Thursday, April 30, 2020


Though I could pretty much keep up with the historic progression of tribes becoming kingdoms that became nations, I never really understood the forces that drove the changes or what the consequences now might be.  I’ve never understood “work” or “money” or “politics.”  Now, thanks to all the tweeting and articles about such things, I begin to grasp this pattern of where we are that we call capitalism.  This is on a baby level and will be easy to ridicule.

Capital is money.  Money is substituting symbols for the reality of things.  Money can be coins or marks on paper, “bills” or “IOU’s” that originally signified the gold or silver in Fort Knox but is now dependent on the word of the issuing nation.  (Yikes!)  Politics is about the reputation and operation of those who manage money and those who regulate money and work.  Each nation decides the value of its own money, but there are negotiations among the nations as well.  If the nation fails, like the self-declared Confederacy, the money is worthless.  It was never backed by a hoard of gold or silver.  Its IOU’s went unpaid.  Its coins and bills are worthless.

The next level is money that is only bookkeeping.  This is what makes the current situation so dependent on bookkeeping and credit, loans and declared value.  The ultimate wealth is always land and whatever can be produced by the land (like food), or is made valuable by controlling access to territories people want to enter.  What is happening now is that components of nations, which are hidden and illegitimate, have discovered the possibilities of the “fungibility” of marks that are only symbolic records of entitlement.  These marks can be faked, hidden, represented as belonging to “people” who are fake, loaned, charged interest for loans, be advanced or increased or changed into something else.  They are not REAL.  

But they must be protected to some extent by nations.  The safest reality of this mythical value is in land, particularly land that is fertile, holds valuable deposits, or is a very favorable place.  Land in cities is valuable.  A racket has developed.  The oligarchs and plutocrats use their money to trick more money out of others.  Then, using bookkeeping and deceit, they “launder” it by converting it, much of it though land or property on land.  This means they can store wealth secretly.  Nations can seize money: “nationalize” it.  Declare it void.

The consequence is that national money is diverted, let’s say from Russia, through companies that pretend to do something valuable or who simply change records, is moved internationally and secretly to “shell companies” which are possible in part because of laws that let the the companies pretend they are people or groups of people by registering with a nation.  They have no address because they don’t really exist.  So the— let’s say Russian — money becomes property in England or one of the Americas or even China.  Property is real.  

But the ownership of property is controlled by nations, with paper records, like titles and deeds.  This means that the nations must be controlled by people who allow hiding money but it’s too direct to hide the money in their own countries, so it’s necessary to get other nations to cooperate, either naively or knowingly (perhaps with a share or kickback).  Even the recorded on paper value of property can be controlled by the nation to some extent.  Suppose it is decided to build a dam and flood the land?  Thus politics are necessary to discourage or encourage the use of land.

The second major insight I had comes from Rachel Maddow’s book called “Blowout”, which discusses the continuing dilemma of Russia.  They have enormous amounts of land, some of it valuable in terms of resources like oil.  But because their political attitude has been control, force if necessary, closing off exchanges with more progressive places, they are short of another kind of wealth, which is knowledge and particularly technological expertise.  They have a huge amount of oil but don’t have the know-how and skills to mine, refine and transport it.  By now, the rest of the world is turning away from oil, so their expertise is going to solar and wind power, etc.  Russia is still behind the curve.

The Chinese, in contrast, have understood that knowledge — so long as it is not humanities that encourage independence — is a kind of wealth and are doing their best to become knowers.  Education has become very valuable and those who provide it have become almost extortionate in making it available.  The value of education has been recorded as degrees and scores on tests or maybe prizes through organizations.  It is a little harder to buy knowledge with a shell corporation, but to some degree it's vulnerable to faking and politics.  This is revealed by results — when things go wrong and the reactor blows up or research viruses escape.  Or when chasing money means neglecting basic skills for everyone.

Both of these strategies — the control of land and the control of learning — are killers when the element of humanities is lost.  This is a third kind of wealth: that of credibility and honor.  When corruption and deceit creep into ownership bookkeeping or proven ability to produce value, both become deadly.  People fall out of windows.  People are poisoned.  People starve to death.  The economy fails.

If the measure of all things is what we call money, meaning that even human lives can be reduced to a number as in an insurance compensation actuarial table or the cost of medical care, and if we can evidently buy education, can we buy humanities?  Can we buy honor, reliability, and so on?  I say we cannot, but that lack of humanitarian skills will collapse both land and education.  Many stories describe how.

The back of this story is that honor and reliability can often lead to the kind of reputation that attracts wealth.  Of course, a person can be rich in character without either money or education.  No number describes it.

No comments: