Capitalism, In Crisis?

Why working within a system designed for no-limits clashes with sustainability efforts

David Harvey’s “Crisis of Capitalism” got the grey matter (stardust) between my ears going.  It really filled in some gaps in my thought processes that had been going full-throttle since entering Thomas H. Greco Jr.’s world of “New Money for Healthy Communities”.  (I read it in May.   Still filling in the blanks.   Should have a workable plan soon… if my stardust doesn’t blow away)

(I highly recommend viewing Mr. Harvey’s full lecture (31 minutes).  And don’t tell me you don’t have time…I Facebook – I know how much time you spend on reality TV and computer games… lol)

The material jam-packed into this little clip will get you from “Capitalism is Great!” to “Is It Sustainable?” in 11 minutes or less.

Now, before you fly into a tizzy of disbelief, please remember I’m not a socialist or communist or ….what have you.   But I am a firm believer that what we ARE doing is not working and is not sustainable.  Therefore, it’s time to look at why and can it be fixed, or do we need to start anew?

Some of Mr. Harvey’s observations on what is needed to make Capitalism (in its current form) a viable system are:

  1. Investment of capital needs to take place at precisely the right time, in the right area, in the right amount – everytime
  2. Investment must move continuously through geographical and industry sectors, in order to keep stability.
  3. We must realize at least 3% growth each year.

Investment of capital needs to take place at precisely the right time, in the right area, in the right amount

If it was possible to consistently invest in needed products and services, in the appropriate place and amount, at the right time, it wouldn’t be called gambling ( I mean Wall Street)  Therefore, I believe hoping for this to come true should be placed on the Utopian blueprint, for future reference.

Investment must move continuously through geographical and industry sectors, in order to keep stability.

This is just an educated and financial sounding way of saying, “Spread the Wealth.”   Again, historically, we are very piss-poor at doing this.   We also have natural forces to contend with.  For example, in order to move large amounts of people, goods and services to the Sahara, we need to wait for the next shift of the earth’s axis, guesstimate is 6,000 to 15,000 years from now (or in 2012, if you’re a doomsdayer…and if you are, you’re not reading this, cuz, hey! you only need enough money to last the next 26 months or so.)

So I think we can place “spreading the wealth” in the Kumbaya world too.

3% growth every year

That’s easy.   It’s called population growth.   New consumers are born every minute.

Until you realize that population growth peaked at 2.2% in 1963 and is now at about 1.1% growth, with a continued decline expected.  (Since most Americans don’t need all those extra hands for working a farm they don’t own  AND  a $40,000 college education is expected for each child unit, me thinks the decline will continue.)

(I know all you Ph.der’s out there wondering why I’m drawing a direct correlation between population growth and the needed 3% growth needed for capitalism to work.   I’m not going to explain, because this is really just an asinine way to draw attention to our propensity to expand unchecked in a variety of areas.)

So, just to be optimistic, let’s say that even-stevens, we get 1.1% of our needed growth from newborn consumers.   That leaves us with a 1.9% shortfall.

How much can you eat, wear, do, in a day?   C’mon people, 3% growth isn’t easy (unless it concerns my weight and waistline.)   In order for capitalism to work, we must all do our effort to consume 3% more of viable goods/services each year.

Let’s look at some of the creative ways we have realized gains in the past decades.

Technology

Technology has carried the ‘growth-load’ for some time.  Given Moore’s law of accurately predicting double the transistor capacity every 2 years or so, innovative folks  learned how to design new devices that weren’t even possible at the time they were brainstorming, but were by the time  manufacturing began.   The boosts to the advertising market is just icing on the cake. (I mean really, who would actually buy a Furby without their kids being blitzed by the media?)

But this trend will not continue – projections expect the peak around 2015 or so.  (I can’t wait!   I’m really tired of having to figure out how to work all the bells and whistles on a new phone, software or computer every year or so!  Remind me to tell you the story about converting from Access 2003 to 2007 in the middle of building a database sometime. User-friendly Ribbon Bars my arse…)

On the bright side, technology and space travel should continue to see some growth – we need to find a way to rocket off to the moon or Mars, once we’ve made Earth uninhabitable.  And there are those optimists who are working on space travel just in case we don’t destroy ourselves prior to the sun turning into a red giant.

