Saturday, October 11, 2008

The World Financial System

It would be interesting to know the percentage of the British population over the age of 15 that actually understands the media discourse raining down about the prevailing financial crisis.

One would have thought that if people do not understand it, that that in-itself is pretty strange. After all, what's happening threatens their real standards of living, as well as whatever policies they've devised to safeguard their futures.

Not, however, that I blame anyone for their ignorance, in so far as it exists. I only vaguely understand grand finance myself. Ok, I grasp the superficial elements, about what's been going on with greedy, blindly optimistic bankers and Governments encouraging debt; but beyond that, beneath that, it’s a bit of a shady blur.

The exact relationship between things like the availability of Credit, Inflation, Interest rates, Unemployment, House Prices, the Governmental budgetary status – in surplus or deficit, the Exchange Rate and the Balance of Payments, taken together, I’ve sometimes tricked myself into believing I might understand. But too often I realise, in awkward shudders of honesty, that I don’t, not really. That professional men of finance can themselves display divergent views on the macroeconomic shape of things, persuades me I might not be alone, that even they may be grasping at a few more straws than they realise.

When I listen to economists explain - businessmen, bankers, academics, or economic journalists - I thank them for their efforts; but I still wonder if I’m being lured towards a labyrinth, their labyrinth; a maze, a gated castle, festooned with lanes leading me from myself towards abstraction, towering above me in baroque inscrutability.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I can’t help finding economics more abstract, more shadowy, and less easily grasped than philosophy, than literature, than spirituality. The connections between the domain spoken of in economics and direct human experience have always seemed circuitous and tentative. Is this only because the arched persuasion of the mind intrinsic to business has never been mine? Or does my uncertainty partake of a larger, collective confusion?

Today, we hear much about the World Financial System. Surely the problem lies here. We speak of the dominant force in the world as a thing, a system, a matrix. What happened to the world as a concrete, physical place, where human and animals live together and share their experiences and productions in the brief time they have before they die?

It used to be thought a hostile and oppressive God, with a capacious beard, fiery eyes and an appalling sense of humour, stood between us and reality as a grim alienating phantom, dividing us from ourselves and from one another. But now, in our supposed wisdom, we have decided this God doesn’t exist and never did. While the theological significances of this discovery are dubious, since God’s true nature might be very different from this caricature, the irony that we have exchanged one form of alienation, one veil, one wall, for another, should not be missed.

The new phantom of the age is money, or rather the forms of divisive organization it exhibits, namely this World Financial system that we hear so much about, even over our cornflakes.

Regrettably, this time, for something better to replace it, simply denying its existence might not be enough. We might actually have to come up with an alternative.


Bob said...

I have the feeling that this financial system, like a lot of other things, isn't really as complicated as all the experts want us to believe. It is just that if we would all understand the main principles, a few very rich people would not be able to make so much money anymore.

It is the same with international politics. E.g. there are a lot of complicated arguments about the conflicts in the middle-east, but the decision of a power like the USA to invade a country is based on very simple reasons. Everything else is just politics and P.R. to keep us quiet.

We call that 'Informationspolitik' over here; only spread the information you want the people to know. I encountered it in the company where I work now in a very strong way.

Selena Dreamy said...

Yep, we call it "misinformation" over here!

Jonathan said...

You may be right, but what one wants is someone from within this ruling financial elite to come clean, taste the higher light and admit that, yes, I and my friends were manipulating you suckers all along, for the sake of maximising our wealth.

Without that, when this suspicious observation is made by 'outsiders' there can always be the worry that envy and Nietzches ressentimement of the weak against the strong is motivating the perception.

We need more 'Bulworth' moments.

Anyway, even if it's true, regarding conspiracy, I still want to ask why certain people will accept no limit to their wealth, and what this means - in terms of what psychological pathology is going on. Also, whether if the currently averagely well off (you and I?) were to enter the superleague, we'd behave any differently; or just discover that we too now wanted to defend our new station and play the same game of expansion.

Are we sure, then, that we are so better, intrinsically? Or is it that we are only better because we are poorer, and so incapable of manipulating all these strings?

In other words, is it that there are 'good people' (us) or 'bad people' (them), or is it that it is the system of the world itself that is to blame, a system that would corrupt any that it elevated?

I'm not sure. But as always it is easy and pleasant to judge, making as it does life simpler, granting us as it does the joys of self-righteousness.

Not that this denies, however, that the rich are boring and unimaginative in their operations.

Bob said...

Well I guess you said it all. The system allows people to get so filthy rich that they are automatically corrupted. I can subscribe to that. I would probably behave the same way if I managed to gain enough wealth, I am not sure. I would probably even believe in the end that I deserve it because I did a better job then everyone else. Heck, I think I deserve it already ;-)

I don't think of the 'Informationspolitik' as a conspiracy in the sense that people sit together and agree on these things. They just behave this way independantly of each other in order to protect themselves.

There are good and bad people, but they're not the poor and the rich ones, that's too simple. It is just hard to stay rich and stay good at the same time. Bill Gates doesn't do a bad job at it, allthough his competitors may see that differently.

Jonathan said...

The idea that you deserve your wealth because you 'worked hard' for it seems to rest on the presumption that work, per se, is not something you actually do for the love of it, for what it is in-itself. But rather that you do it so that you can be rewarded for your efforts. Is this the rich man's equivalent of the poor man's alienation from the produce of his labour? The rich man, after all, is not doing what he wants to do either.

