BBC Global Minds – Reinventing Capitalism

BBC Global Minds

Weekend World Programme: The World Debate: 2012 Reinventing Capitalism?

I was a little disappointed that no one was seriously examining the systemic issues with capitalism, and with the concept of money.

The deepest issue seems to be the disjunct between human value and monetary value. Both value judgements are made by individuals, and monetary value seems to be essentially human value multiplied by scarcity. Thus things with high human value, and zero scarcity, end up with zero monetary value (like oxygen in the air as an example).

This means that there is zero systemic incentive within monetary systems to create the sort of abundance of essential goods and services that most people desire.

Related to this is the issue of the pursuit of money in and of itself.

When money is used simply as a tool to promote the exchange of goods and services it has undoubted utilty for human beings; but when money becomes a goal in and of itself, then the game becomes about optimising money, and not about optimising goods and services.

The optimum amount of money can be generated by generating an optimum perception (or reality) of scarcity. Various groups use all sorts of media, political, and legal mechanisms to create such perceptions.

Thus, rather than the game being about creating abundance and satisfying the needs of every human being, it becomes about creating barriers and monopolies that generate scarcities and the opportunity for secure profits.

These issues are explored a little on my blogsite http://www.tedhowardnz.wordpress.com/money and an alternative approach is explored on http://www.solnx.org

If we create systems that guarantee abundance of all the necessities (essentially making them free), then capitalism is free to play its games above that essential minimum.

The harsh mathematical reality is that no capitalist system will ever, in and of itself, meet the needs of everyone – it simply is not incentivised to produce that sort of abundance.

[followed by]

I don’t characterise it as a declaration of war, I simply see it as ignorance.

I am convinved that most people will and do act in their own best interests as they perceive them; but unfortunately most are ignorant of the longer term consequences of their actions.

When those 1% see that it really is genuinely in their own long term best interests to ensure the welfare of the other 99%, then it will happen.

And the process of making distinctions must logically follow the same general form – starting with a simple binary distinction (like light/dark, hot cold) then moving to more gradations (like the colours ROY G BIV) and then on to an infinity. That process takes time. Some people get hung up on binaries (good/bad, right/wrong, etc) – getting people past them and into infinity is a bit of an art.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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19 Responses to BBC Global Minds – Reinventing Capitalism

  1. Jarek says:

    Please do not laugh at me for my using much simpler, perhaps infantile terms (in both thinking and writing). I keep banging on all doors to drive my point home. Out of all the contermporary economic systems, capitalism yields the best results. Hower like any other system it is prone to aberration. And aberrations are sure to happen the moment the public vigilance is allayed. Let me make this simile. Public vigilance is like a floodbank and greed for power and riches is like flood waters. We are sadly witness to floodbank having given way to floodwaters. The principle has always been the same througout history. The details differ. This time it worked this way. The rich (or the “1%” if you like) somehow infiltrated national governents and made those governemts to borrow money from them (the “1%”), the simple result of this being that you (unless you happen to belong to the “1%”) and me and all other ordinary citizens became heavily indebted to the “1%” without either being aware or (much less) having given our consent for this. The world again found itself in a hole. And petrified as I am because of it I personally see no other way out but through violence. Violence has historically always been that last resort of the masses to shake off the opression of the “1%” since the “1%” is by no means the invention of modern day, except that in former times nobody gave it this name. And the sooner it comes to blows the better for everyone concerned.

    No manner of “reinventing capitalism” will bring about any change. This cycle of building a head of steam (economic tensions) and violent release is something biologically inherent, deeply rooted and impossible to stop – it simply is an expression of … life itself.

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  2. Hi Jarek

    At surface level I agree with all the points you make, and it is not so simple as that.
    There are a few other things “at play” that make it more interesting.

    I agree that capitalism has served humanity better than any of the alternatives, and pure capitalism is not found anywhere. To work it requires modifiers – laws and political systems – why is this?

    When you start to use the concepts of games theory to look, the picture becomes very interesting indeed.

    The very concept of money is interesting, and the evolution of it over the last couple of thousand years is fascinating from a mixed perspective of evolutionary theory and games theory.

    Evolution does not deal in reasons, it deals only in results.
    Evolution doesn’t tell us to have babies, it gives us minds that like sex, and having evolved in pre-contraceptive times, it was sufficient. Now we can sidestep the evolutionary drive to reproduce by simple snip for a male (it takes five minutes and is very reliable – I had it done over a decade ago).
    This does nothing to lessen the drive for sex, nor the enjoyment – it just stops babies being born.

    Similarly with most things evolutionary – they have evolved in particular contexts, and usually work by quite indirect means relating to those contexts.
    This applies as much to cultural contexts as to the more strictly biological contexts.

