Compassionate economics

Are the words compassion and economics compatible?

Absolutely. If we were to exchange goods and services without interference from legislation which restricts competition we would have an economy with a high degree of equality, fairness, environmental sustainability, peace and compassion.


Major evidence for this comes from the hunters and gatherers who used to inhabit this planet and especially the bushmen of the Kalihari Desert who lived a peaceful and sustainable lifestyle for close to 200,000 years


This writer has come to this conclusion after a lifetime of interest in current affairs and relationships, through a first class degree in economics from the University of British Columbia and lots of informal reading in economics, economic history, history, ancient history and anthropology.


That I feel it necessary to start this book with this question indicates how poorly so many people, including economists, understand economics and money. At least since Marx many people have equated economics with the evils of the current economic system and shut off whenever the word economics is used. This is sad because economics is about the relationships involved in the exchange of goods and services and most of us have to exchange with at least a few people. Money is a tool to facilitate this exchange. Both economics and money involve a lot of distortions of the truth which makes it easy for some people to exploit the rest of us.


team-spirit-2447163_1920As we work through compassionate economics the issue of the resource base hangs over us and makes life difficult for all of us.

Economics professors often start their lectures by drawing a simple x graph on the black board. One line represents the physical side of the economy and the other line represents the financial side of the economy. This is a very important distinction as ignoring it diverts our attention from the reality of economics.

As we mostly discuss economic problems in terms of money we ignore the physical side of the problem. For example, pensions are very important for most of us but we always talk about saving enough money rather than having enough energy and mineral resources. Two things could and probably will happen to most of the money people save for their retirement – inflation or bankruptcy. Our standard of living in retirement will depend upon the quantity of goods and services we are capable of producing relative to the number people making demands on that production. A key factor in this ratio will be the energy and mineral resources we have. There are still lots of these on the surface of our planet but we have consumed the most easily accessable.Those that are left will require a lot of energy to extract and may not be feasible.


The cost of solar energy has recently been falling quickly and has some potential. I also like that solar has the potential for each of us to make decisions about adopting it. It is great that individuals can make these decisions instead of bankers. The down side is that most of our money supply is based on debt and will disappear if a lot of loans have to be written off. I fear a lot of our money is based on loans made to support petroleum.


We need to exchange goods and services because we are social creatures. It may be this is what distinguishes us from animals. In some circumstances it may be possible for an individual to live alone but for most of us we must live with at least one other person and this means living in a relationship. On the Canadian Prairies the early explorers found they needed a female partner for survival because the division of labour was too much for one person. Later the settlers found that during harvest labour requirements were such that they needed to help each other and took turns at several farms. Now, with modern equipment one person can seed, fertilize and harvest up to 7,000 acres. But he still needs a huge support staff of suppliers. These he pays in cash rather than return labour. Economics is about how we exchange goods and services and the relationships which are a part of these exchanges.


Decision making is an important part of compassionate economics. When we make decisions for others we can and often do make those decisions by what is best for us rather than them. As there is no place for exploitation in compassionate economics we should as much as possible exchange goods and services so that individuals can make decisions for themselves. In capitalism bankers and government make decisions about what and how much is to be produced. In socialism bureaucrats in the form of central planners make those decisions. The only way I know to allow individuals to make economic decisions is the perfect competition model upon which the formal study of economics based.

At least since Marx economics has been defined as either capitalist or socialist. Both of these are very vague terms which is good for people who want to control or exploit others but meaningless for those of us who want to understand how we exchange goods and services. The main feature of capitalism as we know it is that governments pass legislation which restricts competition and we call it a market economy. The main feature of socialism is a matrix known as central planning and they say it is “by the people and for the people”. Both concepts are the idealogical equivalent of the stuff through which one would walk if one visited a cattle feed lot.

For four years this guy lived on a British Columbia coastal Indian reserve. One evening a old timer told us about the time consuming process his people used to make themselves a sweet treat,

“Do you still do this,?” I asked?

“No,” he replied. “It is a lot easier to go to Dairy Queen.”

These people did most of their hunting at the local supermarket but they still fished and they still had a few of their old traditions. One of these traditions was the sharing of fish and we had a lot of salmon, halibut, crab and oolichans (a very small, oily and smelly fish.)

