Reclaiming Capital

It may come as a surprise to most, that my answer for the times is capitalism. What is capitalism? – it is the ethics of a society, whose aim is to maintain its capital – that is, spiritual, pleasurable and human assets, combined with that which maintains all those things – the undiminished vigour of life – in soil, sea, biomass and biodiversity. It may come as an even greater surprise that Adam Smith’s capitalism is precisely described above.

You say, how did it go so wrong? Well as G K Chesterton replied to G B Shaw’s assertion that “Christianity had been tried and found too difficult.” – “On the contrary, Christianity has been found too difficult and has never yet been tried.” So it is, with capitalism. No one has tried it yet.

Adam Smith told us that the invisible hand, which moved to the comparative advantages of knowledgeable and settled communities, could not function if…

1 – Money ceased to be a medium of exchange and instead became personal property, which could charge rent (interest). “Goods can serve many purposes besides purchasing money, but money can serve no purpose besides purchasing goods.”
Similarly, rent for land, status and ideas, malignantly bleeds beneficent capital of labour, resource and the land. As a later writer pointed out, “Property is theft”.
2 – If moral probity, ancestral commons and the skill, dexterity and ingenuity of communities rooted in particular terrains, became undermined, or overwhelmed by empire, tyranny of kings, or (as above) by the libertarian power of money.
3 – If either dominant leaders, or the more quietly subversive, began to extract – not a just wage, but personal profits.
Adam proposed that the greatest wealth of nations accumulated in societies with low profits and high wages and the least by societies with high profits and low wages.
4 – If (to neatly return to G K Chesterton) monopolies stifled the particular ingenuities and loves of particular terrains.

Here is G K C – “Communism is Big Business run by the state, whereas, capitalism is the state run by big business. I dream of very many, very small businesses.” Of course, G K C describes the capitalist imposter and not the capitalism “which has been found too difficult and has never been tried.” Adam’s capital moves by the almost infinite complexity of his invisible hand passing assets between and within the equally complex needs and loves of communities and their terrains.

I make no apology for regularly repeating the above quotes, in this and other passages, because I prefer to excavate my own (limited) memory, which is attached to my more certain and slowly-evolved ethics, rather than seeking the dignity of a false scholarship to shore-up doubtless fragilities. By far the greatest source of knowledge comes by personal perception of people, things and the land, which is then given meaning, for the greater part by simple, inherited family values, which then evolve further as we experience work, joy, grief, love, loss, the wind, sunshine and rain. Books and studies are a pleasure and occasionally a revelation of new possibilities, but always, they are measured against our senses – the actuality of being.

Where we moderns perhaps differ from Adam is in the manufacture of pins – economies of scale – division of labour. We cannot dispute that he is right, but are uneasy. However, if we followed the true logic, then we’d become easier – such efficiencies mean we need less labour and gain increased leisure. History has shown the opposite – increased toil for those who labour, because increased output has not become increased leisure, or increased wages, but on the contrary – increased profit.

Pins can also be sold at a lower price, which is to the comparative disadvantage of other, more egalitarian manufacturers of pins. What today, would be regarded as marketing success, would be a cultural failure to the eyes of Adam Smith – increasing both poverty and working hours and also the wealth of one man – the factory owner. Eventually of course, the factory owner would face bankruptcy as his rivals achieved a still lower price. The wealth of all nations, which manufacture pins, would shrink, unemployment would increase, unhappiness would increase…

Ha! – we’ve seen what Adam thinks of profit, I think he might have said, Profit is theft – so yes, he still has the last laugh in the matter of pins and pin heads. And I think, his head is in his hands at our brutish* understanding of the comparative advantages of communities moved (in both senses) by the almost infinitely-complex, invisible, even spiritual hand of moral probity, sacred springs and the musical rhythms of time.