    Thus it is quite possible to bring an end to the cycle of economic tensions, without taking anything from anyone, by creating a new context.
    A context of abundance of the material necessities of life is a necessary first step.
    It is not itself sufficient, and it is a necessary prerequisite.

    If you over graze a field with a flock of sheep using stone-age technology, then you end up with a desert.
    Using modern technology of irrigation and pasture management we can farm sustainably at much higher densities than was possible with stone-age technology.

    If we go to the next level, and switch to a pure vegan diet, we can sustain twice the earth’s current population on half the currently farmed land area (including all their energy needs coming from renewable solar systems).

    We are technically and socially capable of escaping the cycles you describe.
    The question is, will enough of us wake up to this fact in time to make it happen?

    Nothing is certain, and it is going to be close.

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  3. Jarek says:

    Ted,

    I don’t know what makes this topic interesting for you, but I know well what makes me feel strongly about it. Would you condescend for a moment from your philosophical like approach to more down to earth one? A really more burning issue for me now that of whether capitalism can be refined or of whether the historical cycle of economic gradual tension and violent release can ever be stopped.
    For the best part of my life (now close on half a century) I had had no interest whatsoever in economics, be it small scale or global scale. What made me take interest in money matters was the anouncement of the so called Global Economic Crisis. Seeing that no reasonable calamity (locust, plague, earthquake etc) happened which could be blamed for any crisis, my simplistic mind grew suspicious. The whole thing kept bugging me for good two years before the truth dawned on me. The Global Economic Crisis is nothing else but that wool which the “1%” is trying to pull over the eyes of the “99%”. I realized that I was under attack! The strategy of the “1%” as far as my country goes (Poland) is this:
    1. Destruction of industry (left over from the communist era)
    2. Destruction of individual small scale farming operations (something that the communist regimes were
    bent on doing but failed)
    3. Creation of superstores to the detriment of small retail.
    4. Plunging the whole country into the abyss of national debt.
    5. The announcement of the critical position the country found itself in.
    6. The annoucement of the necessary “austerity measures” (a recent houshold name accross the world)
    7. The massive impoverishment of citizens through decrease in salaries coupled with the increase of the
    cost of living.
    8. Blurring the historical concept of the national borders and national territorial distinction.

    Once this groundwork is laid, the “1%” comes and simpy takes the country over turning its former citizens, who by then can no longer afford to own anything, into tenants or (call a spade a spade) slaves.

    For all I know Greece is one step ahead of my country in this screenplay and if Greeks allow the “1%” (hiding behind the facade of that puppetry called Merkozy) to put them in irons and shackles, then far more serious hell will break loose than it would if Greece just defaulted and left the EU.

    Why do I bother to share with you these views? Well, I see this my effort as a defence action. This is my little propaganda, to win you over to the side of the “99%”. I still have a little bit of hope left in me that the “1%” can be disarmed and stopped in its tracks through other means than street battles.

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  4. Hi Jarek,

    Your perspective is interesting, and it is very different from my own understanding.

    What makes this topic of interest to me is something of a long story, and the short version involves family stories of escaping feudal England for the class free freedom of the new nation of New Zealand 150 years ago, mixed with growing up poor, with the stories from my father of fighting for freedom in world war 2, and seeing all the contradictions involved in that.
    Another big part of what makes this interesting to me was realising in 1974, near the end of my under-graduate biochemistry studies, that it was theoretically possible to extend human lifespans indefinitely. That left the question, what sort of social economic and political systems are required to produce the sort of social security and freedom necessary to allow for biological immortal individuals to actually live a very long time (thousands or billions of years).

    That question started me on a long line of study and enquiry into all sorts of different disciplines, in trying to gain an understanding of what is actually going on in human societies, what are the deepest level drivers of human activities, at all different scales, and how may we influence those.

    That has involved me in 4 decades of exploration and experimentation, and in the germ of a set of understandings that seem to be able to account for most of what I see happening around the world.

    So yes there is a philosophical approach to things, as the approach seeks to find and incorporate the deepest level drivers possible, and the approach is also intensely down to earth and practical.

    Sometimes it is the unchallenged assumptions of every day life that keep us in patterns which clearly do not work as claimed.
    This has proven true in my experience at every level I have investigated.

    The idea of right and wrong is one idea that most people still accept, but which in my world is a necessary approximation that a child must accept, that needs to be transcended as soon as possible, if one is to start to be able to make sense of this life we find ourselves in.

    While acknowledging all the reality you report in your country Poland, much of which is mirrored in my country New Zealand, it seems that the 1% are, for the most part, just doing what the other 99% are doing, responding to the incentive structures of the systems in which they find themselves.
    Thus my argument is that it is these incentive structures that we need to expose, and alter, if we wish any sort of different outcome from the system.

    If we want to change how the game is played, we need to change the rules of the game.

    That is why I am doing what I am doing.

