Islands in the Flood

This is expanded from a conversation with my virtual friend Michelle Galimba about the pleasures we find in necessary hiding places from the truth. Michelle writes with a beautifully clear eye.
You’ll often find me hiding in the shade; in refuges from the truth, and our own farm is a long way off course – in its various hiding places. The loveliest refuge is the present – in companionship and pleasures – sights, sounds, scents… in little projects and jobs we have in hand – the sight of freshly weeded rows of vegetables, or newly-pruned orchard trees. But when I step from the timeless present to time again, the horror would overwhelm me, but for the utopian light, the other side of darkness. Utopia is not fanciful. Our lives are that. It is imaginative and true. Utopia is possible. It is our weakness which makes it apparently impossible. That leads to another journey – companionship in our common folly – in forgiveness, charity, comedy and tragedy. That journey is one of utopian compromise.
However, nearly all “green” and egalitarian solutions, which we find in places such as are compromises, on the last debunked compromise. I’ll not have that! I say, we must return to the original Utopia. That is, we compromise the beautiful and true.
Living in the timeless present, we find sensual evidence of the truth. That innocence is most receptive to the only true evidence – that is sensual evidence. Sensual evidence must always pass through the senses of someone. It is always solitary. But, when we contemplate our next footstep through that sensual landscape, we re-enter a world of time and consequence. We cannot remain innocent. Both future and past consequences intrude. We must judge. We step into a moral world. Whose morals? – mine, or yours? – mine, or the consensus, the law’s, the elite’s, the ancestors? Prudence, expediency, fear, anger… all intrude.
The academic title we have for the study of those moral questions is economics. Because uncovered moral truth is a danger to what we may call “the powers”, economics is no longer studied in UK universities. Instead, the study has been narrowed to the limits of an accepted landscape – or rather, people-scape, of unchallenged enclosures and assumptions. In that people-scape, people who call themselves economists, study what remains inside an enclosure – rent and the necessary freedom of rent – that is the necessary amorality, which liberates what they call, the market. Enclosed mediums of exchange, become property, which generates rent (money interest), enclosed professions, become property which generates rent (lawyers, GPs, architects and so on). Enclosed land becomes property… Enclosed ideas become property…
In all those cases the near-infinitely complex physics of soil, fungi, bacteria, plants, animals, forests, rivers, people… are excluded from study to be replaced by the simplicity of amorality and rent. Because people pay rent for something which does not exist (property is an idea), it is thought that an “economy” can sustain infinite growth and defy the indisputably finite nature of labour, resource and the land.
Everywhere, good housekeepers understand that finity. It is apparent through every sense – taste, touch, sound, sight… It must be prudently managed and wisely shared. A good housekeeper must follow, or learn codes of behaviour, by distribution of fair shares of what we can have and what we can do, in food, clothing, toys, chores and pleasures. That is, she must regulate both what her family does and what it can have. She must budget today’s income for the days ahead. In short, she must study economics. Readers will know that a housekeeper and an economist in the same sentence make a tautology.
So, as Brian Davey notes, there can be no conversation between a householding economist and an “economist” of the enclosures – or between ordinary pragmatism and university guide-lines, peer-reviews, or career reviews (another tautology).
All enclosures have been first achieved by violence. Their powers are then extended by rent. The fence lines, become castellated by law and by peer-review/career review. Schools and universities further consolidate an enclosed future by education.
Without increasing spending (GDP) there can be no rent. Fellow real economic writers would say debt, but it is not only debt. It is wider – it is rent. Money as property is not the only enclosure demanding rent. A world of enclosures will collapse without expanding GDP. University “economists” almost exclusively focus on rent/debt and the maintenance of perpetually expanding spending. Any child can see that such economists have no clothes. Plainly, children must be swiftly educated to imagine them dressed again. Professional monopolies of law, bank, medicine, pharmaceuticals, architecture and so on, utterly depend on the educated illusion. Otherwise they’d lose the means to charge such fabulous rents for their professional status. An ordinary householder would no longer be compelled to pay a rent of £300 per hour, from her own wage of £10 per hour. That £290 per hour can only exist by the means of fantasy money – casino money – true economy bleeding money. Even university economists, who calculate, only the odds of a casino, can see that the world of real resource and real labour is incapable, on its own, of paying such massive rents. For that, money flow must accelerate and GDP (spending) must expand.
A so called, steady state economy, or a circular economy, also means the end of professional monopoly and the end of rent. Money flow must shadow the transformative power of what people can do, which means it is limited to just that – with none to spare for the fantasies of enclosed monopoly. This author, who has no career review, thinks that the end of growth means the total collapse of the casino. Though that collapse will bring havoc to most people’s lives, he cannot see a way forward, but to first pass through the tragedy to gain the light on the other side. What’s done is done. The currently massive money-flow hovers above a much shrunken and mismatched energy-flow and will in any case explode, sometime soon. He has no Chrystal ball, but until it does explode, it gives time to build islands of a real economy which can emerge more or less intact from beneath the smoke and embers. After all, it is a fantasy, which will have collapsed – a gamblers dream. The physics of the world – people, fields, woods, rivers… will all remain.
We return to the ancient conflict between commons and enclosure and to a sentence which my virtual friend Michelle singled out – But when I step from the timeless present to time again, the horror would overwhelm me, but for the utopian light, the other side of darkness.
Yes – the loveliest refuge from the horror, which is to come, is the timeless present – in companionship, fields, woods and so on, but also in work and companionship of work – each to her skill, to build living islands, which may survive collapsing casinos, rising seas and violently defensive enclosures. From time to time though, we must step back into time with a steady eye for both the Utopia ahead and the tragedy, which surrounds us.

