Friday 29 April 2022

What Are People For?

Today, economic growth rides roughshod over the earth, devastating the natural environment and sustainable rural economies in the third world and Eastern Europe. Local power over local resources is increasingly swept aside by money power exercised from a distance. Farmers lured into accepting loans, for machinery, fertilisers and ‘improved’ seeds, face falling financial returns from the sale of cash crops grown for export. Centralisation of financial control is not, however, inevitable. As Wendell Berry indicated three decades ago, for practical change to occur it is necessary for ordinary people in their individual localities to take stock of their resources, both in terms of materials and skills, so that we, each and every one of us, cease to participate in the war against nature and society.

"The economics of our communities and households are wrong. We have failed to produce new examples of good home and community economies, and we have nearly completed the destruction of the examples we once had. ...

"My small community in Kentucky has lived and dwindled for at least a century under the influence of four kinds of organisations: governments, corporations, schools, and churches, all of which are controlled from a distance, centralised, and consequently abstract in their concerns. Governments and corporations (except for employees) have no presence in our community at all, which is perhaps fortunate for us, but we nevertheless feel the indifference or the contempt of governments or corporations for communities such as ours. [Here Berry fails to take account of the crucial fact that the global financial system is a constant presence in every community without exception.]

"We have had no school of our own for nearly thirty years. The school system takes our young people, prepares them for 'the world of tomorrow' — which it does not expect to take place in any rural area — and gives back 'expert' (that is, extremely generalised) ideas. We have two churches. But both have been used by their denominations, for almost a century, to provide training and income for student ministers, who do not stay long enough to become disillusioned.

"For a long time, then, the minds that have most influenced our town have not been of the town so have not tried even to perceive, much less to honour, the good possibilities that there are. They have not wondered on what terms a good and conserving life might be lived there. in this my community is not unique but is like almost every other neighbourhood in our country and in the 'developed' world.

"The question that must be addressed, therefore, is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet's millions of human and natural neighbourhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one which is in some precious way different from all others. Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence — that is, to the wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighbourhoods.

"We must have the sense and the courage, for example, to see that the ability to transport food for hundreds or thousands of miles does not necessarily mean that we are well off. It means that the food supply is more vulnerable and more costly than a local food supply would be. It means that consumers do not control or influence the healthfulness of their food supply and that they are at the mercy of people who have control and influence. It means that, in eating, people are using large quantities of petroleum that other people in another time are almost certain to need.

"We have an economy that depends not on the quality and quantity of necessary goods and services, but on the moods of a few stockbrokers. We believe that democratic freedom can be preserved by people ignorant of the history of democracy and indifferent to the responsibilities of freedom."

So wrote Wendell Berry, legendary farmer poet, in his 1990 book entitled "What Are People For". Very little has changed since he made those observations about the central importance of locality and community wherever we live on the planet. Nevertheless, questions are being raised about the relationship between the Real and the Financial economies. See Blog for 28th April in this series.

Thursday 28 April 2022

The Real and Financial Economies

A century ago saw the aftermath of the WAR-TO-END-ALL-WARS which did nothing of the sort. The First World War merely paved the way for a century of senseless manufacture of armaments for profitable export to potential and actual war zones. Equally, it led to the growth of Big Pharm, agribusiness, ecological devastation and general malaise across the spectrum of politics, economics and education. The question now is - if this is 'progress' - scientific, economic or technical - do we really want it? And if not, what are we going to do about it?

Fortunately, in the quest for sanity, we already have a great deal of expertise to draw upon. At a series of international conferences in the first decade of the 21st century women economists drew up pictures of the practical realities of the human economy. They drew attention to the fact that human survival is not dependent upon the financial system. On the contrary, it depends on the Household and the Cultivation economies. Yet these lie outside the accounting systems of neoclassical economics. When academics, politicians and journalists debate the state of the economy, they merely add up what is being produced for profitable sale by the arms manufacturers, Big Pharm and the infrastructures that supply the labour, raw materials and expertise necessary to operate global corporate capitalism.

In our daily lives we work for, invest in, and are utterly dependent upon, the industrial/financial economy. We may be employed by the arms and Big Pharm companies directly, or as employees of suppliers. We may be educating the workers, or supplying them with health care. Or we may be working within the vast infrastructures that supply foods, fuels, clothing, transport, packaging and the other necessities of life. Now that the system is, by all accounts, on the brink of collapse, a fundamental re-think is essential if humanity is to survive.

