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What is an economy?

2013 November 7
by Ian Welsh

Perhaps the greatest difficulty I have talking about the economy is that most people don’t understand what an economy is.

An economy is what people produce and the relations that make that production possible.

An economy is not money.  Printing more money does not automatically increase the size of the economy as various episodes of hyperinflation clearly indicate, but also as the giant printing of money in the last five years should have shown to people.

Money is created by printing in a fiat economy, whether it is physically printed or not.  When a bank creates a loan it simply adds numbers to various accounts, and it does not have to “have money to loan”.  The same is true of brokerages offering loans for stock purchases and so on.  There is no direct organic relation between the amount of money in the economy and the amount of economic activity.

Moreover it is quite possible to increase the amount of money in the economy while decreasing activity.  When a huge loan is taken out to buy a company, and then the company has employees slashed and plants closed, real economic activity decreases, even as the amount of money increases.  When you insist on 15% profits and obtain them by refusing to do needed maintainance, firing employees, doing stock buy-backs and so on, real economy activity decreases.

If you measure the output of an economy in money you get a very distorted picture of what is actually going on.  There is less employment in the US in percentage terms than there was at peak, and absolute numbers are only now about getting even, yet people have been blathering on about a “recovery”.

It is quite possible for people to be doing things that are, on net, negative.  Every dollar earned by the financial industry in the 2000s was lost and then more in the financial collapse: real damage to real productive capacity was done.  We were earning more money, GDP was increasing, and (at least) houses were getting built, but the cost was offshoring and outsourcing of jobs and decreased actual wellbeing (it is in the 2000s that American height, for example, began to decrease.)

Money is not the economy, and increases in money do not necessarily mean the economy is getting better or even bigger, let alone actually increasing the welfare of the population.

Now increases in money SHOULD reflect increases in the welfare of the people, or at least in the size of the economy.  Money should have an organic relationship to the economy.  But for it to do so we must want it to.

Take the classic post-war economy (pre 70s.)  You can borrow money if you have a house or a business.  The house is valuable not so much because you can live in it, but because living in it means you are close to a job.  It is the job that allows you to afford the house, and if you lose the job, the house still has value because there are other jobs nearby for someone else.  If you do not believe this, I invite you to look at what happened to housing prices in Detroit when the auto industry left that city.

The house is secondary, though, the jobs come first.  A farm has value because you can grow food and sell it, a business has value because it makes money.  All of these things, presumably, produce goods or services that people want or need, and if you no longer want to run your farm or business, someone else can.  A loan just allows you to take some of the future value of what you own, and use it today.

Economic financialization seems like an extension of this system.  If you have a money flow of any type, why not borrow against it?  Why not borrow against its appreciation? Why not then sell those money flows for money today?  There are three problems: the first is pyramiding. You borrow against a money flow, then you use leverage and buy other money flows and then you leverage on them, and soon the underlying asset is a tiny fraction of the money you have. (No leverage on loaned money is thus the first principle of avoiding problems, loaned money is already leverage.)

The second problem is printing money with no underlying asset at all.  When the Fed is creating 82 billion out of midair every month, half of which is spent on treasuries, there is no organic relation to the underlying economy.

The third is that some people get to borrow money for much less than other people.  Banks get prime (or less).  Large investors get close to prime, ordinary people get Prime ++, if they can get less than 20% on a credit card.  This is justified by “risk”, but the risk is mostly that the person doesn’t have access to essentially free (prime rate) money.  It also distorts the economy, because it favors financial companies since the interest rate is the cost of money, and the cost of money is a cost of business, which means financial operations are cheap even before you get to the fact that financial operations also have access to the highest amounts of leverage.

The problem here is that finance creates NOTHING of worth itself.  It exists (or should exist rather) only to facilitate creating goods and services with actual value: food, housing, entertainment, medicine, art, philosophy and so on.  Those goods and services, or rather the people, equipment and relationships that produced them, are the economy.  Finance’s purpose is only to help allocate money between those activities, and it is only one mechanism of allocation.  The market will not allocate money properly to many goods because it undervalues the future (so, for example, education, especially in the humanities and basic science), cannot account for externalities not embedded in the valuation system (that you are getting sick from my pollution is not the market’s problem), and cannot value anything that is not denominated in cold hard cash (like love, or friendship or a sunny day free of smog or the health of someone who doesn’t make money.)

