Hard to Think Much Beyond Tomorrow

stock market crash despair

It has been a tough day on top of quite a few troublesome days. It's not just the plummeting stock market, but the context in which all turmoil this is happening. I am certainly not in the straits of the unemployed, although retirement is a sort of unemployed state, but results of the past few days are for me like taking a 20% cut in pay. I am appalled at the callousness of those so-called leaders in business and government. Ideologies of all flavors are blinding them to see the real lives of the millions of people whose lives are either being rent asunder or severely buffeted. And what for?

I believe deeply that we face real problems these days, not phony dilemmas fashioned by the political flacks who have learned to tug at our emotions, pulling us in directions that take us far from our goals and safe havens. Simple solutions to complex problems never worked well and work less effectively as the complexity grows as it is doing today. The plutocrats and oligarchs who pull many of the strings behind the curtain have nothing to lose by playing with our lives. They have insulated themselves from the vagaries we face with impervious walls built on wealth that was shared much more equitably not so very long ago.

It is a great and grievous error to seek solutions from the heavens or the ivory towers. The problems are of our own making. Only we can conquer them. They have accumulated by a kind of thinking badly adapted to deal with the real world, a world of complexity and no easy answers. We fool ourselves by believing that the Constitution has an original meaning that can govern our lives in a completely different world than that when the words were put on parchment. (I guess I am much more angry than I would admit to.)

I do not have the numbers at hand, but I estimate that US stock market has lost some $3+ trillion in the last week or so. What a pity. These funds could have gone quite far in putting our financial house in order. The market sell-off was no different to me than a tax would have been. I wonder if all those in Washington that have no concept of the importance of government in producing prosperity understand that their shenanigans have taxed me far more than anything that even the most liberal legislator would ever consider.

I have been finishing a syllabus for my course for the Fall at Marlboro examining the role of current economic policy on unsustainability and what changes might head us more toward sustainability. I plan to have the students read excerpts from Adam Smith's two great works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of the "invisible hand" came from the former, not the latter of these two tomes. Smith is credited by many historians to have invented the idea of the "free" market. Some say he did a great job aggregating ideas from others. No matter which, he was clear that government had to play an active role in keeping the market "free." Free here means simply that the self-interests of the players would maximize the aggregate well-being (measured in terms of economic output). It is highly ironic that those who shout out the need to get government out of the way ignore one of Smith's strongest cautionary notes.

That's it for now. I have a pain in my side that seems to be caused by my emotional state and am about to go to bed. I have lived long enough to have seen all sorts of turmoil in the world. I don't think we have learned much about how to live with it. We are still using cudgels to solve highly nuanced, complex problems. Everything I am learning about the world of complexity is built on a foundation of humility, the opposite of the hubris that seems to be in the driver's seat. If we are going to "solve" our problems, we must first acknowledge that we do not have the answers, that we do not even fully understand them, and that working together is the only way to go. Blame may win elections, but has never solved any serious problem.