Money

Politicians are powerless before economists. Never mind that expert economists give opinions one contradicting the other; the politician does not feel competent enough to challenge the individual economist who happens to be seated before him.

We must call the bluff of this alleged science. Couldn’t we citizens start by observing and pointing out the failure of this breed to agree, predict accurately or ever question their premises?  Politicians may then wake up.

—————————————- —————————————-

Some postings from the blog:

 04 Mar 2012

The Business Mind(ed)

Business people have inherited the earth. Examining what they can now do, to create the earthly paradise, is likely to be helpful all round.

Whether there exists a typical business outlook is doubtful. But we can argue that we see things differently depending on whether we are businesswoman or cabinet maker. If I were a carpenter wouldn’t I see and relate to the world differently from how the business lady does? Would she marry me, anyway? Would I aspire to have my son marry a top lady executive should my own effort fail? What’s special about a business lady, anyway?

Well, for a start, a business lady thinks business. She is business minded – in a way that a labourer or self employed small-scale farmer isn’t. The business minded person is enthusiastic about having the desired policies in place and the right politicians in power. She may want things within the nation aligned with the views of her favoured global powers. She worries about the economy and monitors shifts in the value of the dollar. The labourer tends simply to mind his business. He celebrates a reduction in the price of coconuts in the local market.

Which of these worlds would you prefer to inhabit, given the choice? Which is closer to our vision of the good life? Our circumstances, and our set ways of thinking, do not allow objective decision making. Notions about what each of these vocations is like and of course the status accorded to them probably play a large part in determining our preference. I may opt for the businessperson existence, guided by my impressions of the quality of the two lives.  My insider experience of the business world, after getting into it, may turn out to be quite the converse of my original image. But having made the choice to go into business, or whatever other profession, I’d find it tricky to move into a very different field. It would be so much simpler to appear thoroughly pleased with my choice of vocation and eventually to love it. Portray delight for long enough and it turns real.

The life of proper business people is probably quite good. We see great zest among them and strong commitment. The committed life is generally to be preferred over the lukewarm. Our business executive is generally convinced that the firm he has joined is clearly a world leader or about to become one – partly as a result of his personal effort. Each employee feels a proud and integral part of a noble enterprise, whatever rung they occupy. The lower down someone is in the pecking order the more noble the conviction that he is an invaluable and irreplaceable member of the team – an idea reinforced at periodic staff motivational events and retreats. Some may feel they’d gladly sacrifice their personal interest for the good of ‘The Company’, or even assail outsiders on its behalf.

It is possible to caricature easily the typical corporate person. The middle level executive in a large corporate establishment can be assumed to hold virtually the identical world view to that of a middle level executive in a very different company of similar size. The variation in opinion between her and a peer in another establishment is tiny in comparison with differences in views among, say, carpenters. She is as passionately loyal to her Company as her equal in another, the only difference being the name of the enterprise to which she has given heart and soul. This particular attribute is constantly on display and deeply embedded. And she is seemingly as happy and proud in her job as her peers in the rest in the corporate world are in theirs.

Spoilsports may challenge the depth of their positive sentiments. Doubters may question the wisdom of wholeheartedly adopting a given world view, simply to conform or gain favour. But it is likely that the individuals populating these enterprises are sincere in espousing a particular world view and truthful in claiming to have amazingly enjoyable jobs. We then reach the inescapable conclusion that business minded people have joyful lives. Less fortunate others are well advised to follow them.

 

Nation (4th March 2012)  http://www.nation.lk/edition/business-tbl/item/3429-the-business-minded.html

 ————————————— ————————————

 20 Mar 2012

Money minded or business minded?

Someone we know is described, rather admiringly, as business minded. Another individual, no different in values and conduct from the first, is classed ‘money minded’. The same attribute attracts different labels depending on whether we like or dislike the person.

You may be considered hopeless at business – in which case you don’t attract either label. The trait of being ‘unlikely-to-succeed-in-business’ has bearing on your wellbeing. Your sister, on the other hand, may be the opposite. And this quality influences her wellbeing. You, your sister and the rest of us can improve in wellbeing by learning to modify adverse traits. In this instance we are considering characteristics connected to how we see and relate to the world of finance and business. We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at how we deal with money and money making.

