Sunday, November 4, 2012

Austerity: Progress in Retrograde

Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, first published in 1705, served as one of the many philosophical underpinnings for Adam Smith's, John Maynard Keynes', and numerous other economists' causal economic models.  For those who have the time, I commend the 1714 full text for edification.  For those who don't, I've quoted the fable's moral below.

"Then leave Complaints: Fools only strive 
To make a Great an honest Hive. 
T' enjoy the World's Conveniencies, 
Befamed in War, yet live in Ease 
Without great Vices, is a vain 
Eutopia seated in the Brain. 
Fraud, Luxury, and Pride must live; 
Whilst we the Benefits receive. 
Hunger's a dreadful Plague, no doubt, 
Yet who digests or thrives without? 
Do we not owe the Growth of Wine 
To the dry, crooked, shabby Vine? 
Which, whilst its Shutes neglected stood, 
Choak'd other Plants, and ran to Wood; 
But blest us with its Noble Fruit; 
As soon as it was tied, and cut: 
So Vice is benefcial found, 
When it's by Justice lopt, and bound; 
Nay, where the People would be great, 
As necessary to the State, 
As Hunger is to make 'em eat. 
Bare Vertue can't make Nations live 
In Splendour; they, that would revive;
A Golden Age, must be as free, 
For Acorns, as for Honesty.

Despite the conspicuous absence of a "Finance Minister", the G20 have convened in Mexico for what undoubtedly will be one of the most stupefied assemblies to date.  The missing minister happens to preside over the economy of greatest magnitude currently careening towards a self-imposed fiscal cliff with no driver at the wheel.  On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) correctly stated that we can't "tax our way out of it."  It turns out that revenue sufficient to be a nation "Befamed in War..." living …"in Ease" where "…Fraud, Luxury, and Pride must live; Whilst we the Benefits receive," is as illusory today as it was in 1705.  Britain's continental conflicts were then what our War on Terrorism is today - an imposition of uncommon values at the end of a gun.

Mandeville paints an entirely hopeless picture of the struggle for the State to encourage the populace to "conquer (rather) than indulge his Appetites".  To encourage citizens to "disapprove their Natural Inclinations, or prefer the good of others to their own," while admirable, is futile as there are not enough rewards suitable to encourage such an ideal body politic.  And so Congressman Cantor eludes courageous unpopular leadership like his English lord forebears just 300 years ago.  Correctly describing the untenable without once evidencing the courage required to deliver the sober message:  We the People have become Entitled to the point of Sloth and that's what's got to change.

Befamed in War and Living in Ease (a dubious expenditure-to-GDP ratio distinction shared by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Israel, Oman, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - all luminaries of human excellence and...well,...) is an ironic paradox given the U.S. insistence on being dedicated to Freedom and Liberty.  "Physicians valued Fame and Wealth Above the drooping Patient's Health," while we spend over 15% of our GDP on disease management suggesting that the "Living at Ease" ideal is not adding to our well-being.  Between war, disease and debt, we spend more on these three than we do on all those things that would add to our benefit.  And this is the "big government" that the Democrats are accused of supporting and the same "big government" that the Republicans are unwilling to challenge.  Tragic, when you think about it!  Both sides sharpening their teeth on the same pestilence that will devour all in the end and no one willing to call either side's bluff.

Which is why I'm so fascinated by the much ballyhooed scourge of "austerity".  We've been conditioned to see ourselves dependent on Defense, Health, and Money - the sovereign duty of the government under the current paradigm.  Yet we enjoy neither safety, wholeness, nor productive value exchange!  So when we hear that the conditions under which government is operating are not sustainable, what precisely do we find so repugnant about this prospect?  Isn't this a time to celebrate the natural end of a failed experiment of nation-state intervention and a time to embrace the personal and community accountability we've been conditioned to eschew?  A world with fewer self-incriminating corrupt political actors incentivized to duplicitous behavior through opaque indulgences brokered through graft - now that's some austerity we could all use.

Rather than swooning under the popular fear of the terminal condition of a system wracked with the cancer of corruption, I suspect that we'd do ourselves a favor for examining the value of that which we're warned we'll lose.  Sure, the transition from public funding to community values may be bumpy but maturation is always a bit messy.  Think about it - were your teenage years your best?  While I'm sure one of you passed through puberty with nary a pimple, most of us had more than our share of the generalized plague-like appearance that no amount of Noxzema could fully tackle.  But, for most of us, this was a passing state and we came out the other end with a character that learned to accept that which was uniquely our challenges and release the emotional scars that were skin blemish deep.  We the People are now invited to join our European brothers and sisters and realize that the pruning that is upon us is not our enemy.  We are confronted with an opportunity to engage an accountable life at scale.  And this may form a More Perfect Hive.

1 comment:

  1. As for free energy, check out this Urine powered Generator invented by a trio of Nigerian girls and recently unveiled at a International exhibition.


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