(Why isn't our work what we want to do, just as our lives what we want them to be?)

Or, if it is not one's efforts but rather one's being that is rewarded by wealth, where is the room for smug self-righteousness in that? If it is not a question of effort, either you are wealthy because your parents happened to be (which has nothing to do with you), or you are wealthy because you have certain innate talents that also preceded you and conditioned you to be the person that you are. Welcome gifts, for sure, but not qualities you can claim any credit for.

The rich have a different set of anxieties. They have a lot more to lose than the poor. And the histrionics required in 'keeping up with the Joneses' are a lot more demanding.

In my experience, the rich, generally speaking, are also 'faker', though I can see not all of them are; and they needn't be. But the pressures to be artificial in their bearing and discourse are certainly all the stronger.

I want to be rich (or richer) so I don't have to be a wage slave, so I can be free, and not have to waste my life any longer being sold to and bought by other people. But many seem to want to be rich for other reasons that suggest they want to be ever more intimately, if not supremely, integrated into the global system of power and divisiveness.

Why that should be perhaps they can answer.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason why very few people can understand the credit crunch in the UK is that TRUTHFULLY (and not many people are speaking the truth about this) most people have not been - or, at least - are not as yet affected by it. For myself, not one thing is different about my financial situation when looking at corresponding figures for this time last year - there is not even the slightest modicum of a difference in any sphere of my financial domain - and to suggest otherwise would be a downright bare-faced lie. To my mind, the economic downturn has (as yet) only affected the individuals and organisations who triggered this crisis in the first place - which is to say, the financiers - the self-interested money lenders, the fat cat financiers, the irresponsible bankers who (as yet) lie dormant beneath the media maelstrom of blame game and witch hunt. However, since the "Crunch" has now become the buzzword on everyone's lips, we will inevitably talk ourselves into the biggest downturn since the Great Depression. But, lest we succumb to a rising tide of mindless panic, a word of good cheer - we will never return to the days of soup kitchens, breadlines and 25% unemployment, because social infrastructures are now robust enough to ensure that a relatively high standard of living will remain. Inevitably, the world is shifting towards socialism, my friends, and this is the truth of it. It is a natural and irresistible progression. So let's keep borrowing and lets' keep spending, because it's all just a meaningless dream.

Jonathan said...

Good point. Revealing what has been said about how our lives trully are mediated to us by the media.

Imagine what might happen if we all just stopped exposing ourselves to the matrix and attended only to ourselves, our families and communities, and the news found therein?

I don't call myself a socialist becasue I worry about state controlled, centralled planned societies, which give too much power and opportunity for incompetence and evil to a minority which, claiming to represent the 'people' will really only represent themselves.

But if Socialism, as a moral imperative, could be privatised and individualised, as it were in each of us; and then somehow, as a spiritual dynamic, animate and bring to joyous life the skeletal form of a society defined by institutional flexibility and freedom...then, well, that might be fine and dandy; and I'd call myself as socialist then if you wanted.

Lee James said...

"...if Socialism, as a moral imperative, could be privatised and individualised, as it were in each of us; and then somehow, as a spiritual dynamic, animate and bring to joyous life the skeletal form of a society defined by institutional flexibility and freedom...then, well, that might be fine and dandy."

Indeed, my Lord. One might even go so far as to suggest that a constitution of this ilk might reasonably be described as 'Heaven on Earth'. Or is that perhaps a little too far-fetched? I would probably include 'charity' in the statement, so that it reads: "institutional charity, flexibility and freedom..." How would you feel about that addendum? For myself, I get an overwhelming sense that we've forgotten how to look out for and care for one another in this country (which is to say, the presently United Kingdom). A culture of extreme self-interest and self-preservation (or at least, what appears to be self-preservation, which is, in fact, ultimately, self-destruction) has developed over the last fifty years or so and many of us do these days seem to find it so very taxing to give, forgive and forego. "Get your hands off my stash, you filthy dole scum" kind of attitude. I'm not sure how it's come about in all honesty. I'm sure those people that you see in old 1950s movies didn't behave like that. Maybe they did. I don't know. Perhaps the mean primitive self-centred streak was more covert and implicit, embedded in layers of duplicity. God knows.

Jonathan said...

er...well institutional charity sounds a little like the welfare state, which is fair enough as far as it goes but doesn't quite capture what I was alluding to regarding the voluntary, uncoerced nature of humanitas being his brother's keeper.

The state after all is just an abstract spectre we have generated to do our work for us, becasue we havent got the balls or sense of responsibility or purpose to do it ourselves. No?

To me a large fascination is why we WANT to be selfish, and not instead be broad, all-encompassing and unoceanic in our affections. How it is that we do not find our nigardly selfishness intolerably stifling and dull?

lee james said...

But we, that's all of us, all human beings, are, or at least could be "The State", my Lord. Then, I proffer, it is not so gutless or irresponsible to expect the State to do its duty, because it will be the equivalent of asking ourselves to do it ourselves. Do you follow? But of course, this cannot happen until, as you say, we, each and every one of us, embodies the notion of socialism (or humanitas, call it what you will) on an individual basis. To my mind, it verges upon the insane to expect a 'free market economy' to look after our collective well-being. Might I direct you to this article, which I have literally only just come across:

Most interesting. I've always had a soft spot for Eric. He strikes me as a thoroughly decent and singularly intelligent man.