Saturday, March 14, 2009

De-nominating the Common Wealth

The Newtonian impulse to recognize as verifiable and real only that which can be named and measured finds itself at an untenable boundary. Most matter is “dark matter”. Most energy is “dark energy”. Most DNA is “junk DNA”. And most financial products are ephemeral bets against uncertainty – with the majority of them bets against a better future. After all, default swaps accounted for five times the global GDP before they unraveled in 2008. The Bank of International Settlements or BIS – the party responsible for establishing the framework for international banking standards – still puts on an equivalent footing, cash, cash-equivalents, and gold as surety against financial loss. Is it not ironic that in an age defined as the “knowledge economy” we have been entirely unimaginative in how we describe, measure and exchange value?

The time has come to free humanity from the tyranny of reductionism in the denomination of wealth. Part of that process is to carefully examine the consensus myths and their consequences around reflexive norms. Think for a moment. If gold sells for $1,000 per ounce and it takes 22 tonnes of ore to get one ounce, have we honestly priced gold? Could you move 22 tonnes of anything any distance for $1,000? Did we price in the cost of the expropriated land? Did we price in the oppression of labor? Did we price in the only alchemy that inhumanity has perfected – namely turning human blood into gold? Clearly, no. Are cash and cash equivalents a necessity for social exchanges of value or are they the reductionist efficiency for power structures to maintain control (and taxation basis)? Can the BIS bring accountability and transparency to the globe when the G-20 seeks to return to the asymmetries of the past?

The G-20 ministers met in London this weekend as I found myself in a sandstorm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I was puzzled as I saw the economic leaders of the current paradigm struggling to find a path to bring accountability to a process that was explicitly set up to avoid it. Remember, the innovation of a corporation per se was a creation to buffer individuals from the liability of their enterprise. Limited liability and limited accountability go hand in hand. Humanity has a chance to have a voice right now - a clarion call to suggest that we don't want to go back but rather, we want to move forward. We want to have infrastructure built and financed in such a way as to allow for the immediate inclusion of innovation rather than waiting for a bond to expire and an asset to waste. We want to have exchanges between people, communities and cultures which don't have to be reduced to balance sheets. When "goodwill" is written off to zero and tangible assets are tested for impairment, is there any wonder that we aren't evolving into a more transparent and accountable future. The world is more complex than Excel displays it. It's time to take back the dimensionality of humanity and celebrate its complexity in the accountable stewardship to which we are being invited.


  1. "It's time to take back the dimensionality of humanity and celebrate its complexity in the accountable stewardship to which we are being invited."

    Agreed...but how? Where is the path? I sympathize with your sentiments here but have not a clue where to begin having this dialogue and with whom. I, too, ache for a more lucid conversation about the world around with my peers. Instead, I get uninspired, over-done, outmoded sound-bites. It's an ugly reality.

    With respect to: "Can the BIS bring accountability and transparency to the globe when the G-20 seeks to return to the asymmetries of the past?"

    Please explain. I get the gist of it but am not entirely clear.

  2. David, how would you broach the subject of ethical investment to the lay? Notionally it seems be about knowing the risks you take on as well as pose to others. A sort of mutual realization that we're all counterparties much how these ginormous firms were to one another. Is this correct?

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    There's no question that the future calls for new tools. We have a presentation on the Idigna project which seeks to take its impulses from a number of ancient models that built very successful trade relations in the past. If you contact Ken Dabkowski, he can get you a slide presentation and audio file that spends about 1.5 hours specifically beginning this conversation - one that I'd love to share with you.

  4. Another well "penned" essay, David.

    Thinking differently will produce the solutions your readers seek. We have to move away from the Money=Debt banking system, less Jefferson's dire prediction for this country come to pass:

    "If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currencies, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their prosperity until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

  5. Dave, you are onto something profound with the illustration of the cost of an ounce of gold. The human and environmental costs, to say nothing of the moral/spiritual ones, are awfully tough to reduce to monetary quanta though. What, after all, is the fair exchange (whether monetary or otherwise) for denuded land, contaminated water, and degraded souls?

    In other words, I guess, it's far easier to ask the questions than it is to come up with anything approaching a cogent answer. I suspect the truth, finally, is that some things are too costly, full stop. But I wonder how a society comes to this conclusion, much less how they would implement (enforce?) it. That said, the question bears asking again and again. . .


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