28 March 2009

The little guy

The reinforcement of the prerogatives of the institutions of government is one of the most troubling features of the modern era. The exertions of ordinary people cannot come close to matching the scope and scale modern governments have become able to harness. It's a kind of dis-enfranchisement not of authority but of legitimacy. The ordinary citizen is stopping to matter anymore because citizens are all being piled up together into an uncountable heap and the experience of the modern life of action is becoming faceless and miniscule as a result.

The curse of the gift

Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo argues that international aid to ruling elites introduces the resource curse into their countries. The political leaders need not be accountable to their populations because they stay in power by catering to the wishes of the donor nations. Foreign aid crowds out indigenous entrepreneurship and turns the native populations into servile and passive recipients of gifts.

What do you do with the excess?

After America was unleashed from the constraints of the Cold War it experienced an explosion of surplus power. The nation didn't know what to do with all that excess power so it went on a consumption binge kicked off by Reagan and promoted by the conservative movement which has just ended in the Great 2008 Meltdown.

Inter-bank hoarding

What is really going on when inter-bank lending dries up is that the banks with surplus funds after the inter-bank accounts have been cleared are hoarding their excess funds instead of passing them along into the inter-bank market.

Selfish leadership

The radical conservative/Republican leaders are presently willing to undermine the power of their own party so long as they are able to hold on to their own power within the party. This sort of behavior on the part of the leadership typifies social organizations that are in decline and are headed for collapse. First eliminate all your internal adversaries; then, when the system begins to fail, insist on maintaining your leadership for the sake of the system's purity.

When strongman rulers capture control over the social/political system they never let go, no matter what.

When leaders wring the last bit of self-importance out of their leadership position irrespective of the damage it might be doing to the followership, that's an unalloyed example of extraction. Ideologies of selfishness result in collapse because the leadership embodies the ideology's selfishness and ultimately fails to act selflessly even when their own movement needs it.

It is easier than you think

The 40 years in the desert could well be a template for how to prepare for creative rule. The argument we are making is that we can stop thinking about how to bring down the ruling power because God, through the application of the resource curse, will see to the collapse of evil power. The question is what should we do instead of denouncing the incumbent, established power. The events in the wilderness could well be a narrative for how a people fashions itself for creative rule.

Star Wars has it wrong

The standard progressive rap is that of the small band of rebels fighting fearlessly against the great incumbent powers. The real progressive story should be of the collapsed incumbent powers giving way to a new world order whose rulers respect covenantal relations and the reverence for a higher authority such reverence implies.

Competition vs complementarity

Extremism vs moderation, ideology vs practicality, extraction vs creation, scarcity and fear and danger vs abundance and hope and respect for institutions and for standards and practices -- these are the competition vs complementarity poles of evil vs good, vice vs virtue, fury vs generosity.

When the moderates share more with each other and the extremists share more with each other across ideological lines than they do within the ideological lines it is because competition prevails over complementarity, and ideology has become an instrument of the ruling class over the ruled class. The pagan gods speak for the ruling class, the religious God speaks for the ruled class.

Easy pickin's

The resource curse is mutually reinforcing with the imperatives of war. A world where there are so many easy pickin's available for the taking demands the build-up of military force to maintain balance. The cruel logic of the resource curse is that the surplus will be transformed into materiel and personnel to defend the surplus. Our world is a dangerous world because we persist in producing surpluses that are easy pickin's, alienable and ready to be hunted and plundered.

Start from now and here

The issue in the framing of an alternative narrative is to start from the status quo. The proper path of change must follow directed evolution, which is to say, to move the present into the future. That means we must understand the present and we must have a clear vision of the path to a better future.

The Bible reframed the mythic under-structure of the ancient world to describe a modern vision both wise and deep and gentle. We must start from the contemporary mythic under-structure of the world today so that we can describe an alternative vision that is wise and deep and gentle, and comprehensible to people everywhere.

Counter-narratives after the collapse

The other side of containment is the duty to lead. Wise leadership must be ready to swallow up cunning leadership, both by demonstrating its own, superior cunning and by showing a willingness to fill the narrative void (the old regime will have left behind) with an alternative cultural context wherein it makes sense for the wise leadership to replace the old, exhausted, cunning leadership.

