18 April 2009

Keeping taxes low and America childish

In a society that has embedded the adolescent values of unlimited growth into its corporations while the adult values of stewardship and succession are embedded in the government, it is small wonder that a political movement that wants to keep the world in its adolescence is interested in lowering to the vanishing point the taxes that would support that government.

Weak leaders means poor stewards

A high incidence in a society of weak leadership is a symptom of the resource curse and the concomitant extractive values failing to promote the proper values of stewardship, caring and contentment. Stewarding leaders tend to be strong leaders whereas extractive leaders tend to be strongmen who talk strong but are, at bottom, weak and cowering.

The strongest leaders are those who are doing God's work, protecting His values and His apportionments, recognizing His higher power and leveraging that power to their own ends, accepting humbly His higher authority and gaining a great measure of dignity in the process, tending in reverence to the welfare of their charges and inspiring their followers to rise, to refuse to kneel, to insert their systems into the general order of things, to face their challenges and their allies, to achieve inner harmony and wholeness, and to resonate with the non-material essence of the material fertility that transforms a stock into a fund and gives it life.

They were right all along

The irony of American history is that in the end it could well be that the Native-Americans were right all along. Europe's industrial might well have overwhelmed the Native-American's political order, especially considering the possibility that those societies had already gone into steep decline centuries before the Europeans arrived on the continent but the values the Europeans had imported with them would eventually result in American catastrophe and collapse because America was not in harmony with the natural order and because America's leadership class did not recognize the responsibilities of stewardship.

What happened to American small businesses?

The story of public capitalists cashing out the American economy is only part of the story. The shock doctrine is also in play. The big business managers are also using this moment to eliminate their small business suppliers and integrating the supply chain in an attempt to overtake and consolidate their hold on the economic system, end to end.

The real battle is between the SBA and the Commerce Department. The only trouble is that small businessmen don't recognize their adversaries because they've been distracted by their antipathy to the labor unions.

What did he open when Nixon opened China?

When Nixon and Kissinger originally opened China what they were really doing was putting an end to the rule of communism there and replacing it with the rule of the crony capitalism -- an economic system that presently under-writes the ruling party's power.

Our Constitution and our economic system were no-where to be seen in the decision-making of those two fore-runners of the present-day conservative movement.

The conservative movement is the last gasp of the ancien regime in the modern world. The conservative movement is finding a home in the former super-powers -- America, China and Russia -- because those regimes still extol the virtues of large scale systems over the smaller scale ones that are closer to the ground.


LBJ might have been the source of the final take-over of the American political system by the Texas oligarchs. The Vietnam War, which was Johnson's war, kicked off the KBR juggernaut, which ultimately resulted in the Wall St asset inflation and the current meltdown. It was probably KBR's people who took it upon themselves first to assassinate JFK to deliver the presidency to LBJ, and then to assassinate RFK to keep the presidency at LBJ's re-election. How different the course of history might have been had it not been altered the by LBJ cabal.

Contentment engenders gratitude in us

Gratitude is a measure of contentment. It is a consequence of having been taken care of.

Depth & qualitative measures of value

Abundance is about power and maturity and up-grown-edness and the ability to transition to adulthood where responsibilities and duties over-shadow opportunity and adventure. Implicit in all that is the role of stewardship coupled to the humility of reverence so that one can keep their sights clear and their eyes on the prize.

The essence of stewardship is care-taking, and the essence of humility is contentment. Both these values measure the dimension of depth rather than of scale. As a living being grows-up its value system shifts from scale and quantitative measures of value to depth and qualitative measures of value.

Jefferson vs Hamilton

Market economies honor balance and equilibrium as embodied in market-clearing prices. That the market-clearing price is the result of a highly unstable process of adversarial competition is not something the neo-classical economists are ready to address or admit. The instability of the market-clearing price mechanism comes from the fact that the losing adversary in the competitive process is typically eliminated. Once the losing adversary is eliminated, the logic of the competitive marketplace -- that there will be many players competing myopically against each other over price -- breaks down and the price mechanism begins to fail.

The deeper flaw in the system is the problem that triumph in the marketplace and the elimination of one's competition is seen by the world as a good thing when, in fact, it likely injures the victor more than the vanquished. The arena where a marketplace has wiped out the adversarial life-forms is what we call big business. China is a political/economic order that is more congenial to the interests of big business than America. There's a new struggle coming. It's not between capitalism and communism but between big business and small business. The battle between Jefferson and Hamilton has gone global, and it has just begun.

When a power utility grows up

When an electric utility changes its corporate mission from selling more electric power to helping its customers retro-fit their plants to consume less electric power it is growing-up. It is moving from one stage of of its corporate life to another.

Reality sings

"Between our dreams and actions lies this world."
Bruce Springsteen.

Practice is hard; theory, not so much

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there is."

17 April 2009

Asset price volatility and the shock doctrine

Volatility of the asset prices is what allows the oligarchs to maintain their competitive advantage over any new entrants into the market. Asset price volatility is the instrument of the corporate shock doctrine that re-shapes the political landscape in favor of the incumbents and to the detriment of the corporate insurgents.

The grown up corporation

The alternative to a culture of corporate growth is a culture of corporate growing up, of adulthood and maturation. Absent that, the impulse to grow becomes an impulse to obesity that manifests as over-compensation and the insulation of the leadership from the rigors of the workforce, and an impulse to cosmetic surgery that manifests as the fictitious inflation of asset values through financial engineering and the irresponsible risking of the shareholder's long term value.

To grow-up is to accept the responsibilities of stewardship, of succession, of preserving the status quo for the sake of the next generation. That is the quintessence of up-grown-edness. To be a grown-up is to be done with the self-involvement of adolescent youth and to be ready to bear and to rear the next generation. It is to be willing to grow in and down and not out and around. It is, in the end, to be willing to let go. That letting go must be built in periodically into the functioning of the social order. In the case of sheviit, the sabbatical year, it is the letting go of the land; in the case of shemitta, debt forbearance, it is the letting go of political rule.

Who's the grown up now?

The left did not grasp the proper dimensions of its own struggle. The left, no less eggregiously than the right, was willing to support grand scale organizations and resource extraction over organizations of modest scale and resource stewardship.