    I want a game in which everyone can live in security, where everyone has the necessities of survival, and above that minimum, distributions can be as asymmetric as people want.

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  5. Jarek says:

    Hi Ted,
    My favourite aphorism attributed to Oscar Wilde runs: “I am not young enough to know everything”. I suppose Wilde did not mean a biological age since I find myself at that stage of “knowlegde” already and am a bit younger than you while you still betray no signs of wanting to know less than everything. Having resigned myself to the state of ignorance I nevertheless and just to stay in the conversation would like to comment on some of the issues touched upon in your previous post.
    I like what you wrote about your family escaping the injustice of Feudal England. I sympathize with everyone who will rather settle down in inhospitable terrain (as New Zealand must have been in those days) courageously facing the untold hardships, than stand human oppression. I often mingle with pleasure with Polish highlanders who used to eek out a living in places where their feudal lords left them unmolested. Their resolute, unconcerned outlook on life (inherited and carefuly nurtured over the past generations) I find very refreshing and uplifting.

    Biological immortal individuals I would for the time being consign to the realm of science-fiction.

    The deepest level drivers of human activities, at all different scales I find worth looking at. In my opinion human beings are very rigorously preprogrammed. They operate within a thin rut ruled by that primordial tendency of cosmic matter to combine and grow into ever more complicated structures. This tendency is exposed in human mind as first and foremost the need to ensure the survival of a given set of genes. This task is realized through proliferation of species (ensured by sexual drive) and securing conditions auspicious for the rearing of offspring. In terms of human behaviour the latter is nothing else than the universal urge or craving to be … important. Some reach that goal through becoming artists, others through becoing good workmen, others still through accumulation of lots of money and private assets. Another important means for ensuring the survival of a given set of genes is an urge to run from danger triggered by … fear (whether imaginary or real). Of all three urges, it is the collective fear that played a major roal in shaping human history (Hitler, Stalin, Al Capone, Franco to name but few all founded their leadership on nothing short of collective fear)

    It seems to you that the 1% are, for the most part, just doing what the other 99% are doing, responding to the incentive structures of the systems in which they find themselves. I could not agree more. My conspiracy theory in which the mistical 1% is plotting mischief for the rest of the world is a trick to make my listeners lend an ear. In reality I know that it is the 100% that is responsible for what goes on. We all contribute. In every single one of us there lurks an opportunist who would not hesitate to trample the world were he or she be given an opportunity to do so.

    Then you argue that it is these incentive structures that we need to expose, and alter, if we wish any sort of different outcome from the system. My comment: by all means! Please set to work before I am driven out of my house and banished from my country! No time to lose!

    You also want a game in which everyone can live in security, where everyone has the necessities of survival, and above that minimum, distributions can be as asymmetric as people want. You take the words out of my mouth. The only problem is that the rich (once they become rich) will stop at nothing and if they find any legislation barring them from grabbing even the necessities of survival from those living at the ligalized minimum, they will change the legislation and make short work of it. What happened today in Greece is this very thing I am talking about. In that cradle of democracy the nation is deprived of its voice (through a national referendum) and dictated to by an outside force.
    For all I know Greece is pukarooed 🙂

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  6. Hi Jarek

    Lots of quite profound stuff in that last post of yours, some of which I agree with strongly and other bits of which I strongly disagree with.

    I align with the Wilde quote. I acknowledge my ignorance, and the fact that I will always be vastly more ignorant than I am knowledgeable, and I don’t use that as any sort of excuse to stop learning.

    Actually, biological immortality has gone mainstream now. 38 years ago I was considered “way out” by well over 99% of folks. Now many mainstream gerontologists are saying that if someone looks after themselves, with suitable diet and exercise, then we seem to have entered a stage where we are extending lifespans faster than people are aging. No guarantees for any particular individual – stuff still happens, people still die, and poor diet is the biggest single contributor to deaths.

    I disagree completely on the matter of human programming.
    It seems very clearly proven to me that human beings are extremely flexible, and capable of transcending almost any situation, and the key to change is context.
    If the context stays the same, then old habits, including the habits of culture, reign supreme – in that I completely agree with you. The key to change is in changing the context.

    I do not see any tendency in primordial matter to get more complex.
    What I do see is living systems exploring possibility space, which, as some of the possibilities being explored are novel, means that the boundaries of the real are always expanding into the realm of the possible. However, if you look closely, most activity is in the realm of the real and already explored, and very little is in the realm of the truly novel (most of the time). That seems to be how evolution works.

    As humans we certainly have many drives. Being “important” is one, that, as you say, finds many different expressions in many different people.
    Certainly we have many responses, both cultural and physiological to stress and fear, and once again, what is identified as stressful or fearful depends very much on context. Very rarely is that totally defined by the thing itself, it usually has a lot to do with our ability to respond, and to mitigate the perceived danger, or take advantage of the perceived opportunity.