Whether we wish to be seen as not at all business minded or strongly business minded says a lot about us. It’s probably not a waste of time to consider how people do really see us. Our assumptions about how others regard us are unlikely to be objective but they can still offer useful insights. What do I need to recognize about myself if I am likely called hopeless at business? Could this indicate that there are some personal qualities I should think about addressing? Or is this what I want to be anyway? What are the advantages and disadvantages if I were, on the other hand, considered strongly business-minded?

Society as a whole is probably more powerfully swayed by those who strive for material success than those who are at the other extreme. Even if you are not very business minded your life is strongly influenced by the direction in which your more influential colleagues at the other extreme push your office, for example. Is your office a battleground in which individuals struggle ceaselessly to gain an extra inch of territory over their mates? How does that affect your life? If you aren’t in the business minded league you are less likely to be of influence in determining the nature of the office you occupy. Business minded people often pride themselves on being fighters. And fighters clearly have a bigger role in setting the tone within an establishment than their more compliant colleagues. The environment that they create is one of greater competition and struggle for (material) success.

I am not sure that I’d enjoy life on a battleground. Not being a party to the struggle would probably make things a little bearable. But it wouldn’t be much of a relief if constant skirmishing goes on around me. To opt out will class me a misfit too. So I’d have to buy into the aggressive struggle – and do my best to beat the rest. One indicator of superior business capability would of course be financial success. Should I fail to reach the required financial heights I’d have to hang in there through vigorous display of the accepted values and fashions. I must flaunt whatever I believe is approved by the business elite. This applies to the political party and politicians I admire or despise, the music I claim to enjoy or find boring or who I am connected with in the social media and other networks. I dare not let them think I am of a lesser breed.

Success in money making will not by itself put me in the ‘successful businessman’ grade. Absent the right set of beliefs, I will still be considered outside the true business league, however lavishly I serve them their preferred drinks. Dropping impressive names and providing lucrative deals aren’t enough – I must also demonstrate the approved political views, develop genuine contempt for the individuals that business people despise and denigrate all those who don’t buy into our shared dreams. Graduating from the purely moneyed class into the proper business club comes at the price of adopting enthusiastically the opinions of that club. That’s not a price I’d be prepared to pay.

Striving anxiously to remake oneself in the image of others is unlikely to be uplifting. (samara-singhe@hotmail.com)

Nation, Sunday 18th March 2012  http://www.nation.lk/edition/motorist/item/3702-money-or-business-minded?.html

——————————– ——————————–

21 Jun 2012

Uphill flows the dough

Money, unlike other forms of gravy, prefers to flow upwards. It climbs effortlessly uphill, from the bottoms of near-empty pockets of the poor to the tops of brimming pouches of those upstream, propelled by a mysterious anti-gravity force. And it’s been doing so with added vigour, these last few decades.

 

‘All to the good’, learned economists will say, while others of the discipline, equally erudite, despair. The rest of us can take our pick on whim. We can readily locate an ‘economics scholar’ to quote, whatever opinion we want bolstered.

 

Is life collectively better the greater the gaps in wealth among us? Or do our lives, in sum, improve as disparity dwindles? The answer is blowing in the airwaves. If we take note of economists who dominate discussion in our mass media we’d likely conclude that greater gaps in income and of wealth lead to increased social wellbeing and development. This conclusion is comforting, in that our wish to ensure the public good is so easy to realize. We aren’t obliged to do much – for capital anyway flows effortlessly towards the wealthy from the poor. All we need do is nothing.  Money, left alone, will trickle up along its natural channels and create increasing disparities among the citizenry. And we have the comfort of knowing, on the authority of the better-known and oft-quoted economists, that everybody will eventually have a good time as a consequence. Leave wealth unimpeded to do its thing, and all of humanity will be served, soon enough.

 

Should, on the other hand, we happen to heed certain other economists, we’d be quite perturbed. They are, fortunately, a rarer breed and not seen and heard much. So their opinions are unlikely to reach our ears. If they did, we’d feel obliged to work to reduce disparities of wealth – in other words, to challenge the natural direction of flow of wealth.

