the Dependent Arising of Modern Economics
Just a few posts ago, I discussed the root of all evil. I feel that there is much more to be said in regards to how the idea of “I” can and does destroy a happy and holistic life. A prime example of the separate self at work within society is our form of economics. In this article, I will illustrate how the sense of a separate self forms the bottom-most layer to our understanding of how economics works, and if the sense of the separate sense is dissolved, how our economy ceases to make any sense.
First, what’s the basic definition of money? A coin used to pay the value in equity to the good being traded? I think it’s much more basic than that. I would say money is simply an agreement, that you would allow me to take something from your stock and offer compensation you found to be fair. Since we no longer are hunter-gatherers, trading furs for other furs or food for other foods, we trade money—the means to buy a good—for a good—the ends to which we aim with the money. It’s as simple as saying, “Yes, twenty dollars is acceptable for this item.”
Now, let’s discuss a very generalized version of what our debt-based money system is today. In this system, banks regulate and encourage competition. Let’s say there’s a small business owner looking to get a loan so that he may start his new venture. Naturally, he brings in a business plan to the bank stating just what he plans to do, how much he believes he can make in profit that year, and how much that profit can grow each year thereafter. Let’s say the bank approves and issues a $20 million dollar loan to this fine young businessman. Of course, this money is not free; the bank has to be repaid, in full, upon a date both parties agree upon. Furthermore, the bank has its own employees requiring their own payroll, so the bank charges interest for each dollar loaned so that they will gain money in addition to the original sum invested in this small business owner. Over time, the business owner comes back to pay off his debt to the bank. He does so in full, plus interest, while still keeping enough of the profits to himself for further use in the business. However, the only way the businessman can walk away happy, as he does in our example, is to out-compete in the market. In other words, he must compete against other businesses offering the same products as he does so that he may have more money to pay back to the bank and also to himself.
What’s going on here is very simple: the bank issues the release of X amount of cash to a recipient. On that X amount is an interest charged for each dollar, which then creates more money, or debt, that needs to be repaid over the amount of time the businessman takes to repay the original sum loan. In order to do so, the businessman must crush the competition so that he actually can pay off his debts and still come out with money to keep for himself and his company.
A few key words you should be aware of are debt, interest, and competition. First, we think that debt is the ultimate guilt trip; it is so incredibly engraved in our minds that we think we must always owe somebody something. For example, say I saved your life. You might reply, “I am forever in your debt.” But, why should you be? Should each good deed always be repaid? Doesn’t that cheapen the good deed? It would be better to say, “Please allow me to express my gratitude in saving my life—what gift can I give you in return?” Further still it would be better to say that our assumption as the doer of a good deed should not be to obtain a reward but rather to simply do a good deed because that is what is right—I saved your life simply because I know, or at least hope, that you would do the same for me. And even if you wouldn’t, I would still save your life on the same principle that a good deed never should be expected to be repaid in little or in full.
Second, interest is based on the assumption that money appreciates in value over time—in fact, that is the definition of interest, that money appreciates over time. The same would be to say that keeping gold locked in a vault long enough would produce more gold, in and of itself. Of course, this is preposterous—no element, naturally occurring nor man-made, ever lasts forever, let alone self-perpetuates over time. Even diamonds, when given enough time and exposure to certain elements, will eventually fade away. Nothing in this Universe lasts forever.
Third, competition assumes that in order to survive such a climate as our economy, one must do so alone, accruing more money for oneself in order to pay off debts, whether they are owed now or in the future. More money can only be gained if you are in the spotlight to be given the money for your product; this can only happen if you demolish the other competitors, or at least be “better” than them.
Though these words seem quite distinct from one another, they are all dependent on one final assumption: that there is a self to which debt can be owed; that there is a thing that can exist forever (loosely translated to our self as something that is held as a constant, just as we hold the “thing”, money, as a constant that which never changes—this connection will be explained in full further down); and that there are other “selves” with which we must conqueror in order to ensure the survival of our “self”.
If one were to abolish the sense of self, would greed exist? Would ownership? Would hatred, deceit, jealousy, or lust? Greed is gluttony of the mind, not of the human being. A baby does not accrue things so that it may keep them forever—greed is a learned trait, not an innate one. We learn it from the formation of our own ego. And for the purpose of this essay, ego equates to the separate self.