The development of a counter-narrative is the dimension whereby wise leadership earns its legitimacy. The counter-narrative resides in the nation's diplomatic institutions where ideology and a vision of a bucolic future civilization can take root. The institutions of containment -- the ones that work to stop extractive power -- are the analogue to the state's military services whereas the counter-narrative institutions -- the ones that work to fill the leadership void of a collapsing extractive power -- are the analogue to the state's diplomatic services.

When the old king, who has lost his vigor, is no longer able to lead the nation it is the young prince who will bear the responsibility of any failures unless he takes his father's place and renews the land. The impulse to fill the void with a new and different leadership style of one's own is the mark of a true leader. The task is not so much to wrest power from one vigorous ruler to the next. That is just old-fashioned, great power warfare and realpolitic. The task is to find those moments or places of power vacuum and to fill the vacuum with a new, vigorous leadership propelled by a counter-narrative that has built into it the regular institutional infra-structure of renewal and legitimate autonomy.

We are describing here an entrepreneurial model of power relations. The entrepreneurial start-up does not try to take on the incumbent on his own turf. Rather, he finds the undefended hill and establishes himself there in the marketplace's open niches. He builds a new culture and then waits for the aging incumbent to collapse under his own weight, only applying the coup de grace at the very end when the last vestiges of reactionary power remaining are unwilling to give up the ghost and so they must be inundated under the new regime's creative waters.

The true politics of renewal is able to anticipate the moments and the situations of the incumbent power's impending collapse and to be prepared with counter-narratives and a readiness, willingness, and ability to lead in a new direction. It is a sort of reverse 'shock doctrine' for the benign rather than for the malign political forces in the world today.

Such a entrepreneurially political approach is tailor-made to Israel and its contemporary as well as ancient geo-political situation. That is the logic of the Bible's political posture -- entrepreneurially to find political opportunities that come about from the self-inflicted decline and collapse of the greater powers of the time and the neighborhood, and to have little Israel light the way into the future.

27 March 2009

The irony of fear and hunger

PTSD sees danger everywhere. The health of PTSD sufferers becomes injured by the unrelenting excess of stress such hyper-vigilance produces in a body.

The right-wing 's insistence on seeing the nation's economics as based on unrelenting and insatiable scarcity, and on seeing the nation's politics as based on imminent, clear and present danger drives the society into a stressed-out state that is a kind of national PTSD.

What allows people to believe in their own safety and abundance is a faith in divine providence. A national PTSD is like the loss of faith in divine providence. Lose faith in divine providence and it makes people believe they need to feed themselves all the time; and it makes them spend their waking moments looking over their shoulders for the enemies lurking in the shadows. National PTSD results in a people that becomes obese and terrified.

A people that loses faith in divine providence develops the a yearning for strong leadership--a leadership that must be allowed, nay, even encouraged, to do whatever it takes to sustain the excess consumption and to secure their (what they perceive to be) vulnerable borders. To accomplish those objectives, the leaders encourage the people to violate the boundaries of the gifts of divine grace and bounty. The nation is driven to use up the creative fundament of the nation's productivity. That leads eventually to the exhaustion of the society and the ultimate collapse of its civilization and the values it promotes.

A nation that lives in a state of unrelenting fear and hunger will collapse under the weight of its own stresses and distresses.

A coach's testament

Contentment is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you're capable. UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden's definition of success.

Character and reputation differ in that character is what you are while reputation is what you're perceived to be."

Coach's four rules: never be late; always be neat & clean; no profanity; never criticize a team-mate.

Giving all is victory.

You can lose when you out-score an opponent, and you can win when you are out-scored.

The deeper market failure

Absent self-restraint the forces of market competition de-limit the effect of people's constant impulse to want ever more.

In the absence of market constraints and budget constraints and resource constraints what limits unrestained growth is the resource curse. Subjecting oneself to the market mechanism frees one from the burdens of self-restraint but it exposes one to the dangers of the curses that come from excess.