Any society which makes all or most of its decisions about how to allocate money through the market mechanism will be hell on earth and will devalue those things most important to human happiness and meaning.  It is not an accident that the depression rate in the US has increased by an order of magnitude in the last hundred years.

If you give outsize money returns to finance then, it drives out actual productive investment in the real economy.  If you make the market your primary method of allocating funds, it doesn’t allocate resources to the future or to intangibles and ignores externalities which are key both to long term growth and avoiding negative outcomes (like your kid having cancer, or your spouse dying of cancer, or your sibling having a debilitating case of depression.)

But the problem is worse than this.  Money, as my friend Stirling Newberry has noted, is permission: it is the right to decide what other people do with their time.  Money lets you buy up people who spend all day lobbying government, it lets you create political movements, it lets you buy up think tanks and universities, it lets you create your own mercenary army.  If you are throwing off more money than other industries, it lets you take over those industries. It lets you buy government, and thus control the rules.

If some group, in an economy, has a consistently higher rate of return than other groups over a long period of time, they WILL become dominant in that society absent a reaction by violent men.  Period.  Because they can use that money to decide what other people do.  This is true not just of finance, it is true of any group of people controlling a bottleneck resource (see: oil, among others).

You can solve this one of two ways: you can make sure no one gets these consistent outsize returns in the first place (remember, basic economics, if an industry is making more than average profits, they are not in a competitive market, there is an inefficiency).  Or you can just take their excess profits away from them.

IF you choose not to do so, because they have bought the system and created an ideology that says it is unfair to take money away from people who are given a systemic advantage by being allowed to create money from thin air and/or borrow it at prime when no one else can; or that the people allowed to control oil production should be allowed to keep all its benefits because they created the oil, or some such, then those people WILL come to control your society and they will create it in their image.

I will discuss at a later day happiness and meaning (and even eudomania), which should be the sane goal of any political economy. I will discuss how to design an economy which works for everyone.  But the first thing to realize is that you must want that, and you must believe it is Just that your society be run that way.

If you do not believe that it is moral and right and just to tax people who have a structural advantage in your economy (and that structural advantage can and will exist if you remove the State entirely), if you do not believe you are allowed to redistribute, if you do not understand what the economy is for (creating the good life), if you do not believe in not allowing concentrations of private power based on position, then you will not keep whatever prosperity and good life you have, because those who win the game (and someone always will) will buy up the game and change the rules to ensure their continued wealth and power.  They will do so in a way that will cost you your liberty, your health and your prosperity.

There will always be winners and we don’t want to change that. Let them win, let them enjoy winning in their time, but do not allow them to buy the system, to destroy the actual productive capacity of the system, or to try and make money the sole determinant of how decisions are made.  Doing so, letting market mechanisms work until they don’t, then continuing to use them anyway: refusing to enforce competitive markets and keep markets doing what they do well and only what they do well, is why we had a financial collapse, why we’re in a depression, and why we have a catastrophic climate change episode coming our way which will kill a billion people or more.  It is why we are seeing a long term decline in happiness in market democracies, why we have soaring rates of depression and chronic disease, rising chronic unemployment, and a host of other social ills.

An economy exists to fill the needs of the people in it, material and non-material. It has no other purpose.

24 Responses
  1. Tony Wikrent permalink
    November 7, 2013

    Brilliant summary.

    Your posts of the past few weeks is material we must share as widely as possible. Thank you.

  2. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 7, 2013

    A genuine economy is a relationship of peers; producing, trading, and consuming according to needs.

  3. BlizzardOfOz permalink
    November 7, 2013

    The myths and fictions around “money” are the core of fraud that elites perpetrate on the 99%. For a clear illustration of this, note the Demublocrat party’s trope of “the government must balance its budget, like a family balances its budget sitting around the kitchen table”. Bush and Obama, such folksy, common-sense types, aren’t they?

