By Alex Krainer [For Substack]
The term “economy” gets tossed about in the media every day, personified in statements like, “the economy is slowing down,” “the economy is stagnant,” or “the economy is booming.” The unspoken assumption is that we all know exactly what “the economy” is. But what most of us refer to when we speak about the economy are the statistics about certain economic activities.
The economy itself is the aggregate of people going about their lives and making a living. That entails essential activities like procuring food, apparel, shelter, transport, communications and health care. If those needs are sufficiently provided for, the population can increasingly allocate its capital and productive potential toward improvements in education, public administration, arts and entertainment, defence, and science. Given that all these sectors are finite (we really only need so much food, shelter, transportation, etc) once a population’s needs are adequately provided for, economic growth could level off without anyone being any worse off for it.
People could choose to devote their time and energy to their hobbies, arts, sports or leisure. In other words, so long as the population could continue to produce food, keep their dwellings in good repair, transport and communications systems running, and keep the distribution of goods and services functioning, they could be prosperous and comfortable even in a stagnant economy.
Actually, this would all be true only to the extent that we didn’t have a fraudulent money system which guarantees major crises and disruptions the moment the system stops growing. But for now, we’ll just pretend that we use honest money.
In such a case, even in a stagnant economy serious, disruptive “economic” crises might only result from exogenous events like wars, crop failures or environmental disasters. Or from large-scale malinvestment where real wealth and productive capacity of the society ends up squandered in uses that don’t improve people’s living standards.
It’s about decisions
A society’s prosperity depends on the way capital allocation decisions are made. As we learned in school, in modern capitalist economies capital flows freely to where it will earn the highest return, as determined by free markets. Thus, if people demand more quality food, they’ll bid up the prices of such foods, making its producers more prosperous. This will draw in capital investment in the production of whatever it is that people demand. Increased production ultimately leads to lower prices and as the magical self-perfecting process comes full circle, everyone is better off, thanks to the selfish actions of each and every cog in the big machine.
However, the self-perfecting magic of this system may only work to the extent that the markets truly are free and that the capital can flow unimpeded to where it will earn the highest returns. The efficient allocation of capital would have to be driven by bottom-up decisions by all the selfish cogs as they maneuvered around a level playing field for their own greatest advantage. Everybody knows this because that’s what they taught us in school.
Some cogs are more selfish than others
Unfortunately, the capitalist system is no more immune to collusion, cartelization and monopolization of markets than any other system. The selfish cogs can gain even more advantage if they collude to prevent others from competing against them. As their advantage grows, they’ll gain leverage over the political system where capital allocation decisions are made and regulated, further enhancing their advantage. Thus, with more collusion comes more and more top-down decision making.
Everywhere in the west we have seen a large-scale consolidation in every key industry, so that a handful of large corporations supply the bulk of market demand. The consolidation in the banking industry as well as the shadow-banking system has been the key catalyst in this process. The result is that larger and larger capital allocations are being made by fewer decision makers, enabling them to corral more and more wealth and productive capacities toward uses that are no longer shaped by the needs of the population but by preferences of the mandarins in power.
The most obvious example of this is the Great Reset, a radical overhaul of the global economy envisioned by a very small group of central planners and implemented through a top-down decision making process. As the former Bank of England chief and the current global climate czar Mark Carney banksplained it, “We need a whole economy transition… it’s really about looking for and at the transition plans from all companies and backing those who are part of the solution and talking capital away from those who are part of the problem.”
In a top-down world, if the mandarins decide that oil and gas are undesirable while windmills and solar panels are desirable, they’ll allocate capital accordingly. If they think that insects are preferable to beef and poultry as a source of proteins, the economy will produce insects. And if they decide that fighting wars is preferable to peace, we might have permanent wars too. These are the decisions that determine the prosperity and quality of life in a society.
It’s about who/what we are.
“The economy,” – the statistics they bamboozle us with on a daily basis may not reflect any of it: even if we power the entire economy on wind mills, eat only insects and fight endless wars, the statistics can still be made to look good. But I think we would all agree, that’s not the point. In order for the coming transformation to lead to desirable ends, we’ll have to take an active role in determine how to shape the economy of the future and what we want it to produce. In that sense, the infinitely repeated objectives of “economic growth,” “full employment,” and “price stability” are utterly meaningless.
What we must focus on are things we truly desire – probably things like warm and comfortable homes, quality foods, safe neighbourhoods and time to socialize and enjoy leisure. There is no reason to think of these things – and much more – as anything other than our birthright and to disenfranchise those who presume to deprive us of it. Contemplating what we wish in life inevitably throws us back to the question of who, or what we truly are. Are we just industrious chattel, here to work hard, or are we divine beings made in god’s image, here to enjoy the experience?
Ultimately, this is the key to everything – and it can only be resolved in accordance with our true nature. Is it any wonder that the Great Resetters want to change what it means to be human? Perhaps we should show them?
Alex Krainer – @NakedHedgie is the creator of I-System Trend Following and publisher of daily TrendCompass reports, covering over 200 key financial and commodity markets – probably the best trend following daily newsletter on the market today. One month’s test drive is always free of charge – no strings attached!