Commons and composition

The tragedy of the commons comes from hoarding the extractive resources rather than renewing their fertility; the paradox of composition comes from hoarding the money rather than circulating it. The commons problem comes from failure of clear property rights to the resources' fertility; the composition problem comes from risk of default.

The tragedy of the commons is analogous in the real economy to whatthe paradox of composition signifies in the money economy.When people do not hoard what they need to pass on, we call it tradition. Tradition cures both the tragedy of the commons as well as the paradox of composition.

Yo ho ho

The pirate plunders another's wealth whereas the entrepreneur fashions and takes what no-one has yet made.

Two kinds of balance/equilibrium

Satiation, sova, means balance, equilibrium, sustainability. Sova plays the role in the dimension of property and apportionement and deservedness that the equilibrium price plays in the dimension of welfare and allocation and fairness. Sova refers to an interior sense of balance and equilibrium, while market clearing prices refer to an exterior manifestation of balance and equilibrium.

Just enough time to get comfortable

Sabbatical years mimic in the economic sphere what democracy looks like in the political sphere. The point of holding elections is to subject the power-holders to regular interruption to their regime. Elections are meant to weaken the advantage of incumbency. That objective is likewise the point of the sabbatical year. It breaks the momentum of economic incumbency. It suspends impoverishment and endebtedness and delivers into the hands of the dis-empowered the prerogatives of rulership, if even for only a moment.

Over a rainbow

Organized economic systems started, at the dawn of civilization, in agriculture, which was renewable but nonetheless susceptible to extractive excess. In modern times economic activity moved to industrial manufacture, which pushed economic activity to a more serious dependence on extraction--this time of raw materials. In contemporary times global industry shifted even further to a more purely extractive system of oil and finance economies, which just last year began to burst. When the oil economy inevitably follows the finance economy over the cliff, what comes next could well be an economic system that finally takes seriously the matter of extraction. With extraction constrained, industry and market transactions would respect the sustainability of productivity and maintain a stable economic order by managing the accumulation and disbursement of surplus. That wouldn't be Kansas anymore.

How sacred is private property?

When the market controls the economy people are taking for granted the respecting of the rules of property; when the government controls the economy the issue is property. As government-regulated economies like China or Russia come to the fore, the rules of private property matter less and less to the proper functioning of the economies. Eventually, private property rights will lose their sacred place in the world's value structures. It would not be the end of the world but it would be the end of something basic in Western society.

What might help a future crop of leaders prevail

Clear eyed empiricism coupled to radical transparency could tunnel through complexity to simplicity.

Expecting to get what you deserve, more or less

The government's role in setting macro-policy according to Akerlof is based on its ability to correct money illusion and the various misconceptions the permanent income hypothesis or rational expectations would lead policy-makers in the private sector to believe. An alternative way to look at the matter is to posit that people take their wages as a measure of their self-image and of what they believe they deserve. The role of government would therefore be to make sure just deserts prevails in the society because just deserts is an important factor in how people make their individual decisions. When the economy heats up so that people are making too much easy-money, money they do not deserve, when the economy starts to head toward an asset bubble with its attendant mis-allocation of resources, then the government needs to intervene to correct the situation.

Seen this way, the role of government is not a matter of regulation so much as it is the setting of long term expectations in society to match what they believe they deserve, the consequence of which would be that people would be able to coordinate better.

Do you deserve what you're entitled to?

We need to distinguish between what people feel they deserve versus what they feel they're entitled to. Just deserts versus entitlement is a subtle shift that focuses either on what the person has made and the pride s/he takes in that act of production versus on what the person feels comes to him/her by virtue of their membership in the society or some such.

What happens when we deviate from the market

The market defines the consumption decision in terms of a trade-off, and the market defines the production decision in terms of a trade-off. Hence, in a market-based economy, all decisions are couched in terms of prices.

When we deviate from the market we can go in one of two directions: (1) consumption as production; or (2) production as consumption. Consumption as production is plunder. The plunderer simulates production by taking what already is there. Yes, the act of taking could by itself be a costly act that entails exertion and the expenditure of resources and energy, and sometimes plunder can be the mere extraction of natural resources, but in the end the actual productive act is not being performed by the agent who claims the booty, the extracted commodity, as his own. That claim to what someone else produces is the essence of what the market denominates as the consumption decision -- hence 'consumption as production'.

