Quakernomics

I’m using a made-up word for my title, but then I’m not the one who made it up. Quakernomics: An Ethical Capitalism by Mike King is a published title, and one I’ve written about from time to time, as I consider it important and interesting.

Also, I’m a Quaker.

book cover

Before I continue, let me introduce two more Quakers, both deceased: Kenneth Boulding and Joe Havens. I corresponded with Kenneth and enjoyed a lot of in-person time with Joe. Both were students of Economics and big picture thinkers.

Boulding is a published writer and contributor to a field we call General Systems Theory (GST).

Boulding writes:

The more science breaks into sub-groups, and the less communication is possible among the disciplines… the greater chance there is that the total growth of knowledge is being slowed down by the loss of relevant communications. The spread of specialized deafness means that someone who ought to know something that someone else knows isn’t able to find it out for lack of generalized ears.
It is one of the main objectives of General Systems Theory to develop these generalized ears, and by developing a framework of general theory to enable one specialist to catch relevant communications from others.

Joe founded a study group here in Portland called Quaker Economics. His wife, Teresina, founder of a retreat center known as Temenos, was a student of Buddhism and also led a study group. My wife and I attended both of their meetups over the years.

My purpose, in beginning with these introductions, is to establish a lineage from the 1700s up through today, of Quakers (or “Friends” as they also call themselves) focused on Economics, but also on morality, which I’ll consider a branch of psychology for my purposes.

We know that a capacity for empathy allows humans to socialize, to live together in communities, whereas sociopaths may lack this capacity. “How might we design our economics systems to be less sociopathic?” is a query Quakerism asks.

I’m assuming whole systems, not just individuals, may be characterized by their psychological traits, and that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. We don’t necessarily “get to the bottom” of a system by analyzing it into individual components which we then consider in isolation. Ecologists have long ago discovered the bankruptcy of this approach.

Next, I will introduce three diagrams from my Grunch website. The peculiar name “grunch” stems from the writings of another big picture thinker, the American Transcendentalist R. Buckminster Fuller, grand nephew of Margaret Fuller, one time editor of Dial Magazine, an early vehicle for such writers as Emerson and Thoreau.

Fuller coined “grunch” as a “group word” for “giants”. As “flock” is to “sheep”, and as “pride” is to “lions” (“a pride of lions”) so is “grunch” to “giants” (a “grunch of giants”). What giants? Consider “giant corporations” for example, such as some Quakers owned and managed in the 1700s (gigantic for their day — small potatoes by current standards).

Here’s my first diagram:

Diagram 1

You’ll see the Buddhist influence.

That dish antenna looks sensitive enough to detect the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. However these icons are used metaphorically. I’m not suggesting we’re receiving messages from ETs, ala Jodie Foster in Contact.

An important theme to pick out here are the verbs “stage” and “act”. We’re linking to Theater, the T in PATH.

Humans role play within “scenarios”. These scenarios “partially overlap”. The sum total of partially overlapping scenarios may be defined as a “world” or even “universe” if we wish to get cosmic about it. Or call it “the economy” (same as ecosystem).

From the drawing board to the storyboard (including VR mockups), architects and engineers dream up possible futures, which they share with investors, hoping to attract the necessary funding to go through with their plans.

War planners take the same approach, sometimes working in cahoots with publicists to goad people into the negative emotions necessary to create a wartime scenario.

Banks lend the money for wars, sometimes to both sides, hedging their bets. The same patterns obtain in politics, sometimes considered “war by other means”. Different visions of the future compete. We call this the “free market” even though some players are far more effective than others at sharing their vision and attracting the necessary capital (“free” does not mean “fair”).

Here’s my second diagram:

Diagram 2

Here we see the wartime and peacetime scenarios as vectors, suggesting directions for future development.

If we assume a lethal inadequacy of life support (wealth), then it looks like humans need to engage in armed struggle over resources.

If we assume an abundance of life support, that means we have the freedom to move towards relative utopia (compared to the great tragedy of wartime).

The two “horizons of opportunity” (green) suggest that our collective wealth changes over time.

Quakernomics is about the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England. The total amount of horsepower, or wattage, available to do work, was starting to grow exponentially.

People were wondering if the steam engine meant future freedom from thralldom. Yet factory conditions were becoming horrible. What was needed were social experiments, such as company towns wherein living conditions were pretty good.

Here’s a third diagram:

Diagram 3

One might title this diagram “money from heaven” in that it’s showing how our Earthian economy ultimately derives life supportive energy from the solar fusion furnace we call the Sun.

As we implement various storyboards (a term from screenwriting), we build our inventory of what’s available. Wartime planners may feel some pressure to use armaments already in inventory, such as cruise missiles, in order to make room for more.

Likewise, food in the fields will simply perish unless harvested and stored in a longer term form. Refrigeration and canning come into play. Before we had refrigeration and canning as possibilities (inventory assets), we could not realistically plan to move as much food to as many people.

Our sense of “what’s possible” (which defines the horizon of opportunity) depends on what’s on hand (in inventory). What metals? What plastics? What fuels?