When the lid came off the Soviet Union it was revealed to be among the worst environmental offenders on the planet; labor unions demand self-serving regulations that punish productive effectiveness without their bothering to invent better solutions to the challenges of technological progress; self-righteousness, self-pity, self-victimization, and the disempowerment that comes of an adolescent cast of mind typify much thinking on the left -- all these bespeak a lack of a deeper vision and a deeper focus on the liberal left which is commensurate with the myopia and shallowness of the conservative right.

The environmentalists who whine like adolescents mistakenly perceive the corporate incumbents as the grown-ups. That perception needs to be reversed. The true environmentalist sees the values of stewardship, which are the values of up-grown-edness, while the true blue corporate director and his CEO sees only the values of unlimited growth, which are the values of adolescence.

The crony communists of mid-20th century Russia and China eventually sloughed off their communist roots and have, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, morphed into crony capitalists par excellence. Indeed, they are today the global ground zero of crony capitalism, to which the crony capitalists of America and the Middle East and Europe turn for leadership and guidance and financial support. The thuggery of the old communist regimes has survived and is indeed overwhelming the populist instincts of the small-l liberal, free market entrepreneurship of the American republic. The conservative movement and the crony communists are in league to transform the world's economic order to the dictates of strongman rule and the resource curse. God's word that teaches stewardship and reverence are our only bulwark against that threat.

Conduct becoming to a distinguished board member

The objective of environmental programs in a corporation should not stop at greening the practices of the management and the employees, it should go on to re-configure the entire governance -- the corporate mandate and the corporate culture. The boards of directors have ultimately to be greened. The reason the boards of the major public companies are so dysfunctional is they don't have all that much of value to do. The objective of growth for the large corporation has by and large been exhausted and alternative programs that would properly merit the attention of the men and women of distinction who sit on the boards of the large corporations are no longer challenging because the corporations are still behaving like adolescents even though their powers have already matured into adulthood. So that instead of governing the corporation for the sake of some higher values the boards begin to drift to the kind of crony capitalism that's growing up in China and Russia under the guidance of Wal-Mart, Big Oil, Wall Street and the conservative movement and its Republican Party.

The virtuous shock doctrine

The real challenge is how do you replace a leader who's already been resource cursed and who is benefitting from all the short term advantages that extractive policies offer? Such a leader will recognize a threat to their incumbency a mile away, and they will stop it. That is the real pressure point.

The virtuous shock doctrine is the answer. The 'virtuous shock doctrine' is (what we consider to be) a better name for the containment strategy. The virtuous shock doctrine encourages the collapse of the extractive rulers and then replaces them with managers who understand the advantages and responsibilities of stewardship.

Corporate governance for stewardship rather than growth

The model of the public corporate manager could begin now to evolve into a reverential style of businessman. Once a corporation, a corporate person, has achieved oligarchical status it needs to become mature in its outlook and to govern its conduct by a code of honor that recognizes its responsibilities for stewardship and not only for growth.

The reason the corporate trustees of the big business companies are unable to control the compensation packages of their executive management is because the mandate for the corporation is out of whack. When a company becomes too big for others to compete against it its objective should become stewardship rather than the maximizing of anything, least of all 'growth.' So long as the corporation keeps trying to grow in an environment where growth is impossible, it will keep trying to engineer that growth artificially. Because the corporation does not see itself as a steward, the top managers have stopped seeing themselves as stewards and instead are using their positions to cash out the corporation, at the expense of the long term interests of the shareholders.

The governance boards must turn to stewardship as the corporate objective. Once that's done, the mandate to the executives will be to maintain competitive position and to transform the corporation into a leader for the good grace of God's apportionments. Having a mandate for stewardship on the outside, the top managers will once again be able to justify their responsibilities for stewardship on the inside.

A mature, fully grown adult who tries to simulate youth and to behave according to the dictates of adolescence is an embarrassment. It's like middle-aged women wearing mini-skirts or middle-aged men driving flashy sports cars. They haven't grown up. They haven't recognized the new stage in their lives and in their positions. They are trying to stay forever young rather than maintaining their vitality through stewardship and by passing along their energy and power to the next generation.

A kinder and gentler corporate structure

Technology need not necessarily be the enemy of reverence. The whole earth designers are comfortable with technology while at the same time highly reverential to the ecological context in which they wish to insinuate that technology.

We might wish to re-conceive the corporation away from its present capital-centric structure toward a structure that serves the whole earth. It would be a corporate structure that would be less focused on the raising and the deploying of capital because it would be functioning in a world where capital was no longer scarce; nor would it be focused on the organizing and deploying of labor. Rather it would be a corporate structure that focused on the preservation of the raw materials and the natural resources not merely because they were scarce but because we cherished the resources and wanted to preserve them for future generations. It would be a corporate structure that was teleological in orientation rather than one based on cause and effect (and the scarcity or abundance therein implied).

Such a corporate structure would need a political/economic environment that priced or discounted (or, dare we say, even privileged and appreciated) the future more honorably than the way the natural resource-consuming order is doing today. It would be a corporate structure designed for collaboration rather than competition since it would be a corporate structure made for a society that privileged the covenantal order rather than the adversarial order that dominates present day business practices.

The struggle within capitalism

Big business is the more fitting instrument of the values of the Borg ("We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile."), be they the manifestations of natural systems or mechanical systems. Big business has less tolerance for the niceties and idiosyncracies of sociological relationships; it benefits more from the installation of large scale systems that maintain flow by altering rather than adapting to their environments; and they are more susceptible to blind processes that are self-perpetuating but that risk catastrophic collapse in the end.

The struggle in capitalism isn't between the factors or the classes -- capital vs labor or the moneyed vs the working classes. The large labor unions have been just as culpable (or would have been just as culpable, had they had the chance) as the large corporate enterprises. The real struggle in capitalism is between large and small, between those who honor not only the imperatives of competition but the beneficence of reverence and a regard both for the integrity of the third factor of production -- raw materials -- as well as for a submission to a higher power Whose covenantal partnership is essential for sustainability.