It appears that in a lot of hunting gathering cultures sharing mostly with family or clan members was the predominant way of exchange. This is a major difference from our culture where it is assumed the exchange of goods and services should yield a profit. I would like us to plagiarize the hunters and gathers and make sharing the key concept in our economy. This is somewhat radical and would open the door to some major changes in our economy – a guaranteed income policy, a new way of creating money and a zero growth economy. All of these are important for resource and environmental concerns. All of these are important if we are to have a compassionate economy.

One of the major issues we have to deal with is the incompatibility of economic growth and environmental issues such as global warming, pollution, mono culture agriculture, health and overpopulation. The need for economic growth is sold as a fix for unemployment although its main purpose may be to further increase the wealth of the one percent. As compassionate economics is based on sharing rather than profits there is no need for further economic growth. With a guaranteed income scheme people will not need jobs to survive and we can deal with environmental concerns. We will also no longer need to support the greatest of all make work schemes, the arms industry. Lets opt for peace and sharing with all peoples. The goal of compassionate economics is to get the population to a sustainable level and live in peace.

Compassionate economics will allow us to replace our commitment to the work ethic with a commitment to a leisure ethic. In future we should get our self identity from the leisure activities in which we engage whether they be acting in a play, writing a book or even drinking beer.It is relatively easy for me to sit here in a comfortable chair and a nice view out the window and think out solutions to economic problems. But economics involves people with emotions and special interests. A lot of people will find it difficult to see the need for changes and those with special interests will be very vocal in protecting themselves. However I believe the future of most of us is seriousl

It is a pity that so many people shut off when they hear the word “economics.” A few years ago I read a book on green economics which promoted small businesses. I laughed and cried because economic theory is based on the concept of small businesses. One of the key assumptions of economics is that no firm is large enough to influence prices by restricting production and by restricting the quantity purchased.

A key feature of a true market economy as described by economic theory is that there are no profits. If there are profits to be made in an industry new firms will enter until prices drop to the point where there are no more profits. Firms can make wages and a return on investment (maybe) but there will be no profits. Thus a perfect market economy with competition is what is needed for a compassionate economy. A lot of people need to be studying formal economics.

It is relatively easy for me to sit here in a comfortable chair and a nice view out the window and think out solutions to economic problems. But economics involves people with emotions and special interests. A lot of people will find it difficult to see the need for changes and those with special interests will be very vocal in protecting themselves. However I believe the future of most of us is seriously threatened and we must at least try for compassionate economics.

 

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Good relationships and good economics

 

Economics is the most fundamental of social sciences because it is about relationships. The study of economics should be about the ways in which we can organize the exchange of goods and services. As this involves interacting with others it is largely about how we deal with family, friends and neighbors. The study of economics should include economic history, the economies of previous civilizations and economic anthropology. It also means we should be trying to organize an economy based on good relationships.

As exchange involves dealing with other people in a variety of different ways from theft to giving, economics involves the study of how we deal with each other.

A fundamental of relationships is that for a relationship to be satisfactory there must be a more or less equal two-way exchange. Sadly our current economy is based mostly on exploitation. The culture of a lot of businesses, especially large ones, is to make as much profit as possible, even if it means taking advantage of customers.

The challenge is to organize our economy so that our economic relationships qualify as being good – equal exchanges. This writer suggests two sources of inspiration; the bushmen of the Kalahari desert in Africa and the perfect completion model of economics.

lion-577104_1920There is archeological evidence that the bushmen have sustained a stable society for up to 200,000 years. Survival has been without wars and exploitation. This is an incredible accomplishment. We owe it to ourselves to examine their society to see what we can copy. Genius is 90 per cent plagiarism.

These hunters and gathers have been well-studied. My reference is Affluence without Abundance: The disappearing world of the bushmen by James Suzman published by Bloomsbury in 2017.

The Bushmen were hunters and gathers living from hand to mouth and relocating frequently. As they had to carry everything when they moved they developed a mindset that had little need or use for material things other than a few basics. Their knowledge of their environment was such that they always had sufficient food available with a minimum of “work”. They worked for survival rather than to satisfy their own or other people’s ambition.

As they always had adequate food, surpluses and savings were not part of their lives or their thinking. This was important as surpluses and saving must be controlled and this can lead to unequal relationships and exploitation.