In 2002 a paper entitled Basic Elements of Human Economy was presented to the International Household and Family Research Conference in Helsinki, Finland, by Hilkka Pietila. It contained the following passage:

"The major blind spots in the prevailing economic thinking seem to be:

- the household economy, which is used here for the non-market, unpaid work and production by a family or a group of people having a household together for the management of their daily life, irrespective of whether they are kindred or not; or even a group of small households living close enough to create a joint economic unit, and

- the cultivation economy, i.e. the production based on the living potential of nature, which is the interface between economy and ecology, human culture facing the ecological laws.

"These constituents of human economy are either misconceived or ignored. The doctrines of economics seem to be derived from physics and mathematics, the sciences dealing with non-living objects and material in the universe (refs). Thus, economics does not take account of biology, the science of living creatures and processes in nature; and that explains why economists seem to be blind to the logic of living nature.

"Both of these economies are very basic from the point of view of a sustainable way of living, and thus for human survival and people's ability to control their own lives. A particular feature of the households is the extent and significance of non-market labour of people without pay for direct production of welfare, and thus as an essential contribution for human livelihood. A particularity of the cultivation economy is its profoundly unique nature by being based on living potential of nature.

"Human beings are not considered in this paper merely as part of living nature - as many ecologists do - but as the only rational and responsible species in the universe, which is accountable for its behaviour and its management of the only planet suitable for its existence and welfare. Neither does this paper take a human being as mere "Homo Economicus", whose only motivation is the pursuit of self-interest and maximized satisfaction of needs on lowest possible costs and efforts."

That is, we have two economies: the real economy of Households and Cultivation on the one hand, and the Industrial/Financial Economy on the other. Since the latter is operating like a wild, untrained horse, the task ahead is to bring it under the control of humanity.

Tuesday 26 April 2022

From Monopoly to Triopoly

The zero -sum game of Monopoly represents the world economy as-we-know-it today. Players participate in the game for what they can get out of it, regardless of the costs to others and the planet. The game has an interesting history.

In the late 19th century Quaker followers of the American alternative economist Henry George devised a series of board games to facilitate discussion of practical ways to bring about system-wide reform of the entire political economy. The boards represented key institutions and landmarks of their local municipalities, and the debate sought to engineer practical alternatives to the centralisation of control of the political economy by elite players.

The games were drawn up in a wide variety of locations throughout the English-speaking world, over a period of several decades. They were played in three stages. Phase One showed the zero-sum game as it was emerging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Phases Two and Three demonstrated how the rules could be adapted to create a win-win political economy, a just and fair society for all. In 1935 Phase One of the Landlords Game was adapted and marketed as Monopoly.

In the late 1990s, members of the Bromsgrove Group came across Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit, a Scottish version of the Landlords Games. Several versions of the game were drawn up, played and discussed around the UK in the early years of this century. One version has been available for some years at the very bottom of the SOCIAL ART page of .

Wherever in the world we happen to be living at the moment, it would seem to be a good plan to explore the local land and institutions through which we are supplied with the everyday necessities of life. Three phases of group discussion suggested are:

Compare and contrast Monopoly and Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. Note especially that the banker is not present on the Monopoly board. Yet he holds all the money and the property cards - quite literally. He hands out the money, and creates more when it runs short. Note on the Brer Fox board squares representing Mother Earth, the Bank, the Poorhouse and the moors, common land and farmland. Nothing lives on the Monopoly board.

How did your local political economy look in 1913? Using local histories and maps, draw up a board reflecting the politics, economics and culture of the local town or municipality where you currently live.

How does your local political economy relate to the corporate world of monopoly capitalism?

The plan is not to provide a ready-made blueprint for the future, but to stimulate discussion leading to consolidation of practical action towards 'triopoly', a Threefold Social Order as envisaged by Rudolf Steiner.

NOTE: See previous Understanding Life and Debt Blogs, and the Douglas Social Credit website .

Saturday 9 April 2022

The Midas Touch

COMMUNITY life has, since the industrial revolution, been dominated in Great Britain by the demands of the economic system to the virtual exclusion of other social considerations. Child rearing, home and family care have continued to play an essential part in meeting the needs of individuals. But the economic system has registered only the costs of breakdown and remedial actions. In the same way as economists have only recently, and marginally, come to account the destruction of the environment and the exhaustion of the earth's scarce resources, the development of affective and social skills through traditional forms of home and family care has been taken for granted and subtly devalued.