    The Repumocrans are mired so deep in their own shit; how long could it be until they suffocate in it?

    * if “the government has to balance its budget”, then what side of the ledger do those transactions sit, where the government prints 80 billion dollars a month, “lends” it to crooked bankers at 0% interest, then borrows it back (sells Treasuries) at 1%?

    * if “we can’t afford” x, y, and z, then how can we afford tens of millions of unemployed doing nothing? How about tens of millions more working in useless service sector jobs? How about thousands of scientists taking their talents to Wall Street to help crooked bankers steal trillions from savers?

    American voters’ tolerance for BS is stunningly high, or maybe Orwellian. (I heard that Dear Leader has cut health insurance premiums, from 2,500/month down to 4,000.)

  4. November 7, 2013

    I’ve seen you reference competitive markets in your recent posts–something that, in general, I’m all for. But I’m curious what you think of the seemingly natural oligarchic nature of most innovative, high technology sectors, where eventually a handful of large companies comes to dominate. I suppose the market is still competitive then, but its a very different type of competition from what we normally think of–a smallish group of peers in the same business, not colluding but also not aggressively trying to cut prices and undermine each other in most circumstances.

    I’m particularly thinking of Galbraith’s “The New Industrial State” and Erik Reinert’s work. I believe that they make some very crucial distinctions in how different types of economic activities work. I’m curious if you have a critique of them, or if I’m just focusing on a level of detail below your current aim :)

  5. November 7, 2013

    Uhm, there *is* at least *one* organic relationship between money and economic activity. In an economy based on money (which is basically *all* economies beyond hunter-gatherer), those without money, whether due to insufficient money in circulation or due to distribution problems (such as rich people stuffing it under a virtual mattress and sitting on it rather than having it be out there in the economy floating around encouraging trades) have limited ability to engage in economic activity.

    Furthermore, the concept of price stickiness — that businesses are not on average going to sell goods for less than it cost to buy them, regardless of how long it takes to sell those goods, because then they would be a *former* business (since the point of a business is to make a profit) — means that if the amount of money in actual circulation declines, economic activity declines, because there’s no longer sufficient money to buy all goods currently available for sale.

    In short, the amount of circulating money (which is *not* the same as the money supply — the money supply includes money that’s stuffed under various mattresses both physical and virtual) *does* to a certain extent determine economic activity if the amount of money floating around is insufficient to buy the goods available for sale in the economy.

    That said, I appreciate the original point, which is that it is the economic activity — the buying and selling of goods and services — that is the economy, not these pieces of toilet paper with pictures of dead people on them (or the 0′s and 1′s in bank computers). Money is a tool for facilitating trade in an economy. The fact that money also serves as a store of value is necessary in order to do that facilitating (it has to store value between selling one item and buying the next item, after all) but causes all sorts of economic problems when people decide to hang on to it for that purpose rather than trade it for things that do have real intrinsic value, because then you end up with Great Depression style economies, where everybody is sitting on cash and nobody’s buying or selling anything other than the minimum needed to survive. That’s no way to run an economy — thus why we need inflation to discourage people from doing that (since their piles of money would be declining in value). Capitalism *doesn’t work* without inflation, in fact. It can be proven mathematically that this is so, even. Without inflation you arrive at the “zero bounds” conundrum where all money is sitting in piles of money and any printed money simply joins a pile somewhere rather than being used to buy and sell goods and services. The only way we’ve ever successfully jolted our way out of the zero bounds problem in a capitalist economy was via massive government spending on goods and services using either printed money or money taken from those piles via taxes. Just the facts, ma’am.

