudgery. Well, the future is here, and the machines are taking over the drudgery (read: jobs) and the machine owners are getting wealthy, while mankind is sinking into poverty. Governments, which rely on taxes for income, are finding that personal income tax revenues are falling with increasing unemployment, while the wealthy Capitalists are able to have corporate taxes reduced in the name of creating jobs. Since the jobs they create are increasingly performed by machines, more people have leisure time with no money to enjoy it.
The problem is not so much how to put the economy back on track but how to adapt to an economy that will never again offer ever-increasing salaries. Since the people in charge are the competitive ones who are succeeding in the present environment, this will be difficult.
The explosion of technologies from information management to robotics to genetics may be able to provide means to adapt. We need to give some thought to our political system that appears not to possess the will to adapt.