The real science of political economy, which has yet to be distinguished from the bastard science, as medicine from witchcraft, and astronomy from astrology, is that which teaches nations to desire and labour for the things that lead to life: and which teaches them to scorn and destroy the things that lead to destruction. – John Ruskin
The dogmas of the past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves. – Abraham Lincoln1
Things are not what they seem; or, to be more accurate, they are not only what they seem, but much else besides. To act upon this truth, as the man of science must constantly do, is to practice a kind of intellectual mortification. – Aldous Huxley (1960)
For most of our brief existence, we have made decisions based on ideas of right and wrong, good and evil. Those binaries were then transposed into profit and loss. We now find ourselves in a quantum universe where reality and time itself are being redefined. No longer are simplistic, reductionist choices between binaries adequate to address our existential threat. The world of states, frequencies, energy transfers, genes, nano particles, viruses and microorganisms, is silent and invisible, detectable only with specialized tools. A nuanced, whole-systems approach is called for. The decontamination of value from money is the “intellectual mortification” that is needed.
The conception of PI was inspired by and congruent with many worldviews. The fractal organization draws on the work of Benoit Mandelbrot (1982)2, the dissipative structures of Ilya Prigogine (1984), and the ideas of Buckminster Fuller (1981). In biomimicry (Benyus 2002), it patterns the flow of information and response of the systemic interdependent distribution network of the endocrine and immune systems. It seeks to combine the symbiosis of natural systems and homeostasis of cybernetic systems. PI takes an Integral approach (Wilber 2000) in accepting the status quo of human nature as it is, using a monetary system out of self-interest, and transcends them both. It circumscribes all quadrants, all levels (AQAL, Fig. 20).
Figure 20. Locating NPV in AQAL (after Wilber).
The Buddhas left their Sutras
Because people are hard to change
It’s not just a matter of saintly or stupid
Each and every heart throws up its barricade
Each piles up his own mountain of karma
How could they guess that what
They clasp so close is sorrow
Unwilling to ponder, as day and night
They do embrace the falsehood of the ephemeral
The current market exchange money-based economic regime can trace its origin back 10,000 years to the beginning of agriculture and the first settled communities. Efficiency and predictability in food production led to surpluses which the group could trade with other groups for things they could not or did not produce. A rough equivalency in value would have been arrived at, later endowed in surrogate objects such as shells, feathers, and beads, the earliest forms of currency. This allowed for greater ease and convenience of exchange. As production shifted away from group effort, individual ownership and the idea of capital developed. Capital, in the form of currency, the use of tools or draught animals, storage capacity and the like could be shared with anyone who could pay a fee or interest, leading to the tangle we know today as lending, loans and debt, with further elaborations of investment, returns on investment, loan default, credit swaps, and derivatives.
It is patently evident that this system favors the owners of capital while those unable or unfortunate enough to acquire capital are at a distinct disadvantage, trapped in a vicious circle of obligation and wage slavery merely to stay alive. It makes little difference what system of political governance prevails. The ordinary citizen is forced to trade his/her labor for sustenance, equally under democratic, socialist or communist regimes. The attack by the left on capitalism is delusional and ill-founded, trapped as they are in an anachronistic dialectic of capitalism versus communism and its socialist dilutions. As Claude Lévi-Strauss observed the wise man is not the man who gives the right answers; he is the one who asks the right questions. The right questions are not being asked. All systems to date have been based on money, growth, and profit regardless whether that profit goes to private or public coffers. If the population’s welfare is enhanced in the process that is just a fortunate side-effect, a lucky break. While this system may have served us well at the level of face-to-face and at-arm’s-length transactions, it it is inadequate to meet the needs of the present day, let alone future continuity and the increasing complexity of our relationships.
The notion that humans have to “earn” a living, not required of any other species, has been codified in culture from Genesis3 to the Parable of the Talents4, and in the Protestant ethic epitomized by Puritanism and Calvinism. Civilization is built on this ethic which underpins capitalism, giving it moral justification for exploiting labor. This is actually a form of bribery to elicit required behavior. Experiments have shown that even animals and birds are on to this and withdraw when the bribe is inequitable.5
Everyone has been born into this worldview. We know nothing else. So long has the surrogate/token system been in place, through all its permutations, that it is accepted unquestioningly as the default way of managing economies. Indeed, the monetary system has become synonymous with the economy and is the prevailing myopic worldview held universally, transcending every other creed, philosophy, and ideology. Even critics and reformers of the existing system can only conceive of replacement with other forms of currency. The monetary economy is built on a sequence of non-sequiturs and we have run out of those.
We have gone beyond the simple management of a household, which is the origin of the term economy, to a vastly more expanded planetary household. A reductionist, linear approach of short-term cause and nearby effect characterizes the return-on-investment expectations of every development, public and private. Distant, unseen, long-term and unintended consequences of human activities, beginning with the invention of agriculture and settled communities, have reshaped the earth, created deserts, affected climate, and reduced biodiversity. Resilience in the face of changes, indeed our very survival, is at risk.
Victims of our own success
In an evolutionary instant, we have become the dominant species on the planet. Our depredations had been limited by our reach so ecological systems were able to recover partially and regain homeostasis. In the last 200 years, the rate, scale and impact of that dominance have increased exponentially as we are everywhere, our numbers of more than 7 billion are extracting and polluting at an unprecedented rate. The systems on which we depend cannot recover to support us in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Radical change will be thrust upon us if we do not become proactive to mitigate those changes. Conventional economic thinking is not adequate. Unfortunately, it has become so entrenched, bolstered by the delusion of efficiency, and success in exercising dominion over the earth, that no other system has been conceivable6. The economic mismanagement belief system we have used I have labeled moneytheism. We all subscribe to it and it is time we dis-enthrall ourselves. To wax preachy for a moment, we are in the end times of moneytheism. We need to cast the devils out, to demonetize the economy, and set the captives free.
Our present level of knowledge allows us an understanding of systems that tribesmen, Silk Road traders, British privateers, and colonial imperialists could not have had. We cannot plead ignorance. The inadvertent introduction of invasive species such as rats and pigs into hitherto mature and balanced environments is eclipsed today by application of neonicotinoid pesticides, decimating bee colonies and threatening agriculture. Our own welfare is at stake, along with the survival of countless species, sacrificed to the pursuit of profit and return on investment.
The earth is a self-organizing system, a living being even (Lovelock, 1982). The economy can therefore be seen as its self-regulating process or metabolism. PI may correlate to the “neocortex for culture… analogous to an immune system for the earth in that it constantly patrols and monitors the relationships of earth’s various networks.”7 The difference is that immune defenses are not activated; NPV only serves to reflect functions and relationships, leaving human agency to respond.
Whether humanity is to continue and comprehensively prosper on Spaceship Earth depends entirely on the integrity of the human individuals and not on the political or economic systems. The cosmic question has been asked — Are humans a worthwhile to Universe invention? – Buckminster Fuller
As the conscious agents and most potent factors within this system we can learn from its mechanisms and functions and integrate our participation to flow with the whole. For our own good, as well as for the rest of creation.
New economic paradigm
The most fundamental phenomenon of the universe is relationship. – Jonas Salk, Anatomy of Reality
Centuries after Copernicus and Galileo, people still cling to the idea of a flat earth at the center of the universe. How long will it take to displace the idea of payment and currency? It will take a while for people not to expect to pay or be paid, not to calculate that everything has a cost and a price, not to prioritize profit and make decisions based on expected gain. They may more readily depend on basic needs being met, and enjoy not paying rent, mortgage or taxes, with education and healthcare available for life.
The organism is interaction with other organisms within the context of a habitat. The single organism (or species) that is supposed to compete with others does not exist. It is far more appropriate to view organisms as members of a differentiable whole that has never dissolved into discrete entities. – Craig Holdredge 8
We shall have to view transactions differently. A loaf of bread is not just from the baker, but from the entire system which works together to produce that loaf. The Avatamsaka Sutra declares “… each object in the world is not merely itself, but involves every other object and, in fact, is everything else.” Native Americans and other aboriginals understood the interconnectedness and interdependence of the holarchy (see Sealth quote, p. 29). Desiderata acclaimed, “You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.”
That the universe will provide for its own, is likely the thinking behind the gospel stories of birds which neither sow nor reap, yet are fed.9 In describing interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that a simple piece of paper contains the entire universe: the sun, wind, rain, soil, creatures, networks, and processes embedded in it. Similarly, the loaf is a production of the universe to feed itself in the form of the consumer. The consumer or end-user is an integral part of the production process. A product is meaningless without the end-user. Flowers would not produce nectar were it not for insects and hummingbirds and their purpose-built tongues. Transactions are not one-to-one, peer-to-peer, or personal, as we are accustomed to think, but between holon and holarchy, node to network, point to system (Figs. 13, 16, 17).