The answer to the challenge of big-business-capitalism is not the American way of developing big labor unions as a counter-vailing force, nor the Russian way of privileging labor over raw materials the same way capitalism privileges money over raw materials. The Western Europeans and the Japanese are moving close to some sort of answer but they still suffer from a too-strong dependence on large scale production. They understand the problem of balancing out the power of three factors as a national problem that cannot be solved at the individual person or individual corporate level so they are beginning to organize their nation-states to mediate between the three factors to keep the prerogatives of the several factors in balance. These experiments Western Europe and Japan are not yet mature but they are beginning to head in the right direction.

07 April 2009

Tacit versus explicit knowledge

Tacit versus explicit know-how was the difference between the workshop and the factory. Working to specification via the blueprint eliminated the need for the master craftsman who suffered from the dis-economies of his small scale.

The Industrial Revolution undermined the workshop, and, along with it, the social system that embraced the values of stewardship in the transmission of skills from one generation to the next. The embodiment of surplus into human capital that propelled the crafts and guilds was turned into the system of capitalism where the surplus was embodied in the capital stock.

How society handled the virtue of stewardship morphed over historical time as productive work shifted away from the workshop and toward the factory. How stewardship is being updated is a question that is still being answered today in the 21st century.

Clearly the American system managed for a while to update the virtue of stewardship when it invented the role of the professional manager and the corporate man. The exploitation of that system by the globalized banker coupled to the out-sourcing retailer who have plundered the small and mid-cap business sector in the United States and have devastated the vitality of American big business for the sake of short term gain is threatening the viability of the American system because it betrays the vows of stewardship that serve to shunt the surplus down to the most diverse layer in the society.

When the society is able to digest well the surplus it produces it results not only in greater well-being for the largest number and for the society as a whole, it also enables a creative vitality that permits the upper classes and the middle and lower classes to walk together in covenantal partnership.

Stewardship has an economic and a political side, and it is the political side of stewardship that is least well understood.

The eclipse of God

The eclipse of God is mirrored in society by the alienation of the ruling class from the subject class. The eclipse of God represents the breakdown of covenantal values in the society and their replacement with values that can operate particularly well between strangers. Such values do not function well around the question of earnedness and trust.

Inevitably the values that favor inter-action in anonymity and transaction over inter-action in relationship and co-ordination result in collapse. Such value systems are brittle and non-adaptive.

Embarrassment of riches

The Industrial Revolution brought with it an embarrassment of riches. People in the 16th and 17th centuries were initially quite concerned with the abundance the new industrial technologies were enabling for their societies.

A crisis of religion that saw virtue in scrimping and saving engulfed much of Western Europe, both in the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. They worried about the effect abundance would have on the religious sensibilities of the ordinary citizen: how to use the goods well, what abundance was for, how not to be spoiled by possessions. The revolt against technology and toward an explicit embrace of the values of 'plain and simple' was a direct outgrowth of this religious crisis.

What people in those days perhaps didn't see quite as clearly was how it was that this embarrassment of riches signified the exploitation of natural resources and the corresponding betrayal of the stewardship of God's Creation for the sake of short term gain. The riches fell to the lower classes to lift them up into the middle class but the damage was being done to the upper classes who were superintending the extraction and exploitation that this Industrial Revolution was both enabling and propelling.

The Industrial Revolution ruined the upper classes all over Europe. It was those classes who couldn't adapt to the embarrassment of riches the modern era's increase in control afforded aristocrats in positions of privilege. The upper classes perhaps knew about choq but they couldn't deal with mishpat. They didn't know how to cultivate self-restraint in their culture. They simply didn't know what to do with the surplus the Industrial Revolution was producing. It never occurred to them to deliver the surplus to God.

The blessings of Abraham

Preservation takes on two forms: offspring -- the passing along of the mystery of vitality from one generation to the next; and land -- the stewardship and sustenance of the fertility of the soil despite the regular harvesting of its produce.

Family (offspring) and farm (land), community (offspring) and planet (land) -- these are Wendell Berry's categories. They are also the two elements of the blessings God promised Abraham, the incentives He offered him to leave his homeland and move to Canaan.

The one is mishpat, the other is choq. Both are crucial to the preservation of the society's culture.

Covenant and class

"... in court societies the. bond of mutual obligation was distorted." Richard Sennett, The Craftsman, pg 73.

Power relations historically put one class above another, and in the process broke the covenantal bond that should have connected the classes with each other.

So too the divine and mundane courts. When God becomes a ruler out of touch with His subjects the cosmic order becomes distorted.

Scholasticism is scholarship as craft, not art

The artist offers the originality of self-expression beyond what the craftsman would be able to produce. With that self-expression comes the possibility of forging a new future in a way that societies founded exclusively on craft cannot accomplish. Craft is more humble and anonymous.

Scholasticism is scholarship as craft rather than as art. The present day Yeshivish world is saddled with such scholasticism. It cannot break out of its vise of rote learning to envision a new future for its people.

Steward as surrogate

The steward is a surrogate. He takes on the trappings of the higher authority. That goes for both power as well as love.

An honorable profession

Honor is the expression of mutual obligation. So, for example, banking is an honorable profession in that there are reciprocal codes of conduct at play in the loaning and in the repaying of debt. As the debtor is honor-bound to repay so the creditor is honor-bound to lend only to those who can repay without altering their lifestyle.

In modern times, with the collapse of the venerable codes of honor that had for nearly a millennium governed the conduct of the aristocracy, the market has been offered by society's 'conservatives' as a substitute for those codes as the proper mechanism for governing honorable behavior.

Craft as a vow

The master craftsman benefited from the apprentice's labors but he was also honor-bound to improve the apprentice's skills. By dint of the master's oath he was constrained from exploiting the apprentice for his own immediate and selfish benefit.

Alchemy as purification

Alchemy is the search for the noble essence embedded in the crude earth. Alchemy was more about the purification of what is noble out of the divestment of what is crude than it was about the transformation of one element into another.

Purification is the refinement of the highest element out of the dross of the whole organism.

The goldsmith was often the experimental judge of the alchemist's theories. Hence the craftsman was the fore-runner of the experimental scientist as the alchemist was the fore-runner of the scientific theoretician.

Hand off the power to a third, divine party

So long as the ultimate power resides across the covenantal divide between man and God it is difficult in the affairs of men for any elite to wield absolute power. Divine authority is a stop against despotism, against the disintegration of diverse institutions of power within the civil society and the concentration of all the levers of power into one centralized corpus.

