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Our Economy Is Failing Our Society

May 21, 2018

If we want to extend the opportunities for positive social roles to everyone, we have to change the way money is created and distributed in our economy.

One of the most unrecognized dynamics of our era is the structural dependence of our society on our economy. One set of pundits, politicos and academics wring their hands over the fragmenting of civil society (the rise of disintegrative, divisive forces and the decay of integrative forces) and decry the rising inequality that is our economy's dominant feature, while another set of pundits and academics celebrate the economy's remarkable adaptability or focus solely on reading financial tea leaves (interest rates, Fed policy tweaks, unemployment rates, etc.)

Those few analysts who escape their respective silos/academic ghettos rarely get past generalities such as the erosion of social mobility, a dynamic that is clearly economic and social. But the precise mechanisms behind the secular erosion of social mobility are lost in platitudes about how A.I. and robots will free us all to be poets or consumers of a vast and endlessly enjoyable leisure.

The key understanding that's lacking is that economic structures organize and limit the social structures underpinning civil society. To understand why civil society is disintegrating on so many fronts (public health, civil discourse, etc.), we must understand how our economy has failed to support the social structures required for an integrative, inclusive civil society.

Our economy is transforming/adapting as a result of powerful secular trends: the 4th Industrial Revolution (a.k.a. the digital-networked-AI-Big-Data revolution), globalization, the commoditization of ordinary capital and labor, the financial and political dominance of quasi-monopolies and cartels, and perhaps the most unrecognized dynamic, the devaluation of ordinary capital and labor in favor of scarce and often rarified forms of capital and labor in the fields of technology, entrepreneurship and finance.

Collectively, these profound structural changes have created a winner take most economy that favors the politically connected, the privileged (i.e. those who are already wealthy, powerful or holding privileged positions) and those few who have mastered scarce skills in financialization, technology and entrepreneurship.

Everyone below this class has seen their income stagnate or decline, and their household wealth erode unless they happened to own homes in skyrocketing markets or happened to have stock options or some other substantial (and relatively rare) ownership of income-producing assets such as a profitable family business.

My analysis of IRS income found that at most a few million households out of America's 130 million households have productive assets (i.e. assets that generate net income) that aren't tied to asset-bubbles in real estate and stocks. Once those bubbles pop (and all asset bubbles eventually pop), then the millions of households who reckoned their bubble-era wealth was a permanent feature of their lives will discover that bubble-era "wealth" is temporary, a phantom sort of wealth that vanishes as quickly as it arose.

The top tier of our economy lives in a different society than the bottom 90%. Some of the socio-political manifestations of this reality are discussed in a lengthy Atlantic essay: The 9.9% Is the New American Aristocracy.

If we read between the lines, we discern the differences in the economic classes are not just differences in higher education credentials or skills--the fantasy that all we need to solve these structural asymmetries is "more job training"--but differences in values, social networks, family structures and perhaps most invisibly to critics left and right alike, in the positive social roles available to their children.

The foundation of any economy is its money, and this is why I keep saying: if you don't change the way money is created and distributed, you change nothing. Yes, we can tweak various financial parameters and delude ourselves into believing that yet another raft of laws and regulations will actually reverse the erosion of civil society or reverse the rapidly widening gulf between the top 5% and the bottom 95%, but delusions aren't reality.

If we want to extend the opportunities for positive social roles to everyone, we have to change the way money is created and distributed in our economy. That will require a transformation not just in whiz-bang technology but in the foundations of our entire economy.

These two charts reveal the structure of economic and thus social asymmetry: the top owns capital/prouctive assets, the bottom own either a bet on an unstable asset bubble (housing or stocks) or no productive assets at all:




My new book Money and Work Unchained is $9.95 for the Kindle ebook and $20 for the print edition.

Read the first section for free in PDF format.


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(Kindle ebook $9.95, print $20 )

This is the most important book I have written. It started when I asked myself a question: when we dream of the future of our society, are we hoping for the right things?