Housing

My brother and I were raised in a five room home. (yes, we did have an indoor privvy…)  Neither of us joined gangs, went to wrack and ruin via drugs, alcohol, etc.   My family of 3 currently resides in a home nearly 5 times the square footage.  (I say we need to downgrade – males in the house like all the extra floor space to drop socks and set dirty dishes on…)

My dad, a plumber, said that in his experience, people who ‘added on’ to their house because their current one was overflowing with ‘stuff’ didn’t keep the nice, organized environment for long.   They just filled the new empty space with more stuff.   (See?  We are trained well to do our part in realizing 3% growth in spending every year.)

The ‘mortgage industry crisis’ is, in a word, funny.   No, not ha-ha-look-you’re-homeless funny, but how-did-they-think-loaning-more-than-a-house-is-worth-was-going-to-work funny.

Apparently, there wasn’t a dependable Moore’s Law for doubling of home value every 2 years or so.   And how much living space do we really need?   And if we have some extra space, does it just drive us to spend, spend, spend to fill it up?   And can we sustain both the increasing house payments and the decorating expenses non-stop on our current employment?

I also find it entertaining how greatly house prices vary from different perspectives.   From an individual viewpoint, I’d be fine if the realtor and mortgage company of a potential buyer thought my house was worth what the county assessor and my insurance agent have valued it at.    Heck, I’d even be happy if what my insurance agent said I should insure it for was what the insurance adjustor states they will pay when I’m standing next to rubble.

Mr. Harvey states that capitalism is a never-ending race to get past ‘ceilings’ – it functions only in an environment of no limits.   Our recent housing and mortgage industry woes are excellent examples of what happens when we try building a stand-alone staircase to skirt the ceiling.

Financial Services

The financial services industry is, in a word, ludicrous.   That you need an entire industry to oversee and manage a symbol of actual goods and services seems ridiculous to me.    Bottom line, our Washingtons, Lincolns and Franklins are simply a symbol for goods and services which are either currently or shortly (about 60 days)  available for consumption.    (See Money, The Great Hoax, coming soon, for more on this topic.)

We have become so detached from what money actually is that we see It as a commodity.    And many an industry has been built on this commodity.

When you spend your money to make more money, then you are spending a symbol to make a symbol.  But what does it symbolize?   Gold?  Um, no.   Many of the world’s countries that were on a gold standard suspended it to finance wars and found out they couldn’t afford to re-instate it later (I reiterate, wars are pricey).    I also cannot resist adding that having a gold standard is silly.   If you’re hungry, you can’t eat gold.   I’d prefer to see food crops as the standard of money.   But, hey, what do I know?

The financial sector is big business.   Like politics, only those immersed knee deep in that world can actually keep a straight face while expounding on how the system works.   The day I found out that people can actually place bets (oops, sorry, “invest money” is what I should have said) on whether another person or company will actually pay off their loans, and those who bet against people making good made more money than the flip side, was the day I realized we’ve all gone insane.

Granted, I’m sure there are some who would be happy to loudly and aggressively explain to me how this betting (sorry, “investing”) works, why I’m naive and how I should learn more before downing the system.   In my defense, I do not enter the political or financial worlds often – I’m afraid if I read enough to learn all there is to know about them, I’ll become hypnotized into believing their dream world is a good reality.

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Now I’m going to go out on a limb and say I believe our most recent attempt to create 3% growth is in the Insurance industries.   Maybe it’s always been this way, but seems to me I see way more insurance commercials now than I used to.  I can insure my car, house, pet, computer, life, long-term care……..you name it, I can insure it.

There are several things about the insurance industry that bother me.    First, they are in the business to make a profit – just like casinos.   Making a profit means taking in less than you pay out.   Since they are both in the business of telling you what the value is when they are collecting the premiums and what the value is when they cut the check to replace/fix the insured item, or compensate for the loss, seems to me there is quite a bit of  space for the Company to make decisions in their financial favor.  Health insurance premiums vs. when they will release the money and to whom they will release it to for your well-being is a prime example.

Second, I’m required, by either law (car) or to make some purchases (financed home/car) to have.   Yet there doesn’t seem to be legislation in place to keep them from raking you over the coals any chance they get.

