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Whither the economy?

I’m no economist, and that gives me an advantage when talking about our economy because I don’t know what I’m talking about and I can be snarly at economists, which is important right now because it seems safe to say that we are well into a crisis that only economists could have created. Adam Smith dealt with economics as a moral science. Indeed.

The layers of folly that are unraveling on Wall Street and in the American banking system run so deep, are rooted in such persistently foolish ideas, that I feel compelled simply to pontificate a little bit and hope I can get some good ideas out of it. I feel confident when I say things like “Greed is bad,” or, “Gambling beyond your means is dangerous,” or, “It isn’t safe to do dangerous things.” But when it comes to the details of economy, I don’t know any more than the next guy what will happen. That’s why I fall back on platitudes like, “Greed is bad,” or, well you get the picture.

I worry about people who know the world so well, who are so versed in economics, that they can eliminate the badness of greed or make dangerous things safe.

Let me add that I don’t consider myself a capitalist either because I’m not a materialist. I think I’m probably a distributivist (that is nothing like a communist, in case you are worried) if anything, but I don’t know enough about the fine points of the theory. What I am opposed to is vast bureaucracies who replace the wisdom of elders with their expertise – whether they are corporate or government is not the primary concern. Whether they can act lovingly and wisely is the decisive matter. I don’t believe that the world is better when people have more shirts to wear that don’t last very long.

That’s context.

This economic crisis is the result of pride: first, the pride of the economists and politicians who thought they could control an unspeakably complex system with their simplistic solutions; second, the pride of the bankers who thought they could survive reams of thoughtless loans that, maybe, assuaged their consciences; third, the pride of those of us who thought we deserved things we couldn’t afford and gambled our futures on it.

It is also the result of sloth: first, the sloth of the bankers who made careless loans; second, the sloth of those of us who couldn’t wait till we made the money we felt we deserved; third, the sloth of everybody who thought we could spend our way into prosperity.

Sloth and pride are enough to pave our way to hades. But I suppose I could go out on a limb and suggest that greed might have something to do with it.

Taking on debt unnecessarily is an evil thing to do. Maybe I say that with a tinge of resentment because I have had to take on debt; but even when I did it was the result of my own presumption that put me in the situation where I had to do it.

What gets me is this: we are so in love with, so trusting of centralization that we can’t resist it. I take that back. We don’t love centralization at all; we love its lies. For example, we actually believe that we are all better off buying crumby shirts from Wal-mart that cost less than shirts from a local vendor because, well, because they’re cheaper.

Could Wal-Mart possibly have shipped so many jobs overseas if they were not so centralized? Isn’t that why we oppose monopolies in America?

Could the banks possibly have caused so much financial damage if we had not experienced yet another merging frenzy? We feel better if our banks have vast sums of money in their vaults. Of course. But what makes us think a bank with those vast sums of money is more trustworthy than the local trust company?

Where’s the analysis of the point at which the benefits of the merging and centralizing of power are undone by the cost. I was tempted to say this is not an economics issue, but then I realized that in fact it is an economics issue, if the word has meaning. And it used to.

Economy comes from the Greek for household customs or household laws. It used to have to do with the best way to run a household. Now it means the statistical analysis of the movement of money and how I can get more for myself. Autonomous economics is a death wish. It no longer has any interest in the household, the health of which is often in conflict with the so-called health of the substitute economy created by economists so they could have something that fit into their calculators.

i quote Edmund Burke: “The age of chivalry is past; that of sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators has come.”

I will be watching closely if I am able what happens to our economy over the next decade or so. I am not optimistic. The baby boomers have put little thought into reaping whirlwinds or raising children and both are alive and kicking. We thought if we could number our people, all would be in order. It was an evil spirit that led us to this blindness.

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