Thursday, May 19, 2005

Past Performance is NOT A Guarantee of Future Returns.

Our economy, our worldview, our entire society is based on an assumption that growth, expansion and "advance" will always forge ahead, never ending.

Interesting. It's pretty obvious that I disagree with that assumption, but let's take a look at how completely it pervades our world:

- Our entire economy is fouded upon the principle of growth. A recession--quite a bad word--is not actually going backwards, but just the lack of growth. A depression--heaven forbid--is an actual shrinking of the economy for more than a couple of quarters in a row. And even during the "Great Depression", world population was still growing--it was just the pre-existing economic metrics that showed a retracement.

- Our entire credit system is based on a view of the "Time-Value of Money" that says that the economy will be bigger next year. Stock prices are--in theory--equal to the total profit of a corporation into the infinite future reduced by the time-value of money for that profit.

- Public and private sector finance, budgets, EVERYTHING is based upon the assumption that the economy will grow.

Well... needless to say, this isn't a given. Things like Peak Oil suggest the very real possibility that our world economy may be about to crest the preak of history, and begin a perpetual decline from that "peak" point onwards. What would happen if the assumption flipped, and going logic suggested that the economy will continually shrink? Well, the world of credit would be turned upside down. Pension plans, even the very concept of a "retirement" may go away. Nation-states will need to adapt quickly or die out, as their deficit-finance mechanisms suddenly get pulled out from beneath them. The entire concept of investing might go the way of the dodo--why would you invest in a factory to produce something when the existing level of production of that product will soon be more than the current demand? If there is no incentive for investment based upon growth, then what incentive is there for specialization in job skills? No specialization... what's next, no stratification? If the analogy is accurate--that we will retrace the upward curve of progress on the way back down, then we may just find ourselves back in the Paul Shepard's "hamlet economy", where economic activity doesn't make sense beyond individual production and local self-sufficiency.

Of course, maybe the economy will keep growing forever. Sure, there are limits--like when the mass of our human population is greater than the mass of the earth, or when the energy return on energy invested of recycling our limited resource base prevents further growth, but we must be able to overcome these things just like we always have in the past, right? I think that the very financiers that depend on perpetual growth actually have a catch phrase about it that they like to print on their documents: "Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns".


It would be interesting, there is no doubt of that... worth thinking about, at least.

Friday, May 06, 2005

River Cottage

Is it really that surprising that one of today's leading advocates of Paul Shepard's "hamlet-economy" goes by the overtly aristocratic name of Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall? Whatever his background, this Brit is doing a great job of spotlighting the simple, local aspects of the traditional British agrarian economy that deserve to be at the front of any movement towards economic localization, slow food and simple living. Take a look at this web site,, or pick up a copy of his excellent seasonal and wild food cookbook, "The River Cottage Year".

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Love your Nation-State!

We are indoctrinated to love our Nation-State. In classic propaganda fashion, American school children repeat this mantra every day:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

But why love your Nation-State? There are two possible answers. The first--because it's MY Nation-State (and that of my Father's, hence Patriotism) is thoroughly irrational. The logic of that justification boils down to this: BECAUSE. The second argument about why to love your Nation-State is because it stands for "noble" principles: freedom, equality, justice, etc. Rather than digress into a debate over the relative merits of freedom vs. equality, let's just assume that these noble principles are in fact "noble", and worthy of our support (whatever they may be). Accepting this assumption highlights the logical fallacy of the second argument: there is no justification for transference of "love for a noble principle" to "love for a Nation-State that exhibits that principle". It MAY justify a love for the policy of a Nation-State that upholds such a principle as individual freedom (for example), but no matter how many times one iterates this process it never makes the final leap of logic to justify love for the Nation-State itself.

This is a critical distinction because Nation-States are dynamic entities. A well publicized history of supporting some noble principle (e.g. individual freedoms) does not guarantee a continued policy of supporting that principle. Let's look at a specific example of this. The principle of freedom of speech is, in my opinion, a "noble" principle--one worthy of "love". Many people--pundits--suggest that we should transfer that love to love for the United States because that Nation-State has a much propagandized record of supporting freedom of speech. This is the critical role of propaganda: to associate through symbols a Nation-State with a set of principles.

