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You have to believe in magic

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Do you ever wonder if there's anything real at the bottom of today’s economics? Don't hurt yourself, there isn't. It's all a confidence game - literally - and there isn't anything there you couldn't get in better colors by, oh, snorting fairy dust, for example.

Precisely, chapter 1 of most any modern economics text starts out explaining how economics really is only a confidence game. Not in so many words, of course. But it's pretty plainly stated just the same. You have to believe in a core of shaky, shady, and sometimes disappointing, downright degrading assumptions or it doesn't work. In the same sort of ways, neither do the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. Without belief, they don’t work, and in essence they’re really not that much different than the people who run a capitalist economy’s printing presses.

By way of stretching the analogy until it breaks, those mythical beings can be made to work just fine by pretending, whether they’re “believed in” or not. And there’s no harm done applying the exact, same reasoning to capitalist economics. The main difference is instead of making kids happy, it’s putting them to work in third world sweat shops and doing cost-benefit analysis on their school lunch programs, but let’s try not to be cruel about it. It is the season, after all.

If that sounds a little crazy, or just plain off the deep end choking on a bag of nuts, here’s an excerpt from a recent Paul Krugman article ("Bits and Barbarism") where he mentions John Maynard Keynes:

Back in 1936 the economist John Maynard Keynes argued that increased government spending was needed to restore full employment. But then, as now, there was strong political resistance to any such proposal. So Keynes whimsically suggested an alternative: have the government bury bottles full of cash in disused coal mines, and let the private sector spend its own money to dig the cash back up. It would be better, he agreed, to have the government build roads, ports and other useful things — but even perfectly useless spending would give the economy a much-needed boost.

Clever stuff — but Keynes wasn’t finished. He went on to point out that the real-life activity of gold mining was a lot like his thought experiment. Gold miners were, after all, going to great lengths to dig cash out of the ground, even though unlimited amounts of cash could be created at essentially no cost with the printing press. And no sooner was gold dug up than much of it was buried again, in places like the gold vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where hundreds of thousands of gold bars sit, doing nothing in particular.

Replace “thought experiment” with its “make-believe” connotation and the proposition that started this article jumps right out at you, dirty socks & stinky feet first.

For the record, Paul Krugman is a Nobel laureate in economics who teaches economics at Princeton. He’s also a prolific writer who has his work published regularly in the New York Times.

As for John Maynard Keynes, one of Krugman's professional role models, he contributed the original, fundamental thinking upon which modern economics is built and was who many consider to have been the 20th century's leading economist.

And gold, well, gold is a shiny metal that can be used to fix teeth, make high performance electronic circuitry, and all kinds of classy objects d'art. Aesthetically and functionally it's not even in the same universe with ugly, smelly scraps of paper that have basically arbitrary numbers printed on them. If you're a stiff, one of the most irreverent things that can happen is to get your picture printed on the stuff.

In the same article, along with gold mining in New Guinea, Krugman takes on bitcoin, another interesting hallucinatory distraction that the usual suspects are hoping to get rich off of while contributing as little worthwhile effort as possible to the world in the usual way that such people do things.

BTW, obesity is the usual reward for gaining much while doing nothing. Not necessarily obesity of the beltline, although there is that, too. Rather, it’s obesity of the mind, psyche, and lifestyle. Along with the rightfully unappreciated degradation caused by obesity, there’s also the fact that the fat ones are designed by nature to serve as enticing treats to the leaner, the stronger, and the long-suffering millions who, for instance, just had their unemployment benefits eliminated, food stamps cut (SNAP), and may have to pee in a cup for the privilege of eating the scraps off the table that was stolen from them by those very same fat ones. Bon appetit!

Krugman quite rightfully criticizes with a delightful manner and great skill the abuse of belief that sacrifices the 99% for the good of the 1%, but he’s still a capitalist economist. So was Keynes. That’s the difference between Keynes suggesting that money needed to be created to motivate people to do work, and going full Monty to suggest cutting the middlemen and middlework out by simply empowering people to have what they need as a natural consequence of being alive and doing whatever they can, and will, to make the world we all live in work as a whole.

Please note that the world is a whole, whether we prefer it that way or not.

In case the difference seems subtle, look at it this way: capitalist economics mathematizes greed and self-interest. It’s the Law of the Jungle in formal attire with a fancy, embossed invitation. Genuine altruism and humanitarian thinking are effectively, if not in every case explicitly, ruled out by both practice and law.

Capitalist economics assumes people must be paid to work because they are venal and will lay in a ditch and die, or resort to savagery to feed & breed themselves before they will do the right things, or even just good things, simply because they are right and good.

Both extremes can be mathematized. Why have we allowed our minds to be usurped by the one instead of the other? We don’t need bitcoin mines, or gold coin mines. We need to realize that the only real coin in our universe is the work our minds and bodies can do, and that the only real reward that exists for doing that work is having done the work.

All that stuff in the middle between work and reward is just annoying, frustrating gasketry operated by parasites, both witting and unwitting, whose capacities for work are needed elsewhere.