When you don't earn, you tend to hoard

The accumulation of power in the Church is another example of hoarding that obstructs the free flow of creative energy in a society. The clerics do not deserve the power they wield and thereby focus more on preserving than on deserving the power. The preservation of power in an institution is another example of hoarding, not unlike the accumulation of financial wealth, which comes across as greed.

People, people who don't need people

"... it is no exaggeration to say that a man's admiration for absolute government is proportionate to the contempt he feels for those around him." The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution, Alexis de Toqueville; (page xv)

Sounds like our former vice-president

"Despotism alone can provide that atmosphere of secrecy which favors crooked dealings and enables the freebooters of finance to make illicit fortunes. Under other forms of government such propensities exist, undoubtedly; under a despotism they are given free rein." The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution, Alexis de Toqueville; (page xiii)

The 'freebooters of finance' make fortunes that are not illegal so much as they are illicit.

Honor and duty

Honor is the code that governs duties.

Craft needs integrity no less than skill

The user evaluates the skill of a craftsman but his peers evaluate the craftsman's integrity. Fellow members of a craft have to be the ones who police their profession. These are the equity courts that govern a profession or trade. This is the genius, for example, of the scientific community.

When ideology overwhelms a profession's ability to police the conduct of some of its own members it throws into doubt the society's authority, and the society's ability to engender good leadership weakens.

Codes of political conduct

The most elementary challenge of representative government is the problem of fighting corruption. One of the greatest achievements of the American system of management was the solution, in commercial establishments, to the problem of keeping managers honest. American corporations figured out how to stop the corruption of agents from undermining the interests of the principals.

American managers developed a professional culture that defined self-interested management corruption as unprofessional and thus shameful, and of inferior behavior. The self-dealer in corporate business establishments was understood to lower the professional caliber of the entire organization.

A similar sort of culture needs to grow up in the political arena. Engineers, designers, architects, planners, managers of all sorts should form a professional movement to make whole earth design a matter of professional pre-requisite. Stewardship could serve as the fundamental code of honor for professional politicians much as service to the interests of the client within the temperance of the professional terms of conduct have served to guide the activities of medical doctors, lawyers, and accountants.

Schools of technology and design need to expand their scope to embrace the political elements of their practice. Technology and design needs to develop a code of political conduct along the same lines that the purer scientists have established codes of conduct in the selfless pursuit of scientific truth.

The crafts and guilds of medieval times understood this imperative. The mechanics and freemasons of old recognized their political duties along with their craftsman-like duties and responsibilities.

Likewise, the priesthood of ancient Israel altered its essential meaning when it shifted from the nation's first-born to the male offspring of Aharon. When the creative gift of grace is manifest throughout the land the first-born merely serve as agents of the families to deliver gifts of recognition and thanks to the divine source of their creative power. As the creative process becomes more institutionalized the ministers function becomes: first, to separate the divine from the mundane and thus to clarify the contribution of each; second, to professionalize the crafts so that they can serve the covenantal principles of stewardship and the duties of privilege and power.

The solution to a corrupt ruling class is a priesthood dedicated to the covenantal principles as they apply to the crafts and trades and arts. The source of the contemporary problem facing the Jewish people is the diaspora yeshiva system. The Jewish people need spiritual masters who can teach craft and technique, not merely scholasticism. The Jewish people need an education system that trains applied practica and ties it through coaching and inspiration to the covenantal principles of stewardship and the duties of privilege.

That's why camp makes more sense than school. Bnei Akiva should really be Bnei Bezalel. High schools and colleges should teach the principles of the practica which are usually reserved for competitive sports training. Rather than academic institutions drawing the best and the brightest while trade schools are second and third rate, it should be the other way around where coaching in hands-on design and development becomes the launching pad to military service and political leadership. Science was advanced less by the theorists and more by the practical experimenters.

What would "The One' really look like?

The modern businessperson all around the world is really the cultural manifestation of the lassez faire, free market, capitalist entrepreneur and industrialist that is the genius of the American man. The mid-20th century corporate man is the second generation version of that stereotype. The executive manager and his financial counterpart, the Wall St. 'master of the universe,' are refinements and extensions of that second generation business type. The question is what kind of person is the modern-day equivalent of the defender of God's covenant? What are the makings of that style of decision-maker?

Whole earth designers might come close in that they are architects, designers, engineers, technologists. They have the quiet self-assurance of the very bright and the very clever and the very well-prepared. They have in them a rationalist bias that is at once uncompromising while at the same time not doctrinaire.

What is missing however is the element of leadership -- the political aspect. How does someone of this covenantal ilk wield power? Duty to the covenantal project is the basic motivator for action, and the cool of a Barack Obama certainly seems like a key ingredient in the personality profile of such a one.

The question is how does privilege translate into stewardship and the humility that attends it, and how does stewardship then translate into the proper and effective wielding of power? To describe the stereotype is to identify the seed that defines the whole culture and civilization. It could be the leader would need to relate to the people in the vocabulary of the Bible.

Pride in accomplishment is important

When you earn something you feel proud. When society is run by leaders who do not know the experience of that pride the society becomes dejected and humiliated. Most humiliated societies feel the sting of foreign oppression but the first instance of shame comes from their own leadership's not knowing how to promote excellence for its own sake.

Power, tempered

To be an 'am mamlekhet kohanim vgoy qadosh' defines the covenantal relationship as being about the moderation of power. Humility is the counterpart moderating value in the matter of leadership. The entire matter of ahimsa, non-violence, is not so much about the use or mis-use of force as it is about the temperance of power or the use of power for the long term rather than for the short term.

They forgot to watch the movie

ChZL inculcated in Jewish practice the preparation for the kingdom come, olam haboh, by training the diasporic Jewish people in the practices of the miqdash: zekher lemiqdash -- washing hands for bread, salting the bread, etc. They did not however do the same with the relationship of sheviit/shemitta to miqdash. They did not inculcate the practices of stewardship into the diasporic Jewish people.

In general, the practices of stewardship are a modification of the practices of power. Because ChZL were averse to displaying the signs and portents of power, being themselves, as they were, under the heel of foreign powers, they eschewed the teachings of power and thus lost the central teachings of the Bible -- the tempering of power under the duties of stewardship.

