A Question of Will
With this issue we extend the envelope of economics, looking at the journey from its origins to date, and perhaps beyond. In these pages we have often said that economics did not begin with Adam Smith but with Aristotle. Here this date is pushed much farther back. With it comes a corollary theme: the role of human will in economic life. That story is in fact about taming the will or wildness of our natures. It has a later echo in Theseus’s struggle with the Minotaur, an image of uneducated will
Sign of Our Time – From Uruk to New York – sets the stage with its claim that in fact we can begin the story of economics in Uruk, the ancient region where Iraq now is. The piece by Tomas Sedlacek gives the detail. He discusses many themes, which can only be best enjoyed by reading the original. They include here the main ones of walling ourselves off from wildness in order to become civilised, the importance of friendship for an economic life that is both efficient and human, and the need to decide what are we in a truest nature, good or evil?
In the course of the 19th century, the question of will had reached modern formulation: Do human beings have free will? Or, in its economic counterpart, free trade. “Laissez faire, laissez passer. Let me do what I want to do.” At the same time, there was a huge switch from investing in order to support production to producing in order to support investment. Even so, in Disassociated Money, Rudolf Steiner argues that this inversion or disassociation of finance – what the late, Canadian economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, called the “the personality of money” – should not be read as a moral issue, but as a reflection of where humanity is at in its evolution.
In The Wall as Street, the focus then shifts to New York and our own times. Here the ‘wall theme’ from Uruk takes on a new nuance, with the wild animals (now wolves) having gone from outside the walls to inside (with apologies to Martin Scorcese). In her recap of the Goldman Sachs story, the granddaughter of Henry Goldman, June Breton Fisher, illustrates the switch from personality-based banking to the abstraction of shareholder funded finance. Bulls and Bears, Animal Spirits, and Taming Wild Horses tell their own stories.
It is a feature of modern liberalised economics that the freedom of egoism is matched by the absence of fidelity to anything. The glaring fact that economics without fidelity is not viable, witness any number of ‘fidelity schemes’, seems to go unremarked. Rude egoism, unrestrained selfishness, and fidelity cannot cohabit. Questionable Loyalty takes a look at both sides of the loyalty card debate, asking whether such schemes provide an economic benefit or are just a sleight of hand to spread prices and costs. In both cases the arguments can only gain traction by pushing through to the fundamental situation reflected in the figures.
The AEX Pages echoes the theme with highlights from a recent exchange on the idea of ‘sacred economics’ and examines the form a ‘sacred’ balance sheet may take. The page is bookended by a comment on the previous month’s issue and a possible link to other economic undertakings around the world.
The View from Rare Albion, Willing the Future, concludes this edition with its consideration of the relationship between the will and today’s bond markets. Also included are details of an upcoming event similarly looking at both the origins and future of an aspect of economics, this time money.