Lacking that understanding, other natural laws inevitably must express themselves. Archaeological perspective, possibly that of a visiting species, will be required to discover what was at the bottom of our economics when its fossilized remains are excavated from sterile strata long overgrown by the geologic processes of a world that wasn’t capable of caring for us anymore than we cared for it.

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Links directory (If you don’t think you’re cooked in the current economy and in the process of being served as the main course, you’re either not paying attention or one of the minority for whom the table is being set. But, don’t take any writer’s word for it, get the info as close to the original sources as you can, and then find multiple original sources! The article text that the links link from is parenthesized at the end of each line. The music video links are intended add guts to the story in ways that simple reporting can’t, and the lyrics for all the tracks have their own links so you don’t miss any of that sometimes not very subtle messaging.)

Data Links:

  1. J. Stiver – Economics Jokes (today’s economics) Careful! Even some of the obvious ones have added subtleties and double meanings. Others are just dumb.
  2. MSNBC (Clare Kim, 2013 Dec 19) – Poor kids should sweep floors for school lunches, says GOP Rep (school lunch programs) In a defense of his remarks, the Republican (of course!) Congressman (would-be-senator) from Georgia claimed he wasn’t referring to “poor kids.” Perhaps he just didn’t have enough feet in his mouth already. Out of respect for “fair and balanced” suggesting, perhaps we should consider an alternative: let the parents of wealthy children sweep the floors at lunch time so their children can see what just deserts are for those whose incomes represent theft of the value of labor from those who could otherwise feed their own children.
  3. New York Times (Paul Krugman, 2013 Dec 22) – Bits and Barbarism (Bits and Barbarism)
  4. Grist (Josh Harkinson, 2003 Jun 24) – Illegal gold mining in Ghana shafts locals’ health and the environment (gold)
  5. Grist (Susie Cagle, 2013 Feb 05) – We’re on the verge of a scary undersea gold rush (gold is a shiny metal)
  6. Human Rights Watch (2011 Feb 01) – Papua New Guinea: Serious Abuses at Barrick Gold Mine (gold mining in New Guinea)
  7. Information Clearing House (Bryce Covert, 2013 Dec 29) – Forty Percent Of Workers Made Less Than $20,000 Last Year (long-suffering millions) This guy’s figures are arguably a little off, but not by much. Whether they seem right to you depends on what side of $50K your wages are. If you’re above the line, statistics predict you will be skeptical and dismissive of the data. If you’re under the line, you’re basically food and no one who currently matters cares what you think. However, you can change that. (Hint, hint.)
  8. The Hill (Peter Schroeder, 2013 Dec 28) – Jobless aid expires for 1.3M people (unemployment benefits eliminated) It’s claimed that average unemployment benefits are about $300/week. If the price tag for extending benefits for one year really is the advertised $26 billion and 1.3 million is a reasonable approximation of those it would benefit, the math almost works out. But don’t let a few percent error and rounded numbers distract you. The point is, imagine yourself living off about $300/week. It would be hard enough just to pay rent on that much most places. Keeping yourself able to look for work, looking employable, and able to accept offers that involve any commute or a move become fantasies.
  9. The Guardian (Karen McVeigh, 2013 Dec 23) – Demand for food stamps soars as cuts sink in and shelves empty (food stamps cut)
  10. New York Times (Nathaniel Popper, 2013 Dec 21) – Into the Bitcoin Mines (bitcoin mines) There are absurdities in the world and then there are bitcoin mines. A system that invents – and empowers – costly, exploitative hallucinations out of arbitrary abstractions is actually worse than zonked space cadets chasing butterflies that exist only in their imaginations. If nothing else, tripsters use a lot less electricity. (They supply their own.)
  11. Grist (John Upton, 2013 Sep 17) – Pebble Mine project in Alaska is on the ropes (gold coin mines) As a break from all the gloom & doom discussed by almost every link ever found in this column, this one refers to some good news!

Multimedia Links:

  1. 50 Cent – I Get Money (YouTube, 3:56 min – 50CentVEVO) (hoping to get rich) Lyrics
  2. Upworthy (Megan Kelley / Take Part, 2013 Dec 24) – 'Ugh, Food Stamps Are For Lazy Freeloaders!' Well, Let's Look At The Facts (1:40 min – TakePart) (SNAP)
  3. Eminem ft. Rihanna – The Monster (YouTube, 5:19 min – EminemVEVO) (capitalist economist) Lyrics The requirement is simply stated: You don’t actually have to be a monster under someone’s bed, but you’ve at least gotta be friends with the one under yours.
  4. Ellie Goulding – Burn (YouTube, 3:59 min – EllieGouldingVEVO) (We need to realize) Lyrics Heavy emphasis one the “we” in that.
  5. Pink Floyd – Money (YouTube, 6:25 min – David Swissa) (frustrating gasketry) Lyrics It’s an old, worn out song with mostly dated images to accompany it, but then, so is the subject matter. That’s the point.
  6. Cher – Believe (YouTube, 3:56 min – cherdeutschland) (caring for us) Lyrics
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