Economic exchange does not permit external considering
One of the key principles of all major religions and philosophies throughout history has been to treat others as you would have them treat you. This is also referred to in some schools of thought and practice as ‘external considering’, and is in essence the opposite of inner considering, or the act of considering oneself and one’s own needs and interests first before others. Putting others before oneself seems simple at first but is quite difficult in practice and many relations are strained due to this difficulty. Human beings are not designed to think, feel, and act beyond their own needs (other than with infants) and thus have to make great efforts to be able to place themselves in others shoes, even for short moments. In saying this however, some people are naturally more able to do it compared to others, and for those who aren’t naturally good at it, they can get better with hard work and practice, or through some shock, such as the threat to end a relationship if one does not change their ways and become more considerate of others.
But this article is not aimed at the practice of considering others from the perspective of marriages, friendships, and other similar type relations, but is concerned with economic relations, and more to the point, that in today’s world, the economic system we are now almost entirely integrated into, does not permit one to treat others (and here I am referring to other members of the community or society as a whole) as you would have them treat you and instead almost forces you, whether against your will or not, to place your own interests first. Put another way, if you do not put your own interests first, you will simply not be able to provide for your own needs nor those of your family, and instead will find yourself homeless, and worse, having your children taken from you.
In ‘Economics as a Philosophical Science’, the author Collingwood, defines a moral act to be one where the means and the end are the same, i.e. one does good, not for some reward, but for the sake of good itself, and therefore contrasts this with an economic act where one does some act as a means to some other end. What is also of note in this paper is that Collingwood describes the transfer of wealth as not being a true exchange between two people but rather two exchanges taking place within each individual but only made possible because the two have agreed to make these exchanges possible. For instance, if you have bread and I have milk, and we wish to exchange, what I give up is the benefit I would derive from drinking the milk I just so happened to have in my possession and exchange this for the benefit I will derive by eating the bread which you intend to give me. What those benefits are for me personally have no relation to the benefits that the other gives up (with the bread) and gains (with the milk) because these are personal and often emotional and are thus peculiar to the individual. Even when an exchange involves money, the benefit one gains by receiving that money has no relation to the benefit the other gave up because how one benefits from any thing is entirely individual. This is made even more obvious if we think of the benefits a pauper compared to a millionaire would experience internally if either found $100 on the pavement.
Collingwood also pointed out that it is no good for any of us to then suggest that if the one who has the milk makes the exchange, not because he wants the bread, but because he feels the other needs the milk more than he does, then we should treat this is a form of external considering within an economic act. We can’t do this because in essence it was a gift, and the act of taking the bread in exchange was not the motivation, therefore it cannot be an economic act. What this uncovers is the fact that whilst we have plenty or an infinite supply of resources by which to trade and exchange, then one does not need to give up anything, and exchange is mere formality or ceremony. Therefore true exchange requires scarcity, even if only perceived; one cannot feel a sense of giving up one thing as means to acquire another unless there is scarcity in both that which they give up and that which they acquire, and this scarcity must have some bearing on the individuals needs or perceived needs; one can only perceive scarcity if their primary concern is their own needs and self-interests.
So what creates this scarcity? In their paper ‘Evil is the Root of all Money’, Kiyotaki and Moore explain that it is distrust which creates the need for money in any system based on exchange, and this is further supported by the Bank of England in their paper ‘Introduction to Money’, but unfortunately neither dig deeper into why society as a whole needs to exchange in the first place. At the core of scarcity is distrust, and what manifests as a result of this distrust is private property and a system of exchange and accounting supported by a legal system made possible by an authority such as a government. Without any of these elements economic exchange could not exist.
How is it possible then to treat others as you would have them treat you if the very means by which you have to access basic human needs requires you to engage in economic activities? I’m not just directing this question at accessing basic human needs for my own sake or those of my children, but even if my sole purpose was to donate it to a charity or the poor, am I not still required to engage in economic activities in order to acquire them? If my purpose was indeed to help those in need, in other words to ‘gift’, then how can I accept the notion that in order to give something to those in need I am in all truth required to own that which I desire to gift which I can only acquire by the act of engaging in economic exchange? Is this gift really coming from me or have I in reality, and quite cunningly, tricked the other into giving up something in order that I may hand it to someone who I perceive to be more needy? Is this really any different to Robin Hood?
What is extremely disappointing with the treatment of economics is the amount of romance that is applied to it. First, there is always this need by economists to resort back to the idea that before money there was barter, without bothering to try and determine what enabled people to treat that which they bartered as property, and thus protect it, in the first place. Second, they continue to support all economic theories with this utopian concept of trade, where if we just learn to trust one another then all trade becomes fair and equal, and yet again, just as with the theory of barter, there is no probing into the question of what enables one to trade to begin with; and this obviously requires, at a bare minimum, private property, a legal system of exchange and accounting, and a government, all of which would never be necessary if everyone trusted one another. In fact, the very idea that trade cannot be dispensed with is an admission that distrust can never be resolved on a community wide scale, and the more that any community or society forces everyone, whether that means the unemployed or even third world countries, into exchange economics, the more distrust they must breed.
