Economics is nothing more nor less than the study of the primary way in which people connect with society and get on with their lives.
In everyday life, you may interact with a few people – family, colleagues, and friends. But through the process of eating and paying the mortgage you interact, at some distance, with hundreds more. Because this interaction is entirely through something called “money,” a way of keeping score, it’s very tempting to look at it entirely through numbers. The dizzying details of tens of millions of exchanges every day makes a top-view in bulk the most desired method of analyzing how things are going.
Yet this process has proven wrong over and over again. The failure of economics, particularly macro-economics, is the primary reason why the only true study of an economy has to be a People’s Economics.
Long ago, most Americans lived as Laura Ingalls Wilder chronicled in the “Little House” series. Pa Ingalls and family were out in the wilderness, living with the rhythm of the land and putting away what they could to survive long winters and perhaps beyond. The family’s net worth was what they had around them.
That life has been replaced with interdependence based on a dollar value assigned to absolutely everything. We all get by with any extra scratch, should there be some, not stored up to get through the winter but properly invested in convertible assets. This means everyone is subject to the “free market”, which determines the value of all assets including experience, talent, and work.
That interdependence has changed our world to one with much less hard work or struggles against nature, and yet to many it has become as hostile as any winter on the Great Plains.
The Honourable East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth to represent the crown in all matters of trade with the nations of the far east in 1600. It was a simple beginning to what evolved two and half centuries later into the worst possible anecdote for corporate power unchecked. With its own army, it subdued the Indian subcontinent and forced China to import vast quantities of opium.
Corporations have a unique ability to transcend national boundaries. They represent opportunity as well immediate cash on the table. In a world opening up as never before they have the first foot in the door and an opportunity to create quick profits for everyone. They rarely set out to do evil, but with their unique position largely unchecked temptation lurks just behind every fair deal.
The example of the East India Company is not antique. History does not repeat, but it does rhyme.
A corporation, by strict legal definition, is any group of people acting as if one for whatever their stated purpose. This definition is broad enough to include non-profits or NGOs. In practical terms, however, it refers to a an organization which makes something and hires people to do it.
But what is the purpose of them? Recently, it’s become very popular to assume that the main purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value. That is, to grow and reward those who put their money down to make it all happen in the first place.
There are many reasons to see this need for constant growth as dangerous. Most generally, it’s not sustainable outside of the rate of population increase and productivity gains, at least once the entire planet reaches a similar level of development. But more important, the view of what a corporations is, or at least why it exists, is extremely damaging to its own stated purpose. And it’s easily shown to not actually be true in practice.
“Everyone is an idiot, not just the people with low SAT scores. The only differences among us is that we’re idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you spend much of your day being an idiot.”
– Scott Adams, “The Dilbert Principle”
This first ran four years ago. Today is a day that I’m having some trouble handling in general.
We all know someone who just can’t handle something we consider part of daily life. The guy who simply doesn’t “get” facebook, the woman with no interest in a cell phone, and in urban areas like St Paul even people who refuse to drive. These are all complications that are a bit too much for their simple life.
There are limits for everyone in this world of increasing complexity. We all hit them constantly, too. For many people, however, life itself just gets past them.