Sunday, October 5, 2008

Forget the Global Economy

Let's step out of the mainstream for a minute and let go of some cherished notions. I'm about to propose a radical economic plan for the little guy. Hold onto your hats.

Here it is, in summary:

Live like your great-grandparents--or maybe better still, your great-great-grandparents.

But say no to indentured servitude. Some of our ancestors found their way here on a wish. It went by the name of indentured servitude and it robbed them of the very thing they most desired--their freedom. Today, we've wished our way into many things: houses, cars, cell phones, plasma t.v.'s. Those wishes are called mortgages, loans, lines of credit and service contracts. All forms of indentured servitude.

In a news article I read today, an economics professor referred to credit as nothing more than trust and faith. Trust and faith from the perspective of the issuer of the credit. Merely a wish from the perspective of the borrower.

It's a wish for future prosperity. Or a wish that things will continue to go as they have. Certainly it's a wish that things won't get worse.

In a lot of cases it's a wish to make yourself look bigger than you really are (see my post The Rise of Ego and Materialism). To live grandly in the moment, instead of sustainably over a lifetime. To look big now and maintain the wish that you will always be able to look big.

But we know you can't. As little children we're taught to recognize and respect limits, but as adults there seems to be absolutely no honoring of limits. The earth is finite. We can't all have more and more and more. That should be obvious.

If we lived like our ancestors and only bought what we could afford now, if we didn't borrow from the future and didn't take from the earth more than could easily be replenished, we could have economic security. We would recession- and depression- proof ourselves.

I know what you're thinking: our ancestors had credit, they had mortgages. Yes, you're right. They had credit at the general store. They had loans from the local bank. But they went to church with the store owner and the banker, they grew up together, they helped bring in each other's crops, often they were even related. In other words, they had trust and faith in each other. They depended on each other. These were real people having face-to-face interactions with each other on a daily basis.

Note that I didn't say they had transactions on a daily basis. There's a huge difference between interacting and transacting. Transacting is a fallen state, an abstraction--it's what we do now and what has gotten us into so much trouble.

Interacting is what we need to return to. It implies true human relationship, honoring each other and honoring the limits of the immediate situation. If there were still local banks where you personally knew the banker and he or she personally knew you and the bank's money came from and was invested in the immediate community, you wouldn't go in asking for a $700,000 mortgage. You'd be laughed out of town.

Instead, you'd ask for a loan that both you and your community could support. You'd build a house only big enough to meet your needs, without taking any more physical resources from the community than necessary.

My economic plan involves, as largely as possible, stepping out of the global economy and returning to a local one. The lesson from all of this recent madness is that we don't deal with abstraction very well. We can be responsible citizens on a small local scale, but it all falls apart when we increase the magnitude. In the global economy, we can't see the results of our actions anymore--they're spread so widely--so we lose accountability. When we participate in the global economy we inevitably cause suffering and damage.

We need to see the results of our actions. We need to live with the results of our actions. That's why our actions need to be on a local scale.

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