 

Reversing the natural upward flow of resources takes much effort and often leads to grief. This is the lesson we have learnt from studying events over the years. We know, almost by instinct now, that egalitarian societies are an utopian illusion, which, if people are stupid enough to pursue, always leads to widespread misery. We have learnt from history that allowing money to do its thing and accepting the inescapable increases in inequality is the way to lift the suffering masses out of poverty – eventually. How we have come to such an understanding merits examination. Whatever we discover about its genesis, this widespread tenet of economics will remain secure. We shall heartily defend it against heretics.

 

The things we dearly hold to be true and are most passionate in defending are usually the favored doctrines of dominant forces. Our intense beliefs are generally those nurtured and shaped by authorities on politics, economics and, for quite a few, religion. And the views backed by all of these establishments support increased social disparities rather than greater equity. But there is within many of us an opposing urge as well – to see a fairer world. This troublesome impulse runs counter to current mainstream religious, political and economic precept and practice – to which too we subscribe. Many of us, at the same time as we are naturally impelled to support the underdog and oppose inequity, are pleased that the urge for social justice has been tamed.

 

Inequality has a strong bearing on the nature and the feel of the world we together construct. Its causes and consequences are carefully examined by assorted experts but, like most other things of consequence, aren’t publicly shared or widely discussed. What we are able easily to discover are the conclusions that our handlers want us to find. But deeper realities are interesting to search for. Who controls my opinions and how? Such exploration can at least relieve the tedium of our dominant distractions.

 

Always questioning our own beliefs is no more difficult than continuously reinforcing them – and is certainly less boring. And there are other favorable spinoffs. We may, while making our lives more interesting, do some good to the wider world too.

 

I suggest that we start by questioning why we support certain political and policy actions, and not their opposite, in response to economic inequality.

 

Published 17.6.2012, The Nation

 http://www.nation.lk/edition/business/item/7173-uphill-flows-the-dough.html

—————————————– ——————————-

22 Jun 2012

Economists and economics, Sri Lanka

A discussion was broadcast on SLBC today of the planned ‘highway to the North’ – unveiled, it appeared, in the presence of the Minister of Economic Development.  Provokes the question, does it not, of what constitutes ‘economic development’, were we were to classify this project as a good example of it? Let us try to guess the responses of some selected individuals, if asked about the proposed highway. I give below mine. Your guess may be different – and we can easily verify who got it right.

All recognized economists in Sri Lanka are probably readying their statements anyway, even before being asked, for they know their opinion will be sought.

The main commentator on the radio was speaking admiringly of the Minister’s vision – who, we were told, had recommended that the engineers straighten out the bends in the charted course. This would ensure that the trip would not be needlessly slowed, he explained. Imagine the tons of fuel saved if we reduce travel time just by 5 minutes, said our commentator, lauding the minister’s astonishing insight. We may have had even more profound economic observations had the other cabinet authority on money matters not been languishing in an unconnected ministry. All this would be duly praised in the state media.

A citizen not-so-well informed on matters of economic development may have preferred to see bypasses, one way systems, flyovers, diversions or whatever else possible to ease travel past the spots of worst traffic congestion she encounters daily, over ensuring that an expressway was constructed arrow-straight. There is clearly a great deal of economic development thinking that we uneducated members of the public need to be taught. (There is still a role for economics gurus currently housed in education.)

Had we consulted that other fount of wisdom, the opposition’s spokesperson on monetary matters, what would He have said? Or what is he preparing to say? (I apologize if he has already made a seemingly thoughtful and perceptive comment of which I am still unaware. Quite likely too, for this is too big an issue for the pretentious to ignore.) My guess is that his will be a long winded piece of jargonese amounting to, ‘This is basically a good thing but bad because the timing is wrong’. (Read: Our party is not in the driving seat.) His fans who write columns on economic matters to the privately owned newspapers will expand his basic argument even further. Commissions and kickbacks going into people of the wrong party will lead to indignation and be ‘bravely’ condemned ‘despite the risk of a visit of a white van’.

The sole true left party has no economic spokesperson to ask, given its egalitarian outlook (not only regards wealth but also on expertise of any kind). We will likely have its exhausted speakers saying how all the nation’s problems (including the current demand for bigger salaries by non-academic staff of the universities, the high cost of living and, of course, dengue) could easily have been solved using the money already wasted preparing the blueprint for the expressway . When your supporters are limited to individuals who applaud the first statement you make and equally readily applaud your third statement, even if it happens to contradict your first, you lose the ability to think.

