Flat Earth Economics

When early humans domesticated animals and developed agriculture, they gained a measure of control of their food supply. After meeting their own needs, they often had a surplus which they could then exchange with neighbors for something they lacked. Thus began bartering and trade. Over time, and to mitigate the problem of transporting bulky goods over distances, a system of substitute tokens was developed, which eventually became currency and the money system which prevails to this day.

These transactions were straightforward, direct, and linear. As crops failed or animals perished, those goods became scarce and fortunate owners of such supply could ask for more in exchange. Thus scarcity became a value. The same scarcity value became attached to gems and minerals which were relatively difficult to locate and extract.

Supply was regarded as limited and finite, giving rise to the analogy of a cake which has to be divided, with larger portions going to those with more power. The less powerful had to be satisfied with crumbs or go without. This is what is behind the prevailing idea of wealth distribution, under capitalist, socialist and communist systems alike.

As civilization evolved, so did the currency and monetary systems until money became divorced from anything tangible, such as gold — took on its own intrinsic value and became commoditized. No longer was it a substitute for value but became value itself, and the measure for value. Money became Wealth. As it became more abstract and digitized, it was subject to elaboration and manipulation to the point where it bears little relation to reality.

Yet it remains the sole means by which life on earth is managed.

For sure, early humans could only conceive of tangible wealth, things they could see, touch and count. As our economies evolved from agriculture to manufacturing, and then to service, we could attach value to skill, number of hours worked, a slight shift away from the solely tangible. This did not take into account unpaid labor like domestic maintenance, child- and elder-care, and other social services. Still, it was a reductionist approach, breaking down the inputs, assigning value and assessing costs, and adding a mark-up for profit. The basis for most economic activities was extractive and exploitive, which costs did not appear on any balance sheet. Neither did the cost of generating and disposing of waste. When they are not ignored, costs are regarded as negative value, best kept to a minimum.

Add to this complex, the whims of human desire, the drives of fear and greed. Add to this the throttling impact of budgets, expressed in limited supply of money which we forget is a convenient contrivance. Overlaid on this, is the game being played manipulating trends, confidence, and numbers of said contrivances. This is what passes for economics.

Money has served us well as a tool but it is no longer an adequate management mechanism. On the contrary, it has regressed to the point where it has become toxic, with a corroding and corrupting impact. Money’s fungibility and instant digital portability exacerbate the predicament, allowing large-scale theft, embezzlement, bribery and kick-backs. It is what permits the elite to sequester and withhold from the rest what they should be sharing. Humans are the only species which requires its members to pay to live, making the vast majority, not merely worker bees, but wage slaves, who know not they are slaves. They, along with everyone else, were born into the bondage of moneytheism and it is all they know.

We have now arrived at a point where we can have a more holistic view, a systems view, wherein all materials and processes are connected and involve complex networks of ebb and flow, periodicity, balance and reciprocity, renewal and replenishment. Waste is input for another cycle. Do one thing here and something else, perhaps unseen and far removed, is affected. “Cost” becomes part of the process of complexification, attaining greater coherence, an intrinsic part of value creation.

Like the prevailing belief in ancient times that the earth was flat, it took centuries for Pythagoras and others to persuade us the earth was a globe. How long will it take for us to come to the view that economics is global and interconnected with the substrate and biosphere alike? How many centuries before we let go of moneytheism and recognize that economics is nothing less than the metabolism of the planet? Unfortunately, this time around we don’t have centuries to align ourselves with the physics as the planet undergoes economic stabilization decidedly not in our favor.