Thursday, May 20, 2010

Political-Economy or Political Economy

I saw Yaj Chetty's article in the Business section of the CT earlier in the week. He writes very well and manages to convey some of the big issues in our monetary system in clear and concise way. I am surprised that I never came across his work before. Always amazes me no matter how much time you research a field there are always people that don't make it onto your radar!

The one issue that I am noticing in many of the discussions of money, including Yaj's, is the lack of talking about it in a political-economic framework. This split between economics and politics persists in this way. The relationship that money has to a political system is undervalued or under-recognized. What does it mean to change our monetary system? Is this just an economic question? Or just a social rights question? What does it mean for our political system and how can we change the one without the other shifting? I think this kind of thinking dominates because we think we have perfected the political system and all that we need to do now is change the economic system. I think this is us falling into the exact same trap that this split has been set up to do - were we can debate economics as if it is a separate field, something that free-market ideologues have done really well at. Often the way that democracy is talked about reminds me of Fukuyama's famous article, The End of History, where he talks about our having reached the pinnacle of our economic framework. Is this really the best democracy we can design? 

I think this of course raises a much more complex question about what democracy means, what our current democracy does and how it came into existence. There is no way to really separate our monetary system and our political system. Our political system has in many ways been designed to support and reinforce our monetary system. Tweaks have been made that allow the monetary system to operate. This is where the real challenge comes, this is where the real political question rises. How do we create, theorize, advocate a new political system that enables a change in our monetary system? Can we really continue to live in a representative democracy that has been developed to enable capitalist economics with a decentralized non-sovereign monetary system? 

I am not sure that we can. I don't know what to propose yet in terms of what that would look like. But, my hunch is it is along the lines of network ideas - ideas of deliberative democracy via networks and that the economic system and monetary system will replicate this. This is where we have to head, the ending of this limited idea of space and sovereignty, of nationalism and hierarchy. These kinds of shifts are essential to our diversity and complexity of a global humanity.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Conspiratorial Politicization of Money

One of the challenges in my research was raised in a recent email conversation with a fellow researcher, Noel Longhurst.

He asked me the following, "I agree with you about the politics of money and definitely think that it is an area that is rich for further exploration. However, there is another angle to this and that is that fact that elements of the monetary reform movement engage in a different kind of politics. I am thinking here of conspiracy theories / New World Order / anti-Semitism. Such politics form part of the real and everyday lived politics of monetary reform and can do great damage to the wider cause of politicizing money. I wonder whether you have considered how such politics fit into your work? Or how they might be relevant?"

This is a very important and legitimate question and the danger of this kind of politicization of money is apparent. Though, my effort is not to politicize money but rather to show its historical politicization. Money is, has been, and always will be, a political question. What is true is that some of the most vocal critiques of our current monetary system center around a view that there is a massive conspiracy underway that enables this elite group of bankers to control the global monetary system. The most popular or widely disseminated interpretation is found in the pseudo documentary Zeitgeist. And, similar critiques are bantered around on the Facebook and the web more generally.

As with all conspiracy theories there is an element of truth. Yes, a group of bankers along with government leaders have come together several times over at least the past 100 years to cobble together monetary systems that guaranteed the continued existence of the type of banking and political system that they dominate. This is no surprise and in my book certainly doesn't qualify as a conspiracy.

However, what is never asked is the context of these moments. My research is an attempt to contextualize these moments. Giving attention to the political-economic ideas that were available, and the particular issues that they were attempting to solve.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Next Economy Dialogue - Colin Boyles Editorial

Colin Boyle's article in the Next Economy Dialogue series in the Cape Times is exactly the kind of analysis that I find to be rather boring. It is not that the writer is wrong, or that he is not intelligent or even a good writer. I just find it boring. Once again it is someone talking and thinking inside the box. Yes, we often hear about this idea of thinking outside of the box. You hear this a lot in Business Schools or other sorts of creative entrepreneurial conversations. And, there is much validity. I think it is just about the size of the box. I think often people think outside the box, but that box is inside another box much like those Russian dolls that you can keep pulling out a smaller and smaller doll.

So, the central assumption in much of the type of analyses that Boyle presented is that the box is actually fine - the basic size and the sides of the box are correct and naturally given (not socially constructed), therefore barely up for debate. This type of analysis has increasingly become the norm since the fall of the communist experiment in the majority of the world. Let me note here right now that whatever I have to say I am not a communist, and I don't think I am a socialist, in fact maybe I am a capitalist! The point is that I try to interrogate the dominant way of thinking about our economy in the hopes of finding a viable solution that is not based on the same fundamental assumptions that so much analysis takes for granted. 

Back to Boyle, for him what needs to be fixed is the way that the inside of this box is laid out; move this, change that, tweak this and then ultimatley we will free the true and natural economy. And in this case it is quite obviously the capitalist economy which will naturally and "magically" unleash a barrage of job creation and wealth. The solution is just less regulation, more alignment with the private sector and greater business/state cohesion. Perhaps some of these elements are needed, but the assumption is that capitalism and its underpinnings will a) provide these solutions and b) that it is a sustainable and long-term viable path to explore. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

the stoke - our stoke - kelly and I live the stoke

Kelly writes great blog posts. In fact on many levels we couldn't have more different writing styles. I am academic and struggle with all kinds of intellectual ideas. She, well, she plays and has fun and writes in a way that would horrify most English teachers.

But, this post is again, like many others, so true to both her spirit and mine. Kelly and I constantly search for this balance between play and work, making money and enjoying the other priorities. She is a perfect partner for me - we remind each other all the time of what the other sometimes forgets.

Thanks Kelly I am "stoked" to be your husband.

the stoke

May 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

The other night my family & I went to a new restaurant in Muizenberg. While waiting for our food, we discovered a pile of surfer magazines. Upon reading an article or two, my husband said, “Surfers have their priorities straight. They are all about the stoke”. aka – the whole reason for living…the “pinch me I’m alive”…the “sick, dude! just rode a killer wave!” flavor of it all.

I have to say – the first time I went surfing, I did feel the same way. I was Giggling. Literally. I have to say in total honesty that it was one of the most fun days of my entire life.

I grew up water-skiing & downhill skiing a Lot. It was part of life. We ice-skated, swam, & water-skiied in our backyard. We road our bikes to school, etc. etc. We weren’t Trying to “be active”. We just were. It was just part of our lives.

Now that I look back, I am so grateful for all of this, & also recollect that the absolute best times in my life were on top of a mountain, flying on a wave, or sitting next to a campfire. The outdoors. It reminds us again of the “life!” in our lives.

And, this brings me back to “the stoke”, & the whole premise behind every piece of art it seems I’ve ever gone about creating. When drawing an apple, I am celebrating that apple. I am taking the apple out of it’s ordinary context and saying, “Look at this apple! It’s freaking gorgeous! It”s freaking delicious! The flavor! The ripeness! The plumpness! The color!”. When I take a bed into a city street & have a kid, a garbageman, & a famous politician jump on it, I’m saying, “Look at how cool this bed is! Look at this! We can jump on it!”

It’s regaining that fresh perspective and appreciation for it all. To quote myslef again, “My intent is to take something simple like a leaf, or a carrot, or a fat lady’s bum; and give it the glory it deserves.”

And I’ll end with this haiku I wrote one recent morning:

Loving the sufers

Outside my window flying

Salt-crusted soul-food


Thank you, surfers, for your “stoke” & your inspiration. cheers.