For ChZL stewardship became an exercise in petrification and ossification, and in the passive waiting for the arrival of power and the miraculous awakening of the skills to wield that power under the magical workings of the new Messianic order. Stewardship became something once-removed. Stewardship was no longer to be exercised with respect to the creatures of God but merely with respect to the instructions of God.

He will walk Himself among us

Stewardship is a three-way reciprocal relationship. The steward lives off of the charge. If the steward and the charge get along well, the higher authority will make His presence felt. That presence will be the fulfillment of the values of the steward/charge relationship.

That three-way relationship is expressed in Leviticus 26. The question is why does the text not refer to mishpat in the positive statement of the choq laws, only in the negative statement Leviticus 26:3, 15)? Why did the biblical author leave out reference to mishpat in the statement of 'Im bechoqotai teileikhu ...'?

The mishpat reference comes up implicitly in the description of God's presence among the people. The verse (Leviticus 26:11,12) says 'vlo tigal nafshi etkhem vhithalakhti btokhkhem...' using the same term, 'tigal nefesh,' the text uses later (26:15) in association with the violations of mishpat. The fulfillment of the mishpat of sheviit is therefore manifest in God's presence among His people in the land. It seems it needn't necessarily be stated explicitly.

To forbear is not to write-off

The size of the float is not effected by shemittat kessaphim, only its liquidity.

Plain is also refreshing

A national sabbatical year could have the effect of de-technologizing the entire society for a spell. Designed properly, the land-sabbatical could remove the degradation not only of the soil but also of the blood of man.

Resistance is futile

To be meshamet can, under some circumstances, mean to surrender. Shemitta as surrender, as a dis-arrogation to oneself of prerogatives whose exercise could injure rather than enrich one, is a way to recognize how it is that in the realm of abundance every addition is also a subtraction, that after the threshold of abundance has been passed, the marginal utility of 'more' not only gets smaller, it can easily go negative, and when it goes negative it does so infra-marginally, catastrophically. Shemitta recognizes that regularly and periodically the best thing a person could do for his welfare is to let go, to surrender and to refresh.

'Resistance is futile' was the slogan of the Borg, the life-form of ruthless, mechanical efficiency and reproduction through assimilation rather than through insemination and gestation. The Borg were the emblem of the life-crushing collective. It is ironic that the complement to 'resistance is futile,' namely 'surrender is inevitable' could well be the slogan for the most effective way to achieve personal fulfillment and individuality. Dis-arrogation is not the same as embracing the mechanical collective. It is rather the expression of recognizign one's limits and of opting for depth over grandeur.

The stores of surplus

In addition to the matter of speed bumps, which are the periodically spaced land-sabbaticals, to keep the valuation of momentum from growing too large and thereby overwhelming the political/economic system, there is also the matter of the establishment of banks of surplus (chelev & dvash, suet and sap (?)). These banks are the other side of the coin of the speed breaks. The accumulation of the surplus is the result of, and complementary with, the imposition of speed breaks. Both are elements of the laws of sheviit and shemitta, though the laws that focus on the shnat shemitta, the sabbatical year, tend to get more attention than the laws that would focus on the shnat chozeq, the productive years. Perhaps that might be because the chozeq years are the responsibility of the mundane leadership rather than the responsibility of the priests, ministers of the divine authority.

Speed breaks

The question of the exhaustion of a fund by mining its stock of fertility is a matter of how fast rather than how much. By erecting speed bumps and thereby introducing speed breaks into the economic system, the laws of sheviit provide the society's stewards a set of tools to counter-act the demands of speed the financiers use to exhaust the stock of fertility in the society's political/economy.

Them vs Us

Circulation vs percolation; monoculture vs diversity; transaction vs relationship; profitability vs fertility; venture capital vs nurture capital.

The costs of the Green Revolution

"In the name of cheaper, more plentiful food, we are doing violence to our rural communities, diminishing biodiversity, destroying topsoil, eutrophying groundwater, and putting toxics into the food chain." Slow Money, page 188.

Back to the land, household, community, place

"The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, 'hard facts'; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind." Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, quoted in Slow Money on page 175.

Shnat shemitta, the sabbatical year, dis-establishes the 'institutions and organizations' for a year and forces attention onto the land, household, community, place.

06 April 2009

Extraction by another name

The Cheney/Rove/Bush administration under-cut the procedural safeguards of the Federal government as an extension of their policy to beggar the future for the sake of the present.

The dawn of a new non-violence

The Renaissance spelled the end of the Dark Ages in Europe. Mankind might well be heading to a Second Renaissance that opens the possibility for a new non-violence.

Scared people behave like hungry people

An abundant society is railroaded by the invocation of fear and danger into organizing itself as a social order more appropriate for a scarcity society. Fear and danger shorten the time horizon for decision-making as they justify the exploitation of what is unearned for the sake of protecting what is earned and perceived to be at risk.

Stewards must know value when they see it

As fiduciaries, stewards have a duty to take care of their charges. That duty to care-for implies a prior duty to recognize the value in the charge, and to recognize what it is about the charge that embodies that value. That prior duty is the basis for establishing value-measures in a society. By invoking the duty of the fiduciary, the society would be able to arrive at valuations in the context of an abundance economy.

Men have for centuries wrestled with the question of how society should measure value. The free market is today's world's primary mechanism for measuring value. In our world today, the social measure of value is its free-market price. That price mechanism for measuring value, which is just one way to measure value, works well in an economy where scarcity is the rule. Prices serve well to suss out how much value a thing has in a world where there's never enough to go around.

In an abundance economy, prices are poor measures of value. Where decision-makers typically have enough, how much someone is willing to pay to acquire some thing has little typically to do with how much value it has.

What the Bible suggests is that in an abundance economy we measure value by imagining ourselves as stewards who have a fiduciary responsibility to know well the value of what is in our charge, so that we can fulfill our fiduciary responsibility to preserve and enhance that value. Stewardship could be an alternative mechanism for the society's measuring of value. It could supplant the market mechanism in an economy that has matured past its 'early growing pains.'

