Thursday, October 16, 2008

Now for some really dangerous opinionating

So, if you think my pretensions are a tad bit extreme, wait until you see the territory I'm wanting to enter now! I actually want to comment on the state of the economy. Now, given that commenting on the state of reality is plenty reachy, why, I wonder, does it seem still more bold to comment on the state of the economy?

Well, because I don't know anything about economics. But I don't know anything about physics either, and yet . . .

OK, so here's the thing. I work for this organization, the Church, which is actually still organized around an assumption that authority in the organization and nearness to Godly truth are actually aligned. To many Americans, this might seem an archaic atrocity, sort of like arranged marriage. It would be as if we allowed scientific discovery only to those first certified as discoverers. . .

Except, well, that's sort of what we do do. And arranged marriages are getting some good press, at least from NPR, as we try to come to terms with Muslims in our midst, as well as to come to terms with the shortcomings of Romantic Love, and delusional self-insight, which leads to atrocities viz my oft-abused abusing brother-in-law. So, I won't pretend to authority with this, but I will attempt a commentary, in the vein of social criticism, which I will attempt to inform by my peculiar particular insight, which I continue to try to flesh out.

But no, that's precisely what I'm trying to avoid, right? I'm the little kid pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. That kind of truth recognizes no hierarchy, and entails no pride in the knower.

Is that why we Americans allow juveniles to run the world? Remember David Stockman? What's that bald technocrat's name now who's going to be allowed to spend a trillion of our hard-earned dollars? I once travelled to China as a young private school headmaster, an honorific I had something of a hard time internalizing even in these United States, but you should have seen the reaction to the translation on my business cards! This was like calling myself a member of the Central Party. People got a chuckle out of it, but were universally shocked. I don't think I got any prestige from it either. Rather, the dim view they already had of American culture, so called, was dimmed a trifle more.

And I do remember the moment when my own high school principal was replaced, due to heart attack I think, with someone who insisted on being called "Doctor", which fairly announced the cardboard nature of this once also honorific standard. He, of course, proceeded to install all the professional upgrades to our curriculum and methodologies, in a way, inevitably I'd say, to destroy what had been a humane and humanistic learning environment. When I ran into this same fellow some time later at a professional teacher job fair, he wanted to remark on the young ladies', I think he called them, "gozongas". And I was perversely satisfied with my youthful certainties now confirmed over time as I smugly relaxed in the interviewers' lounge between bouts of flesh shopping.

I'll try to stay toward the youthful sort of truth-telling, in deference and respect for professional expertise which still might have some place beyond the merely technocratic. I just want to send up a clue toward understanding the amoral nature of our "progress" of late.

So, there is little mystery that the American economy, by the engine of the American consumer, has been fueling the world economy for some time now, perhaps beginning after the Second World War. Government capital, militaristic research grants, farm and frontier driven ingenuity, union wages, and the pure joy of consumption have flooded the world with greenbacks, well endowed. And the aw shucks smiles of GIs, however expertly spun, papered over other possible interpretations of our innocence.

More recently, the American consumer has been fueling his purchases out in the "real" economy with a mounting wave of credit card debt, in rough terms of an order of magnitude (accumulated) commensurate with the amount of money the government has been getting authorization to pour back into the "financial" economy.

There is also little mystery that much of this credit card debt has been rationalized on the value of real estate, which is remarkably widely distributed in this country, apparently in contrast to much of the world. And apparently, the grossly deregulated "financial" marketplace has been trading on this bubble to the tune of great riches accumulated and accrued in the accounts of a new breed of technocratic warrior, subtly to be distinguished from the sociopathic warrior so lately loosed and identified as such. I'm talking about a wide breed, perhaps covering Nazi storm troopers, de-drafted professional soldiers, special-ops stuff, as well as the religious sociopath-equivalent in the form of a terrorist.

For the past many Christmases those around me have heard me grumble about how there is no "value" anymore. Plainly curmudgeonly, in imitation if not in fact of old age, I'm not referring to the shoddy quality of stuff on sale. In most cases, I've had in mind or found something which I felt suitable for my then-still-young beloved daughters, but along the lightly adrenaline-laced quest for the best price, I would often be shocked that after finding something half the price of the first place, I'd find it again at half that price, and sometimes after purchase, I'd find it still less again.