Males and feminists alike have, for their different reasons, combined to underplay and undermine the significance of family care in introducing new members to the social community of human beings. The strength of the backlash against this erosion of family life can be seen in the vigour of the growth in support for fundamentalist religions. Beyond those narrow confines, home care, child care and the traditional skills of mothering have been denigrated and debased. Parenting and child care have been demoted to a spare time activity outside working hours, to be delegated wherever possible to low paid substitutes. In this way, traditionally male concern with production of statistically verifiable material wealth has been accepted as the sole significant form of human activity. The need for love, care and affection is appreciated only at the point of personal breakdown, when expensive specialists are consulted.

Traditionally feminine concerns have so far eluded the androcentric comprehension which dominates all forms of academic and educational structures in society. The psychologists — and there have been many of them, and of both sexes — who record the infant's ambivalence towards its mother could, perhaps, with more accuracy be said to be recording the results of the untypical mother's ambivalence towards her child. Mothering in human beings is a socially sensitive activity, and Western society has, since the onset of the industrial revolution, placed the rearing of children under peculiar constraints.

Taking the lead from classical economists, backed up by cynical psychologists, we in the West have come to doubt the sincerity of those who offer love and affection. The ideal role model of the tender and caring mother — or father — has been replaced by the young, fit, healthy, role-playing, 25 year old male, in economic employment and without ties or responsibilities. By contrast, the woman who cares, be it for an elderly relative, a child — her own, or that of another who has suffered mental or physical abuse,— or her sick or disabled husband, child or parent, is designated a person of low status, her needs ignored in terms of community support, and her economic independence removed from any guarantees. Following the industrial revolution, family life has come to be curiously dependent upon wage earning, that is, upon the economic rewards to labour as a factor of production.

The reward given to labour bears no relationship whatsoever to the economic needs of the family. Further, it takes no account of the work involved in household tasks, work which recent International Labour Office estimates show consumes at least as many working hours as are spent in paid employment. This supportive work is acknowledged to be essential in servicing the workers, that is, in attending to their essential needs for food, clothing, shelter and leisure. The very existence of labour, an essential factor of production in economic terms, is dependent upon the satisfaction of those needs. Housework is, however, excluded from economic calculations in the same way as nature's gifts are assumed to be free, simply because they do not occur as a result of financial considerations. A mother does not — normally — wait to be paid to look after her baby. Yet it is this very absence of economic motivation which demotes an activity in Western eyes. 'If a job is worth doing, it is worth being paid to do it', is the current rule of thumb. As a result, mothering and caring generally are classed as menial tasks, to be delegated to others wherever possible for a financial consideration.

It is, however, becoming clear [in 1988] that child-rearing practices based on the economic needs of the parents are giving grounds for concern. Parents return from work to tackle household and child care responsibilities in their 'spare' time, often many miles away from otherwise supportive grandparents. In attempting to side-step the demands of children for attention and affection, busy parents offer the passive and undemanding viewing of television rather than embark upon traditional forms of interactive play, talking and reading together. The significance of the incalculable numbers of hours of shared activity of children and adults spent in the recounting of nursery rhymes, tales and games combined with routine household tasks, has been seriously undervalued. These activities, essential in the formation of self-esteem and self awareness, have fallen into disuse in many families. So, too, have forms of children's free peer group play in streets and open spaces near to home. Traffic and other modern dangers have eroded ancient childhood rights, restricting in an unprecedented way children's freedom to develop a sense of personal awareness, place and community. The middle-aged and elderly of today [1988], from even the most inner city areas, can recall childhood excursions to open countryside and areas of woodland in the company of siblings and friends, and an ease of access to shops and houses of relatives in nearby streets which is rarely possible today. The resultant frustration and alienation demonstrated in adolescent behaviour stems directly from this absence of an early sense of belonging to family and to community.

Human beings are more than mere units of labour, cogs in the economic production machine. Material wealth is very limited as a means for satisfying human wants. Labour saving devices have not, according to recent studies, cut down the number of hours devoted to housework. They have, in fact, increased the total number of hours of work in the home, as expectations have been raised and the machines themselves require attention. Further, the time spent earning money to pay for the machines has increased, as have other associated expenses. Rudolph Bahro, the West German 'Green', has presented a vivid image in commenting that 'today we spend ten times as much energy for a worker to be able to sit in front of the TV in the evenings with his bottle of beer as we needed in the eighteenth century for Schiller to create his life's work'.

The ability of the earth to tolerate the ever expanding demands of human beings for continued economic growth is being seriously brought into question in terms of the exhaustion of the finite resources of the earth, and the as yet only partially understood effects of the pollution of the land, seas and atmosphere. It may be time to look more seriously at the development of the human intellect and the human community, as a substitute for the continued demand for material wealth. In reality, consumer commodities have never been more than a means to an end, as King Midas found out so long ago.