* I apologise to brutes of the woods and fields

***

Proponents of modelled doughnut, circular and steady-state economies, would do better to bring their models under the beautiful gaze of Adam Smith. All those models fail to confront the certainty that if they became reality, then the collapse of currencies and of currency trading, stocks bonds and shares would follow. With those comes the collapse of real businesses, mass unemployment, crashing tax revenues and of so of vital social infrastructures. So, instead of proposing changes to the current system, we need a movement to evacuate it – to ignore it – to start afresh from the soil upwards as the casino eventually crashes around us.

Of course, capitalism is also a model, but unlike those above, it can only function by that mysterious, egalitarian hand whose energies arrive from many millions of sources, which are all embedded deep in both the culture and its terrain. In current phraseology, it is bottom up, not top down. Because it is an essentially moral system, it needs protection from amorality. That protection can come from both social taboos and from law. So, all we ask of governance is that it is protectionist. As we’ve seen, durable societies must be protected from profit-making, currency manipulation, share and bond trading, money-property and all other forms of enclosure/monopoly/rent.
Adam’s capitalism is essentially moral – in the duties and pleasures of learning/evolving skills to maintain otherwise forever-escaping capital. Capitalism is protectionist. It is conservative. It protects cultural commons from monetarist, corporate/consumerist trade-blocks, such as the European Economic Union. It refuses the free flow of money and accepts the free flow of people and ideas. It refuses property, rent and amoral, immoral casinos and liberates both ancestral commons and the receptive sensuality of commoners to ingeniously adapt to changing times.

We capitalists (Adam Smith and I) use GDP as a useful measure of diminishing capital, increasing CO.2 emissions, shrinking human happiness and increasing money-flow. Increasing GDP means that our economy has been invaded. It means that we must discover where it has been invaded and why. It probably means that money has served some purpose, or other, besides purchasing goods.

As an arrow to true-cost accountants and to those measuring eco-system services, stop it! – that which you’d measure has no price – it is beyond intelligence to measure. Professed measurement diminishes it from the imagination into mere idle fancy. (Please read John Keats and Samuel Taylor Coleridge). All we capitalists know, is that we exist by the beneficence of always mysterious nature and that the source of our existence must be protected at all costs. Natural damage is taboo. Both taboo and ancestral guidance are essential parts of capitalism. Tax-generated cultural commons such as roads, harbours bridges, hospitals, libraries, electricity grids… and so on, are easier to quantify. Commoners have their stake. That stake is human ingenuity, dexterity and labour. It cannot be sold. It cannot add to an expanding GDP. We maintain such capital.

***

MY WORTHIES, WHAT IS VALUE?

The words, value and worth are used interchangeably and also for both deep and shallow – for that which we love at all costs and also for the relative masses of goods and money.

What is the worth of what I’ve done? What is the value of what I do? Am I worthy? I don’t worry about which word to use and in which context. I think they have survived on my tongue from differing ancestral roots – the one from Old English and the other, Old French perhaps. Both are in use in Middle English. Gwerth is Welsh – old and new.

When we consider the potency of money, perhaps the shallower usage is not so shallow after all. Richard Douthwaite illuminated that money-flow and energy-flow should be directly related. Energy-flow is the power of what people do. Recently, money-flow has vastly expanded, because the power of what people can do has been magnified by fossil-fuelled tools. Plainly, money-flow must rapidly shrink again to just the small power of mortal, fallible humanity. It must fit what the human frame can do to transform only that which can be monetarily valued. Much human activity is culturally valuable, but yet has no monetary value – parenthood, home-making, singing, dancing, walking to the hill-top… So, money flow must be much smaller than even the power of what people do. Such a small flow of money, is very easily managed as a tool to a more complex exchange of labour and resource both within and between cultures. Any community can create its own currency. Within Adam Smith’s definition -Goods can serve many purposes, besides purchasing money, but money can serve no purpose, besides purchasing goods. – the creation of moneyed hierarchies is severely limited. Of course, other hierarchies can evolve – military, sexual, religious, and of skills. Some, within a cultural tradition may be beneficial, others not. For instance, we may consider the positions of master and apprentice to be beneficial. How else can an apprentice begin to master her tools?