‘Representatives of the Tamil population’, including the strident gentleman from Colombo, are likely to declaim that decisions about what ‘development’ the Tamil people want should be decided by the Tamil people. They will of course be referring to the ordinary Tamil citizens. These (no longer sole) representatives of the Tamil people aren’t likely to notice the fact that the ordinary Sinhala or other citizen too has no say at all over such big ‘development’ decisions. Whether they want a straight line road right through to Jaffna or one with an occasional gentle curve here and there or no such mega road at all is not a matter that the non-Tamil citizen has a say over, either. Nor the ‘satha sivupawa’ that we talk about with such loving kindness on poya days. But the no-longer-sole-representatives notice only the powerlessness of the class they consider human – or indeed sentient.

The most powerful decision makers on issues such as these are the economists. They know what is good for us. Virtually all economists allowed a voice will commend, or at least grudgingly support, projects like this one. The ignorant public has no capacity to judge. A Senior Minister posturing as well-versed in economics has as much power to decide as, say, fifteen million citizens. What development means is known only to the club. Others must go along and be happy at being developed. What the club of economic experts considers the goal of development is never open to question. Contrary opinions are not allowed sustained exposure – whether in the state media, the private media or other channels. Does it make sense to build mega highways when we sense that fuel prices will rise so fast that only millionaires and state VIPs will be able to get enough juice in their tanks for long distance travel – even before the project is completed?  Economists know the answer. So build.

Confront our Senior Minister and raise even the mildest objection, and my prediction is that he will tell you, ‘It is because of people like you that we can’t develop this country’. He knows what development is, you don’t.

—————————— ———————————————-

 08 Jul 2012

The price of vegetables

The cost of a kilogram of carrots has gone up to around 180 rupees during the last week, compared to about 80 rupees two months ago, at the same vendors’. The fruit ‘ambarella’, also cookable as a vegetable, sells at 90 rupees today compared to 50 during the last season. What theory or theories of economics help explain this occurrence? Are any of the theories better than our uneducated guesses at predicting notable rises or falls in prices? And does understanding economic theory allow us scope to control the size and direction of price changes? They should, of course, if the theory were valid. A tiny possibility exists though that economic theories are totally arbitrary constructions, which don’t really apply to the real world – and don’t even have to. We could then as easily have chosen different rules to live by, since the ones we are taught are no more than articles of faith. (Ah, but whose faith?)

 

How indeed have vegetable prices gone up of late? The most obvious answer is that the drought in some parts of the country has led to reduced yields. The economic laws of supply and demand operate unrelentingly and, given the simple operation of a free market, lead to increases in price. Markets have to be unnaturally or forcibly controlled to keep prices low in the face of such curtailment of supply or of increased demand. Such interference with market forces leads to bad consequences. Vegetable prices go up due to the operation of universal laws beyond human control, we are to understand. In this case, the simple law of supply and demand economics underlies the price rise.

 

We experienced some months ago an escalation in vegetable prices as a result of an increase in the cost of fuel. The increased transport cost when divided by the total load in a container could have accounted for an extra two rupees or so for every kilogram of vegetables, say. But natural economic forces operated and the extra price the consumer had to pay went up by ten to fifteen rupees. Supply-demand reductionists could argue that the price should not really change at all, as the quantum of vegetables delivered and the demand by consumers remain unchanged. Why do market forces not keep prices unchanged, when supply and demand have not changed? Well, we must now qualify our supply-demand paradigm and include things like cost of production and transport. Some would argue that it is primarily the cost of production, packaging, marketing and transport that mostly determine price. New medications are horribly expensive during the time they are protected by patent because they naturally cover the huge costs incurred by kindly pharmaceutical giants in research and development.

 

How then did the price of ambarella go up recently? The cost of production for the man who markets his crop of the versatile fruit-vegetable is virtually nil. The tree sits untended in his garden and chooses each season to produce more or less fruit. He sells part of it to the local vendor and the costs incurred harvesting and transporting the fruit is minimal. Despite a better yield in other ambarella trees in the area as well, the price has risen sharply. No increase in production and transport costs, far greater yield all over – but the price rises.