Production as consumption, on the other hand, is caring and contentment. The caretaker enjoys the consumption of the cared-for, and takes pride in having produced that which benefits the cared-for. Yes, the caretaker is getting something for what he produced but the satisfaction is inalienable, it comes out of the act of production and out of the sharing of the product with others. In the end, the pleasure comes not from the consumption of something that someone else made but from the consumption by someone else of something the agent made. That pleasure not from the product but from the making of the product and the delivering of the product to another is the essence of what the market calls the production decision -- hence 'production as consumption'.

Pick a country, any country

Implementation of sheviit (land-sabbatical) laws must be national in scope because individuals can't really accomplish the task. Sabbaticals work only when they're operating at the national scale. Asking individuals to accomplish the tasks of stewardship is an empty exercise because stewardship at anything lower than the national scale is doomed to fail.

Stewardship is not only about good intentions, it's about properly defining property rights and then enabling a commercial system that works according the dictates of gift exchange rather than market exchange.

The teaching of the Chumash (Bible) is that stewardship must occur at the national level. That's the point of the laws of sheviit and shemitta (debt forebearance and disbursement of the sabbatical surplus).

A better strategy than getting people with good intentions to practice eco-friendly tasks would be to find a country whose citizens would be amenable to the ways of the stewardship of the environment, and then, as a demonstration project to show the world how it is done and what the national advantages to such an approach really are, to implement the ways of environmental stewardship at the national level. That would be the 'light unto the nations' part of the biblical mandate.

Such an approach is has the advantage that it is not so much anti-corporate as it is pro-stewardship. That it is 'pro-' means the approach doesn't have to be angry. It also means the policy positions don't have to be negative. It means that people are preparing for the inevitable collapse of the corporate, 'mechanical' systems by describing what will take their place.

Gandhi was proposing such a approach when he taught non-violence. Non-violence presumed the resistance to, and thus the containment and eventual collapse of illegitimate power. The problem with Gandhi's experiment was poor timing. Had the Muslim world not descended into an epochal resource curse with the discorvery of oil on their lands at almost exactly the moment his teachings were coming to the fore with the indendence of India and the creation of Pakistan, Gandhi's wisdom would have been much more clearly manifested in the world today.

When food becomes a weapon

The industrialization of farming led to the increase in its scale and in the scale of its technology and of its political/economy.

Industrial farming is farming for export where food becomes a strategic commodity that enters into the military leadership's calculus about national security. All these agra-business developments lead to farming being pushed to extractive extremes, and ultimately to the exhaustion of the nation's soil's fertility.

Blood and soil

"Hypothesis 1: Thnking in terms of bioregions and communities is necessary but not sufficient. We must zero all the way in, down to the land itself, to our final destination and the source of wealth and health -- soil fertility." (Slow Money, Woody Tasch, 2008, page 61)

Actually, it goes further than the land itself. It goes down to the combination of the land and the biomass that constitutes the ingredients of fertility, what we call soil. As the soul of animal life is in the blood, so the soul of plant life is in the soil.

The soil needs caring not only from the proper use of the farm-land but also of the forest-land as well. The forests and the farms work in concert to renew the fertility of the soil.

Sustain or demolish

The difference between Main St and Wall St is that on Main St you work your craft to make a living while on Wall St you work your deals to make a killing.

Pay up

Financial assets tend to be antagonists to material assets. The inflexibility of having to pay back debts and interest or the pressure to grow the return on equity drive the managers of the material assets to extract the value more rapidly than is sustainable.

Community Supported Agriculture -- CSA

In the CSA model the customers/shareholders also serve as the source for financial capital. The model dis-intermediates the financial institution and the problems of price fluctuations in marketplace for the produce. It thus internalizes the financial function into the relationship between the producer and the consumer. By internalizing the financial function the model honors the stewardship of the storehouses of fertility in the producer and in the consumer, and so it keeps the financial institution from forcing the producers and consumers into an extractive mode of life.