    - Badtux the Economics Penguin

  6. November 7, 2013

    There’s a lot of good stuff in this piece. Two things to add:

    The problem with our financial economy today is that the investor class, having gotten used to (as you call it) winning (through a consistently high rate of profit), must maintain various financial Ponzi schemes in order to continue to win. The Ponzi schemes became useful to them in light of the fact that the global growth rate has been on a sort of decade-to-decade decline since 1973. In 2007 just before the bubble burst, the editors of the “Monthly Review” told us:

    http://monthlyreview.org/2007/09/01/september-2007-volume-59-number-4

    In an article on “The Centrality of Finance,” in the August 2007 issue of the Journal of World-System Research, MR and MR Press author William K. Tabb writes:

    Real global growth averaged 4.9 percent a year during the Golden Age of national Keynesianism (1950–1973). It was 3.4 percent between 1974 and 1979; 3.3 percent in the 1980s; and only 2.3 percent in the 1990s, the decade with the slowest growth since World War II. The slowing of the real economy led investors to seek higher returns in financial speculation….

    Now, the nature of the investor class’s “continuing to win” has been given all sorts of nice names — my favorite is David Harvey’s “accumulation through dispossession.” The financiers have, in short, ripped people off.

    As for the blather about a “recovery,” the most important statistic in this regard is the employment-population ratio:

    http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS12300000

    Anyone can see from the graph that there has been no real jobs recovery.

  7. November 7, 2013

    “Usury” should again be a sin as it is in most religions. I believe a Muslim cannot charge interest with other Muslims but can charge foreigners. We had decent usury laws up until Jimmy Carter and the Democrats passed a law that raised the maximum of what banks could charge. In a Harper’s piece called “Infinite Debt” the great labor lawyer and historian Tom Geoghegan traces the history of what happened after the bill was passed and how debt works. It’s behind a paywall but there is a summary at: http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2009/03/27/freeing-the-country-from-the-credit-trap

  8. Jeff Wegerson permalink
    November 7, 2013

    Excellent again.Thanks again.

    Understanding that money is not the same as economy and that money is best as an economic tool is a good understanding to have. There is a lot of financial economic jargon out there that can be cut through and even ignored if one has a concept of economy separate from money.

  9. Bruce Wilder permalink
    November 7, 2013

    Good job. I assume calling ours, a fiat economy, was a semantic slip from fiat money, but it coincided with some thoughts I’ve had.

    I stopped mindlessly writing and saying, “market economy” a while back, because it is a lie. There are very few actual markets; the rest is metaphor, and a bad metaphor, for what are, in fact, administrative systems, hierarchies. Hierarchies of any size are relatively recent innovations in business; they were necessary to run a railroad, and really big ones — bigger than a single factory — started to become a standard feature of the advanced economies in the 1880s, when railroads had made national distribution feasible for a broad range of products. Hierarchies can produce phenomenal gains in productivity. Hierarchies are also structures of political power and authority, with all the potential for abuse that inheres.

    There can be integrity in hierarchies, as in markets . . . or not. It seems significant to me that the breakdown of hierarchical integrity plays such a prominent part in our accelerating decline. It was the integrity of savings and loans and small commercial banks run by people, who never expected to make phenomenal amounts of money, which kept the price of houses tied to local incomes. Underwriting rules and appraisals recognized that the value of real estate was, as you said, a matter of local incomes. Elaborate systems maintained that hierarchical integrity. The state audited the lending practices of banks and savings and loans. Professional associations of appraisers supported the integrity of their membership. Accounting and auditing standards, administered by national bodies and professional associations, reinforced hierarchical integrity.

    The rhetoric of market liberalism was used to take apart that integrity and feed upon it. There was much prattling about the miracles of market competition, in deregulatory reforms, and a concentrated attack on economic rents and rent-seeking. It seems almost quaint, now that we are overwhelmed by rent-seeking, to look back at the critiques of Mancur Olson and others — were they warning or prescribing?

    Hierarchies depend on economic rents; economic rents are the bedrock foundation for hierarchy. In a healthy hierarchy, defending the economic rent, the source of corporate stability, is the motivation for a conservative defense of integrity. In the simplest case, one doesn’t want to lose the capital of one’s reputation or license. Now, we’ve arrived at a point, where harvesting the invested capital of implicit contracts and commitments, which have made hierarchy function well, is a major business.