When the managers of mature corporations take over their direction, for example, they need to serve as stewards who are keenly interested and acutely cognizant of the value that is embodied in their corporations. They must know the locci of value in their corporations not only in terms of what produces the highest share price or the highest sale price but what accounts for the ability of the coporation to continue harvesting the value from the fund of fertility that is embodied in its organization's name, structure and culture.

Commercial action at a distance

Consistency in the rules that define property rights is the foundation of a workable financial system. Keeping promises and establishing predictable laws that are not arbitrary is the key to making financial systems that function smoothly. Exemptions, exceptions, unpredictable lurches in policy and in the definition of property all contribute to the drying up of liquidity.

Consistency allows for commercial action at a distance where unacquainted parties to a transaction, parties who do not necessarily know each other and who wish to transact with each other, can still depend on the workings of the system to ensure proper conduct.

Reconciling political man and Nature

The world at present is perched on the edge of a great transformation. The Enlightenment was the last gasp of a process of profanation and desacralization that had been going on for millennia, a long and steady process that led ineluctably to the eclipse of God. Now Man and Nature need to reconcile with each other, as the end of the Book foretells (vkhippehr admato ammo -- His earth, His nation will reconcile). We need a messianic vision of reconciliation between political man and the land.

Drowning in the bathtub

When the world promotes the defense of innocent civilian life it results in the loss of innocent civilian life. The terrorists kill civilians to get press coverage; and the terrorists use human shields in order to be able to shout 'disproportionate response.' If we stopped reporting civilian deaths and if we stopped defending accusations of disproportionate response, civilian deaths would go down.

It's like the argument not to negotiate with or pay ransom to hostage takers. It just encourages them. When you don't negotiate with hostage takers you are in effect, in the short term, devaluing the human life that has been taken hostage. The argument, of course, is that the short term loss is over-ridden by the long term gain so you don't pay. Same with terror casualties and collateral damage. The civilized world's public opinion should be trained to consider them non-events, not unlike traffic accidents and people drowning in the bathtub.

We are in an end-time

An end-time is a time when a large, incumbent order is coming to an end. The incumbent order can collapse or it can whither away but in either case it becomes difficult for people to see the shape of the future clearly. 'What comes next?' becomes harder to answer while 'What comes after?' becomes the more urgent and relevant question.

We are in an end-time. We are in a dis-orienting time when venerable truths and institutions are beginning to lose their vigor. We are returning to a time like in the ancient past when environmental conditions could be much more threatening than they have been for millennia, and when the natural environment occupied a far more vital part of human consciousness than it has for millennia.

The Biblical teachings (as opposed to the teachings of the daughter religions -- Rabbinic, Christian, Islamic) seem to be fitting in better with our contemporary zeitgeist because those teachings addressed the problematics of an earlier end-time when a brand new order was coming into being.

The Biblical teachings stand there for us as a manual for identifying what are the important parameters of understanding an end-time moment when the over-arching, incumbent cultural and institutional order can no longer support the edifice of civilization. In such a moment individuals with prophetic sensibilities must instead turn for guidance to the unvarnished word of God.

'What comes next?' vs 'What comes after?'

'What comes next?' is the slogan of evolution; 'What comes after?' is the slogan of revolution. Passive resistance is the poor man's revolutionary program. Passive resistance is directed at uncoupling from the incumbent order so that the resisters can prepare for the kingdom to come.

Messianism is the ultimate program of passive resistance. It emphasizes the bankruptcy of the incumbent power-holders while it ushers the chosen, the elect, the born again, the enlightened into a way of life that is insulated from the insults of the degeneracy and the debasement of the incumbent power order, and, at the same time, it prepares the elect for the new world order that will come after the collapse of the incumbent order is accomplished.

Both 'What comes next?' and 'What comes after?' can conceal the issues of power and power-wielding. The early Church organized as a revolutionary force to insulate from the then-present corruption, and to prepare for the kingdom come, the olam haboh. At the time the Church became an institution of the incumbent powers (with Constantine, let us say) it had not yet prepared for the kingdom come in a concrete and realistic way. It had defined the preparatory work as laying the ground for an other-worldly existence, not for holding power in this world. The Church therefore defined its power-wielding role as merely preparing the secular rulers for their other-worldly existence, and, not about how the mundane rulers should do their mundane work. In the process, the Church became as degenerate as the incumbent rulers.

True messianism is both about insulating from the debasement of the incumbent powers and their culture as well as about preparing in the present moment for the take-over of that power after the apocalypse. That means developing the skills of power-wielding, and of developing the institutional and procedural basis for running the society once power comes to the righteous.

Sustainable power that is not vulnerable to the temptations of fear and danger or righteous, puritanical fervor but that stewards the fertile ground on which an orderly society must settle and live -- that is the true challenge of the new world order.

The enemy is the plunderer

The enemy is the plunderer who exhausts the world's fertility for the sake of a fleeting, present over-consumption. The terrorist, the ethnic adversary, the corporate power broker, the corrupt politician, the tyrant or despot -- these are all only minor instances of a world gone gluttonous over instant or immediate gratification, awash in indifference to the bitter fruits of self-indulgence.

Were the hippies right?

At the end of the sixties and early seventies, as the counter-culture was winding down, the current asset bubble began its long march. Now that we are at the collapsed stage it seems as though the warnings of the counter-culture -- that the corporate culture was not only ineffective and bankrupt but also ultimately destructive of the entire system -- were not as off-target as it might have sounded at the time.

We are living through a cultural watershed. For better or for worse, the collapse into shambles of the world's financial system must signify something more than, as Alan Greenspan would have us believe, just an innocent error.

Unemployment and war

In the face of high unemployment cunning leaders turn to military conscription to enact a Keynesian-like stimulus and spending program. They pull masses of unemployed young men and women into the armed services to strengthen the national morale while giving the conscripts regular food and shelter and, at the same time, getting them out of the civilian labor pool. Military expenditures are the most stimulative forms of fiscal spending because military spending is completely unproductive and so it doesn't crowd out other kinds of spending, which is a good thing during a severe economic downturn. This is how persistently high unemployment leads to war.

02 April 2009

Stewards are the anti-markets

Stewards are fiduciaries. They take care of something for someone else. They are the complements to the producers and consumers. They are the care-takers -- neither producing nor consuming.