Despite the wisdom of the ancients, material wealth remains the predominant pre-occupation of our time. Few would fail to wince at the idea of handing a highly priced Ming vase to a person with no conception of its value, who might well drop it, or throw it in the dustbin. Yet many a human infant's life chances are far less well protected than those of a Ming vase. Attempts are made to patch up some of the most disastrous mistakes in child care, and the expensive services of highly-trained specialists may be lavished upon children whose lives have been shattered by parental neglect, physical, mental or sexual abuse. But beyond this largely futile gesture, society on the whole places a low value on child care and spends few resources in the preparation of, and support for, adults in their responsibilities as parents. If anything, the economic system has quietly encroached upon and undermined the status and skills of those who do attempt to care.

Some would, however, accept that each human infant is indeed more precious than the most expensive vase on earth. When one considers that fifty per cent of a child's intellectual potential is developed before the age of five years, and that the foundations are laid in those early years for his or her artistic and emotional life, the lack of training and support in parenthood is astonishing. This deprivation applies not only in inner city areas, where temporary accommodation and a background of unsettled family life has been inherited by successive generations of parents since the early days of the industrial revolution. Parents in the affluent professional classes enter parenthood in a haze of equal ignorance, ignorance which they themselves would consider horrific in a fellow professional embarking upon a professional task. With smaller families, and geographic mobility which has split the extended family, it is not at all uncommon for a couple's own baby to be the very first they have ever held in their hands, and for their knowledge of the needs of a toddler or young child to be virtually non-existent.

So bemused have we become with the significance of economic growth that we fail even to consider the allocation of resources to the care and nurture of infants and young children. In a haphazard way families have little option but to choose between a series of unsatisfactory strategies in deciding their child care methods. Where both parents wish to remain in economic employment, the parents may decide to pay for the child to be cared for by a non-family member during working hours. The primary duty of this stranger, brought into the child's life on a temporary basis, is to oversee the physical welfare of the child. The relationship between the family and the stranger will cease when their services are no longer required, even where a strong bond may have developed between the child and the carer.

If, on the other hand, parents decide that their child needs continuity of care and affection, and that home and family should weigh more heavily than purely financial considerations, the family faces a further series of unexpected hurdles.

There is considerable pressure upon women in particular to consider that child care is no more than a matter of providing for the physical comfort of an infant up to the age of five years. Beyond that age it is considered that children are off the parents' hands, as they enter formal schooling, and embark on the processes of training to themselves become units of labour in the economic machine. With the trend towards smaller families, women are encouraged to think that parenting is no more than a minor hiccup in the working life of an adult, taking up a mere 3% of a normal working life. Nothing could be further from the truth. A child is a lifetime's commitment, altering the relationships between the parents, grandparents, siblings, not to mention the child itself, within the family and the community. A child forms a unique link between present and future generations. Further, a child requires a sense of place and personal identity if it is to develop into a mature and responsible adult, willing and able to work with others for the good of the community, and capable of actions beyond the narrowest pursuit of adolescent self-interest.

Perhaps it is time to look again at the fragmentation of family and community life which has resulted from the pursuit of pure materialism, and to consider forms of training for child care and design of communities based on more truly human, as opposed to economic, values. Women who have remained in the home and in the community may well prove to be a most valuable, and hitherto undervalued, source of knowledge and associated with child care and homemaking. There is, however, increasing economic pressure militating against the dissemination of these traditional skills. It may be necessary to mount a new conservation campaign to prevent the total extinction of human values in Western society.

"The Midas Touch" by Frances Hutchinson was first published in Contemporary Review, Vol. 253 No. 1471. August 1988, pp80-83.

Wednesday 6 April 2022

War, Money and Power

Over the past century and a half countless fundamental questions about the social order of industrial capitalism have been asked far and wide. Why are we waging wars against each other and the life support systems of the planet? How is it that scientific and technological 'progress' give rise to poverty amidst plenty, ugliness and waste on an unprecedented scale? As individuals we may ponder on these questions for a while, perhaps making minor adjustments to our lifestyle, but never seeking to understand, still less challenge, the basic premises upon which the system operates. Unless and until we take the time out with others in our own locality to discuss the fundamental issues of our times, we will continue to be the cause of the world-wide malaise that threatens to destroy humanity.