Ego is composed both of traits you admire and traits you dislike—the very emotions I listed above and their brighter counter parts such as selflessness, love, joy for others, and abstention. The ego is the voice in your head to whom you listen, admire, and for which you act out within the world. However at the same time, the ego is your only enemy because in reality, nothing can actually hurt you, on a metaphysical level, because you do not exist.
When I say, “You do not exist,” I do not mean it in the way a nihilist would, claiming that nothing is “real”, that everything is false and doesn’t matter at all. The distinction is extremely fine of a line, one that you must carefully pay attention to in order to see just what I mean by “you” and “I” are the loneliest people in existence. What I’m saying is that your belief in this fundamental separation from the world around you is just a mind trick—the ego. The truth is already surrounding us—what you see is what you are as much you are as the one seeing it; what you hear is what you are as much you are as the one hearing it; even more so, you are not the one thing you see or hear, but both and everything you see, hear, feel, and think. You are everything, not just anger or love, greed or charity, vengeance or justice—“you” have no boundaries. Only the thought of “you” can be contained in a bubble precisely because the bubble has been formed by non other than the ego, your idea of “whom you are.”
That said, our bodies, our feelings, and our emotions are very much real. If you don’t believe me, cut off your arm and feel the horrible pain and suffering thereafter (seriously though, please do not do that). My point is not that the world does not exist; it is that our concepts that separate the world are illusions—they are tools to work within this beautiful world, not the reality in and of themsleves.
Now, back to economics. Suppose we thought differently about our sense of self. Perhaps we all reach a profound realization that “I” does not exist any more than a bowl holding air—it’s just a reference, much like the way “I” is a reference for the “Chadness” that exists and is expressing thoughts to you right now. So say we reach this conclusion, globally. What does that do to our economy? I think it would demolish the very core of it, but not in a Great Depression sort of way. Here’s why:
As stated above, our economy relies on the very ideas that:
1. There is somebody to which a debt is owed
2. There is something that can last forever as both a good and a means to that good
3. There is somebody else with whom to compete, creating a sense of scarcity that which never really existed beforehand
If we no longer believed that debt was the ultimate regulation of gratitude (i.e., “your life is in debt to mine for saving it,” as opposed to, “you are incredibly grateful for my good deed, therefore wish to offer something in return, something that is not expected by me”) that would mean we no longer value the ultimate sense of self, that “I” am owed something from “you.” Without the sense of the separate self, we no longer expect things in return—you simply do your good deed because… Well can you think of a reason not to? Why not just do a good deed to do a good deed? “Well,” you might say, “Because I know people are selfish and wouldn’t do it for me.” Ah, but, if we no longer value the self as we do today, then where does the selfishness go? And if there is no more selfishness—which would require a sense of a separate self—then what reason do you have to not do a good deed? No compensation? Well if you didn’t care about being compensated—which, again, requires the ego to be selfish—then what’s your excuse for not doing the good deed?
Next, if there is no value of debt or debt repayment, the appreciation of money when held in a bank not only becomes obviously ridiculous but also completely unnecessary. Without debt, there is no reason for a dollar bill to grow. First, let’s examine how absurd this notion is that money not only lasts forever, but that it can grow itself by simply sitting in a bank account. Of course we know that things grow, but what makes money so different is that it grows simply from sitting in a specified area—a bank account with a designated interest rate placed upon a dollar bill—that is completely fabricated, as opposed to a tree, which is really the composite of the nature surrounding the tree. The tree does not grow alone so much as it does with the nature around it—in fact, it is the nature around it just as much as it is the designated “treeness” that we call it. Money, on the other hand, only exists because we allow it to in the infrastructure that we created—in other words, money exists simply because we think it exists.
What’s even more psychotic is the idea that money lasts forever. A dollar bill in a bank account will always remain a dollar bill in a bank account, from which more dollar bills grow. But, as I said earlier, nothing in the Universe lasts forever; not stars, planets, gases, or even diamonds last forever. Everything has its breaking point. Everything eventually breaks down into something else. What makes money different is the separating of ourselves from nature. We believe that our thoughts are somehow immortal as well. Language is a key example of this. No mater after how long a language exists or even dramatically changes over time, we always seem to think that a definition of a word is absolutely final, set in stone, never to be changed again. This notion comes from the ego, or the separate self. The ego likes to think that you never change, you have your specific likes and dislikes, and that everything is peachy until somebody throws a twig into your wheel’s spokes, forcing you to be flexible and adaptable. We believe that the idea of immortality, the ultimate conquering of nature’s finite limitations, can be obtained for the ego so that it never suffers its detachment from the world. Thus is born the foundation of our current understanding of money—since we believe the ego, or sense of “whom I am” never dies, we can say that the intrinsic value of a dollar bill should never die either. We buy into one fallacy and back it with the falsity of another.