Like brokers, who catalyze a transaction, stewards are un-brokers, who inhibit transactions. The stewards are the anti-markets.

Asset bubbles work by insecuring the affluence

What is it about asset bubbles that makes them so compelling? Why is it that when you're in the middle of the bubble it is no longer rational to resist the temptations even though you know you're risking more than you can afford to lose?

It seems that asset bubbles function by wiping out any safe harbors. You are compelled to enter the market because there's no place left to store your value that's not in the market. The last administration's failed attempt to privatize Social Security would have been the keystone to such an de-securing of safe harbors. Had it succeeded, it likely would have extended the asset bubble well into the next administration, or beyond. It would have been as though an enormous investor had suddenly been forced to take his money out of the bank and put it into Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. It might have kept Madoff afloat through the meltdown.

Asset bubbles make for insecure affluence by shifting the usual balance from security to affluence. Usually it is easy to find secure stores of wealth while it is hard to acquire affluence. In an asset bubble environment it is easy to acquire the wealth, it is just hard to find where to store it. Given that in a bubble environment all stores of wealth are being degraded, the only rational thing to do is to try to acquire as much affluence as possible, hoping that after the crash you're left with enough to get by on.

'Get rich quick' usually comes with 'it's getting harder and harder to stay rich.' Along with mortgaging away the future for the present comes the problem of mortgaging away the present for the present.

Speed and forcing the matter

The matter of speed is related to danger. Danger is related to imperatives -- non-voluntary choices. The choices of the lesser of two evils. The point is: something is forcing the matter, and so speed becomes valuable.

Deservedness and speed

Speed and earnedness are inversely correlated. The faster you have to produce something, the more you have to employ, as elements of the thing, what others have already made.

Deservedness is less about 'how much ' and more about 'when', and 'before whom' or 'after whom'. Deservedness determines seniority and duration.

In sum, fairness determines how much and who, while deservedness determines when and in what order.

Institutions as large-scale, inter-locking trust relationshps

Trust is an asset. It must be built up. In the process of that building up it must be earned. It cannot be taken, it can only be given and received. Once it is built up it must be nurtured through stewardship; it cannot be exercised exclusively in the service of welfare- or profit-maximization.

Trust is a fund that has a fertile core that can be harvested. That core is also susceptible to be abused and exploited for short term gain. Given enough abuse, the trust would eventually be exhausted.

Now imagine the earning and the building up of trust not just between two people but in a larger population. Such a process of large-scale earning and building up of trust shades into institution-building, where the institution is the development of a set of inter-locking trusting relationships. We can go further and describe the establishment of standards and practices which are institutions for institutions, which is to say a set of inter-locking trusting relationships among sets of inter-locking trusting relationships. All of these must be nurtured and stewarded. They can be exploited for short term gain but at the cost, in the long term, of exhaustion and collapse.

Yes, we don't have to

Forbearance is to the value system of ecology what tolerance is to the value system of democracy. Forbearance is the ground in which culture takes root. Forbearance is knowing when to stop, knowing when enough is enough. Forbearance is self-limitation and self-restraint. Forbearance is to know 'yes we can...but no we don't have to'. Forbearance is good for the forborne but it is better for the forbearing.

How we live depends on subsidy

"The first step in the process of our recovery is an unabashed acknowledgement of the extent to which how we live depends on subsidy." Slow Money, page 163. That subsidy, in times ancient and not so ancient, was known as God's Providence.

Markets and covenants -- conquest and occupation

The market is about conquest. It is about linear time that points with verve and energy to some clearly demarked objective. The market is aggressive, innovative, entrepreneurial, clever, always on the move wanting more and different and the exciting.

The covenant is about occupation. It is about cyclical time that recognizes periodicity and the waxing and waning of ordinary processes. It is prudent, selfless, respectful, wise, at peace with the rewards of the underlying values of life.

They belong together, the market and the covenant, but in the end the covenant must rule.

Occupation, not conquest of land

Conquest differs from occupation. The Bible's 'When you come to the land ...' is not about conquest but about occupation.

It is the occupation forces that must recognize the dependency of every person of the health of the land.

"Those are the two poles between which a competent morality would balance and mediate: the doorstep and the planet. The most meaningful dependence of my house is not on the US government, but on the world, the earth. No matter how sophisticated and complex and powerful our institutions, we are still exactly as dependent on the earth as the earthworms. To cease to know this, and to fail to act on upon this knowledge, is to begin to die the death of a broken machine. In default of man's personal cherishing and care, now that his machinery has become so awesomely powerful, the earth must become the victim of his institutions, the violent self-destructive machinery of man-in-the-abstract. And so, conversely, the most meaningful dependece of the earth is not on the US government, but on my household -- how I live, how I raise my children, how I care for the land entrusted to me.

"... To assert that a man owes allegiance that is antecedent to his allegiance to his household, or higher than his allegiance to the earth, is to invite a state of moral chaos that will destroy both the household and the earth."
Wendell Berry, Some Thoughts on Citizenship ..., in The Long Legged House, 1969; quoted in Slow Money, page 158.

Berry is almost right. He cannot however really take the nation-state out of the equation. Sheviit/shemitta recognizes what Berry instinctually understands and elevates his sentiment to frame it as the fundamental predicate behind God's covenant with the people of Israel. As far as the Bible is concerned the meaning of faithful service to God is the proper stewardship of the land. We serve God not in acts of conquest, not in the prosecution of His holy wars, but in the stewardship that comes with our occupation of His land as we come to that land granted to us by Him. Without this national and this cosmic articulation with the household and the planet, Berry's prescription is just so much wishful thinking that, as it inevitably does, just ends in a sad sigh.

Sorry, but real social change requires the authority of the sovereign

The left keeps looking for clever, creative ways for getting around the incumbent power of the corporate interests. Tasch thinks we can get around corporate interests by re-building the financial markets. He may be right but it doesn't feel that way.

Right now the only vehicle for social change on this planet is the nation-state. If change is to come, it's going to have to come at some national level. It's not a matter of scale. The national level could, and likely should, in fact, be a small scale nation. Rather, it's a matter of sovereignty. It is the sovereign who defines the fundaments of the people's value system. It is the sovereign who makes the laws. These values and laws happen at the nation-state level.

