Africa, that well known collection of basket-cases, has long been a net exporter of money even after aid is taken into account. This is known as capital flight. These externally held assets are held by a small minority and the countries’ public debt is paid for by everyone else. A number of university studies have shown this and the sums are in hundreds of billions.
The majority of the world’s wealth is held by very few people and we now regularly hear of the ‘one percent’, but I meet few people who understand much, if anything about how this wealth is amassed inn so few hands and what this form of capital actually does, other than making a few incredibly rich.
I think we can safely assume the wealth of the one percent has little good effect on raising living standards for the many. It’s been around and getting worse for centuries. It may be possible to argue that all improvement in this sense may be done to massive improvements in productivity due to increased knowledge and technological innovation, though these may have some link to the focus of wealth (we wouldn’t have science without people otherwise idle enough to do it).
As a scientist, rather than someone who teaches low-level university economics to make a crust, I find economics an intolerable discipline in that it fails to address itself as a history of mistakes and is predicated on ‘world-views’ rather than more modest research programmes. It is not possible, as a scientist, to think that such issues as capital flight, offshore tax-dodging and other obvious cheating, or such matters as a small number of people needing the motivation of great riches while others starve, can form the core of a research programme.
Sociologists generally don’t like explanations of capitalism as only existing because people are incredibly dumb, but frankly, when one looks at what we are expected to swallow on the needs for mass austerity and to let the rich get even richer, the levels most people can achieve in universal education, widespread scientific illiteracy and global competition really being about depressing wages and conditions of employment, and getting people who aren’t smart to worker smarter (as we import smarter people because this doesn’t work), along with what passes as mass entertainment and research on just how dumb human communities have been in various ecocides and wars … then evading questions about how human dumbness comes about hardly seems scientific.
My thesis is that we are almost chronically dumb and can’t face up to this (none of us is exempt). In one of my favourite Voyager episodes, Janeway not only refuses to drop her pants to get technology that would get her crew home, but tries to trade the sum total of human literature for it – essentially trying to trade what you’d be stuck with on a desert island (of the radio show) for technology that shrinks space. We live with fantasy like this in a world in which women and children are traded to much worse fates and in which we are all traded in an economic system beyond democratic sanction.
My guess is we could know about economics if we studied the issues from a fractal perspective. I don’t mean the creation of a new set of mathematical wangles that mean ‘there’s nowt down for you Son, ‘cos you can’t do this kind of counting’. There are structures that seem to repeat themselves in human affairs, including repeated numbskull behaviour by majorities and minorities.
My start is in the non-human and the way bacteria, plants and animals behave. Much we see as human can be found in this. Ants ‘take slaves’ by stealing the eggs of other ants, many insects are involved in ‘complex gardening’ using anti-biotics and there is much ‘chemical warfare’ practised – none presumably needing the kind of rational mind we attribute to ourselves. Chimpanzees act to ‘police’ their societies (so no change there then!). Many species are now extinct and it’s clear our own almost was. We need some understanding in economics of how we are borne in evolution and are not in mastery of it.
Human history as it is taught around the world has structures in it. My guess on these is that the first is that it is taught everywhere inaccurately. What’s the difference between Jihad and Crusade or the various empires that have hardly graced the Earth? What’s the difference between the ancient tribe in Peru who ‘mastered’ water supply and died horribly when their claims to deal with ‘water-gods’ was exposed in drought and the current Mob of banksters and their claim we can’t do without them?
Some way into an examination of such structures, come questions on whether competitive advantage is actually ever used in any way we can consider moral? What other structures might be similar and/or at work – one can think of the bee hive, termite mound and social mice (where Bossmouse keeps his order through the enforced poverty of others).
There is much more to say on structures we might expect to find at different scales in our society. The fraud we are encouraging in capital flight and investment banking may well just be a structure as surely as that of a set of genes turning on encouraged by the environment (exercise immediately causes gene activity).
Competitions really only work through rules and refereeing. What one can compete on is restricted or we might say, structured. We could choose to structure such matters as salary caps across work places from sport to banking. It’s also possible to see much of the notion of motivation to great wealth as giving up to libidinal structures.
In longer term looks at structures we get laughable stuff like Elliot Waves (his other book was on running a tea-shop), but we rarely look at what has always been promised to society as a whole by putting up with economics and what has actually been delivered (a lot – not much?). My own country (UK) has failed to produce even all its own medical doctors and steals them from countries that cannot afford to lose them. What does this say about working smarter and the role of training and education? Surely if we could do so much better by getting higher skills we’d not only be producing all our own doctors but also making money hand over fist training those of other countries in our splendid and efficient medical education? We ain’t. And now we have kids taking on huge debts to get the “advantage” of a degree to work in a coffee shop.
If education is about employability (it ain’t – but no matter) why do we divorce it so much from the world of work? Some dork brandishing a business degree from the places I’ve taught in, is no more employable or knowledgeable on business for real than anyone else with a non-numerate degree in anything else, and less employable than someone who sensibly left school at 16 and went to work for Sainsburys (where I know management juniors get a better education than I can offer). So where are the economists saying we should junk much of higher education and get on with a job-based expansion because you’re only going to learn about work at work and only learn work-skills by using tools and machines?
The economics we have is such junk we have a Chancellor telling us his coming budget will be for growth and work – when it will offer more money to the rich and continue to cut the public sector. Osbourne is crap – yet if economics is so bad we can’t even see through his jive it needs to be junked.