    I agree with you that many people have used collective fear to manipulate others over history, and most have done so by doing exactly what you are doing, in drawing distinctions between one group and another – in your case it is the 1% vs the 99%, with Hitler it was any other ethnicity – the Jews being a “soft target”.

    Telling people it is the 1% will get them listening in a particular way, and listening that way, they will be deaf to anything that is said about their own responsibility.
    I say what works is to be 100% straight, even if that is unpopular and misunderstood by most.

    I am doing what I can for you, and me, and everyone else.
    Thank you for making the time and effort to critique what I have written – it all helps in the process.

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  7. Jarek says:

    Hello Ted,

    In case you haven’t grown tired of my folk philosophy as I like to reffer to it, here is another installement.

    The reason I am so bent on reducing humanity to just a product of reversed entropy is that it hurts too much to think that humanity is endowed with some unique, splendid flexibility and capability of transcending almost any situation with only a sufficient context required to unlock its potential (to borrow your own words). Once during a geography lesson at primary school when a teacher said that we as a nation needed to do this and that to grow stronger I made a remark: “but if we grow stronger, then surely someone else will grow weaker”. My remark went unnoticed among my classmates, but the teacher strangly paused over it and said to me that life was going to be hard for me. I don’t know about life being harder for me than it is for the next person, but I have continued philosophising along these lines. The obstinate refusal on the part of humanity to let well alone, always puzzled me. All abstract concepts of excellence simply lose their meaning without the existence of their opposites. The innocent remark that someone is well educated is the same as to say that someone else is badly educated. The innocent remark often heard in recent political debates in Europe, that Europe must have a stronger economy is the same as to say that some other nation on the planet must by consequence have their economy relatively weaker. There is no way around this or if you like there are no two ways about it. I claim that every noble concept has its dark underside. These reflections eventually turned me into a spiritual stump. And then to cap it all, not so long ago I paid a visit to that German concentration camp called Auschwitz. It’s not that I hadn’t heard about what went on there, but seeing the pretty well preserved physical circumstances of that crime made me very very very angry. I hurt bad, too. I feel angry at what is going now on in our economies. I see the world sliding down that same path it has always followed in the past. Perhaps it is that peculiar, morbid inability to accept competition as a fact of life that makes me see things which other not affected people don’t see. In order to do away with anger and all that I decided to look on things coolly and simply view humanity as a stage in progress of inanimate matter. I even belive that a new form of life is developing right under our noses and that humanity much as you consider it a crowning of evolution processes, is going to become irrelevant and insignificant sooner rather than later. That new life I made reference to dates back to when an ape took hold of a stick and made use of it millions of years ago. That stick represents the early stage of a new form of life on Earth. Its furtherance first depended on animals and when human race appeared the new form of life made ever bigger strides in its developement. The analogy of early organic life is straightforward. While the first organic molecules were at the mercy of basic elements prevalent on our planet, so is the new form of life I am talking about dependent on us now. But the moment is ever closer when the new form of life I am talking about will become as independent from us as we had long time ago ceased to depend on the elements and are now able to create our own artificial life sustaining environtments in outer space for example. That new form of life is of course nothing but tools which developed alongside our civilization. These tools now taking shape of computers are on the brink of breaking themselves free from us. All it takes for them to do so is to “learn” how to multiply without our assisstance.

    You say that what works is to be 100% straight, even if that is unpopular and misunderstood by most. But were I to implement rigorously that honesty, would I not rather end up talking to trees and walls? Surely a small lie to hitch a listener or two and then to treat them with truth and nothing but the truth is not a big issue?

    You disagree with me completely on the matter of human programming. I challenge you to give me a single concrete, real life example of a human being breaking free from that “software” which I drafted in my previous posting.

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  8. Hi Jarek,

    A few things in what you said simply are not so.

    Your childhood remark is very context dependent.
    Stronger and weaker are relative terms. Question is, relative to what?
    If stronger is relative to past performance, then everyone can get stronger, with no change in relative strength between individuals. So it is not required that someone else get weaker for someone to get stronger, and it is possible (even probable) in normal circumstances that things could happen that way.

    Your remark “The obstinate refusal on the part of humanity to let well alone, always puzzled me” makes no sense to me, without a lot more examples of what you might mean by the remark.

    Excellence does not require an opposite, it simply requires an absence.
    One can start with a blunt rock, and hone or knap it to an ever sharper point. One can achieve excellence in creating a sharp edge, and at some level of resolution, that edge is going to look blunt, however sharp it looks at lower resolutions.

    Abstract concepts do not require opposites, and often (usually) when making distinctions we start with the simplest possible distinction, which is to separate something into two, and call those two opposites – we do this as children with light and dark, then we learn about colours and intensities (we add dimensionality and gradation).