The current conventional-wisdom view of our soon-to-be future is rose-tinted: automation will free millions of people from the drudgery of work, then by taxing the robots doing all the work, we can pay everyone Universal Basic Income (UBI), enabling a life of leisure and artistic pursuit for all. The result: A future of Universal Happiness.

But is this accurate? Is this what UBI is actually capable of doing? More importantly, is this what we want?

And even more importantly: will this “future” be our best future? Will it account for and manage the practicalities of work, money and automation, given the limits of endless growth on a finite planet?

Money and Work Unchained drags the now-popular concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI) from the shadows of Pundit blather into a harsh, illuminating light, and in doing so presents an entirely new view of the future that upends our conventional, foundational, understanding of work and money.

This book lays out a practical pathway that realigns work, money and human fulfillment into a sustainable system that sheds the inequalities and injustices of the status quo in favor of a human-scale way of living.

And – it gives us a future to truly hope for.

Kindle ebook $9.95, print $20)



Recent entries:

Our Economy Is Failing Our Society May 21, 2018

Sustainability Boils Down to Scale May 18, 2018

U.S. Healthcare Isn't Broken--It's Fixed May 16, 2018

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Market Complacency/Euphoria May 13, 2018

How Safe Are We? Our Blindness to Systemic Dangers May 11, 2018

Before You Tell Me What You "Know," Tell Me Your Sources May 9, 2018

Kafka's Nightmare Emerges: China's "Social Credit Score" May 7, 2018

Taking the Pulse of a Weakening Economy May 4, 2018

What Lies Beyond Capitalism and Socialism? May 2, 2018


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Extra-Special Bonus Aphorisms:

"There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity."
(Douglas MacArthur)

"We are what we repeatedly do." (Aristotle)

"Do the thing and you shall have the power." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." (E.F. Schumacher, via Tom R.)

"He who will not risk cannot win." (John Paul Jones)

"When we drink coffee, ideas march in like the army." (Honore de Balzac)

"Progress is not possible without deviation." (Frank Zappa, via Richard Metzger)

"Victory favors those who take pains." (amat victoria curam)

"The man who has a garden and a library has everything." (Cicero, via Lee Bentley)

"A healthy homecooked family meal and a home garden are revolutionary acts." (CHS)

"Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

"The way of the Tao is reversal" Or "Reversal is the movement of Tao." (Lao Tzu)

"Chance favours the prepared mind." (Louis Pasteur)

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." (Winston Churchill)

"Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasures." (Rumi)

"The realm of gratitude is boundless." (CHS, 11/25/15)

"History doesn't have a reverse gear." (CHS, 12/22/15)

Smith's Law of Conservation of Risk: Every sustained action has more than one consequence. Some consequences will appear positive for a time before revealing their destructive nature. Some consequences will be intended, some will not. Some will be foreseeable, some will not. Some will be controllable, some will not. Those that are unforeseen and uncontrollable will trigger waves of other unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences. (July 8, 2014)(thanks to Lew G. for retitling the idea.)

Smith's Neofeudalism Principle #1: If the citizenry cannot replace a kleptocratic authoritarian government and/or limit the power of the financial Aristocracy at the ballot box, the nation is a democracy in name only.

The Smith Corollary to Metcalfe's Law (The Network Effect): the value of the network is created not just by the number of connected devices/users but by the value of the information and knowledge shared by users in sub-networks and in the entire network. (CHS, 4/6/16)

"We've become a culture of excuses rather than solutions: solutions always require sustained effort and discipline." (CHS 4/9/16)

"Fraud as a way of life caters an extravagant banquet of consequences." (CHS 4/14/16)

"Creativity = problem solving = value creation." (CHS 6/4/16)

"Truth is powerful because it is the core dynamic of solving problems." (CHS 7/21/17)

"We live in a system of human emotions that masquerades as a science (economics)." (CHS 1/1/18)

"Always remember, your focus determines your reality." George Lucas

"Diversity is for poor people. Sameness is for the successful." GFB

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