Sunday, March 20, 2011

Transforming our Economy At Last - Our World’s New Beginning

A speech delivered on March 17, 2011 in Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia
By Dr. David Martin, Executive Chairman of M•CAM Inc
Batten Fellow, University of Virginia

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come.

Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m.

Two hundred thirty seven years ago this invocation set in motion the First Continental Congress and set the world alight in a war against perceived tyranny and oppression. Two hundred thirty seven years later, we gather this evening in a world alight in a war against perceived tyranny and oppression. Kneeling under the illumination shining through the south window of this hall, resplendent in the light of morning, the Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia could not have imagined that his prayer, so passionately constructed, would, in two centuries find itself more prophecy than supplication.

Just this past week, China re-emerged after 500 years as the world’s leading producer economy while, we the People for whom this prayer was spoken, find ourselves in a relentless struggle to “defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries.” However in a tragic irony, this time maliciousness and unrighteousness are not directed to foreign powers but at our own countrymen. Having fled the rod of the oppressor, we have, in larger part, been seen as the oppressor. Rather than assembling in honor for the “best and surest foundation” we instead have scorned wisdom for the tyranny of intolerance.

Once again, now in the light of the waxing Lenten moon, I would like us to consider our precise condition so that we can find a path to a supplication more fitting a New Beginning. Tonight, I would welcome you to consider the animating values of ourselves, our businesses, our nation and our world and recognize that it is in this consideration in which we can reconcile ourselves to our callousness and find a path towards a More Perfect Union.

Earth Dwellers to Resource Conquerors

On the waning notes of the prayer which opened this Hall, Adam Smith in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations described the Earth as not our sanctuary and home but rather the compilation of commodities to exchange and consume. The Earth and its “resources” were objects of dominion and Labor – not human engagement and stewardship – serving as the determinant of value. In this view, and in its present manifestation, we find ourselves in persistent conflict to lay claim to perpetually lower “cost” resources and labor to leach profit from every source. In the late 1990s as we encouraged profit maximization by reducing domestic employment, did we profit or did we create an ecosystem where our own citizens have atrophied in their capacity to produce and contribute to a national wealth and identity? We prayed for nurturing care but decided that University of Chicago shareholder value maximization was supreme. Rather than seeing ourselves as stewards of an ecosystem, we sought piety through blood. Is it then, any wonder that the words “human trafficking” and “conflict metals” are as synonymous in our day as slavery and plunder were in 1774?

Sanguinary Purposes vs. Effectual Harmony

In the formation of the current Federal Reserve at the turn of the last century, we frequently recall the debate about States’ rights of currency. We remember William Jennings Bryan and J.P. Morgan variously advocating for agrarian interests in state currency and silver vs. gold and industrial credit, respectively. However, we spend little time considering the centrality of mortality in our Federal Reserve system. After all, it was the life insurers – like Aetna and Metropolitan Life – who provided life insurance premiums for the capital formation of our current monetary system (a practice persisted to this day). It was, after all, the cash compiled by insurers from 1905 to 1913 which provided the first “fixed income” capital to buy the first Federal Reserve debt. To this day, life insurance premiums and pensions require, as “safe investments” the very debt that animated the Fed’s founding. As founding members of Reserve Corporation and persistent members of its Board of Directors, what’s in your wallet is merely a debenture against your very mortality. And, given that most Americans die in debt, there’s no wonder why the dictum of near compulsory “death benefits” are structured to repay, in death what we failed to honor in life.

While we have layered equity markets, financial engineering, celebrated monetary hegemony on top of our modern, self-congratulatory assessment of our now threatened economic power, at what point in history did we actually stop and ask ourselves the considered question: “Does money based on actuarial management of Death serve as the best metric of performance or success?” Is a business the sum of returns to shareholders or is it an organizing endeavor which values the participants in a community; which builds value through employment; which spreads value through exchanges within and between communities; and, which engages value in practicing exemplary stewardship?

Expedient Blessings to Indebted Consumption
When the Reverend implored the Almighty for “expedient” blessings, is it conceivable that expediency and blessing are in existential tension? “Truth and justice, religion and piety prevailing and flourishing”? In this time, in fact our greatest perceived threat is coming from religion and piety prevailing and flourishing. The challenge for us is that, in our focus on our own interests, we failed to engage with our neighbors and, in the vacuum, other religions – built on strict adherence to the values of community and ideology over the individual and built on community values rather than isolated consumerism – flourished. While we can debate on the proximate causes for piety-animated extremism, there is no question that poverty is a fuel for radicalization and we were too busy swiping our credit cards using our houses as ATMs to recognize that we were contributing to the animation of our shared greatest fears.

Friends, we now live in the full measure of the prayer that opened this hall. Our manifold successes remain bound to tyranny and oppression. Our technological advances have been energized by resource exploitation which ravages countries and spreads the scourge of poverty-fueled reprisals to our shores.

Make me an instrument of peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

In the Industrialization of the past century, we observed and were willing participants in an economic system which detached the value of business and human endeavors from the ecosystem, integral values, and a sense of perpetual stewardship not only for ourselves but for future generations. Rather than aligning capital and its flow to productivity, we sought extraction optimization and celebrated the same as the pinnacle of celebrity achievement.

We are more than the sum of this failing indebted currency metric.

What does the New Economy look like? How will we recognize it when it shows up? What can we do to align our efforts with its manifestation?

Productive Currency
Money is an artifact of value transfer – not the value itself. Since we stopped using metal coinage, this has been the case. Experiments in new currency – including Utah’s recent vote to reinstate gold and silver as legal tender – are emerging at community, State and international levels. Intrinsic to all of these is absolute commitment to reconnecting the exchange with productive engagement. Currency is a call option on future goods, services or interactions – not a draft against looming debt and mortality.

Collaborative Access
Humanity shares some basic traits – not the least of these is the shared impulse to be creative. Whether it’s the Inca pumping water up a mountain 800 years ago or the survivor of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, when water is where we don’t want it, we move it. From the farmer who goes from sharpened stick, to plow, to no-till agriculture to the metallurgist who goes from cast iron to single atomic thickness gas phase deposition of conductive materials, when we see our world, our impulse is to change it. This shared impulse must serve as the core for accessing active participation in the global exchange of value. Rather than seen as a commodity of labor, we will succeed when creative collaboration is a calling card equally valued regardless of race, creed or geography.

Transparent Accountability
Value is an inclusive experience which counts the all-in consequence of our activities. Coal isn’t free. It costs a forest, epochs of time, pressure, heat and space and our assumption that its value starts at its digging denies its replacement value. Metals don’t show up in ingots or bars but they start with a dynamic earth that quakes, heaves, and transforms phase and state. From materials to our final interaction with goods, services and experiences, accounting for ALL components of our experience is the only way we’ll manifest a viable economy for all. Poverty’s blight must be transformed from the absence of things to the willful disengagement from communities and networks. Wealth must take on the stewardship mantle where the best of us are the ones who remove the most barriers of access for the masses.

This is happening now.

So, in the waning hours of this evening, let us consider a new prayer for the New Economy.

Led by humanity’s Unquenchable Light,
We pledge…
… to live as stewards of our sanctuary Earth;
… to honor the inalienable value of the creativity intrinsic to all;
… to orient our actions to the removal of barriers of access and opportunity;
… to define our wealth by our character rather than our artifacts; and,
… to fully live in abundant grace in a spirit of tolerance and mercy;
So that we, dwellers of Earth, may be embraced in the illumination of everlasting glory.

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave