The Narrative and the Wall

Of late, Mr. Trump’s defense lawyer, John Lauro, has been making rounds of the TV News shows. All with a purpose, of course. Turns out that Mr. Lauro wants to defend Mr. Trump not against the charges of the recent indictment accusing Mr. Trump of conspiring to subvert American democracy but against other, different things that aren’t charged; aren’t in the indictment; and, to do so in the court of public opinion rather a court of law. If the facts and the law aren’t on your side, change the narrative; create your own. Change it to one better suited to your purpose. Rather a form of trial/case shaping, if you will. This in an America where a significant portion of the populace has little or no use for the facts. Just the narrative, please.

In a literary sense, a narrative is a story narrated or told. Some, in their youth, adopt a narrative as their lodestar. Herein, narrative is used in the political sense — i.e., storytelling meant to shape the public’s understanding of fact, to modify their understanding of reality. Of late, the political narrative has become all too familiar.

First, Mr. Trump’s defense lawyer seeks to distort the public’s understanding of the facts, their understanding of reality. Then, he wants to try the case on the basis of these distortions. He wants to impose a narrative.

If John Lauro’s tactic seems vaguely familiar, it is because we have, since when, experienced something very similar in a different venue. That venue was economics. Since when, wealth has used, imposed, narratives to maintain its preeminence over which economic models were to be employed. Over time, these narratives have become axioms and truisms; when, in fact, they were intended to distort the facts and the understanding of economics to the advantage of wealth. The political narratives of today’s Tea Party and Mr. Trump’s defense lawyer are employed in the interest of attaining or regaining power, of avoiding conviction. Economic narratives employed lo these many centuries have served best the interests of the wealthy.

Unnamed in our beginning days, more obvious since we first figured out how to produce food (an essential), is this we have come to call an economy. From scrounging about for our food to planting and harvesting, without or without a name, an economy was always about managing resources. Early days, nature provided the bare essentials if one was resourceful enough to find them. Then, little different from other animals, humans were dependent on, subject to, the vagaries of nature. Along the while, we evolved larger brains. This a thing that no doubt played a role in our momentous transition to agrarians.

Thence, an economy amounted to saving enough seeds for planting (and replanting in case of crop failure), nurturing the plants throughout the growing season, then harvesting and stowing this most essential/requisite good — food; whatever form those seeds, planting, nurturing, harvesting, and stowing.

From the beginning, the role of what we now call ‘an economy’ has been to produce and equitably distribute the requisite goods and services for human survival. Still is.

Little doubt, those early agrarian societies were (as were their hunter-gather predecessors) cooperative/communal. And, so their economies. In time, these societies became able to produce more food than was needed for the year. Grains could be stored, herd sizes increased. From scrounging about to wealth.

Too soon, followed greed: a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed. It wasn’t the biblical money; it was greed that was at the root of evil. It was this evil, greed, that was at the root of individuals seeking more wealth than needed. This pursuit of excessive wealth gave us slavery. This same pursuit was the genesis of economic narratives; economic narratives that have dominated economies ever since. This pursuit of excessive wealth is at the root of economic disparity and inequality.

A society’s wealth can be used to produce more wealth; to the benefit of all. Greed impoverishes nations. Since when, we have seen the greedy enslave, in one form or another, their fellow humans in order to build magnificent estates, have harems, …, …. Today, we see greedy dictators in impoverished countries steal the last of money intended for schools. Today, in the US alone, we have upward of one-thousand $Billionaires. That is in the same US, the same today, where 32% of the jobs do not pay a living wage. There is a difference between there and here; but not much.

The rationalization of a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed is at the very core of a well-known economic narrative.

Ponzi-like, the rationalization for this well-known economic narrative requires never-ending economic growth; forever producing and consuming more of something than is needed. This demands evermore desire for evermore of something than is needed. These two, forever growth and ever-growing consumption, are its very basis. In other words, this particular well-known economic narrative is premised on greed.

Without government, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” wrote Hobbes. That is, for those other the wealthy, one presumes. (Mr. Hobbes also opined that we humans were born greedy.)

The production and distribution of the requisite goods and services always required expending goodly amounts of energy. Before the industrial age, this energy was mostly human, animal, wind, and hydraulic. Afterward; more and more, this energy came from fossil fuels such as coal and crude oil.

It took world population until around 1930 to reach 2 billion. Today, we are more than 8 billion. Alone, this four times is a huge growth in the demand for the production and distribution of the requisite goods and services. And, in the energy demands to do so. Consumption above more than is needed, demands equivalently more energy.

From the early days of the industrial age forward, most of that energy came from the burning of fossil fuels. From the 1960s on, we have known that burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Since the 1980s, we have known that it was imperative we stop doing so. Today, we are increasingly experiencing the consequences of the increased consumption of energy from the burning of fossil fuels. Today, we find ourselves in front-row seats to a pending cataclysmic climatic disaster.

Finding an alternative to the burning of fossil fuels for our energy demands is front and center, most urgent. Either we stop the production of greenhouse gases or nature will; will do so without most of the 8 billion of us. With or without us, nature will again find its equilibrium; solve its problem.

At present; overpopulation, forever economic growth, and ever-growing consumption are inextricably linked to energy demand — the burning of fossil fuels — to the production of greenhouse gases — our pending climatic disaster. Today, in present-day America, the dealing with any and all of these is complicated by the reality that a significant portion of the populace has little or no use for reality or the facts.

Overpopulation alone has greatly hastened this day of reckoning with climate change. Colonizing Mars is, at best, only a short-term solution. Overpopulation also hastens our day of reckoning with finite resources.

Concurrent overpopulation, ever-growing consumption, and the promotion of unlimited economic growth, too, have hastened this day of reckoning with climate change, with finite resources. Both were done in accord with a well-known economic narrative serving the interests of wealth. Colonies on Mars, or not — narrative, meet walls.

For at least the next 200 years, humankind’s greatest challenge is going to be how to cope with the consequences of climate change. Given that, during these years; millions upon millions of acres of cropland will be lost and billions of people will be displaced; coping with this will require we all make do with less. There is no way we humans can grow or consume our way out of the consequences of climate change that are upon us; can continue our wasteful ways. We need an economic model based on the common good; not on waste and greed. If we need follow a narrative, let it be one serving the common good; one promoting an economic model that produces and equitably distributes the requisite goods and services.

It is more than an understatement to say that today’s advanced nations’ economic models are extremely complex. Much of this complexity is attributable to patches upon patches on inherent flaws; many of these flaws were intended.

Starting anew is daunting. Identifying and eliminating the flaws inherent our previous economic models would be a good first step. Greed, the predominance of wealth, the consequent economic models built on consumption and growth, …, have done great harm; we simply can no longer afford them. It is unlikely that identifying and eliminating the flaws would be enough to carry us forward. We need an economic model that is suitable for dealing with the all-critical next 200 years and beyond. It is imperative to our very existence that we get it right. Likely, much of what has been learned about economics over the centuries would apply to this new economic model. ‘Keep the best and discard the rest,’ seems applicable.

Truly thinking anew about economics, economic models, would require that we begin our quest free of preconceptions. That we question everything, not be swayed by the past, be open-minded to completely new concepts. That we let the application dictate. Only those things from the past that can withstand critical analysis, meet objective criteria; are applicable, would be kept.

Be a society simple, or be it complex, an economy is requisite. A viable economy of scale for any modern society would include means of producing and equitably distributing requisite goods and services as its premise. A quest for a new and better economic model for going forward in a very changed world, for our survival as a species in this very changed world, might ask such questions as:

  • How best go about producing and distributing the requisite goods and services?
  • Whence the resources for these means?
  • Who owns the means of production?
  • Who does the work?
  • How are the workers to be compensated?
  • Is private ownership itself a viable concept?
  • Is private property itself a viable concept?
  • On what basis are the goods and services to be distributed?
  • Who owns the wealth of a nation?
  • Is private wealth workable in an economy?
  • Is there a role for this we now call money?
  • What role does government play?
  • Are economics and government separable?
  • …, …

All things considered, a democratic government still seems best of lot. Ours got waylaid. From the beginning, politicians, and votes have been a commodity. Of late, so much more so. Our constitution was one of the first to address the separation of church and state. Did so for good reason; and then, only after centuries of struggle. The nation would be far better off today if the Constitution had also addressed the separation of wealth and state.

Economies are, perforce, part of government. They don’t have constitutions of their own. Our Constitution speaks to commerce often; commerce is an important part of economics. The Constitution should have spoken to economics more broadly. Back then, and for centuries before, the interest of wealth prevailed in the economic models employed.

If the Constitution had stipulated that wealth and state be kept separate with an amendment, our democracy would be one whole of a lot better off. If our democracy were in better shape, we could limit the role of wealth and the pursuit thereof in our economy. If only —-, our nation, the environment, tout le monde, would be one whole of a lot better off.

Pour tout le monde, henceforth, all constitutions should prescribe that church and state, and wealth and state, be kept separate. Should prescribe a democratic economic model designed to produce and equitably distribute the requisite goods and services. Henceforth, any scripture worth the writing would list greed as one of the greatest sins.