    Again the well and badly educated example you use requires a referent, and that referent may be another person, or it may be some average from the past.

    I work at avoiding concepts like nobility, and staying with practical things like what is and what works and what might be created that works.
    While these might be practical, they also appear to be infinite in their potential.

    I see no requirement to be a “spiritual stump” and stumps are possible things. As a human being, it is possible to choose stump-hood, or to have stump-hood happen as an indirect result of other choices made.

    Competition is a fact of life, and so is cooperation.
    To me the evidence is very clear that it is cooperation that has made the big differences in evolution, and certainly competition has played an important role in honing and refining the effectiveness of the strategies involved in the levels of cooperation we see.

    There is so much happening in the world around us, and our ability to apprehend is so limited, that we can see pretty much whatever we choose to look for.
    It is very difficult to clear away our preconceptions and get any sort of real idea of what is actually going on “out there” – we are so influenced by our models and our preconceptions.

    Technology leading to AI is a possibility, and it seems to me that AI would still find us interesting, as we are so different from how it is likely to first evolve.

    The question is, once one starts the process of allowing a small lie to give access to a greater truth, where does it end? After a couple of levels of recursion are we even capable of distinguishing the lies we allowed ourselves to get away with?

    Certainly if one is always straight, one is going to be misunderstood. In that context I love the quote from Emerson:
    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. – ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

    In terms of human programming, the incentive structures you identified certainly exist, and so do hundreds of other incentive structures, at many different levels.
    We can choose to take a simplistic approach, and ascribe all outcomes to a few key drivers, and in many cases such an approach is sufficient, yet in a significant minority of cases it fails completely.
    Certainly we humans have those drivers, and we have so much more as well.
    We can choose contexts in which sex, importance and fear can drive us to towards new levels of stability and cooperation.

    I acknowledge the presence of the drivers you mention in myself, and the levels at which I am employing them seem to be giving outcomes that are unlike most other outcomes I see playing out around me.

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  9. Jarek says:

    Hello Ted,

    Thank you for commenting closely on “my” topics. I am honoured by having attracted your attention. I agree that being exasperated as I am I overlooked the possibility that “improvement” can be viewed as a process in time rather than as “beating someone else to it”. So I find your comment there very timely. Still I claim that “improvement” in relation to what was, has perforce its consequences in contemporaneity (keeping up with the Joneses and that sort of stuff). And when someone becomes very strong, which in principle should be nobody’s concern, this someone will in time (so is human nature), take advantage of the situation and begin to lord it over the weak and poor. For your sake I will agree upfront to mitigate this statement by admitting that it is not an axiom but simpy a conclusion made on the basis of ample practical evidence (found in history books and learned from first hand experience).

    About competition, under pressure of your arguments I again would like to modify my views. There is good competition and bad competition. We all know what good competition is and what are its expected results. Bad competition is something I experienced in the line of duty. It appeared around the year 2000. I was in the business of road haulage of goods. Before things went berserk I and my workmates took care that our customers’ goods were collected and delivered intact and that our service was an altogether a pleasant experience for them. 90% of our efforts went into this and 10% went into monitoring our competitors. After the watershed (and I do not mean to say that it happened overnight), these proportions gradually… reversed. Good, productive competition became replaced with bad destructtive one. And when I say “destructive” I do not mean destructive to just the economy of the country but destructive on all possible levels including the minds of people who are confronted by it on a daily basis. The basic cocept of civilisation accoring to which one person focuses his attention on building houses, another on shoe making, another on … and so on, went up in smoke. Today everybody focuses their attention on just one thing. Need I mention what that thing is? People come home from work on their last legs but when they look behind them they see little work done. I found myself so incensed by this that, horrible as the idea presented itself to me, I quit my job and now slowly recover from the mental depression. Curiously I feel no qualms for not contributing to the general welfare of manking by doing “my bit” also I claim no social/unemployment benefits.The tiny sum of money I am able to earn through very occasional English tuition, barely covers my bills, but I taught myself how to live on a shoe string and feel happy as a lark and whatever little I do for other people I do with …CONVICTION (a sensation I had to do without for quite some time), never once looking behind my back in fear of competition.

    On the necessity of being misunderstood in order to be great. Well, I do not want to be the former and much less the latter (or vice versa).

    You said that technology leading to AI is a possibility. The refference to what I called a new form of life (developing alongside our civilisation) as AI, I find disparaging (to that new form of life). The word artificial suggests to me “man made” and “unnatural”. I actually did not mean any of those. I mean that this new form of life is of its own making and highly natural, much unused to it as we may be.

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  10. Hi Jarek,

    I am interested in your being explicit about “focuses their attention on just one thing” – if it is anything other than money.

