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Economic Democracy Demands One World Balance March 29, 2009

Posted by aetiusromulous in Commentary, news, politics.
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ar-logo1Economic Democracies have  been living exponentially. It’s a big word, and it’s a big concept.

What it boils down to is this; that nobody alive in any culture of “progress” today knows anything other than bigger. Alternatively, if you like, all participants in democratic free markets have the shared expectation that they will have more tomorrow than they did today. In fact, we can go further and say that anything other than more, bigger, or better represents a failure of our governance that we all battle with equal fear, and vigor.

Previous generations expected that if they left life at the same station that they entered it, life had been a roaring success. Progress allowed that eventually, it was possible to live in such a way that we improved our lives and the lives that followed in some, small, measurable way. Our children’s success was our reward for a life well invested. Life got bigger, better, longer. Progress became defined as the slow, deliberate, advance along and up the curve. Civilizations and cultures that lived back down the curve behind us were wrenched kicking and screaming along it – for their own protection. In this way humanity was always just a bit better than it was before, spending capital and adding value one on top of the other, each new advance picking up speed, built as it was on the shoulders of heroes and great men of great deeds that had come before.

That is the exponential nature of civilization, progress, and development – that because of the compounding nature of all we have accomplished, humanity was destined to not just progress, but also do so at ever-increasing velocity. This is not just irrefutable math, it is common sense and we can see, feel, and touch it in our own lives today, as anybody with Super 8 film of themselves when young, but digital file sharing of their kids can attest.

At the same time, the natural resources that support our growth and development must always keep pace, their use and depletion being exponential in their own right. Progress is built from the resources of the earth, and the speed of their consumption intuitively must in some way match the velocity of their purchase.

So we have been living exponentially, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, or political persuasion. And while history used to take generations to feed out, it now takes but a single sheet to make us bigger, better, and faster. That is a feature of exponential anything – that as the compounding grows, the speed of advance picks up until the long slow line turns quickly and steeply upward on the right. That is also how we now expect that the natural course of events is always and faster upwards, because we measure the velocity of change in our own lifetimes, and life in the 21st century changes minute by minute. And, we all alive today, know or comprehend it in no other way. Progress junkies and speed freaks all.

Consider as well, that as we race along that exponential curve of progress, we expend the resources of the planet as we do. Each and every upward tick of civilization demands a corresponding downward, exponential tick towards the depletion of our planet. Our velocity and rate of climb are matched by an equal expenditure of fuel. That makes some intuitive sense.

The principle resource for our progressive, democratic civilization is oil, the abundant black goo that powers it all. Like the oceans, it seems to us to be endless, while at the same time we all admit it isn’t. Some of that oil powers our cars and heats our homes, but the vast majority of it is pumped directly into the endless little things that comprise our wonderful, western lives. Industrial consumption of oil is the real devil, turning oil from a sticky gunk below the ground into toaster handles, medical equipment, soccer balls, and an avalanche of useless crap from China. We have clearly reached an era of peak oil, and are ploughing through the back half of the graph at exponential speed.

To make further advances, and push ourselves up an almost vertical slope at a speed that we will not consider failure, it will require matching resources in amounts almost impossible to consider. While our future does indeed seem limitless, not so of our resources which are very certainly finite. Our expectations for compounding growth are completely at odds with the physical limits of our ability to deliver. We have out run the fuel of our unstoppable success. Progress – Yay for us.

The fractional reserve banking system on which we base our only medium of international exchange – our money – is also subject to the same exponential forces. Money is created by debt, which carries interest, which must be paid by the creation of more money, and more debt, and more interest, and more money…exponential in every way. Given that money is a unit of account for our human labour, and our human labour has been replaced (exponentially as well) by units of resources that make us happy, lazy and fat, we have been debasing our currency in exponential fashion, spending up resources with rapidly inflated cash. We think ourselves wealthy enough to print a trillion dollars at a crank, to buy our way back up the dizzying curve. All the while our assets melt, a million miles below.

When we consider the forces of nature ranged against us, it gives one pause. It should make us throw up. Both our expectations for the present and the future are barking mad. Think about what we are asking – that life continue in a linear, uninterrupted manner for the rest of time. Insanity. Insanity because we know this to be false. We know deep inside us that somebody was going to pay eventually, that the bill must at some time come due. As a community, we closeted the dark shadows of the future folks, none of whom would be our kids, or their kids, or their kids.

But it was going to be somebody, and it may just be that somebody, is us.

So there is at least a possibility that the certainty of the end of our system is now, that the unfortunate future shadows are us. Again, that makes some logical sense. Take logic further, and it follows that while the end is certainly somewhere in the future, that future is speeding towards us with exponential velocity. The harder we push to forestall it – logically – the faster it comes. The final collapse of our socioeconomic society may very well be under way, or approaching in short order.