Meanwhile, that money which now has a purpose besides purchasing goods, must also be out-lawed. It is theft – pillage. What is the power/mass of that money? I don’t care. All I know is that it is vast and that we must repel it – it contains money-interest, land rent and rent for the monopolistic enclosures of architects, “consultants”, lawyers, medical practitioners… Then we have the money extracted from the casino of stocks, bonds, shares and fluctuating currencies. Shares are an ancient way of launching an adventure – merchant shipping for example. But the buying and selling of shares as chips in a casino is something new – perhaps two hundred years old – its destructive power is plain.

My worthies! We can find a worth, which is beyond price and we can defend it. It is plain that what peer/career-reviewed economics professors call an economy is bound to collapse sometime soon. It has no ground beneath its vast monetary illusion. It is a spun tale, which depends on the complete belief of listening punters. Even so, the collapse will be horrible. It will not be the collapse of a mere illusion, so that truth can finally dawn to contrite visionaries of a new age. Real economic infrastructures will also crumble, causing terrible physical pain. The barbed wires of flailing enclosure will rip open the real economic common. Wages, which once provisioned households to pay taxes, to spend on vital infrastructures, will be gone – leaving fear, anger, confusion, hunger…
That is our task – to build a worthy economy, which fits, just so, inside its ration of Earth. We’ll maintain the capital, which we inherited, so that we can bequeath it in turn. There is nothing we can do about collapsing casinos and monetary systems. We must let them fall, while inviting refugees to join us in a new adventure, whose central value is the worth of people and whose central taboo is diminishment of the invaluable – that is the greater ecology on which all species depend.

After the casino collapse, we’ll have collapsed systems of distribution. We’ll have human misery. But a passing satellite will photograph no change. Roads, streets, houses, bridges, harbours, fields, woods, rivers… will all be unchanged.

We can occupy those commons, each to her skill and with a common vision of the values we had always held, though forgotten in a wild century or two of delusion. In the household we had always understood the fair distribution of chores and pleasures; things and the rationing of things. That is the true economy. We shall make it universal.

Dream on, you say, lost in your dream. Your dream is for the end of times, but with full dignity of office…

***

Featured image: tree in the mist. Author: San Chan. Source: https://www.freeimages.com/photo/tree-in-the-mist-1359429

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2 Replies to “Reclaiming Capital”

  1. Thanks for this, Patrick. Interesting examination of the original definition of capitalism (as you’ve also done, in earlier posts, with ‘conservatism’).

    I’m not sure I follow your argument in the section about steady state and doughnut economies being prone to collapse, since those sorts of economies aren’t growth-based and from what I can make out, could potentially exist in a post-collapse world. Were you criticising attempts to model them mathematically? (I don’t know if that’s been attempted with doughnut economics, but I know it’s been attempted with steady state and I’d certainly share your unease about that).

  2. Thanks Caroline. Yes, I did wonder if I’d been clear enough. It’s not just the silliness of pricing the priceless. Most steady state & etc. models are presented as a sane alternative to current economic governance, without reference to the terrible collapse they’d cause, if they were currently enacted. (David Fleming falling off his suddenly stationary bicycle) I’m concerned to discover how we may reach a steady-state economy. I think collapse must be a part of that journey and then wonder how on Earth people can find each other to build new or renewed ways of living together. It must surely be by their own moral certainties and skills – rather invisible hand-ish – invisible and immeasurable to structural models. For myself, I need to have faith in people knowing more of their terrains and trades, than I do. It’s true that some of those (more loosely defined) academic models could exist in a post collapse world, but I think they are beneficial, more as sign posts to possibilities. A once and future long duree exists in us all. After collapse, what do I do? – Live well, share well, lean on others, while holding others upright – where’s the structure/model? What use is it? The true structure is surely deeper – in inherited cultural/moral/parental instruction for living well. Only that is more powerful than fear, territorial violence, pillaging another’s share… I’d appeal to people to bring their skills and trades together rather than suggest how such a community may be modelled.

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