It might be true that the market, with its global reach, has now superceded the nation-state. If so, perhaps solutions for building a political/economy that is restorative might be achievable through the devising of a different sort of well-meaning financial exchange. But if so, then it seems to us the scope of the exchange will need to go well beyond the definition of a transaction, a share, the investment objectives, etc. Somehow the entire super-structure of money and laws and military power really needs to be re-designed, and that takes us right back to the sovereignty that one can find these days only at the nation-state level.

Alternatively, one can imagine the day when failed states abound in the world, and one could devise plans to rehabilitate those failed states according to values that are more restorative than they are, at present.

How can restorative institutions defeat the resource curse and the strongman rule that comes of that curse? That's the deeper question, it seems.

Clarify the vision of what comes after

The financial system is broken. The industrial system is broken and so is the financial system. Oil broke the industrial system and oil broke the financial system. Luckily, oil's power is not long for this world. In the meantime, however, the world's political/economy is a shambles.

It's going to take quite a collapse to clear out all this damage. All we can really do for the time being is clarify our vision of what comes after.


The extractor employs the technology of take-make-waste. In the limiting, plunderer case, as it applies, for example, to the oil sovereign or the oil executive, it is take-waste without bothering with the '-make-' step.

In the extractor case, the system distracts the public's attention from the 'take-waste' steps to focus the people's attention on the '-make-' step. In the plunderer case, the strongman ruler invokes extraction distraction when there is no '-make-' step to emphasize so that attention must be directed somewhere else entirely -- to some cooked up danger or ethnic or cultural violation. The milder form of such distraction emphasizes the '-make-' step, the growth and employment and high returns to investment, while it de-emphasizes the '-take-waste' step that is degrading the foundation on which the ostensible 'productivity' is built.


Human, humus, humble, humor -- all bespeak the earth.

The order of the Other

The exploiter likes organizations and institutions while the nurturer likes orders, the human order relative to the other order. Out of that seeing of the world as organized and divided into orders emerges the possibility of the sacred, for the sacred is lodged in the order of the 'Other'.

Fiduciary means how much you leave on the table

Sustainability is a fiduciary responsibility. If we would become stewards, then we must recognize the role of fiduciary in the deployment of resources.

We are entitled to private property for the sake of consumption and investment but not for extraction and waste. Our resources are assets, and our assets don't belong to us as owners but only as stewards -- to use but not to exploit.

As such our natural resources are given to us in trust, as a fund, for which we have a fiduciary responsibility not unlike the values that would have been in effect had we been made trustees of some financial estate. We owe it to our children, yes, but the truth is it doesn't belong to us in the first place. It belongs to God.

When the power utility gets returns for helping the utility's customer base produce electricity rather than to demand it, and to lower the demand for electricity rather than to promote increases in its demand, it is behaving like a steward that measures its corporate mandate in terms of how much it's leaving on the table rather than how much it's taking off of the table.

Change as up-speeding or down-slowing

Change-as-accelerant is part of the ideology of the modern era that deems natural resources cheap and labor resources dear. Change-as-decelerant is a countervailing force that honors the natural resources and prohibits the sale of labor. It moderates the acceleration and preserves the system's sustainability. Change as decelerant can kick in, say, like every seven years, just to keep all the players honest.

Financialized CEOs cashing out the ranches

After the trusting relationships among the engineers and developers and the marketing people and the operations people, all of which relationships are necessary for the building up of a productive enterprise, have done their job and fulfilled their purpose and the profit-maximizing firm has completed the task of building a productive enterprise a new phase of the capitalist's objective will begin. The firm, ready to betray those operational trusts, will turn to the financial officers and financialize corporate relationships. The objective of the financialization would be to use up all the built-up the trust while the executive management engages in a process of cashing out the embodied and stored value in the enterprise.

When the financial officers take over the enterprise, the cashing out will have begun. Then the chief executives of the enterprise become members of the financial sector rather than the operating sector. Then they begin to demand financial sector-style compensation packages as pay-offs for their willingness to sell out the trust of the material-economy-based enterprises.

The financial officers accomplish this betrayal by introducing the element of time. They demand speed in the returns of the enterprise rather than allowing for the respecting of the natural rhythms of the operating company. When the operational managers fail to live up to the unreasonable demands for speed in the development of returns the financial managers are able to replace them with managers who are willing to draw down the stored up value in the interests of achieving short run returns. That drawing down of stored up value is what makes the enterprise more fragile, and ultimately leads to its collapse; but typically not before the managers have wrung all the value out of the enterprise not through equity participation but through salary and the rights to sell their equity holdings.

Caveat vendor

When a producer sells a durable product to a consumer the quality and the maintenance costs and the operating costs are all implied in the product and in the sale. If the quality is not up to what the consumer had a right to expect, or if the product broke down and cost too much to repair or needed to be repaired too often, or if the cost of operating the product was higher than it needed to be, then these are all examples of the trust of the consumer having been abused and exploited for the short term gain of the producer. It is an example of profit-maximization overwhelming the obligations of the stewardship of trust.

For a consumer public to remain compliant in the face of such abuses of trust is merely to say the public has been trained into servility. Often the functions of advertising are to establish the semblance of trust-worthiness in the face of the exploitation or downright abuse of that trust.

Equity for stability, not necessarily growth

Traditionally the investment in equity was for the sake of growth while the lending of debt was for the sake of stability. We need to figure out how to invest equity for the sake of stability. It would be investment as endowment rather than as bridge loan unsecured by any extant revenue streams.

Commercial investment is really just a risk-bearing way to solve the cash flow problem all unrealized projects have. Everyone focuses on the risk but what's really going on in early-stage investment is really just a bridge loan until the revenue stream kicks in. That's why strategic alliance is such a good source of seed capital -- strategic allies have a clear understanding of the prospective revenue streams that will pay off the investment.

What mature enterprises need is an internal bank to establish the enterprise's capital requirements to reflect the minimal store of fertility to make the fund able to generate income and harvests. That would be more like slow capital. Presently the equity investments we make for the sake of stability we call philanthropy. We need a different sort of relationship to stability and the management for the sake of deepening rather than elaborating whatever value someone is trying to promote.