 

This is not at all a problem for our economic theories. The supply-demand force rather than the one of cost of production and delivery can again be pulled out. The generic vegetable scarcity boosts the price of the now abundant ambarella crop, as it is in greater demand due to alternative vegetables now being scarce. The market has created an increased demand for the class of product that our man too supplies. He then benefits from the overall scarcity of vegetable. Knowing that vegetables are scarce he ups his asking price. The free market works in this way. Price is determined also by how much people are willing to pay.

 

Now we should all take an interest in this business, for our lives are strongly influenced by the operation of apparently natural universal economic forces and laws. Better understanding may help us better handle our finances or even alter our consumer behaviour to bring prices down. Well, not really. Demand may be in the hands of consumers to control, no doubt, but the power to price shall never be. All we can find are after the fact explanations of events.

 

Our local ambarella man carries some of his produce to the vegetable vendor expecting to get more than double the 30 rupees he was paid for ‘a kilo’ last year, when the vendor was selling at 50. Since the vendor got a profit of 20 rupees at the time, and given the current market price of 90 rupees, our man believes he can net over 60 rupees a kilo now. Imagine his surprise when the vendor makes a counter offer of 30 rupees this time round too. Discussion allows our man to negotiate only an increase of a further 3 rupees. Having no knowledge of the laws of economics and how they operate, he offloads his bounty at 33 rupees a kilo.

 

An ‘educated’ and kindly neighbour, better informed of how economic forces operate, explains to the simpler man that he has been had. He asks the man to take a sample of the stock from next week’s pluck to another seller and negotiate the price beforehand. Our man does so and the offer from a vendor a little further away is 30 rupees. That man too sells at 90. The neighbour takes pity and offers to drive our simpleton around, to help him locate other vendors who will give our man the appropriate price. The best offer he raises is 32.

 

We know that the unfettered market always finds the right answer and provides both consumers and producer the fairest possible deal. To distort its smooth operation is to invite economic collapse. The market works in mysterious ways and helps the other, infinitely more powerful, mysterious operator fashion the perfect world.

Let us be patient.

In the meantime, have faith.

http://www.nation.lk/edition/business-tbl/item/7953-the-price-of-vegetables.html

—————————————————- ————————-

29 July 2012

 The price of blood

(or,‘Economists know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’)

 Body fluids

Some people donate blood, while others ‘donate’ for cash. The former, driven by a spirit quite alien to the rest, feel bad about taking blood money. They are slow learners in the new market economy. There was once a time when blood was only offered free and was not seen as a commodity that could be sold. A card issued to ‘blood donors’ was cherished and quietly shown to others with great pride.

The world is now more properly tutored. Nothing is priceless any more. What, if not priceless, is a gift of your blood, given only that an unknown person may live? It instantly lost its unique value when others began to be paid for theirs.

Blood is now rather more like sweat, which has for centuries had its price.

Tears became a commodity long after sweat. Organized money-making using tears to provoke conflict, loosen purse strings or win political support is more of a latter day phenomenon. Attaching a price to blood (or the shedding of other bodily juices) is one more example of the unnoticed blight robbing us of our humanity.

Could there ever have ever been a time, distant past, when sweat too was not for sale, given only of compassion? People of one kind of mindset find it awful that a man may charge his son for helping to build his house, or parent pays child for services rendered. For others it is only natural.

Imagine a world where one could win the labour of others only for love. The tide flows now in the opposite direction. Soon, no bodily fluid will be shed or shared free – whether for stranger or lover, family or neighbour.

Some labours do not raise a sweat nowadays, for they are conducted in premises maintained at exactly the right temperature: various factory jobs or sex work, for instance. Although sexual toil in posh premises may not raise a sweat, it does call forth its own juices. These secretions too may in some earlier era never have been shed for money – akin to how blood, sweat and tears too may then have then been offered.  Shed only for compassion or love, caring or service.

What could possibly surpass sex as a labour of love? We may have lost more than we gained by making sexual pleasure an easily procured commodity. It’s not at all clear that we haven’t already passed the point where the larger part of sexual activity is lovemaking as labour and not labour of love.

 

The changing world order

The world order teaches, and having taught takes control. We are all enlightened into accepting the evident truths, the instruments of learnt conformity. One contemporary truth has it that everything has its price. You and I aren’t capable of assigning the right price but experts can easily cast in dollars or yen, pounds or renminbi, the cost of a pint of blood.