Leadership was very low-key and social control was mostly verbal via teasing and ridicule. As they lived in small groups the size of which changed with the seasons it was easy to get away from social conflicts. (This is a major problem for Canadian native people many of whom live on reserves and cannot easily relocate.)

This blogger does not want to adopt a total hunting and gathering lifestyle especially as the size of the world’s population makes it difficult if not impossible. However I believe these people have a lot to teach us about relationships and economics and values. It could be we are the ones who are uncivilized.

We often lie to ourselves and the greatest lies are about economics. The greatest lie is that our economy is based on capitalism and markets. This is a falsehood to cover the fact our economy is based upon legislation that restricts competition. So long as we believe the lies we can continue to promote an economy that is unequal and exploitive.

I believe if we really want an economy which encourages good relationships we should use the perfect competition model as a guideline. All legislation which restricts competition should be repealed. This includes patent and copyright legislation and licensing. Subsides should be given to consumers rather than producers in the form of a guaranteed income scheme. Businesses would be mostly small-scale; so small that participants would be unable to control prices with spending and purchasing decisions. These changes would do away with huge profits and most high incomes. Economic growth would not be needed as people would not have to have jobs to survive. These changes would also cause a lot of screaming from the people who benefit from competition.

Another good feature would be better relationships as people would be able to interact without trying to exploit each other.

One of the differences between hunting and gathering societies and the “civilizations” which have dominated history is who makes decisions. When people are working for survival rather than to satisfy ambitions they make their own decisions. When they are working for ambition decisions are made be the owner of the ambition.

Force is one of the ways people get others to work for them. Other ways are psychological – the work ethic, marketing techniques, limiting free speech, limiting voting rights, making people feel guilty and using logical fallacies to influence thinking. The last two have been and are being used to great effect by feminists. My experience of this world and my observations of this world tell me feminism is mostly BS and a control issue. Feminists want to control men and their thinking. They do a lot to discourage good relationships.

A lot of us have been so indoctrinated with the “capitalist” way of thinking we do not realize the extent to which we are being exploited. Some studies of people on their death beds have found that the greatest regrets are for placing profits above relationships.

Most of us have been raised in a culture which places material things above all else. This blogger believes we should learn from the bushmen to adapt to a non-growth economy and focus on good relationships. The perfect competition model of economics provides some good guidelines as to how to get there.

 

The British Labour Party and economic decision making

It appears the British are getting ready to elect a Labour Party government which is hoping to introduce some “structural” changes to economic decision-making.

This blogger believes economic changes are urgently needed but also figures the changes proposed by the Labour Party will only change the faces making decisions and will do nothing to change the well-being of English people.

0*V_sRwC4Rvi4GfN3ZWhen socialists realize that central planning does not accomplish what they want they try to reform by decentralizing the central planning. To see how the British are likely to try this, see this article in The Economist.

The main issue in capitalism versus socialism is who gets to make decisions about what economic projects are undertaken and who gets to do them.

There are three main ways in which this decision-making can be done.

The first is that major decisions are made by bankers who get to do this via their control over money creation. Fractional reserve banking means bankers create money when they make loans and this gives them a great deal of power to decide what projects go ahead and by whom. The capital in capitalism comes from the money created when loans are made. Even small decisions like who gets to build housing and who gets to buy the houses are made by bankers when they approve the loans and mortgages. Any meaningful reform will require changes in the way in which money is created. There are ways to do this. Not only will bankers object to the loss of power but a lot of people have an emotional committment to money and will fiercely oppose changes. Another strong feature of this system is that governments pass legislation that restricts competition and allows some people to make profits. This system we call capitalism.

The second approach to decision-making is called socialism or central planning. Decisions are made by political leaders or their bureaucrats. Socialists like to use words such as “democratic” and “public interest” but in reality make decisions according to their own values and interests. Because of this socialist economies tend to be an inefficient use of resources. Decision making is still made by a few people even if they claim it is on behalf of others.

The third way of making decisions is a true market or perfect competition. We like to think our economy is based on markets but a lot of it is based on legislation that restricts competition such as patents, copyright,licensing and tariffs. In North America one area of life in which competition is allowed is religious services. As we are committed to freedom of religion the government does not interfere. One often hears of people who go church shopping.