I'm not talking about equivalency of function. I'm talking about same brand name and shelf-recency identity. And who among us jetsetters has not felt reticent to ask our neighbors on an airplane flight how much they paid and how acquired? Never mind the rule of polite civility involved, I know I'm plainly shy to learn how much I (foolishly?) overpaid.

Aren't we all internally convinced that we're the naive fool who doesn't know how to negotiate? Or are you, gentle reader, like those atrocious libertarian techie types who thrill in the chase and fairly pound their innocent chests about the conquest just achieved on Priceline or some such popplesquat idiot-magnet. Don't we all imagine gaming and cheating going on at every turn in the outsourced chain from hands-on to actual consummate purchase? I know when I buy plane tickets on Travelocity, they are tweaking the price not just against the market but also against my own searching and seeking. I even know how to work around it, but I simply don't have the energy, and have lost that hormonal lust to think that I can be the king of that hill.

Oh, how I long for the calm of regulation, and the placid comfort of knowing that, in principal, my elected officials, corrupt though they might be, would actually put into place regulations to prevent such theft simply because the theft and the need for the regulation would be so transparently obvious that not to do so would expose them, naked-emperor-like.

But my elected officials follow Rumsfeld's lead, I can only imagine, so entirely sold (to himself, by himself) on the principle of outsourced government -that the gov should carry only the mission, but bid out its work to the most efficient marketplace provider. I guess he never even blushed when the bills came in, nor did or does, I'm sure, Good Ol' Brownie, when he hears how much the laborers get paid and how much the efficient outsourced brokerers of that labor, raking in the unbid government funds to reconstruct, sans poor, N'Orleans.

This delusional fantasy of efficiency, my friends, (heh heh, or is it hinh hinh - I don't think there's any spelling of that Bush-McCain Dorian Gray laugh) is built upon the same foundational construct as Creation, whereby the idea is primate (sorry, can't resist these jejune plays), and its implementation merely manual. Primative, primal, prior, whatever. The point is that this rationalizes why these days everyone gets to go to Yale free and then feel justified that their ideational power fully rationalizes their reward, no matter how extravagantly issued.

Well, I've rehearsed the chain of deniability before, and how it prevents emotional (we're talking guilt here) accountability. Now I'm talking design versus manufacture, and the very apparent fact that apart from commodity inputs, which have themselves been proven to fluctuate wildly in value these last few days, there is no bottom beneath which price cannot be pushed, nor top beyond which it can soar, once the market mechanisms so in need of regulation have become precisely as arcane as the guts of those computers I waste my talent interacting with.

If you buy lottery tickets, and value that rush more than the reality of your everyday despair, then you like it this way. If you actually believe that you have some equal chance to make it, compared, say, with a member of families Bush or Clinton, or whatever second or third generation Hollywood idol you choose, then you must like it this way. If American Idol captures your folly . . . You get the idea.

It really wouldn't be terribly difficult to reinstate the incredibly important laws, agencies and enforcement so necessary for labor to organize effectively. Proper wages are a much better engine for consumption than credit binging built on myths of perpetual expansion. Neither would it be terribly difficult to trim the derivatives and return to money properly meant, in a financial market properly regulated.

Perfected draftboard ideas are great, but they tend to come acropper when implemented right off the drawing board without some reality-testing. Perhaps this is what really happened when the Trade Towers came down, or Gurdy Galloped, or jet planes disintegrated when first flown on brittle wings. Do we blame the passersby for their wind when the house of cards comes tumbling down? I, for one, have had enough of experimenting with the earth itself. I'd like some reality injected back into the marketplace. (Careful what you wish for, right?)

It's not that there's anything totally false about the totalizing assumptions built into the patent and intellectual property economy. (It's just that they've been totalized!) It's just that they entail the same dangerous fiction as that horrific head without a body so iconic of AI nonsense. Or the earth without muck and myriad species as some sort of God-engineered spaceship requiring only piloting skills and no emotional bonding for its continued life. (It's the emotional bond with our forebears which, I guess, the religionists find so threatening) Or workers without a stake or voice to tell the owners that something is going terribly wrong along the production chain.

These are not deep mysteries, and yes Virginia, the Emperor has no clothes (avert your eyes, it ain't that pretty).

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