Adam Smith would be far less popular today were it not for his indolent generalizations about the march of progress in
America and his contempt for Asia. Nearly 240 years later, as we watch as the
economies built on his perfunctory musings crumble despite the most impassioned
interventions, it is ironic that we still blindly follow our Hobbesian
Narcissism to his Echo. Wealth is Power, we hear in the romantic
distance and gaze longingly into the pool of our reflection puzzling over the
beauty of our own projection. Like the
woodland nymphs of antiquity, European leaders intervene in Spain this
weekend while the U.S. Congress and the sparring presidential campaigns
blissfully ignore the 'fiscal cliff' looming at year's end.
In his Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith writes:
Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniencies, and amusements of human life. But after the division of labour has once thoroughly taken place, it is but a very small part of these with which a man's own labour can supply him. The far greater part of them he must derive from the labour of other people, and he must be rich or poor according to the quantity of that labour which he can command, or which he can afford to purchase. The value of any commodity, therefore, to the person who possesses it, and who means not to use or consume it himself, but to exchange it for other commodities, is equal to the quantity of labour which it enables him to purchase or command. Labour therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.
It is ironic that this Spring and Summer of European discontent is emanating from economies that have long shunned the very labor celebrated by their economic demigod. Far more insidious is the abject failure with which
U.S. economists and their operators
adequately price the cost of our economic dependency built on our militarized
extreme of the "command" of labor.
Our "fiscal cliff" is looming larger than all estimates given
the fruit borne of our unconsidered resolution to violent control of
commodities which, having yet again lurched into military campaigns in Iraq and
Afghanistan from which we will have no quantifiable gain, we will seek to
repatriate our soldiers and repurpose our industrial complex only to find that
we've built nothing of transferrable value.
While at the end of the Great Wars we were able to forge a civilian manufacturing
base, exactly how do you repurpose unwitting mercenaries and nation-building
consultants who failed to build what they were handsomely paid to build? Bringing our soldiers home to unemployment
and having austerity hit our defense budget in January leaves the U.S. in the
unenviable position of adding violence to austerity. And we thought that with our wealth came power. Hobbes didn't see
that with violent power comes moral poverty.
The fallacy of historicism so richly imbued in Smith's view and so warmly embraced by his protégés is built upon a linear regression that suggests that:
Free Natural Resources + Commanded Labor = Colonial Wealth.
Now we clearly don't wish to think of ourselves as still living in the bigotry of colonialist models. However, as I pointed out in last week's post, the shareholders of Rio Tinto's Bougainville Copper Limited celebrate surrogated cannibalism when they turn a blind eye towards the death of 20,000 people so their company can enforce a mining concession granted by the U.N.-sanctioned colonial administration of Bougainville by
! When Smith's 'command of labor' is taken to
the militarized extreme, we find ourselves building an entirely unsustainable
order of affairs which is sure to collapse - most probably in the most
inelegant of ways. Australia
In my presentation tomorrow (the manuscript will be published in the Proceedings and is available upon request), I will be suggesting that wealth needs to be redefined and liberated from its dominion-based, colonial empowered moral bankruptcy. In an argument suggesting that sustainability is a function of the ability to enjoy non-destructive utility of matter and energy while preserving as much essential optionality as possible, I propose that:
wealth = utility x retained optionality∞
where ∞ = ∫ of all users across all value dimensions
When one considers this formula, one can readily see that the greatest wealth is experienced when the maximum benefit can be derived (in number of participants) from the least phase and state alteration (for more on this, take a look at my previous postings on Phase and State Coherence). And the more value (in terms of integral accounting) dimensions can be simultaneously appreciated by the more participants, the greater the momentary and residual wealth.
In future posts, we will broaden the inquiry into this expansion of Buckminister Fuller's view of wealth which he described as the, "organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives." By liberating this definition from its linearity, one can see that a Common Wealth can emerge, be characterized, and, in application, be the basis for a More Perfect Union.