    I’m convinced that the confusion created by talking about a “market economy”, when what we have is mostly an economy of hierarchies, plays a part in our collective inability to respond effectively to the explosion of control frauds in our economy and politics.

  10. November 7, 2013

    You’ve been reading Karl Polanyi, I presume?

  11. Ian Welsh permalink*
    November 7, 2013

    Nope. I’ve read parts but not all, but not recently. Still, if you have academic sociological training (which I do, though not a degree), his argument is just part of the background.

    Badtux: yes, I’m aware of all the points you made – stock vs. flow, money velocity, aggregate demand etc… Sorry, can’t cover everything in every piece. I am also aware of price stickiness, it’s one reason I favor inflation. Most of that was covered under the following handwave: “Printing more money does not automatically increase the size of the economy”. (So, when the central bank prints money that essentially is used once to cover losses and does not go into circulation, and thus has no velocity, no demand.)

    You must print the money, get it into the right hands, there must be no supply bottlenecks or oligopolies/monopolies, etc… (heck, I’ve written these articles in the past).

    What you want, as the article indicates, is an organic relation between money and productive capacity, so that they increase more or less in concert, with a bit more money supply than needed, so you have inflation and you have money to increase productive capacity and make non-idle people who want to be non-idle, non idle.

    Bruce: Good points. We do have markets, those markets are neither free nor competitive, are highly fixed by various government manipulations and by interlocking private oligopolies.

  12. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    November 8, 2013

    One of the succinct definitions of economics encountered is the study of mankind’s ecology and the superstructures developed upon that ecology. Thirty minutes drive away is the Altamira Cave and visitors complex (a full scale reproduction of the cave for tourists to experience, a small museum of contemporaneous artifacts, bookstore, etc.). The display of artifacts (maybe two hundred items recovered and displayed from the time the walls were painted) may be about 5-8% of the economic goods available, used or consumed but have disappeared from the archeological record through vast time passing, few bones have survived the interval. Assuming such was the case, it is not difficult to reconstruct an economy of early mankind, not much different in substance from that which is experienced today. Only the superstructures have changed, promoting and enabling a greater complexity in filling economic needs, wants and desires to be satisfied. It is only by understanding this concept that any viable economic idea can be created or a study of the dynamics of the edifices since developed lead to an understanding of their function or purpose. The advent of political demagoguery such as seen in the steaming, stinking of ignorance, pile of opinion (http://www.ianwelsh.net/the-bailout-caused-the-sucky-recovery/#comment-52264) obscures and defeats any attempt to rational discourse. Gresham’s dynamic works in many fora besides coinage, this one is no exception. Both education and public discourse has been modified and distorted by marketing of economic goods and the advent of political propaganda, to the extent that instilled assumptions from these methods must be extracted and isolated before a meaningful understanding of the present conditions become apparent. This process is not happening and will exact a toll upon social wellbeing of the future. What exactly the future understanding will be is an open guess, it can range anywhere from no change to a complete reassessment of economic understanding or any point in-between; the sole requirement is that the process must start from a basis found in reality, delusional perceptions are dead-end, guaranteed.

  13. November 8, 2013

    From Stephen Zarlenga’s “The Lost Science of Money”‘s chapter on the Medieval Scholastics. They explored the idea of a “just price” and denounced the practice of “usury”. They resurrected Aristotle who believed that money is created by society as a measure and medium of exchange. Money does not beget money like cows make more cows.
    “One of their lasting contributions has been to identify that monetary and economic questions are profoundly moral issues.”

  14. Schofield permalink
    November 8, 2013

    “A genuine economy is a relationship of peers; producing, trading, and consuming according to needs.”

    Yep. As rationally defined by the philosopher Alan Gewirth with his “Principle of Generic Consistency”.