These anonymous specialists have a name. They are collectively called, ‘the market’ although they don’t admit to it. The rest of us too had better get on the world stage fast and learn to play (with) the market. If not, we shall be consigned to pining for a time when ‘the market’ meant something quite different from the surreptitious workings of a hidden cartel. To hanker for an older order is death – or senility, which comes close. It’s time to take control of the present.

They, the market, price a pint of a North American’s blood well above an Afghan’s. We know that sweat too varies widely in worth, as do tears. Especially tears. Sinhala tears are worth a small fraction of those Tamil, in the world market. Assignment of price can rapidly change, we Tamils and Sinhalese will learn, as Pakistanis have found out (too late?). Most Indians are likely aware of where their fortunes are being guided, without their consent. But what can they do if their PM is inclined to sell them short? Ordinary Iraqis paid the price for Saddam Hussein being bought by the market. But what could they do?

How many dollars did various powerful patrons, ever willing to help us fight to win our legitimate rights, earn for every teardrop shed in the strife they sponsored here? There must have been something to be made from our Tamil and Sinhala tears for them to have given us the attention we got. Muslim tears, whether Sri Lankan or European, count for naught in that global marketplace. Tears of people Christian – even if they were labelled black, or classified Timorese or Egyptian – are priced high in that big bazaar. At least for the present, while the organized church to which they belong remains tamed. Things would change in an instant, should the cathedrals too convert to Christ. (Heaven forbid!)

We do not know how to price a pint of blood, but they, the market, do.

 

Lab blood

We possess the technology to produce blood in a laboratory. Or mice, or creatures yet unknown.  Let’s now set up the required machinery to produce the perfect pint of blood. Once in operation, it would produce a pint for the cost of little more than the ingredients or raw materials, likely very cheap. My guess is that the laboratory blood will be priced at many thousand times what mere human ‘donors’ are paid. It may cost more to feed a human the raw material needed to make a pint of blood than to shove the necessary ingredients into a machine. But the price of the product will be quite another matter, you can be sure.

Let’s say that this is not due to greater demand for the machine-made blood by individuals who are averse to allowing tainted human blood into their system. The numbers who’d rather die than be contaminated by hellish human products being infused into them is likely too small to drive the price of our new lab blood to astronomical levels. But you can bet that the laboratory blood will be unaffordable to those who most need it. The people called the market have their own ways of determining price.

The market sets value by the cost of machinery, the investments made by enterprising entrepreneurs (ever willing to take business risks with their billions that you and I aren’t with ours), the development of technology, marketing and the like. These demand a good enough return to make the investors into billionaires (oops, trillionnaires) – a few more times over. The simple minded aren’t able to assess the various technological and intellectual costs inherent in entrepreneurial risk-taking. These can be assigned the appropriate price only by those in the know.

But the financial experts never compute the costs of producing the human machine, that currently manufactures blood for the market. Or sweat, tears and other secretions. That’s just another feature of their comprehensive training.

How indeed does the expert know the price that she should rightly pay for a pint of a poor man’s blood?

 

OR,

The price of blood

 

Some people do donate blood,

while others give for cash.

The former, driven by gentle urge,

think blood money is trash.

 

 

There was a time not long ago

when blood was always free.

An era that came well before our new economy.

Could there ever have been a time,

when tears were not for sale?

Nor even sweat?

 

How much dough did indeed flow

to supporters outside

(ever willing to help us fight, to win our legit rights)

for every teardrop shed, in their sponsored strife?

 

Quite a fancy price we’d get

had we a factory

producing perfect blood.

Put it together inside me

and they get it almost free,

far cheaper than a simple chip in most machinery.

 

We are now so open-minded

that priceless things are priced.

 

How does the expert trained to cost,

work out the price of a pint of blood?

 

Craft it naturally

and few hundred bucks we get.

Machine made and the price they’d fix

is many thousands instead.

 

They know the price of everything

but the value of nothing, we sigh.

Though cast as slight, it nicely hides

a monumental lie.

 

It is true they do not recognize

the value of whatever.

We should have seen they never knew

the price of anything either.

 

—————————————— ——————————————

 25 August 2012

REDUCING THE HARM FROM ‘ECONOMICS’

 Economics is no different to astrology and psychoanalysis. Each of these, defined by its shared jargon alone, is presumed by many to provide superior insight into the root causes of, and good remedies for, our ills. And any two experts in any of these disciplines can be trusted to provide completely different predictions and prescriptions for a given set of circumstances – should we manage somehow to prevent them hiding behind opaque and ambiguous language.

