The economy is the system we use to extract, develop and distribute natural resources from the earth to sustain human life. “Economics,” as the term is known around town, is a set of arguments used to justify withholding critical resources, such as food, housing or healthcare, on the basis of maintaining a “favorable incentive environment.” Mathematics can show how reasonable this withholding is as a course of policy. That “economics” embodies the Ethic of War, the idea that optimal outcomes depend on the conscious abandon of human dignity, however, categorically limits economics math to optimizing the sub-optimal, and is therefore not all it’s cracked up to be.
This is an important point about epistemology and authority. Truly, I don’t think it’s asked enough, what are the consequences of mandating that production, and its enabling contracts, sees to the satisfaction of basic human needs as a first priority? If economics is a science as infallible as physics, then what is this “dark matter” of consequence that precludes institutional concern for basic human dignity? Surely, some readers are itching to answer, “that’s communism,” but that response would just beg the question of why our public discourse is informed by ideological subscription in this age of Big Data. There’s no reason why our market economy can’t have stronger social safety nets, especially when market forces are pushing working people out onto the street. “Economics,” insofar as it’s known to be a “science,” is the science of knowingly perpetuating proven harms, to avoid unlikely harms, on the basis of faith as testified by the “scientists” involved.
The dogmatic treachery of “economics” is apparent in the common language we use to discuss political economy. For instance, we tend to conflate what people “deserve” with what they “earn” but when earnings correspond to the “market rate,” and the market rate reflects a power imbalance between labor and capital, the gap between earn and deserve is likely to be wide. This gap has become so wide, in fact, that many working people are left in the unfortunate position of not “deserving” basic human necessities for the shortcomings of their market wage, and not for scarce supply but for motivating effect. Some of these people sleep on the street in Seattle. Others are better off, and can afford access to housing and such, but by margins so thin that the labor contracts providing this access better serve as reminders of the specter of insecurity that incents them to work, than as institutional testaments to the availability of economic opportunity.
Most readers are likely familiar with the noun “incentive,” which has been in use since the 15th century, according to Merriam-Webster, as it’s used in the following sentence. We respond to incentives. The verb “incent,” however, which only came into use in 1981 according to the same source, is likely less familiar. This evolution in language neatly reflects changes in wealth distributions and the political domination that gargantuan private fortunes afford. “We will incent the Africans to make the right choice,” a billionaire said as he casually discussed setting the terms of democratic choice for a population of which he is not a part. “Philanthropy,” that’s called.
There’s a clear disconnect between what the economy is and what “economics” is for, though it’s masked by language. By aiming the Ethic of War at profit maximization, economists have perverted language to convince our representatives in government, if not the American people themselves, that our economic well being depends on ignoring the ways in which people cannot help themselves to be well, though it’s easily within our means to provide what they need and deserve – what they’ve rightly earned. The question to ask, I suppose, is to what extent are we willing to betray our gut, heart and mind for numbers produced on the basis of an extremist faith?
That’s all for now. More soon.