Economics as a verb (reprint)

Reprint from 2012.

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In any area you examine, our current idiocy stems from the fallacy of reification. In some cases we think of a word as being reality; in others we think of a number as being reality; in others we think of an arbitrary unit of measure as being reality.

Word: In all aspects of politics we’ve lost the reality of offering different sets of actions. We no longer have a tension between opposing parties pulling in opposite directions. Both “parties” pull in the same direction, loyally following Wall Street’s commands; and both “parties” have fierce “robust debates” about sets of words and slogans that have zero connection to reality. [Nice example today. NPR interviewed some voters in Ohio. The Romney voters all wanted Romney “because he talks about God.” Not because he will do anything different; just because he includes one fucking word in his randomly spouted sloganmix.]

Number: Quantum “physics” has abandoned all contact with reality. New “discoveries” are terms in complex equations. We spend billions on machines that force protons into completely unnatural conditions, in order to “prove” the “existence” of these numbers in equations. The machines can’t tell us anything about nature, because their exact job is to create a situation that never occurs in nature. And of course climate “science” doesn’t even bother to build machines for counternatural experiments. It just plays with numbers and requires mass murder to decrease one particular number.

[2022 addendum: Likewise with “virus” “science”.]

Unit of measure: We get locked into booms and busts, inflations and deflations, because we forget that our measuring unit is only a measure. In Alan Watts’s famous metaphor, a carpenter wouldn’t stop work because he “ran out of inches”, so we shouldn’t stop work because we “ran out of dollars” or “ran out of liquidity”.

Modern bankers have developed a monstrous structure of pure units depending on other pure units depending on other pure units, losing all possible contact with any actual underlying value. Options are literally and explicitly bets on the value of numbers, identical to the operation of a football pool. The difference, of course, is that we don’t force nations to collapse when a football pool gets too large. We force nations to collapse when an option pool gets too large.

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At its origin, economics seemed to understand this distinction. Early Catholic and Islamic thinkers saw labor as the key component of value. Islam went farther, declaring that any attempt to place value on abstract numbers (i.e. paying interest) is a sort of idolatry.

I’m proposing one more step. Treat everything, animate or inanimate, carpenter or car, as activities instead of things. Treat everything as a source of labor. Why is a carpenter worth money? Because he works for you, doing things you can’t or won’t do. Why is a car worth money? Because it works for you, doing things you can’t or won’t do.

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This would not lead to a different set of economic equations. Instead, it would simply eliminate the whole fraudulent notion that you can condense human behavior into a closed-form equation.

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I can imagine a few specific consequences at the moment:

(1) Delegitimize statistics. Don’t use stats for any important purpose. Stats are designed to remove the time element and the relational element, leading to all sorts of evil thinking. Wave-type analysis represents the verbs of reality much better, but still doesn’t capture the transitivity of verbs.

(2) Delegitimize idolatry of numbers. If you want to bet on something, you should do it in a clearly illegitimate environment. Currently we have a weird disjunction between two rackets: Betting on numbers related to stocks is run by the NYC Mafia, with total governmental approval and assistance. Betting on numbers related to sports is run by other Mafias with no pretense of legitimacy. Under the present system, if you lose your shirt betting on stock numbers, Ben ‘Bugsy’ Bernanke will make up your losses and give you a few trillion as reward; but if you lose your shirt betting on horse numbers, Guido ‘Lefty’ Salvatore or Ernest ‘Two Dogs’ Runs-with-bear will break your legs. We should put Lefty and Two Dogs in charge of stock-based betting as well. Much more efficient and honest.

(3) In foreign trade, treat labor and stuff on the same plane. Impose tariffs on stuff that comes from China, AND impose tariffs on labor performed in India, AND impose tariffs on laborers brought in from Mexico.

(4) In general try to think like Nature. Nature loves negative feedback and decentralized operation. In shaping an economy, encourage closed loops and discourage loopless control. Encourage direct ownership of companies, discourage shareholder ownership. Follow Henry Ford, “Pay workers enough to buy what they make.” Discourage outsourcing of labor and capital. Encourage smaller units with minimal coupling. Discourage giant corporations and giant governments.

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There’s no such thing as matter, no such thing as particles. It’s all energy and waves. It’s all work, and we should value it accordingly. Furniture consists of the photosynthetic labor of trees, improved by the intelligent labor of humans; and furniture serves us with its own labor by giving us rest or helping us to cook. We should value it highly. Stocks and derivatives and “swaps” are pure numbers. We should consider them worthless and counterfeit, and punish anyone who attempts to use them.

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More on the subject here.