    If it is money, then it is simply another example of the many instabilities in the concept of money – one of the many, destabilising positive feedbacks that send all monetary systems into periodic oscillations (what are known as “business cycles”).

    I honour your personal sense of honour – your conviction!

    I think you misunderstood my line of thought on the Emerson quote.
    It seems to me that all people can be great, and part of being great is being misunderstood occasionally. If we restrain ourselves to only operating in the areas that are already understood by our companions, then we will never change anything, never create anything beyond what is already known.
    It is only by being willing to accept the likelihood of being misunderstood that we give ourselves permission to express the creativity that is within every one of us.
    Most of us are subject to cultural constraints that restrict our creativity to a minimum. This is understandable from a cultural/political perspective. The last thing that leaders want is creative peasants getting the better of them. Systems will have evolved to ensure that (on average over time).

    I like your perspective on AI and its environs.
    It seems to be much like my own, yet few seem able to grasp it, so I normally revert to use of more easily understood terms, like AI.
    Yes – it seems to me also that systems are evolving systems of their own, and that for the most part human beings are just tools in the systems (rather than the systems being tools of the people) – and there is still time for that to change – and it will happen as individuals awaken to their power, one person at a time. (I love the movie trilogy – The Matrix).

    If you have not already read it, I invite you to study Kurt Goedel’s incompleteness theorem – to me, probably the single most profound piece of human thinking ever done. The book “Goedel, Escher, Bach – Eternal Golden Braid”, by Doug Hofstadter is an excellent resource.
    Following that – Richard Dawkins’ 1976 masterpiece “The Selfish Gene” is the next most powerful book I have read (for the ability of the concepts contained within to completely reorganise the way in which things appear to be related).

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  11. Jarek says:

    Hello Ted,

    Yes, I did mean that at present the majority of us see the world through the prism of money and I believe that humanity is at a certain phase of that “business cycle” you mentioned. This only worries me on a very practical level, as pertains to my personal wellfare (as mentioned before I portray myself at the receiving end of a global threat).

    I own up to not having understood that Emerson quote, but I reflected briefly on whether being misunderstood is a precondition of greatness and think now that it is. Ground breaking ideas are bound to be misunderstood, but perhaps not because they are so very difficult to uderstand but rather on account of great reluctance to understand them, the reluctance to abandon the bulwarks and safety of what is commonly accepted as only true. Some clever people try to mimic greatness by rendering themselves deliberately misunderstood. Beware of these individuals!
    BTW some theories knock around long after they were proved to be incorrect. One such astonishing example is an explanation about how lift is produced by an airplane wing (or airfoil). Positively false explanations are comonly dished out in schools to this day. I only learned of this because of my interest in the idea of gliding and soaring in the air.

    I am very pleased to have come accross a person who has a similar perception to mine as regards a new form of life. However, how you are able to square it with your answerving humanism radiating from everything you say in these posts, beats me.

    And I am even more pleased because of your sharing with me your favourite reads. Sad as it is (after your laudatory remars) the incompleteness theorem I will need to give a pass since far far simpler logical concepts and analyses used to leave me in heap at school. But I have heard of the wonderfully thought provoking “liar paradox” The other two works I have every intention to have a look at.

    Since I do not read much, I cannot reciprocate with any worthy recommendations. Being a rustic philosopher I content myself with spinning my own yarn and mostly in that unassuming configuration of one narrator and zero audience 🙂

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  12. Hi Jarek
    Yes, I too am a pilot, and have a little over 100 hours in gliders, and about 400 hours in power planes (and 2 hours in helicopters).
    Yes – many ideas hang around long after they are disproven beyond all reasonable doubt – like light being waves (no experiment has ever demonstrated light waves, all experiments show light quanta {particles}), and many many more (like the idea of God).

    One simply has to accept that, and do what we can when opportunities arise to present the available evidence to those that are interested enough to look.

    Most of what is taught in schools, and even in universities is known to be false, and often it is a concept that needs to be accepted before one can transcend it to a new level of understanding.

    I go so far as to say that all the basic theoretical underpinnings of economics are demonstrably false.

    Interesting times indeed!!!

    Like

  13. jareksteliga says:

    Hello Ted,

    I returned to this thread as more appropriate for what I am about to write.

    It is funny how one’s ideas evolve. I was once convinced of a 1% plot to exploit the 99%. Now I am sure the 1% is a … consequence of 99% greed!!!! If none of 99% ‘class’ got themselves involved in speculation (lending money with profit only in mind and borrowing), the 1% would have not a leg to stand on.

    Let’s face it. If you run a bank savings account, or are a government bonds or long term securities/pension fund holder, you are aiding and abetting the runaway capitalism and the economic cycles (discussed earlier). Why? Because you are leading the greed of the 1% to … temptation.