  15. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 8, 2013

    @ Schofield
    Yep. As rationally defined by the philosopher Alan Gewirth with his “Principle of Generic Consistency”.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Wow, imagine my surprise (your comment); I’ve never heard of Alan Gewirth or his economics.
    The thing I said was based on my observations of the way of business a long, long time ago.
    It just seemed elegant and real.
    It struck me as somewhat normal that nobody picked up on my comment or gave it any thought.
    Cheers and thanks for your comment.
    Nice to know I’m not completely alone in the continuum…

  16. Benedict@Large permalink
    November 8, 2013

    YOU SAID: When a bank creates a loan it simply adds numbers to various accounts, and it does not have to “have money to loan”.

    This is probably the biggest fiction mainstream economists have ever bullshitted the public into believing. If this were true, the books of banks wouldn’t balance. (Books don’t balance when either money appears out of nowhere, or disappears. This is why we do bookkeeping. To find this out.) Yet the books of banks do balance. Which means the banks do have to have money to make a loan. Sometimes they borrow this money from their depositors; sometimes they get it from elsewhere, but they always get it from somewhere. Always. They simply don’t create it out of thin air, no matter how many times mainstream economists insist they do. Mainstream economists are wrong. About this, and lots of other things.

    But we knew that, didn’t we.

  17. Ian Welsh permalink*
    November 8, 2013

    Actually, this is true.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reserve_requirement

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_requirement

    These rules mean there are some requirements, but less than they appear on paper, due to the miracles of leverage on leverage and creative accounting. To start with, in the US, for example, banks are not required to value most of their assets at market price, but may mark them to model.

    I have a loan from my deadbeat uncle, no one would give more than 10 cents on the dollar on it, but my model says it’s worth face value + 10% compounded per year.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-05/fsb-s-carney-calls-for-bank-risk-model-clampdown-to-repair-trust.html

  18. atcooper permalink
    November 8, 2013

    RJ,

    The tech sector is not nearly as competitive as supposed by many, including the Silicon Valley echo chamber.

    My favorite example is the attempted trust busting of MS way back in the early Bush Jr years. By government fiat, MS was allowed to come to dominance.

    Why, to this day, is Internet Explorer still the de facto standard in the government and Fortune 500 when there are so many other better choices (going on ten plus years)?

    And finally, if there are natural monopolies in the tech sector, that should be recognized, and brought under the same rules as other natural monopolies aka utilities.

    The tech sector, for better or worse, is no haven for the libertarian.

  19. Bruce Wilder permalink
    November 8, 2013

    Ian Welsh: “We do have markets, those markets are neither free nor competitive, are highly fixed by various government manipulations and by interlocking private oligopolies.”

    A few actual markets, and there are appropriate ways to apply the market metaphor to aspects of a broader set of relationships, but, my real point is that our ideological deficit is exemplified by how completely defunct are the concepts of “free” and “competitive” “markets”. There’s no reliable guidance there, analytically, and, as a rallying cry, those slogans have been ruined by neoliberalism. We have to start again, to build an analysis that makes hierarchy an explicit part of economic organization, as conceived of by small-l liberalism or small-s socialism, as your taste may dictate. We can’t go back to “free and competitive markets” anymore than we can go back to the “commanding heights of industry” or the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. In any case, it seems to me that the common theme of our political economy’s self-destruction is the control fraud, the self-dealing of a corrupt, self-serving elite, which would rather harvest the society than husband it.

    If there’s a fertile antonym, it is in opposing decline to growth. It’s going to be a while, before it is a saleable proposition, but I expect the responsible position will have to become one of managed decline as the only feasible alternative to collapse. That’s a heavy lift, as they say in Washington.

  20. john c. halasz permalink
    November 8, 2013

    I have only a reservation about the role you still seem to assign to “competitive markets”. The technical efficiency of large-scale capital-intensive investment far outweighs the supposed efficiencies engendered by market competition between smaller firms, which leads to the market-dominance of oligopolies and the productive quasi-rents that accrue to them. That poses large problems for regulating the overall economy, and a number of partial policy solutions ranging from tight regulation and taxation to outright nationalization might be mooted. But “restoring” market competition isn’t often one of them, if one wants to retain the lowered unit output costs and thus social and economic surpluses they afford.

  21. Ian Welsh permalink*
    November 9, 2013

    Scale is usually advantageous, but not always.

