Religion of Growthism

Money Black HoleAs if to validate my hypothesis that economic theory has veered into the management and manipulation of people, rather than the material resources and assets we need to sustain our existence, the Nobel Committee has awarded this year’s prize to two Americans:

Two researchers whose work has made for better matchups among students and the schools they wish to attend, and between kidney donors and recipients, were awarded the Nobel Prize in economics Monday.

While I’m arguing as follows on the internets:

If we define economy as the exchange and trade of goods and services, then the volume is virtually infinite — services definitely so and goods if they are transformed. Since the vast majority of Americans are no better off after the supposed growth of the nineties, we can now conclude that it was mostly a period of churning in which assets were moved around and at each transit the middlemen claimed a bigger chunk for themselves.

I think it is worth reminding ourselves that the recent crash wiped out half the dollar value of all American assets. Which, given that the country has not seen wholesale physical destruction such as was visited on Europe during four years of bombardment, should tell us that the destruction of wealth was not real. For example, banks now “own” houses they don’t want and the people who wanted them don’t even get to occupy them. So there’s a mismatch, an accounting problem. Lots of resources and assets are going to waste, and that includes the food for three billion people that’s being produced but not consumed. That’s a management problem and the management problem is largely related to the mistaken notion that management is a matter of motivating and moving people, rather than allocating and transforming our material environment appropriately. We have let people order other people around because, apparently, they don’t know how to do anything else and, not knowing how, the orders they give are nonsense.

Imagine a person with no sense of direction telling you how to go from Lima, Ohio to Lima, Peru.

It’s actually quite possible that accumulators do what they do because they don’t know how to process and transform. In the beginning, when humans first accumulated the grapes that all ripen at once, the bacterial invasion that reduced the grapes to mush and then a liquid that could be drawn off and turned out to be good to drink was a serendipitous event that observant humans learned to imitate and accelerate to their own purposes. Some did not. But, it didn’t matter, as long as some could. Indeed, that some accumulate and some process is useful. The problem with accumulating currency is that, put in storage, nothing happens. Hoarded, nothing can be done with it. It’s dead storage. When it’s currency that’s accumulated and stored, we can always make more, BUT WE DON’T. That’s the problem.

Why do we do that? Because we have convinced ourselves that money is real and that, like all resource, it is naturally scarce. We have invented infinity without recognizing it. We have quantified our ideas and imposed material limits on the infinite. Just think.

And so G2Geek responds:

Beware of that infinite volume.

Otherwise, some day you may find yourself providing emotional solace to a friend in need, and get a tax bill for the “transaction” of “psychotherapeutic services rendered.”

The problem here is that the religion of Growthism must ultimately seek to transform everything into commodity: things that can be exchanged for other things.

What of family and friendship and love, patriotism and dedication to community, originality, honesty, and authenticity, and so many other values that any sane person considers irreducible and not tradable for anything else? The words we use to describe the commoditization of those values are words such as cheating, adultery, two-facedness, treason, selfishness, plagiarism, falsehood, and so on.

No, no a thousand times!, no!

Not to mention the value of free time, unoccupied, un-colonized, un-commoditized, and available for spontaneity or just for goofing off! Let’s hear it for goofing off, the wellspring and root source of immeasurable joy and creativity!

An economy is ultimately a tool for meeting human needs. Human needs can be manipulated into wants and then into demands that place an untenable burden upon societies and ecosystems. But beyond this, an economy that becomes an end-in-itself, meeting its own abstract needs regardless of actual human needs, is a Sorcerer’s Apprentice gone mad with multiplication, a monster that devours all in its path.

Better to contract the economy and expand the mind and soul. Better to contract the economy and expand free time. Better to contract the economy in favor of family, friendship, love, and all the rest of those unquantifiable intrinsics that have no place upon a spreadsheet or in a ledger.

In doing this, we can still maintain the arts and sciences, the improvement of technology, the reduction of pain, the increase of pleasure, and best of all the increase in knowledge, and most importantly, wisdom.

As for “management problems,” what do you do with a doctor who can’t keep ten patients healthy?, give them another hundred patients? What do you do with an incompetent manager, give them more people and projects to manage? With seven billion humans on the planet we still have about 1/3 of them going to bed hungry each night: that is a failure of management on a scale that if it was deliberate would be another holocaust!

The thing to do at that point, in addition to firing the present management, is to reduce the scope of the problem: reduce the case load, reduce the population. And doing so also produces an increase in the quality of life and the standard of living for all, except for those who prefer to spend their lives in traffic jams and queues and crowds.

The fact that 9/11+7 (the crash occurred on 18 September 2008, exactly 7 years and 7 days after the 9/11 attack: a numerical coincidence that we should make much use of by way of comparison in terms of damage) wiped out half the asset value of the economy, only demonstrates how much of our “growth” is just so much economic masturbation in a great big circle jerk. Enough with all of that fraudulent nonsense!, we can cut it out like a tumor and live longer happier lives as a result.

The value of hoarded currency is simply this: POWER. The ability to impose one’s will upon countless others, extirpating their own will and inserting one’s own in the manner of a parasitic insect inserting its eggs into the body of its host. That’s an unmitigated evil that we would do well to cull from the social ecosystem. Sub-criminal sociopathy in high places should become the basis for civil commitment to a psychiatric institution until there is a medical cure.

In the end money is a tool: its value is what one builds with it. It’s one of the greatest tools humanity has ever created, for the simple fact that it facilitates transactions without need of barter, and it facilitates the decentralized decision making that is the definition of a market economy contrasted to a centrally-directed one. But this tool is, like nuclear fission, a risky one: it can give us vast capacity to create, or vast capacity to destroy, and it forces us to face our soul in its most naked form.

Image: Licensed by at

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."