Neolithic to Neoliberal: Trying to Understand how the Economy got here.
15 September 2016 in Politics
What is the economy? Why do we need an economy? Why is the economy so fucked up now?
These questions keep me up at night, especially when the world is being hammered from the global economic elites that manifest themselves as the TPP, US Presidential elections, great depression money velocity conditions. I have noticed, like anything in life, there are innumerable perspectives on understanding and making predictions about the economy and hence our overall well-being. So I needed to develop a mental compartment to place all these ideas in that pertain to the economy.
The economy is: the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services, according to Webster's dictionary. We can simmer that down to what we, as a society, choose to create and redistribute to one another.
The origins of the word economy is the root word "Eco" which comes from the Greek word "oikos", meaning home. We have two fields of study that deal with "Eco" ecology and economics. Ecology is the study of home, economics is the management of home. Ecologists attempt to define the conditions and principles that over life's ability to flourish through time and change. Societies and our constructs, like economics, must adapt to those fundamental defined by ecologists (Suzuki, David. The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, Updated and Expanded. Greystone Books Ltd, 2007.)
We can understand the economy as a field of thought that attempts to management our home (Earth) and society (our creations and redistributions).
Now that we have a tangible definition of the economy, why do we need an economy? It seems fairly self-evident in the definition when we consider economy as a form of management—if no one is monitoring what going on at home then home gets pretty messy, any parent can understand that. Even so, I do not believe that the economy is the ultimate management system of our society, rather it is a construct that helps us to understand everything that is going on; what’s being created and redistributed. It is only one mechanism of management, I am not implying that it is omniscient nor am I trying to sell a market-jihadist perspective—simply trying to position the economy in my personal experience.
So why is the economy so fucked up?
To start to answer this question we need to highlight some historically significant events that occurred in the development society. Our ancestors were nomadic and kin-based in structure. They move around for their essential needs and spent majority of their time fulfilling their basic needs and developing oral histories and knowledges. Approximately 10,000 years ago our ancestors began to experiment with different ways of living from their nomadic lifestyles, as they were learning how to cultivate crops instead of solely relying on nature. And it was this innovation of agriculture that transformed their lifestyle structures. These kin-based groups were able to meet more of their basic needs and they could begin to firmly settle in one location. This revolution produces something that was never present before: free time, or what I will refer to as aesthetic time (I'll come back to this a little later). With this aesthetic time these tribes of agricultural people were able to further develop their pottery, ceremonies, myths, rituals, and other practices. Hence societies enters the Neolithic age meaning the new Stone Age, where stones were ground and polished as tools.
The major change in structure is what and how people create stuff, or as Marx would say the development of production. With increasingly efficient production our ancestors found themselves with surpluses or a deficits, either way, they realized consistent supply must be assured. One method that was developed that become popular is the practice of accounting. Producer would receive a symbolic measure of their food contribution: a (gold) coin. Producers could then cash the coin to retrieve some extra food in times of need. This is a similar practice to what we know as insurance, you pay a little now then on a rainy day (when your crops are flooded away) you can get some food (Harman, Chris. A people's history of the world: from the Stone Age to the New Millennium. Verso Books, 2008.)
This structural change introduces a few new elements; leadership, authority, power, and social stratification. The accountant of the food stores has to manage the tribe in order for best chances of survival, so this individual produces less or no food in order to focus on thinking of new strategies and skills. This elevates the Neolithic accountants' ability to reason and mitigate risks among many other things, hence elevating their authority, power, which creates social stratification or what Marx might refer to as a class system.
Regardless if you are the producer or the accountant you have aesthetic time. Free time in the day that you can or develop whatever it is you desire. People tend to fall into three major aesthetic time categories; relaxation: putting your feet up and watching the birds fly by, self-improvement: enhance a skill that you think is valuable (ex: irrigation), or immediacy: engaging in the arts (ex: cave art). That is to say, where they dedicated their aesthetic time is where they began to accelerate as individuals or as a collective group if they worked together. Keep in mind, the choice of aesthetics does not necessarily imply an inherently positive, you could spend your aesthetic time on how to kill other tribes. Additionally the benefit is not inherently positive for everyone, it could only benefit the elites of the group and, of course, each category has their own intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
If we accept this notion of aesthetic time and jump 8000 years of human history it provides a nugget of perspective about how our economy has become so distorted over the past century. Our present day elites typically have a buildup of multiple generations of social and monetary capital (ex: Koch Brothers, Donald Trump, etc) in which they place their aesthetic time into their work and adopt the philosophies of Ayn Rand, as I call it neoliberal-market-jihadism. Where nothing exists but the market, your duty is to spread the market, and your purpose is to serve the market. This market-jihadism is reinforced by the Thatchers and Chicago Schools of Economics, where, if we look close enough we can notice that these philosophies have poisoned everything we do. To an extent as far as what we value in a person (ex: good job, well paid, nice car, etc). These philosophies have become institutionalized hence making them hard to disrupt and overcome.
So why is the economy so fucked up?
Our collective aesthetics, in short. When we redefine our aesthetics, hence redefine our culture and values, we alter the course of the economy. And if you don't like how the management of our home (Earth) and society (our creations and redistributions) it is then time to understand aesthetics on spiritual level and not a passive consumption level. Perhaps we would be able to move away from celebrating GDP to something far more humanizing.