In common with several other professions, these three too do more harm than good. But the harm caused by economists is of a higher order altogether from what their potential competitors, including politicians, achieve. Most of it results from the widely held assumption that they are more perceptive than us on what is good for us ‘economically’. We then let them take over and do things inimical to our interests in the silly belief that they know more than we do.

The underlying problem is easy to spot: it is either that economics has no special insight to offer us or that there isn’t a single economist around who knows economics.

I had once the opinion that the main problem was stupidity or incompetence among the economists we generally hear. I am not sure any more, having checked and discovered that those economists I know are no more intellectually impaired than I am. True, they do say one thing quoting someone or some theory and then something quite contradictory a few minutes later quoting another source and do not notice the inconsistency. But this I think arises from the nature of the discipline and not from weakness of the disciples.

A veneer of respectability and substance is provided economics because it states in concrete numbers things to do with commerce and money. The use of not-very-complex mathematics, with figures related to a particular subject, is still only mathematics. We may like to call it econometrics if we must. Econometrics provides more precise description, not insight or useful theory. Economics takes cover under econometrics and passes off as a separate body of practically useful theory. In reality, it is no more than a pool of internally inconsistent mumbo-jumbo from which the anointed are allowed to scoop up selectively, according to need.

We must call this bluff. If not, the breed will continue to put on their airs and impress policymakers who then go along merrily – killing us slowly in the (implanted) belief they are doing us good.  There is no evidence anywhere that economists know better than the rest of us what economic policy is good for a country. But there is plenty of evidence that they don’t. We have to wrest power back from the pretenders.

 ———————————- ———————————————–

01 Oct 2012

Soothing words in song reached me uninvited this morning, and moved quickly from backstage to spotlight. In captivating voice, the Sinhala words:*

 

Who rinsed the grain with tears that flood the pot

Whose sighs kindled the hearth

Who scoured local woods for unclaimed fruit

and watches out for my return from afar -

oh mother.

 

Today’s song rekindles images from an era almost gone. We have developed and left to history the glorified tedium. Suffering may still persist, even in our developed midst, but in altered form. Much is gained as poverty ebbs. But may lots be lost as well?

 

Romanticizing poverty is quite a common sin, especially among people in material bliss. But being loaded with cash and other things may nonetheless deprive – which is not to say that living in want is somehow the better state. But wealth too can rob us of some truly priceless gifts.

 

The words of that song depict many magical things. How fortunate the daughter who has concrete form in which to see the depth of devoted love she gets. And fortunate indeed is she to receive such adoration. Had she been rich, would mother have had such telling means to say, ‘This is how much I care’?  In the decadent world all gifts are baubles, and words just empty sounds? Caring touch or sharing time may still remain for some – but I wonder whether these too weaken beside the dazzle of plenty. Being robbed of options for gift that conveys real depth of feeling is the price we pay for holding uncountable wealth. Not too bad a deal, we’d guess. But loss of feeling altogether is as well a risk, further down the line. Limitless wealth may not be return enough for such grave deprivation.

 

What we commonly call riches may need some qualification. Do we want to say someone is rich only when she is well-heeled? What word shall we use for the huge treasure resident in a large heart? One who’s rich in this other way gets another bargain as well:  she’d likely find it effortless creeping though those eyes of assorted needles. That kind of wealth may also grant benefits here on earth to rival those that lots of cash are known well enough to give. And there may be less of a downside to holding vast amounts in spirit than to having large deposits in bank. This is a hypothesis that deserves careful scrutiny.

 

The song triggered the question whether great material wealth can dull. Can being loaded stop us inhabiting the greatest depths of emotion? Or does the billionaire too enjoy a rich enough inner life? Are the poor mother’s emotions felt no more strongly than his – but in some strange way become intense and noble, by the image of wholesome poverty entwined?

* That verse in Sinhala is:

Kandulu hela nembiliyata sahal garana amma

Susum hela gini del gena lipa molawana amma

Wel deni wala avida gosin weralu genena amma

Idi weta langa api ena thuru bala hindiy amma.

 

and is intensified by the singer’s mellifluous voice.

 

 

 

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>