Economic thoughts on a sunny morning – part 1

Sunshine on my desk! Painting by the amazing Blake Kritzberg.

Sunshine on my desk! Painting by the amazing Blake Kritzberg.

Guten Morgen! Today I read some more about universal basic income, which makes a whole lot of sense on an intuitive level to me. However, I realized that I am not always the best at communicating my feelings, so I’m going to try to explain to you what I think here. This got a bit lengthy though, so it’ll be divided into parts.

I have spent quite some time studying economics in college, but far more importantly, I have also thought deeply about economics. In the last macroecon class I went to, the well-meaning prof referred incessantly to the policy of quantitative easing about to be implemented here in the eurozone, but had no good answer to the question posed by a student from Eastern Europe ‘why are developed countries so intent on economic growth?’.

My mind fully developed around the time of the 2008 crisis, and I remember reading the Economist about then and wondering what the fuck hedge funds were. I decided to study econ in much more depth because there are so many strange financial mechanisms that I didn’t understand, and apparently all of this weird terminology was the reason why almost everyone I knew was worried about the future. Now I can say with complete confidence that the future is likely to bring…more analysts who come up with boring shit like quantitative easing. Instead of, you know, talking about what is actually going on.

So I’m going to take a stab at the question of why growth in developed countries? And my answer is, the same reason as in the developing world: to achieve freedom from material wants for all humans. The thing is, though, we have enough wealth (not the same as money, which is make-believe and actually a symbol for debt) already in the Western world, and with further developments in job automation and AI, we will really, REALLY have enough.

Textbooks teach that humans are rational, autonomous economic agents. We make predictable decisions in the face of scarcity, and therefore a decentralized economy is cool cuz each person will do what is best for themselves. I invite you to question your own assumptions about people. Do you believe this is true?

Are poor people rational? If so, why are they poor? What about mentally ill people? They’re crazy, right? Surely, crazy is the antithesis of rational. Crazy is wild, crazy is lost in a swirl of emotions. Crazy is different from us, the normal ones…right, guys? Amiright?!?

This is where I find the dichotomy of rational vs. emotional breaks down. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. According to this, poverty is per definition to suffer from poor mental health. The stress involved with economic hardship can lead to similar development of mental illness and learning disabilities in children as abuse and chronic neglect (http://developingchild.harvard.edu/key_concepts/toxic_stress_response/). The emotions involved with poverty are not separate from the supposedly detached reasoning of the economic actor we harp on about in econ textbooks. When you are poor, you can’t realize your potential. When you are beaten by your parents, higher-ups in the military or your fellow ‘economic actors’, your way of coping with the stress will possibly be labeled as mental illness, even though to react this differently would, in fact, be irrational. When you are poor, you don’t have time to worry about making a contribution to society. The fact that people do so anyway is why I still believe in humanity.

More to come, thanks for reading!

Advertisements

2 responses to “Economic thoughts on a sunny morning – part 1

  1. Heeeey… An off-topic comment here!

    Could you add a glossary at the end of such posts? 🙂 Like, what are, in fact, hedge funds, quantitative easing, and all that stuff.

    Also, what do you mean, “My mind fully developed…”? Is it, like, in the cryogenic sleep at the moment?

    A bit towards the topic: we’ll never have “really enough” if our public life will continue to be guided by greed, envy, worries, “shoulds” and so on. There is enough already, at least in the Western world for the Western world. Just so many people keep focusing on the empty half of the glass and trying to make the air go away, instead of focusing on water and realizing there is a sufficient amount for the whole family.

    Like

  2. Ok Megan, you’re my friend and I hope you think of me as a non-horrible human because what I am going to tell you isn’t pretty or the fact that I am aware of it tells you anything positive about who I am.
    I was educated in the tradition of Realpolitik, yes that way of doing international relations that was the signature policy of statesmen like Kissinger and Metternich, and have come to expect as much from the world. Therefore when people apply humanist standards to any decisions at the macro-level I feel no sympathy to their disappointment.
    Obviously I feel it’s quite fucked up that Realpolitik happens to be the law of the land (as in the baseline standard expected), but if you’ve ever been amidst power and powerful people you’d know that this is reality.
    The reason I’m optimistic about the possibility of universal basic income probably by 2050 is that:

    1) The world is more connected right now than ever before in history, increasing levels of empathy and humanity to a level never seen before in the history of the world as well as increasing the power of social movements to effect change in democratic societies.
    2) The aristocracy/elite is aware that in this world order, not everyone who wants a job can or will get a job regardless of how hard they work.
    3) There are bigger social/political and economic costs for the world in not having unemployed people enjoying a baseline level of a dignified living than the cost of simply implementing this.

    Now, the reality after that: Yes a basic income will probably happen, and it will probably be enough to live. But that doesn’t mean that inequality or class divides will stop existing or that poor people won’t continue to be dehumanized. In fact, the future is probably going to bring a lot of really big problems like global warming and although this is pretty sadistic to even think about, it will be a method of social cleansing for richer nations against poor nations. Yes you heard that right, the reason the US doesn’t care about global warming is because they know deep down that it will exterminate the lives of hundreds of millions or even billions of people around the world who are as I said poor.
    On the other hand, the privileged will have access to unbelievable things: Life extension, nuclear fusion, space colonization, friendly-AI and the ability to shift all of their energies to creative work with the help of automation. In essence, a real Darwinian survival of the fittest evolutionary process is in motion and really I can tell you not even the richest man in the planet (Bill Gates) can do much more than save a lot of people from it.

    Lastly, I want to say that to me the biggest hope of society is the internet. To me, the internet has the potential to effect change throughout the world, the kind of change that created the Arab Spring.
    It has the potential to achieve true direct democracy, but we’re not there yet because not enough people are connected and it’s too early.
    The reality is that we will probably see a lot of blood spilled in our lives, but in the end hopefully we will also probably see a fairer world that is more aware and more capable of correcting the immoralities it’s presented with. I tell you all of this things because as I told you individual choice is fundamentally distinct from group choice and I would rather see someone like you in power and in privilege, trying to fight for what’s right than many of the shitheads out there that happen to be born in extremely lucky circumstances. As I just thought rather recently: “Old money likes to think it’s egalitarian”. That translates into: put yourself in a good position and do as much as you can for others, but realize how limited you are in achieving all of these things and how undesirable it is to become too “unlimited”, if not go ask Martin Luther King, Jesus or Napoleon. You don’t want to be crucified by the elite.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s