Car insurance is a good example.   Years ago, I  worked a short walk away from my lodgings.   Engine in my car blew and I thought, heck, why don’t I just walk for awhile?   So I canceled my insurance, since I no longer had a car to insure.

BIG Mistake!  Huge!   About 18 months later, when I decided get a car, off I went to visit my insurance agent (of course I went back to my old one, like a good neighbor, they are there?  right?)   Imagine my shock and surprise when I found out that although my driving record was even better than before (not driving greatly reduces the chances of speeding tickets!) my premium had almost tripled in size.  Why?   Well, because obviously, I was Uninsured for a reason and there are penalties for that.   (Not owning a car, is apparently, not a good reason.)

Third, most policies have an exclusion for ‘acts of god/nature’ – – if the industry gets into deep financial trouble, I’m thinking a deer running in front of my car or lightening striking my house can probably be placed under that exclusion, even though those scenarios are precisely why I got insurance in the first place.  Add to that the exclusion of life insurance payments, ‘during a time of war’ – and our current inability to solve differences peaceably, and you’ll see why I also place insurance in the ‘heavy house favor’ category of bets.

Fourth, when you take out insurance, you are actually placing a cover bet that something traumatic, devastating and catastrophic is going to happen to you.   The insurance company is betting it won’t.  In essence, you are betting against yourself.  I mean really, who wants to live with that world view?

But I’ll share with you the real (secret) reason why I’m not into insurance being our new way of gaining 3% growth.   On my dark days (yes, I have them often, can’t you tell?) I enter a Twilight Zone state where I’m pretty convinced we are wobbling towards total destruction.   Mother Earth shedding a few pounds, if you will.    And I ponder on who all Knows that’s what’s going to happen.   Just imagine raking in billions in premiums and there not being anyone left to pay out to…

That can finance a pretty good life for the short time we’ve got left. (if you believe it’s all going to end in 2012…)

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I’ll close with repeating the sentiments expressed by Mr. Harvey.   No, I don’t have the solution.

But I do think we can explore other ways to either A.)Move to a different system, or B.)Find better ways to realize our needed growth.

Given our history, we love to gamble.

Maybe we could open a chain of casino/spas.    Combine our love of wagering with the trend towards being healthier (reducing our need for health insurance).   Just think, acupuncture followed by blackjack.

Works for me.

Hope Sellers and Fencewalkers

Tired of the Positive Thinking Bandwagon? Still waiting for the checks you visualize to show up in your mailbox?

**This post updated on 10/20/19 to include video embed of the RSA clip & because I just re-read it, cuz I’ve found myself muttering to meself the past month, the phrase “Hope Sellers and Fencewalkers” on numerous fronts and I finally realized, I was quoting meself, as much as one can do with one’s being is a product of their journey – that includes, the works of others….yup, still feel this way, overall and still in ‘waiting, watching, pondering’ mode***

I recently got introduced to the work of RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), especially their Animate section.   (cartoonist draws delightful pictures on white board in  tandem with the audio clip of a speech given at RSA.)

These clips are entertaining, informational and the conclusion of the various studies/topics covered will astound you. (plus, they are all about 10 minutes in length.  Perfect for a short break from work!)

The clip, titled “Smile or Die” plunged me right back into my ever-changing views regarding those I call the “Hope-Sellers”.

Now, for good or ill, my self-identified group of Hope-Sellers include the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from a wide range of industries, cultures, political parties and religions.  Anytime I’m told by anyone to ‘hang in there, it will get fixed if only you do such and such” (be it diet, regimen, prayer, attitude adjustment, voting choice, etc.) only to find out that the results are less than promised or the promises made are unsupported by historical evidence, then that person, thing or idea get placed in the Hope-Sellers category of my brain.

Yes, this system is completely at the whims of my objectivity, perspective and emotional balance any moment of the day.   But if you’re honest, I bet you have a Hope-Sellers category in your labeling brain too.  My guess is we all came up with this category in an attempt to guard ourselves from crushing disappointment when one more Great Idea turned out to be a lemon so rank, it wasn’t even fit to make lemonade with………..