Greens often say they want an economy based on small business but they also automatically reject everything said by economists. This is unfortunate because economics has worked out the theory of small business and can say exactly what to do.

In order to have perfect competition all participants in a market, sellers and purchasers, must be so small that no one can influence the price by increasing or decreasing the amount they buy or sell. There must also be perfect knowledge. All participants need to know all prices. Entry to and exit from an industry needs to be easy which means there can be no patents or copyright.

For the purposes of this post decision-making is made by customers who vote with their buying decisions. Price changes are signals to producers to increase or decrease production.

One of the reasons this blogger likes the true market economy is that it allows a lot of decisions to be made by individuals. One of the problems is that individuals to not have a lot of power. People with common vested can form powerful lobbying groups and can get governments to pass legislation which restricts competition and provides them with excess profits.

Socialists talk of giving workers influence over economic decisions, but their proposals give decision-making to boards or councils. Workers are also consumers and with a market system they will have the same influence as all consumers. A market system also allows for a great variety of products. For example, if schools were based on a market there could easily be schools based on different educational philosophies and parents could choose which they wanted for their children. A voucher system could ensure that all children got an education.

Socialists also argue that capitalism encourages greed. This may be true when decisions are made by bankers, but in a true market there are no profits, just wages and a return on investment. If there are profits being made in an industry, more people will go into it until there are no profits.

If the British Labour Party gets elected and is successful in changing the “structure” of their economy, they may change the size of a few of the units for which decision are being made. However, they will still be steering the same ship in the same ocean. Jeremy Corbyn is not radical or brave enough to change the way in which money is created or to drop a committment to economic growth, both of which are urgently needed to protect people from an economic collapse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capitalism – a meaningless concept in which we can believe

As one surfs the economic forums of Medium and other media one often sees the word “capitalism” in the headlines but mostly I ignore these items because the word’s definitions are generally so vague the word is meaningless.  Because capitalism is such a meaningless word it is something in which we can believe while ignoring a less pleasant reality.

When we study economics we can try for an honest understanding so we can solve problems and reduce human suffering or we can seek rationalizations for things which will make us rich in spite of exploiting others, destroying the environment and overusing scarce resources.  If I were the chief executive of a large corporation or a politician I would want the second approach to economics.  Guess who pays the salaries of most economists.  This blogger makes no money out of his study of economics, so he can take the first approach.

The main feature of the economic organization with which most of us are familiar is that a lot of it is based on legislation which restricts competition.  Patents, copyright, licensing and subsidies all work to restrict competition  and/or distort prices.  These are so pervasive that we cannot say we have competitive market economy.

The problem with a perfectly competitive economy is that it does not allow for profits.  Competition reduces profits until each firm makes wages and a return on investment but no profits.  If one wants profits one needs government to pass legislation to restrict competition and most current  governments are happy to oblige.  Once upon a time this blogger used to make pottery.  I suggested that in order to make a good living we should form the Canadian Potters Association and get the government to pass legislation that all the people in Canada should eat only from dishes make by members.  Other potters laughed but lots of other occupations have that legislation: teachers, doctors, lawyers, septic tank installers, most large corporations (patents and copyright), etc.

Like lots of other people I would like to see an economy with more equality and less exploitation.  I believe the best way to get it would be to have more competition.  To get there we should repeal or at least reduce copyright, patent and licensing legislation and drop all subsidies.

This would leave many people exposed to economic adjustments which often cause suffering. A guaranteed income scheme would be a better way of coping with these problems than restricting competition.

How can we afford a universal basic income?

How can we possibly afford a universal basic income?

This appears to be the strongest argument against an income scheme. It also illustrates one of the basic problems in economic analysis.

When macroeconomic professors stand at the black board they generally draw an x-shaped graph and label one line to represent the real or physical part the economy and the other to represent the financial side. This is an important distinction because if one analyses economic problems only in financial terms the complexities of the financial system get in the way of clearly seeing problems.  Too often economic problems are analyzed in financial terms.

In the case of the universal basic income the question should be are we capable of producing enough goods and services to provide everyone with the desired standard of living.  The answer should determine the level of the basic income.