  22. Hugh permalink
    November 9, 2013

    An economy exists to fill the needs of the people in it, material and non-material. It has no other purpose.

    Exactly. The first discussion in economics should always be what kind of a society we wish to have for ourselves and each other. This is why the kleptocratic rich and their servant elites go to such lengths to divorce wealth from fulfilling any social purpose, because wealth inequality is inconsistent with any society responsive to the needs and wishes of the many.

    Government as a social creation is inherently involved in social engineering, that is wealth redistribution. It does this through taxing, spending, legislation, and regulation. The rich and elites, of course, use all four of these to channel wealth and power to themselves to the detriment of everyone else.

    I wished to add the problem of interest. In neoclassical economics, including those of Establishment liberals like Krugman, debt is considered unimportant. One man’s debt is another man’s asset. So it all cancels out, so why bother with it? Well, the reason to bother with it is, because of interest, the two, the loan and repayment, do not balance. X takes out a loan of y dollars, but must repay y dollars plus interest. The question is where does the interest come from and where does it go? You see we are not all equal, rational agents. We have these things called banks, and the banks are owned by the rich. So the interest money does not get redistributed back into the general economy. It gets concentrated more and more into the hands of a few until the system crashes. Now government could use its powers to redistribute this interest money by, for example, taxing it away from the rich and spending it back into the general economy. But the rich own the government so this doesn’t happen.

    And more than this, the rich/banks can make their loans and go to the private banking cartel of the banks where they can get cheap money to back their loans. However, those who take out loans have no such recourse to money creation. So again the system of loans is inherently unbalanced.

    This does not deny in any way what Ian says about leverage/bubble blowing. It is to say that even without leverage, the system will become unstable unless the problem of interest is dealt with.

  23. Kim Kaufman permalink
    November 10, 2013

    ” Money, as my friend Stirling Newberry has noted, is permission: it is the right to decide what other people do with their time. ”

    Like scarcity of good paying jobs so people have to work twice as hard to make ends meet – and have no time to be fully informed on the issues that are (adversely) affecting them – and no time to protest same.

  24. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    November 10, 2013

    @ Hugh 9 November

    Your nicely reasoned comments deserve a reply and not left hanging in the breeze, that goes for B. Wilder as well. Current economic thought is littered with the detritus of capture by political ideologies (thought systems), not surprising as the advent of modern economic philosophy carried the label political economics, opening itself to ideological dangers by the non-discerning.

    First item on progressing an economic agenda is to literally clean the Augean Stables of presently perceived economics. This requires revision of most economic vocabulary and reissue of economic definition in a manner that the vocabulary is based upon universal application e.g. it applies to hunter-gatherers, herding-farming, manufacturing-industrial, banking-financialized and the post Bretten Woods economic world that has developed. What should emerge from this is a clear understanding of the relationships between universal economic function and the functioning of the economic developments (superstructures on the economy) that promote the basic economy, i.e. exchange of economic goods, trade of economic goods, storing and using unconsumed economic value (monetary issues) and application of financial and monetary resources to the economic process (the production and consumption of economic goods).

    Solid grounds for accomplishing such Herculean effort lay in creating an intellectual map, an abstract of facts gleaned from preserving sources, e.g. history, anthropology, archeology, psychology and (but not limited to) sociology (mythology preserves much fact woven into story as well). A consistent interpretation of relevancy to the economic logic needed for this effort while at the same time discarding the irrational ideologic propagandas motivating emotional attachments to fictionalized beliefs (rational markets is a brilliant example). Until this is done, the likelihood of advancing the economic arts remains as dismal as an economic science is considered.

    There may be some urgency in developing an alternative to the present swamp of pseudo-economic ideologic doctrine holding the world’s leadership and academia in its thrall. Once the collapse passes its tipping point, rational discourse will be swept away with the social tumult that will follow, reasoning to a maddened crowd usually fails without miracle, a slender reed of salvation, indeed. Rational development created a complex world that was overcome by an irrational aberration that assures the collapse of complexity; rationality is the only path to restoration of the economic process, TINA.

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