Producers may have difficulty at first, unaccustomed to filling orders without invoicing, until they recall that their own supply needs are similarly met without having to make payment. In following their vocation, producers and value creators will embody Gibran’s verse,10
… there are those who give and know not pain
in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with
mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes
its fragrance into space.
Quantum physicists now tell us there are no things, only events. Of the most thingy of things, Carlo Rovetti explains, “A stone would be just a moment in which some sand gets together, and then it disaggregates. So it’s just a momentary getting-together of sand.”11 This applies equally to “the huge wave of happenings,” as he puts it, “which is a human self.”12 Our relationships and transactions are only more happenings in long chains within networks of events. This pointedly and painfully underscores the folly of allowing the non-thing that is money to determine our relationships with each other and the earth. The corrosive and corruptive effect of delineating value as fungible units, attempting to make a thing of it, has led to the entropic downward spiral already in evidence.
Gregory Bateson (1972) suggests that we can better understand our cosmic reality by shifting our consciousness from that of a “skin encapsulated ego” to the awareness of being a “relational self” within “the ecology of mind.” He contextualizes: “The individual nexus of pathways which I call ‘me’ is no longer so precious because that nexus is only part of a larger mind.”
Our greatest need today is to see life as whole, to see its many sides in their proper relations; but we must have a practical as well as a philosophical interest in such an integrated view of life. – Patrick Geddes13
Without belaboring the ethical and philosophical, at base PI may be described as a coding mechanism to process the exponentially accelerating complexity of information being generated. No existing political system or philosophy is geared for, or can cope with current, even less, future complexity. Neither is there any technology or infrastructure that can process this complexity, unhampered by monetary considerations.
In the transition from hunter-gatherer social structures to the exponentially more complex information architecture of city-states, we added alphabet, legal, monetary and etiquette coding structures to the cultural genome of hunter-gatherers. To survive, we need to do this again… the information processing efficacy of humans using monetary code lacks sufficient reach, speed, accuracy and power to generate functional relationships in and across geo eco bio cultural & tech networks, and across time… Software code is to monetary code as alphabet code was to pictograph code. – Bryan Atkins14
For a tool-making species, it is the next app in our toolbox, perhaps the one to save civilization and allow it to flourish an evolutionary while longer. The Anthropocene may yet be the most successful – if we can adopt evolutionary economics.
Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. – Albert Einstein
It takes imagination to conceive of a better future. The Planetary Index is idealistic and utopian, calling for social engineering and reform on a hitherto unprecedented scale. The thinking behind it couldn’t be any simpler, but we have been too embroiled and entranced by the present monetary system to question it much less to consider supplanting it with something else. The existential crisis we face should compel us to think the unthinkable. I am encouraged by the efforts of Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring, Occupy, Indignado and other movements, but protest without a clear goal is empty. Perhaps they can find in PI a specific demand to get behind. What they are attempting makes me believe it can be done – and this is the time to do it. The status is no longer quo.
These are some rough notes which i share in the hope that others more qualified may take some or other of the ideas and work them into a viable alternative to the mess that now obtains.
1 In Address to Congress, December 1, 1862
2 Mandelbrot’s fractal geometry is fundamental to the design of PI, not his approach to economics which is still situated in moneytheistic market models.
3 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground – Genesis 3:19
4 Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19: 12- 27
5 Wascher CAF, Bugnyar T (2013) Behavioral Responses to Inequity in Reward Distribution and Working Effort in Crows and Ravens. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56885. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056885
6 As outlined in this article by Joe Brewer, the problems are recognized and there are efforts being made to craft alternatives, but none envision shifting away from a monetary system. https://medium.com/@joe_brewer/a-failure-of-imagination-for-global-development-23e9ec3b79e0#.zgzzx7wg1
8 “Where do organisms end?” Context Magazine, The Nature Institute, Spring 2000, p. 16.
9 Matthew 6:25-34 and Luke 12:22-33
10 Kahlil Gibran. 1923. “Giving”, The Prophet. Alfred Knopf, New York.
11 In On Being program broadcast March 19, 2017