But still, it blows the mind and simply cannot be. It just seems so counter-intuitive, so end times like crazy talk. Yet the argument is compelling, it is frightening precisely because it is indeed possible, as we know it to be. Why not us, and why not now?

Given that it is crazy to believe the meltdown now underway is the start of the unwinding of our world, the possibility looms real enough that we cannot be wrong in considering the eventuality. Thinking about the future is never a bad idea, and thinking about our future entails considering the possibility of a dramatic reset of historic proportion. Turns out then, that while it may be lunacy to consider this the end, it is greater lunacy not to.

As hard as it is to imagine a world come undone, it is harder to consider what a world come undone would look like. The house of cards on which we live is infinitely complex, a labyrinth of butterfly wings delicately connected, where disturbing one disturbs them all. Far from a single explosion (or implosion) which ends the game thermal nuclear style, ours is likely to be an end where one piece at a time bends, folds, and drifts away, causing in its wake the bending and folding of multiple others, a cascade of collapse that should perform its evil function inexorably and, exponentially. Slow at first and in halting steps, collapse will pick up speed and fuel itself, eating our “progress” in ever-increasing chunks.

The unraveling process would be particularly cruel, in as much as it would not a first appear to be unraveling. This insidious start would disguise itself as business as usual in a world of short history, where boom and bust have become commonplace. We would become semantic about it at first I suggest – slowdown, correction, recession, depression. Stages along a curve with no logical end point but the appeal to hope and change, as we have appealed in so many ways and at so many times before. Of course, we will survive it, as we always have – won’t we?

“On Sunday (October 27, 1929) there were sermons suggesting that a certain measure of divine retribution had been visited on the Republic and that it had not been entirely unmerited. People  had lost sight of spiritual values in their single minded pursuit of riches. Now they had their lesson.

“Almost everyone believed that the heavenly knuckle rapping was over and that speculation could again resume in earnest. The papers were full of prospects for next week’s market.

“…In a concerted advertising campaign in Mondays papers, stock market firms urged the wisdom of picking up these bargains promptly. “We believe” said one house, ” that the investor who purchases securities at this time with the discrimination that is always a condition of prudent investing, may do so with utmost confidence”.

The Great Crash,1929 – John Kenneth Galbraith

Modern democracy and free markets are welded together as one, each an essential half of a whole. The unrealized opportunity, was for the voting individual to asses and pass judgement on his world, and impose restrictions on the workings of things that would meet his requirements for the unfettered pursuit of his happiness. As it turns out, man is not rational, and does not always maximize his best utility.

Instead, the two set man free of all constraint, the one supporting the other in an ever-increasing drive to produce more, consume more, and tap the planet without restriction in the process. Far from checking the market free for all, democracy rode the economics with such eager abandon we can ask ourselves quite sincerely, whether the two are meant to be as one at all. Perhaps, after a generation on the vertical part of the red line of progress, we can conclude that our system of governance and our current democratic view of the world may no longer be in our best interest.

Democracy – the theory – is still a noble and thoroughly workable concept. What isn’t workable seems to be the execution of democracy in practice. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that it was born in an era one hundredfold removed from ours, and has been refused change or updating repeatedly by the twin evils of patriotism and dogma. Democracy in its current form has been badly misshapen and thrown out of balance by the unchecked progress of its other half, free markets. Balance must be restored by trimming the one or developing the other, or both.

It is a global world of finance and economics, both run a muck while democracy remains decidedly national and regional. A single nation of less than five per cent of the earth’s population makes the rules and sets the agenda for the planet, controlling the levers of commerce without global reciprocity. Again, that just seems intuitively wrong, and not at all democratic in any way. Global commerce needs global checks and balances, that much should be obvious – where it is not hidden in the fog of patriotism, nationalism, or dogma.

Without the pointless and damaging effects of willful blindness, it appears somewhat obvious that the time may be upon us where democracy must go global, and free markets be checked and balanced back to a sustainable level for all. Knowledge and clear thinking must triumph over dogma. It is simply clear thinking to return to balance the global financial infrastructure, and the checks and balances that must accompany it through global participation in the processes.

Dogma alone stands in the way of this era of new balance, our new measure of progress, our “Newconomics”. Nationalism in its most virulent form, and Americanism as its best and most potent example, must be solved to extend democracy to its logical, practicable end. Failing this, the international economic system must by necessity be broken back to the dark ages from which it was born, where it will then find balance with its rusted twin, 19th century democracy.

But that’s just crazy talk. Isn’t it?

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