So back to Smile or Die………

(you really should take 10 minutes to watch it….but if not, I’ll summarize for you)

In short, Barbara Ehrenreich questions the value of the Positive Thinking ideology.   She makes very good points concerning the moral callousness and cruelty of telling those who are down due to poverty, illness or loss to simply, “Change their Attitude”, citing their attitude as the root of all their woes.  She also makes interesting points concerning how powerful a control mechanism this ideology is and brilliantly demonstrates how hurtful and delusional Optimism can be at times.

Well!   I had to sit and ferment on that for awhile – quite simply because I have been on the “Positive thinking changes your Life Experience” and “The Story you tell becomes the life you experience” bandwagon for quite awhile.   It was somewhat hard to listen to someone questioning these tenets.

But, as usual, some committee members of my brain team were quick to speak up!

“That’s true – remember how frustrated you were when you asked why such-and-such healing modality wasn’t working for you and the self-appointed guru said, ‘Apparently, you don’t believe it will work.  Nothing I can do about that.  You have to want to be well.’  Did that help you or tick you off?”

“Remember the time a holistic healer told you that you must be ‘holding on to your illness’ for some purpose?”

“Remember how cold you thought it was for someone to tell a person diagnosed with cancer, “well, you brought this into your life for a reason”.

“And what about that time you were trying to share your own experience of your health journey and the client screeched, ‘Centered and Balanced!  What the hell does that mean?’  Your Optimism didn’t help her much, did it?”

Wasn’t very long before I had dozens of memories from my own life where either I was the recipient of hurtful optimism or, inadvertently, the deliverer of it.

I came to the conclusion that Ms. Ehrenreich had made her point.

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Do I believe that positive thinking and learning to tell the best possible story you can about the events in your life is helpful?  Heck ya!   I’m just very glad to find someone who has stood up and said, “Yes, but that’s not all that’s needed.”

Because I had come to that conclusion myself  – yet I had built my life surrounded by those also on the Positive Thinking bandwagon and to say so out loud was akin to heresy.  (which, by the way, in its’ original form meant ‘free thought’ – – Narrow mindedness and intolerance are not restricted just to religious organizations…………)

I had constructed a circle around myself that did not allow much space to discuss problems and societal ills.  Or to voice anger or disappointment with the less-than-pleasant aspects of life.

Do I believe that worldwide change can happen one individual at a time?  Yes.   But I also think that when folks are down and out, they need support and compassion until they are healed enough (or have enough to eat, or shelter over their head or meaningful and financially rewarding work) before we talk about enlightenment and positive energy saving the world.

There have been studies seeking to prove that the Intentional Peaceful Meditation of a few can reduce the amount of crime in an area.  Given the results of these various studies, it appears that as the number of those meditating increases, violent crime decreases and the geographical radius of those decreases enlarges.

Okay.  I believe.  But I’m also realistic enough to understand that in order to increase the number of participants, other issues must be addressed.

Adequate food, shelter and other necessities of life have to be easily and readily available to those who are participating.

(Yes, I know there are folks who can obtain a deep meditative state who are not eating or drinking, but for the average American, it’s hard to focus on peace when you’re thinking about whether you have enough money to pay the mortgage or feed your family tonight or if you’ll have a job tomorrow.)

Those under extreme stress are able to access inner feelings of peace and calm just as well as those trained in the high arts of  prayer.

Why?

Well because when the you-know-what hits the fan, sometimes, that feeling of peace and calm is the only place left to go.   Sometimes there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you can change – so for your own survival, you surrender to the events around you just to keep your sanity.

However, having experienced that sensation a few times in my life, I can tell you that when the peaceful/calm is accessed as a survival mechanism, you certainly are not ’sending out peace with intention’.   More likely you are in a blessed state of numbness – Mother Nature’s way of putting a band-aid on your broken heart.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has nursed a loved one during a terminal illness.

But for the most part, most of us are somewhere in-between the poles of pure enlightenment and moment-to-moment survival.   We linger in the mid-areas, appreciating the good, worrying about what might or might not be and planning for a future that often seems all too vulnerable to outside forces beyond our control.

How many deep meditators can we draw from that population pool?

