A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Real Economy v. The What-if Economy

The Real Economy is my belly and the aurochs’ meat: the Real Economy (economy = ecology) is the energy and material flows from primary sources through the myriads of ecosystem and biophysical transactions.  Eventually all economics must comport with the Real Economy.  The What-if Economy (what economists call real!) is an ad hoc design concerned with putting off that accounting.

Real Economy: There are 100 cattle in the river valley. Left to their own they will remain, year in and year out, about 100 cattle, as long as I and other predators take below the replacement rate.  This is especially true, and even valuable to the cattle, if we predators take the most marginal animals.  The functional forces are independent of human thought, imagination and planning; the forces of the Physical and Living Systems of Order working as they have for 4 billion years.

What-if Economy: If I can get some of those cattle into a pen and stop the wolves, lions and bears from getting any, then I can have all of them for myself.  Of course, the wolves, lions and bears do not stop trying to eat the cattle and thus time and effort must be expended to drive them off or kill them. Fences must be built and maintained; the cattle guarded. 

Cattle must be parceled out as incentive for others to help, promises made for cattle not yet captured or born.  If I had more than a hundred cattle it would be easier to gain the help of others; I would be more secure.  Of course, more time and effort would be required to protect them, to account for them, to find pasture for them, to process them.

The promises made must be kept: a cow to this man, three cattle to that woman, a calf here, a bull there.  The cattle must be more easily controlled; bulls must be kept from the cows; dangerously aggressive animals must be killed.  Other grazers must be kept from the pastures.  All of these things and more must be done so that the numbers can increase to meet the obligations.

There is no end to the What-if Economy; there is always another what-if, another challenge from the Real Economy to be defeated, another possibility to be explored.  But eventually, the aurochs cattle are no longer wild and cannot live on their own, eventually local pastures are insufficient, eventually stream courses are damaged and eroded.  What if we kill the beavers up the valley and dam the stream here? What if we take the pastures further down the valley? What if we trade some cattle for the gathered hay from the people over the hill?

This seemingly simple and obvious process has grown and mutated until the Real Economy is actually conceived to be a pressing danger.  A summary of the statements of What-if Economists is that if humans are prevented from continuing to damage the earth’s primary Real Economy systems, then our way of life will be destroyed and millions, even billions, of us will die.  What makes such a summary compelling is that it is true.

It is also true, if humans continue to treat the Real Economy as a foreign and competing process, that the failure to comport our What-if Economy with Reality will result in the failure of both the ecological systems that allow for the support of abundant and diverse life, as well as our What-if Economy.  The result would be catastrophic for the human species and for the incredible complexity of ecological integration that forms the living structure of the planet’s surface.

There is only one solution.  It is the solution that every organism, plant, fungus, microbe, animal, in the history of life has followed.  The economy of the organism must comport with the economy of the ecological system: economy must equal ecology.

This doesn’t mean that every organism’s detailed functioning must be the same; new physical designs, physiologies and behaviors are de rigueur for life – but all that is new must be integrated into the patterns of biophysical reality: every organism must live within homeostatic limits.  Nothing about the special adaptive capacities of the human species have changed that reality; we have simply used our capacities to discover how to violate those limits for a time and are moving nearer and nearer to the unavoidable consequences of those violations.

So how must the human species live in order to comport with the Real Economy?  The simplest answer is “very differently.”  It is impossible to know, with any certainty, the details since the result will come from complex “negotiations” among human actions and ecological realities; every successful organism solves its problems in special ways.  But, the general outlines are clear.

Before developing these general outlines, it needs to be said that there is no obvious and clear way to attain them.  It is unreasonable to demand that an imagined situation should always be accompanied with a detailed plan for its implementation; this is not now we commonly work and is only a way of refusing to consider an option.  We have always recognized a goal, decided on its desirability and then discovered, in process, how to accomplish it.

There are only four primary conditions that we must meet. The failure to fully meet any of these conditions will be (will continue to be) catastrophe for either our species or for the whole planetary surface:

• Humans must live within environmentally determined energy and material use limits.

• The environment must not be perturbed to a greater extent or at a greater rate than it can repair with uninterrupted natural cycles and processes.

• The conditions of human nurturance – the raising and educating of our young – must fully support our biological potential.

• The recognition of the need for biologically sound principles of human nurturance must include the clear recognition of the special nature of the human Consciousness System of Order adaptation, its powers and dangers.

Since, at the moment, we are doing none of these things, the statement that we must live differently is much too weak; we must radically change almost everything that we do every day.  Notice that I do not say that we have to change “who and what we are,” but we must change many, if not most of the things we do in order to become what we are.

  – Suffer me a polemic: as an evolved creature on the earth, there is a particular way for our species to be on the earth just as with every one of the billions of other species that are, or have been, here. If, as a species, we are dis-integrating to the order of biophysical processes, then we must be acting in ways antithetical to our biological nature; which, in our case, results from the failure to meet the third and forth conditions above. –

The science is clear (physical sciences, biology and the economics that include the Real Economy), the earth cannot support the present rates at which humans are using it.  It is also clear from human history that we, the masses, will not tolerate abuse by other humans beyond certain limits.  These two facts point toward more egalitarian social economic forms.  Conditions 3 and 4 can only be obtained in communities sized by human capacities for responsible relationships of obligation across the whole community.

Recent history strongly suggests that large institutions become self-sustaining at the expense of all four primary conditions.  And so, responsibility for all actions would have to clearly be put on natural persons answerable to a community, a community that is informed by sufficient processes of communication.  Institutions would need to remain small, flexible to a social purpose and transitory.

There seems to me to be only two ways for the four conditions to be met; the last time all the conditions were nearly completely met was when humanity was uniformly composed of Paleolithic hunter/gatherers – and even then the forth condition was only very vaguely adapted to and was almost completely unrealized.  So the first possibility would be to return to Paleolithic ways of living; the present earth could support perhaps a few million people living in that way—the population of only one of our moderately sized cities.

The second way is to devote, in essence all, the incredible disposable wealth of humanity, much of it presently being privately confiscated in the insane pursuit of personal glorification and dominion, to discovering how to live in communion with the Real Economy and educating those that need it to such discoveries; especially, empowering and educating the women of the world and retraining the people of the developed world how to live simply and responsibly.  The mechanisms to accomplish this use of resources should be the first concern for students of the Real Economy.

The What-if Economy must begin to be seen for what it is; concerned with its “Rube Goldberg” intellectual inventions, Ponzi schemes and power/control plans; a social science co-opted and compromised by accumulations of wealth; and a complex mechanism to defeat the Real Economy, an attempt to allow a species, out of control, to defeat Reality. 

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