Now if you were to take out debt—that is to say, take out the idea of separation from nature’s finite reality, and ultimately the separate self—money becomes absolutely pointless, at least as we know it today. A new form of money would come about; we would no longer value money but rather the goods it can be traded for. We would not see money as valuable in and of itself, but rather as markings of gratitude for other’s help, services, foods, and so on. Like I said before, we are a global society now, not hunter gatherers—there must be some way to show appreciation for goods sold from across the world, and that would be money that no longer appreciates nor is a good in and of itself, but instead is used simply as a token for the gratitude one has in taking a good from another.
Finally, we come to competition. Without a sense of self, debt, or this misplaced notion of an ever-lasting money system, competition would be obliterated. No longer would people make business deals in order to net the highest and fastest profits possible, but rather people would make deals in order to net the highest amount of good done to others possible. What I’m suggesting here is that value would be placed on cleaning up the mess we’ve created thus far rather than create further messes down the road all for the continuation of our current economic growth. No longer would McDonald’s rule the land when there are plenty of cooks everywhere willing and wanting to open their own small food shop; no longer would Walmart be necessary when plenty of people have the craft, capability, and know-how to make furniture or farm their own groceries. How would this be possible? Because we would no longer be slaves to debt and the necessity to continuously gain more money. We would spend money on local products made by people within the community that are well crafted rather than buy cheap products that break in a year anyway. We would spend more time concentrating on what we love simply because money wouldn’t be our slave master anymore—in other words, we no longer would need to compete with one another when money is no longer valued as an ever lasting good.
Why? Because everybody would have money! We would constantly be trading with each other for each other’s goods and services that we want to offer—no longer would we need to save money if there wasn’t a debt to pay on a “rainy day”, nor would we want to save it if money no longer grew itself or lasted forever in a bank account (an example of such an economic model: demurrage). What would you do if you didn’t have to compete for a salary in order to pay off house loans? What is your love, your passion that you’d like to offer others around you?
Furthermore, scarcity would no longer exist. Competition ensues that things must be scarce in order to be sold. A prime example of this is bottled water. If there were a larger initiative on cleaning water supplies, why would you spend two dollars on a bottle of water sold by Pepsi-Cola? Why does water need to be scarce? It’s not—it’s everywhere, just polluted from the companies created by the economy that ignores environmental and societal hazards in the favor of higher profits. There could be a company that existed, say, to clean water supplies and ensure chemical dumping would no longer take place. Wouldn’t you rather pay for that, instead of ensuring more plastic and environmental damage gets created as a result of Pepsi-Cola’s push to keep its profits growing? Scarcity is ridiculous in that we think the world is ours to be owned. “I” can own “that” piece of Earth. How do you own something that is connected to everything? Easy—place a mental boundary on it and you’ve got, what we call today, property. Without a sense of separation, debt and its importance ceases to arise, money loses its value, and competition—as well as the scarcities created by it—dissolves.
I hope “you” can understand what “I” am trying to outline here: that all of the bounds of economics we know today are simply here because we are following the interests of our ego, our separate self—and in doing so, we are duped into believing these circumstances of greed and the lust for wealth to be the reality. I’ll leave you with an allegory by Charles Eisenstein—who is the author of The Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics, and who opened my eyes to the very things I’ve been discussing in this article. Imagine that a Voodoo master and his followers are engaged in a ceremony. The Voodoo master hands one of the followers a piece of paper with symbols on it. Now, in the Voodoo tradition, the master usually has magical powers, which can be channeled through symbols that can then do something to a follower—give him a heart attack, make him jump for joy, or sink him into a deep depression. Now, imagine a banker who sends a piece of paper to a client and on that sheet of paper are various symbols on it that can have a profound effect on the client—it could give him a heart attack, make him jump for joy, or sink him into a deep depression. The similarity between these two people—the Voodoo follower and the bank’s client—is simple: they both buy into and believe in the system, and, because of that, each piece of paper holds the same magical traits as the other. The mind is a very powerful thing, is it not?