Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Coming Age of Bust

If capitalism is the pursuit of monopoly, then I must be anti-capitalist. The question is how to do this. How to offer meaningful opposition to something so ubiquitous as the pursuit of zero-sum games in which winners embrace unlimited growth. This is not easy. I suspect it involves re-imagining what constitutes wealth (in ways that people who think like Peter Thiel will find ludicrous, perhaps dangerously ludicrous as they realize that my intent is to become less involved and less susceptible to involvement in business that will make them richer, on their own terms). The current, integrated economy needs to shrink, so that smaller, decentralized economies can become larger (but not too large, never again as large as the system we have now). The immediate outcome of this will be economic depression and conventional poverty ("austerity"), but I think the long-term prognosis is better for people who know how to live well with less than for people who think the solution to all economic woes is more of Keynesian stimulus (administered by public or private powers that be, via "free markets" rigged by monopolists on the Right or "fair markets" rigged by monopolists on the Left).

I do not think that there is such a thing as reforming Wall Street or Washington, if by that we mean making them serve their current populations in such a way that our conventional wealth increases without limits. I think the current system is running pretty close to optimal (as close to perfect as it gets without crashing prematurely), and that it is over-taxed (set to blow, with the real question being one of how to manage fallout rather than how to avoid crashing). Life exists, it seems to me, as a series of boom and bust, with the volatility occurring in less devastating fashion as society depends less on any one market (or regime) to serve its needs. We need more markets, not better versions of the ones we already have. We need more businesses, not better monopolies than the ones we already have. We need more (and smaller) governments, not a bigger or better version of the one we already have. In light of the economic depression that is clear on our horizon, we also need plans for living well with less (less wealth in the conventional sense: less growth, lower wages, fewer luxuries, weaker businesses, less taxes, weaker governments, etc.). The boom is over; now is the time of bust. If we manage the bust correctly, it might be a good time for us. We might come out on the other side alive, with a better appreciation for what it means to be wealthy in really straitened economic circumstances. We might have more control over our own destinies (in material terms) than our richer grandparents (who were able to out-source production to social conglomerates whose existence we can no longer support). Or we might be like those people on the side of the road out of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  That is not what I want.  I do not want to hang about as the hurricane approaches, praying that the crumbling levee holds.  I want to build a boat ahead of the storm, or pack whatever vehicle I have, and move out--with the idea of making new worlds, new societies with mores and expectations that match our new human environment.

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