But what is ultimately the biggest disappointment for me is that from a religious and philosophical aspect, the very subject of economics and the contradictions of it from a religious and philosophical perspective seems to be glossed over as if it now belongs in the ‘too hard basket’. Why does any teacher of religion or philosophy have the right to preach against inner considering, especially at the risk of going to hell, when the very act of engaging in exchange economics requires inner considering? Is the answer because it is indeed in the too hard basket, and there is simply no room to approach this subject? Whilst I will admit that it is indeed a very difficult subject to approach and comes with many challenges, this does not discount the fact that the contradiction exists. As a student of religion, philosophy, and certain similar type schools, I have been required to observe myself and my relations with others, and as result of these observations it is impossible for me to ignore this very obvious contradiction. I am not able to provide for my children without competing against others for those resources in order to fulfill this duty. This is not a theory or a belief, it is a fact which has become apparent to me by pure self-observation, not to mention research into the subjects of economics, money, law and so forth, in order to try and find some answer as to why, against all my will and against the very fabric of my being, I am required to compete against others in order to fulfill my duty to my family.
Surely these great teachers and minds of religion and philosophy do not assume that money and property are simply infinite and that a persons non-ability to access enough of it is based purely and simply on their levels of laziness? Surely these great teachers and minds know that in order to prevent runaway inflation or worse, deflation, in order to protect the purchasing power of all those who engage in economic exchange, that a certain level of unemployment is actually necessary? So how can these same people claim to know how to externally consider all of the time with knowledge of this fact? Do they renounce all money, private property, and thus exchange economics, and if so, how do they provide for themselves? It seems obvious to me that if these teachings of religion and philosophy should be taken seriously then the maxim that one should treat others as they would be treated should not be confined to those things which do not fall into the too hard basket but should encapsulate everything from domestic relations right through to one’s relation with their own community and even the world at large, and the manner by which one holds and treats any resource including their labours and basic needs such as housing etc.
This is not some sermon on the virtues of giving up wants and desires. This is a probing into why one has no choice but to engage in economic activities in order to fulfill ones duty to society, whether that is legal or moral, in order to access human needs lest they become a burden on society a result of being destitute or homeless; and why no teacher of religion or philosophy today has the courage to probe into this obvious contradiction whilst at the same time preaching external considering. Unfortunately it is essentially up to these teachers of religion and philosophy to make this change because they are the only ones government will listen to; instead, churches today are no different to the private sector with their private property ownership and the need for funding and donations which only come from the fruits of exchange economics.
We do not live in a time as Buddha did. Back then a Buddhist monk could renounce all form of property and thus economics and go live in the forest. Today that is impossible because all land is now owned. And what about those with children? Am I to assume that because I have chosen to go forth and multiply that somehow I am banished to the cycle of economic exchange and internal considering until such time as my children are old enough to leave home? Every person, whether a parent or not, should have the option to renounce property and exchange economics and not face hardship a result because of some romantic belief system which suggests that there is indeed one utopian ideal, and that is called exchange economics.
Indeed, and thanks to many years of self-observation and research, I have found a solution to the problem of wanting to renounce economics whilst bringing up a family which I call the way of the custodian, and yet every religious or philosophical teacher or mind I have described this too has not treated it seriously, and yet I feel it is their duty to. Why have I been shown a solution to solving this obvious contradiction if every religious and philosophical teacher I present it to ignores it? What is the point of my observing these obvious contradictions and being able to point to exchange economics as the very cause, not only of my own inability to treat others as I wold have them treat me, but also of many of the ills of this world, and then ignoring an obvious solution? Am I to assume that if I just externally consider others outside of economics (outside of my working life), that somehow that is enough? I’m sorry but I cannot accept this because it does not explain why I have been able to observe the obvious contradiction or why I have been shown a solution. Am I to assume then that if I just externally consider others outside of economics that somehow I will eventually be lifted above the soul destroying cycle of exchange economics, and if so, what does the new way of life look like – how do I provide for my children?
I have been shown a solution, but it is a solution that requires the help of religious and philosophical minds of this world, because a government is simply not going to listen to a schmuck like me. Whilst I would never expect any sympathy from an economist, especially an atheist, because the very idea of mixing religion and economics into the same paragraph is simply pointless and moot to such a mind, even if they claim to be wanting to improve the conditions of those worse off, I think it is time to remind many of our current religious and philosophical teachers that many great people lost their lives standing up for an alternative to capitalism and exchange economics, and also to remind them of what Keynes, a famous economist once said in Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930).
“When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease … But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.”
Keynes admits that we must give up all external considering and think of ourselves only, but at what cost; and nearly 100 years later, has it even remotely worked? Hardly!
It is our religious leaders who must take up the baton and pull us out of this, but they can only do it if there exists a way to live by example, which is what I have called the way of the custodian. They must also cease listening to economists, who only look out for those who desire to own wealth, and start accepting the fact that not everyone on earth has a desire to trade and accumulate property, nor to offer the world their best of their skills and talents by way of exchange economics. Many of the greatest gifts that people have to offer are being denied to this world because these same people are stuck in soul destroying jobs for no other purpose than to satisfy the beast which is exchange economics and all its masterminds and dependents. We don’t live in barbarous times anymore so stop fearing that you’ll be burned at the stake by standing up for an alternative way of living, an alternative which I call the way of the custodian, which for the particular custodian (and his family) does not require the creation of private property ownership, does not require engaging in exchange economics, and simply allows one to co-exist alongside everyone else whilst everyone else is none-the-wiser; it will relieve the pressures of exchange economics thereby also benefiting the actual economy itself because it reduces the level of competition within.
My God, this solution is so simple and yet so beneficial to every single person, irrespective of whether they choose it as a way of life or not, that I am completely dumbfounded as to why no one takes it seriously.