    The only stable form of capitalism is when
    – government is not allowed to bail out institutions (including financial)
    – government is not allowed to borrow money from its people

    Following these recommendations I recently got rid of my government bonds and paid the meagre amount I had accumulated during my period of refular employment into my bank savings account to the blank astonishment of a bank clerk who tried to make me realize how harmful to my private insterest this move was 🙂

    Like

  14. Hi Jarek,

    I agree with you about the 1% thing to a very large degree.

    I don’t see it as any sort of grand conspiracy (which is not to say that there are not lesser conspiracies that occur from time to time).
    What I see is incentive structures deep within the system, within the concept of markets and market valuation.
    Markets have a valuation function which effectively multiplies human value by perceived scarcity across the participants involved. There are many other functions performed by markets, and all have at their core the scarcity multiplier function.

    As long as markets are used purely for the function of exchange of goods and services, they serve, and have served, a valuable function for humanity.
    However, as markets and their valuation function have been allowed to penetrate ever higher levels of the decision making process of humanity, then the effect of the scarcity function is to effectively destroy existing abundance, and to prevent (disincentivise) the production of any new abundance.

    Markets require unequal distributions to function.
    Money is a market valuation measure.

    Therefore, there is no incentive in any system involving money to actually deliver abundance (as in meet the needs of every person). The incentive is always to optimise the flow of money, which will occur at an “optimal” level of scarcity.
    This will always show up in such things as an “optimal” level of unemployment, and an “optimal” level of mortgage foreclosures, etc.
    There is no incentive to have everyone employed, and to have everyone able to pay their mortgage.

    Thus I agree with you, in the sense that I do not necessarily see any grand conspiracy of the 1% to steal from the 99%, it is simply the outcome of all of the individuals looking out for their own best interests, when those interests are measured in terms of money (rather than in human value alone – devoid of markets).

    I can now see very clearly why there were the old religious strictures against usury (the charging of interest).
    If we can get back to them, then there is a chance of bringing stability to global financial markets.
    It has always seemed very strange to me that everyone expects to have to pay for the storage of real property, and expects that the property so stored will degrade in value over time (even with the best of care); but that somehow people expect stored money (simply a proxy for goods and services) to appreciate in value over time.
    It is simply a logical nonsense to me.

    Like

    • jareksteliga says:

      Hi Ted,

      Let me dwell for a moment on the concept of scarcity which you so often make mention of. Will you agree that ‘scarcity’ is difficult of definition? What is seen today as scarcity was considered an abundance or affluence not as long ago as only two or three decades (at least in my country). I like to often reflect in this context on my current economic circumstances as compared with what they would most likely have been had I lived say 200 years ago. I cannot marvel enough at an improvement. In many respects I live a life experienced by a … lord of 200 years ago. I enjoy the greatest imaginable freedom, I live under my own roof and pretty comfortably all year round, I have lots of leisure to pursue my pleasures and fancies (as long as they are not expensive), I can count on professional medical care and so on. And yet I will be considered by the majority of people around me as living in … scarcity (because I only have one car and live in an old house and bake my own bread and plant my own tomatoes and do not spend my holidays abroad and have only two pairs of shoes and gather my own fire wood and stoke fire in my own inefficient stove in winter to save on natural gas bills etc. …. yes, I am afraid I am a … redneck).
      Therefore I contend that scarcity as you probably see it is a relative thing. There is of course that absolute scarcity which is easy to define. Lack of food and water to the extent of endangering your health or life, lack of shelter and sanitation to the extent of endangering your health or life, lack of access to education and medical care, lack of protection from criminal elements in your society etc.
      Seeing how billions of people living in abject poverty (absolute scarcity) do not seem more galvanized by their plight into action to break free from it than affluent people are by their relative scarcity (i.e. lagging behind the Joneses), I come to the conclusion that what really matters is that “relativity”. We are ready to endure untold hardships as long as the next person suffers from more or less the same. Therefore equal distribution of wealth equals… stagnation. No-one really finds it necessary to do anything. Conversly the tension resulting from relative scarcity equals progress and development, whatever that means.

      Your remark how it has always seemed very strange to you that everyone expects their stored money to appreciate over time prompted me to think about it. It seems to me that this popular and deeply rooted expectation is nothing but an expression of … greed. We all naively believe and have no qualms about it that we can earn something without doing anything. That is also exactly the point I made in my previous post. We all play at this game. And as in any game there are winners (a few) and loosers (the majority). Therefore the loosers have little moral ground to complain and raise hue and cry against the winners. They accepted the rules and should therefore reap as they sowed.
      Question is who has the moral ground to stand up to and fight against the current economic … injustice.
      Do you know any such person? I most certainly do not qualify 🙂

      Like

  15. Hi Jarek
    I acknowledge all you say.
    We are perhaps far more alike than your realise.
    Right now I am sitting beside the wood stove that I lit a few minute ago, and it is burning wood we collected from our half acre section (which is all planted in trees).