But despite the propagandized history of a Nation-State, they can--and often do--abandon these principles in reality. Despite the propaganda provided by the US, about the US, the principle of freedom of speech has been at least partially abandoned in the wake of September 11th. This is why the role of propaganda in transferring love for a principle to love for a Nation-State is so critical--if the American citizenry loved "freedom of speech", but did not irrationally transfer that love to the Nation-State "America", then it would not be possible for "America" to abandon that principle without losing the support of its citizenry.

The propagandized love for a Nation-State constitutes a virtual license for that Nation-State to abandon the very principles that its citizenry rightly found worthy of their love.

Most of us learned of the dangers of nationalism in the lead-up to World War I. Let us now accept that we are still not exempt from the lessons of history: Patriotism, Nationalism and loyalty to a Nation-State REMAIN irrational, and are dangerous tools of the Nation-State for control of the citizenry. Commitment to principles--but not the allocation of those principles as permanent qualities of Nation-States--is a citizenry's best defense against the depredations of the Nation-State. If we do, in fact, assign our "love" to a certain set of noble principles, then in order to defend those principles it is critical that we DO NOT accept the transference of that love to ANY Nation-State.

Sovereignty can exist at exactly one level. The individual can be sovereign, and voluntarily and temporarily loan that sovereignty to a collective entity as long as that entity works to uphold the individual's desired set of principles, and they can recall that loan if the collective fails to uphold those principles. However, if a citizenry, through propaganda, accepts the sovereignty of the collective, then the citizenry places themselves at the mercy of that state--and by definition the collective has become a state because it now exercises sovereignty OVER its citizens.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Gabriele D'Annunzio: quite possibly the most interesting man in history

Gabriele D'Annunzio, poet, warrior, playboy, mystic. He bombed Trieste with poems (literally) in WWI, losing an eye in the process. Bored at the end of the war, he led an anarchist army and captured the city of Fiume, where he created the "last of the Pirate-Utopias"--but not before first ensuring victory via a little necromancy with his mistress in a Venice graveyard. His little empire was a non-stop party while it lasted: fireworks every evening and a constitution that declared "music to be the central principle of the state". He inspired Mussolini and Hitler (to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance, see the picture below)--in fact, the famous brown & black shirts (and the SS symbol) all derive from his personal sense of fashion--and in many ways, the Free State of Fiume was the model for future fascists everywhere. He was even the basis for the fascist fascination with the occult. When the Italian navy finally showed up to evict him, he built himself a fantasy palace on a lake in Northern Italy. He died in 1938 in a crowning feat of poetic justice, having realized the errors of fascism too late--Mussolini had him pushed from his own balcony.

Actually NOT Hitler--this is Gabriele D'Annunzio addressing his forces at Fiume in 1920. Quite the trend setter...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Another Protest Song

I don't normally make music recommendations here--OK, I never have--but there's a first time for everything. I keep hearing how my generation (I'm 27) doesn't have "real" protest music like there was back in the day ("the day" being, of course, the 60's). Mostly, I have to agree--but not because the music isn't there, but rather because it's burried under piles of comercial garbage--99% of the music out there. Some bands use a serious message, but mostly it's marketing. Rebelion sells--in a "how do you afford your rock & roll lifestyle" sort of way. And most of rebellion is just image: the fine lads in Green Day apear to be serious about their message--too bad they don't communicate the meat of it lyrically. Sum 41 made a valiant--if slightly affected--attempt on "Black & Green" (The title itself a reference to primitivism and green-anarchy). But I honestly can't remember the last time that I heard something quite as powerful, poignant and politically charged as Rise Against's latest, A Siren Song for the Counter Culture. Watch the video for "Give It All" on their website, or wait until "Lords of Dogtown"comes out this summer--they perform a Black Flag cover for the soundtrack, and appear in the film.