There are a number of economic issues with which we need to deal:  we have extracted the most easily accessible energy and mineral resources and those left require a lot of energy to get; there are serious problems resulting from the fractional reserve way of creating money; the work ethic is a problem in a high technology world; and there is a need to recognize our economy, what we call capitalism,  is based on legislation which restricts competition and allows some people to make profits they would otherwise not get.

I believe most of these need to dealt with at the same time.  Certainly a UBI should be introduced at the same time as a reform of the financial system. These are complex emotional issues and will be extremely difficult to resolve.

The book Funny Money: Adapting to a Down Economy, by the author of this post discusses these issues. Please have a look at it.

Regulating business with competition

Generally we try to protect ourselves from the excesses of capitalism with regulations.  An alternative method may be to increase competition.

Capitalism is known for its disregard for health and safety concerns and for its excessive profits.  To deal with these problems we impose regulations on firms.  As people are good at getting around regulations the natural reaction is to increase the regulations.

An alternative approach would be to increase competition.

One of the myths of our economy is to equate competition and capitalism.  The reality is that capitalism depends upon governments passing legislation which limits competition.  Most economic legislation, while labeled as consumer protection, works to restrict competition.  For example, many manufactured items are subject to strict regulations as a safety thing. .  But these regulations tend to be set so that only large producers can comply.  This means that specialty manufacturers cannot afford to get started as the extra costs have to charged to a small production run.

Health and safety regulations, copyright and patent legislation and licensing requirements all work to limit competition.

Here in Canada we have a strong commitment to separation of church and state.  The result is that the provision of spiritual and religious services comes closer than anything else to the perfect competition model.  When people move into a new area they often go church shopping, even among churches of the same denomination. 

Churches are also the least regulated institutions in the country as their members look after that either by asking their ministers to leave or by leaving themselves.  (Ministers get fired for one of two reasons – they get into relationships their congregations consider inappropriate or they over stay their welcome.)    When the United Church of Canada decided to ordain and marry gays and lesbians a lot of people switched denominations.

This blogger figures  increasing competition in most if not all industries would do a lot to resolve the excesses of capitalism and reduce the need for regulations.

One of the requirements of perfect competition is that all participants have perfect knowledge.  Therefore the only regulation needed is that firms be required to publish all the information customers need to make good decisions.  This would require us to take responsibility for our own lives rather than expecting the government to look after us.

I realize this suggestion is a political can of worms as people don’t like to reveal secrets.  However with internet and smart phone technology more and more information will be easily available.  Rather than trying to increase regulations we should demand that this information be made generally available so that we as consumers can become the regulators – just like church goers.

 

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

Capitalism, competition and profits

Capitalism is about profits but economic theory tells us price should equal the marginal cost which does not allow for any profit.  It could be there is a contradiction between what we say we believe and the way we actually behave.  Figuring this out may be a major step in understanding our economy.

Price should equal marginal cost, the cost of the last item produced, because profits will attract more producers into an industry until competition forces prices down to the marginal cost level.  For this theory to work there must be perfect competition.  Perfect competition requires easy entry into a business, a uniform product,  that no participant in the market be large enough to influence prices by limiting sales or purchases and that all participants in the market have full knowledge of the market.

In perfect competition there are no profits because competition will force prices down to breakeven point.

This would be great for customers but producers, believing they have a right to profits want to restrict competition.  As producers tend to have more power than consumers there are in our economy lots of restrictions on competition.  There  are many ways to restrict competition but probably the best is to get governments to pass legislation that interferes with the operation of a competitive market. Look at the four requirements for perfect competition in the second paragraph above for ideas how to restrict competition.  Some of the legislation which interferes is patent and copyright, tariffs, subsidies and licensing.

An advantage of legislation restricting competition is that the state and its legal system can be used to enforce it.

Sometimes definitions can be fuzzy and most definitions of capitalism fit this.  The definition of perfect competition (see second paragraph above) is more precise even if it appears unrealistic.  We have jokes about economists making assumptions.  It is not safe to assume that capitalism is perfect competition.

I think the perfect competition model is very useful in that it provides an ideal towards which we could be working.  It provides guidance for policy even though there are lots of forces working against that policy.

Whatever name we apply to our way of organizing our economy, it is important to understand that it is based on governments passing legislation to restrict competition.

 

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

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