    Like you, provided I don’t do much that requires much money, I have remarkable freedom.
    I have computers, access to the internet, friends, food, time.
    I have access to more information than the most advanced philosopher of 30 years ago.
    Compared to what my grandparents knew, I live in amazing luxury, yet compared to many around me, I live a very modest life.

    That we are all so wealthy, is basically down to oil. 10,000 man hours of effort in every barrel. 1 litre of oil can, via an internal combustion engine, do the work of one man working 12 hours.
    The hardest thing for most people to get is the effect that robotics is about to have.
    Google’s self driving cars are now legal in Nevada state in the USA.
    Last week a paralysed woman walked the London marathon, with a robotic set of legs.

    Very soon we will be able to automate any process that any human can do.
    At that point, the idea of scarcity disappears.
    The utility of markets essentially disappears.
    The utility of money essentially disappears – for most goods and services.

    Within the next 20 years we will (based upon current exponential trends) be able to completely replace our reliance on oil with solar photovoltaics.

    We can do all these things, and guarantee every individual the basic necessities of life.

    Question is, will we?
    Will we, as a society, be able to get past the deep attachment that many have to markets and their measure (money)?

    Rather than simple greed, our reliance on money is deeply buried in our legal, political, educational and cultural systems.
    In this country, it is illegal to lend someone money without charging interest.
    If you do, the tax department assesses the income you would have made if you had charged interest and taxes you on it.
    There are all those old sayings, like “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.

    I have to make money to live, and do.
    I do not make money to invest in banks or markets.
    Some call this stupidity.

    Like

  16. jareksteliga says:

    Hello Ted,

    It pleases me to hear that, diametrically opposed as we are geographically, there are similarities between us. One circumstance strikes me as particularly coincidental. We both enjoy privately owned source of firewood, since I also happen to have a plot of land which is covered with ca 10 years old birches. What is different is that your trees were planted and mine spontenously spread across a once arable land left uncultivated 12 years ago or so.
    More significant similarity is that we both consider ourselves as leading free, comfortable lives. The access to information and knowledge theorethical and practical is … too good to be true and I tremble lest some dark, evil forces should take it away from us.

    I quite agree with your observation that oil freed us from physical toil (some though carry that freedom to absurdity and will use a combustion engine garden trimmer amid all incidental poisonous and smelly exhaust gasses and unbearable noise where a good ols scythe could do the job with about the same amount of swinging).

    Will oil or solar photovoltaics and eventually automation of any process that any human can do benefit humanity? I am sceptical. In my own country a vote in parliament was passed a few days ago to … extend the retirement age. As explained by the government this sagacious move ensures that once we retire we will enjoy having more money. I find this line of argumentation deeply worrying. I have always believed that the technological development in the manufacturing, housing, infrastructure and agriculture sectors of economy would lead to shortening the retirement age and a decrease in the number of hours we all need to work, not vice versa!
    When I was young I was full of enthusiasm and couldn’t wait to put my shoulder to the wheel and imagined that my little contribution would serve to improve the lives of people around me and even the world in general. That enthusiasm wore off over the two decade plus period of my regular employment. I gradually realized that people do not work in unison for the general good, but rather against each other. Someone once said facetiously that computers are needed to solve problems which we would never have if there were no computers. I think the same logic can be applied to humanity. People busy themselves with solving problems of which the vast majority are man made. The simplest concepts of civilization become blurred beyond understanding. A wonderfully apt piece of children’s rhyme in my country instructs the young readers that “a bricklayer builds houses, a tailor produces garments, but how on earth could the tailor produce garments if he didn’t have a house in which to carry on his craft. “
    In my last job I was asthonished to observe how 90% of my time and effort was used to outmanouvre the competition and fleece the customer and only 10% into the “universally useful” stuff. The end result of this wide spread maddness is that we are all on our last legs, run down, out of breath, not knowing whether we are coming or going and yet in the hindsight litte common benefits seem to have been achieved. And in my view a main culprit for this aberration is … money or the fast spreading conviction that money is the goal of our actions, not the fact that this or that is done for the common good. And this quest for money as the only result of your daily exertions is nowhere more pronounced than in the … banks. Thus the only disctinction between good and bad work is whether money is made at the end of the day. JP Morgan in the USA is not blamed for resorting to dubious finnancial moves. It is blamed for … loosing! I am sure they would not have hit the news headlines had they raked it in on the quiet.
    My advise to all is to concentrate on doing things which are useful to others and the finnancial side will take care of itself. I am sure the world will be better off if this advise is followed.

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  17. Hi Jarek
    A great deal of wisdom in your last paragraph.

    Like

  18. Pingback: Human Evolution | Ted Howard NZ's Blog

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