The plain fact of the matter is that we are absolutely dependent upon a system that is rotten to the core. Failing to recognise this fundamental truth, we have allowed our time, our talents, our lives and our possibilities to become the property of others. "We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are jumping jacks. They pull the strings and we dance. ... We are intellectual prostitutes." Since those words were spoken by a prominent New York journalist in the 19th century, we have continued to play the roles assigned to us, and we have brought up succeeding generations to do likewise. As a result, as consumers, depositors, investors we support the private banking and corporate interests that dominate our governments. It is time to recognise that it does not have to be that way. All we have to do is to start asking some challenging questions about the social order of the 2020s. As Eric Fromm noted in The Forgotten Language:

"If it is true that the ability to be puzzled is the beginning of wisdom, then this truth is a sad commentary on the wisdom of modern man. Whatever the merits of our high degree of literacy and universal education, we have lost the gift for being puzzled. Everything is supposed to be known – if not to ourselves then to some specialist whose business it is to know what we do not know. In fact, to be puzzled is embarrassing, a sign of intellectual inferiority. Even children are rarely surprised, or at least they try not to show that they are; and as we grow older we generally lose the ability to be surprised. To have the right answers seems all important; to ask the right questions is considered insignificant by comparison."

In creating the Brer Fox version of the Landlord's Game just before World War I, a group of people in Scotland raised the fundamental question of the role of finance in the political economy of their day. Since then a host of waged and salaried workers have continued to be on the payrolls of state and private bodies promoting war, poverty and environmental degradation. Across the board politicians, scientists, health care professionals, accountants, academics, educationalists, truck drivers, employees in supermarkets, chain stores and packaging companies, defence, military and police, i.e., all paid workers, have continued to sell their labour-time to a financial system founded on organised crime. The system is fatally flawed, beyond repair or reform. In these circumstances, a complete re-think of the culture, politics and economics of the social order is essential.

NOTE: See The Social Crediter, Spring 2008), Down to Earth, and March 2022 Blogs for more information on the text outlined in this Blog.

Sunday 3 April 2022

Question Time

Some fundamental questions about the causes of war, poverty amidst plenty and environmental degradation are currently being raised by mainstream and alternative news media. This is nothing new. During the 19th century a host of talented writers were asking the identical questions, giving rise to a vast literature on the politics and economics of the social order. That is available for study today, on the shelves of university libraries and in a range of specialist library collections. Many practical schemes for securing the common good arose from group discussion of the literature, leading to good practice in the three spheres of politics, education/culture and economics. Nevertheless, commerce was allowed to dominate all forms of production, so that scientific and technological 'progress' has landed humanity in its present sorry plight. At the heart of the matter lies the crucial fact that without mothers and farmers there would be no humanity, yet motherhood and cultivation of the land are subjects almost totally left out of the educational curriculum.

The 19th century writings of Robert Owen, William Cobbett, Marx and Engels, John Ruskin, William Morris, Kropotkin and a host of others informed the various socialist and cooperative movements and the welfare, health and educational reforms of the welfare state of the mid-20th century. Yet the forces of self-interested materialism predominated, so that poverty and warfare escalated on an unprecedented scale worldwide. Mothers have been turning out more soldiers, arms manufacturers and researchers in the pay of Big Pharm than they have farmers and artists.

At the root of the problem lies the acceptance of waged and salaried slavery as a necessary fact of centralised global corporatism. He who does not work shall not eat is the motto of present times. And by 'work' is meant working for money. Since mothering and sustainable farming cannot be subjected to market forces, they are left out of the universal accounting system. What is necessary now is a fundamental change in the systems of working together, taking account of Rudolf Steiner's Fundamental Social Law and Threefold Commonwealth. This is not the space to explore Steiner's teachings. All that can be said is that every individual living today draws upon the common provision of food and the necessities of life. Hence they have a bounden duty to explore the duties and responsibilities that flow from their rights as citizens.

In the early decades of the 20th century, groups of people seeking to understand the economy of urban industrialism drew up versions of the Landlord's Games. They explored their local political economy in order to find new ways of setting about things. However, the playing of board games became such a popular pastime that their original purpose was diverted into Monopoly, which taught the values of corporate capitalism. (See previous Blogs)

As individuals, we can all make marginal changes in our purchasing policies and lifestyles. We can support good causes and make gestures of protest. But such measures assume that, with a little tacking and weaving, all will be well. This is not the case: the system is beyond reform. It needs to be changed fundamentally, root and branch, and that cannot be done by individuals acting in isolation. It will only happen when groups come together, take a leaf out of the original inventors of the Georgist Landlord's Games, study the political economy of global corporatism, and set about devising alternatives to the dictatorship of finance. A formidable task? Yes! An impossible one? No! The Tintagel House Sheffield Book Collection is available for study.