So, realistically, it makes sense to address economic woes and systems, health and nutrition issues, poverty and unemployment, and then see about having the time and space to sit around Intentionally Forming Peace.

In the past few months, I’ve attended meditation groups where participants are instructed on how to ’safely release pent-up negativity’ by screaming into a towel, (you’re also given instructions on how to scream safely, so as not to damage your vocal chords.)

Didn’t work for me.  Number one, I’m not a screamer – though I can raise my voice.   In fact, my drama teacher from high school will attest to the fact that no matter the number of attempts, I was unable to give her the requisite scream.   (…ah, the disappointment over that lost part…….)

Also, when I’m trying to reach that magical level of meditation where I can actually feel the healing taking place (yes, I’ve gotten there a few times) all that muffled screaming around me is very distracting.    My mind just cannot turn off it’s ramblings.

(“Wow!  The Kumbaya  group has this much pent-up anger?   No wonder we have road rage…  Why can’t people just learn to use the f-word and get it out of their systems right on the spot?”  I will say my brand of venting negative emotions is not socially acceptable and will result in you being labeled a dullard and of poor vocabulary skills.  But hey, I love to use “Reconnoiter” as I often as I can, so cursing works for me...)

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I’m well aware I often walk/talk in seemingly contradictory worlds.  As Robert Fulghum says:

“Too much high-content information, and I get the existential willies. I keep sputtering out at intersections where life choices must be made and I either know too much or not enough. The examined life is no picnic.”

On the flip side, he also acknowledged that “Ignorance is Bliss”.

I find myself more and more of a Fence Walker.   That which seemed so black and white to me 20 years ago now contains 1,000 different shades of gray – while I also have drawn some hard lines around topics that used to be pretty open for discussion.

Those who dislike me will tell you I’m wishy-washy.

Those who love me will tell you I’m open-minded.

It’s all in the beholder.

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My dad often said he was not cynical or pessimistic, just a realist.  From my perspective, the values Dad based his life on had been betrayed by his own society and culture.  Suddenly, hard work and charging a fair price while allowing those in need to pay what they could no longer allowed him to keep his head above water.  He faced a decision, either raise his rates drastically or work harder/longer.   He chose to work.  And he chose to still serve those in the community who couldn’t afford even his modest rates.

Now, there are those from the Positive Thought group that will tell you it was his own fault – he could have said no and only accepted clients who would pay higher fees.   And when that didn’t work, they would have told him he needed to “Think Positive thoughts to Attract those clients.”

Hence the first crack in my adherence to the Positive thought process.  Because I knew the hundreds of people who attended Dad’s funeral were not there because he ‘thought positive thoughts’.  (He did often whistle or sing while he worked, but he was also a class A ‘gripe about what’s wrong with our political processes’ commentator too.)

They showed up because he continued to serve his community all his life, without trying to become a millionaire out of the deal.    Because he was kind and helpful to many, especially the elderly and single moms.   He could also ream anyone who dared to engage in the greedy, underhanded or cruel a new one when he felt it was needed.  Couldn’t bear to hear a sick child cry, but would wade into the middle of any fray if he thought some hard-headed clods could only be simmered down by a few well placed blows.

As mom always said, he was a man’s man. (I added, who looked really good in pink shirts.)

He was both known as an honorable fellow and a hard-ass.   He sure didn’t buy into pie-in-the-sky delusions, but he firmly believed in the power of prayer.   He shared my journey through the spiritual and quantum physics world and was, in turns, interested and disgusted.  He helped me to navigate my way through both new and ridiculous ideas.  His most common response to those things called miracles that science was trying to explain?

“Well, I certainly believe it happens.  Too much evidence to ignore.  But I’m not sure the explanation they are giving is substantiated.”

A man grounded in the knowledge of math and science, who loved facts, but who also opened his heart to that which was beyond his comprehension.

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While I do not totally agree with Barbara on all her views, I admire her way of dissenting with the Think Positive culture.   My paraphrase of her message?

“I am not advocating Gloom, Doom, Negativity and Depression.   But there are things we get angry about and are fearful of.   To deny a voice to those emotions or pretend problems don’t exist is delusional.  Positive Thinking ideology leaves the individual feeling alone in his quest to bring desirous change to his world.”

That’s a Fence I can walk.