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5 Responses to Islands in the Flood

  1. Michelle says:

    Aloha Patrick,
    These virtual friendships – especially the conversations enabled by the rhythm of blog postings and comments – are one of the great delights of our (otherwise quite dismaying) age. To be honest Iʻm quite sure that intellectual loneliness would be much more of a problem for me in my beloved but remote community of human souls if it were not for such friendships. I take great pleasure in thinking with you and learning from you, Patrick.
    I had not thought of economics as a necessarily moral venture, but you are absolutely right – and that that morality must extend beyond the enclosures of human symbolic systems to take in our moral responsibility to soil, air, animals, etc.
    Your link to Brian Davey led me back to Feasta – which is where I first came upon your blog I believe – which led me to a post on Economics for the 99 percent and its discussion of UBI. I have never felt quite comfortable with the idea of UBI (free money!?!?) but Iʻm beginning to think that it might be a good tool to nudge us all towards a more regenerative economy. In other words UBI might be a good thing if it is not just a dispensation, but if there was some reciprocity involved i.e. a requirement to contribute positively to ones human or non-human community?? We do have some precedent here in the US for something like this in the programs of the New Deal. Iʻve not heard of any such thing mentioned in Green New Deal concepts except vaguely as Guaranteed Jobs, which are two words with enough problems separately and when put together fill me with dread of the bureaucratic consequences.


    • bryncocyn says:

      Sorry for my slow response Michelle – busy markets on both Saturday and Sunday and today our environmental health (food hygiene) inspection.

      Yes. I have very little virtual conversation, but what I have is a great comfort to me, since I have almost no real conversation! – apart from the warmth of companionship, shared work and affections. I cannot speak what I write without kindly, there-he-goes-again looks. Your own writing is broader and less obsessive than mine and you have a vivid and natural paint brush, which I envy very much.

      UBI was first (I think) expounded by Tom Paine at the end of the Eighteenth Century. He proposed it as restorative justice – from enclosed land, back to the commons again. Commoners could then do as they chose with their (partially) restored commons – now in money form. Since then, the idea has been expressed almost continuously though a variety of mouths from John Stuart Mill, to Henry George. It has gone hand in hand with a land-value tax.

      Here, of all people, is Winston Churchill expounding the ideas of Henry George –

      “Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains — and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labor and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

      I say, all forms of enclosure (status, money, land, ideas) have the same parasitic effect. Georgists propose that a land tax should be the only tax and that the benefits of productive labour (income tax) should not be taxed at all. The land tax could then be re-distributed through municipal works and equally across the commons by UBI.

      We could redistribute from monopolies of oil, gas and coal in the same way – either to the ingenuity and dexterity of all – with their specific and local problems (UBI), or to a targeted green new deal (authoritarian) – or to a mixture of both.

      I have thought that UBI could not only liberate ingenuity and dexterity from consumerism and amoral corporate supply, but also loving parenthood and inherited “family values” from the nursery and education industry.

      I think that “pilot studies” have found UBI to be very well spent in reducing dependency, and increasing productivity and happiness! Those that squander it, would probably the very same people for whom current social security payments are not a painful necessity, but an easy convenience. I like to think that that number is very few. I hope so, but have no figures to prove me right. Trust and hope. In any case, all of the above is in a world of ideas – it is economics – moral philosophy. If the powers apply the idea, then immediately pragmatism will step in!


      • Joshua Msika says:

        I have always wondered whether a land-value tax to fund UBI is making things unnecessarily complicated. Why don’t we just reform land ownership and land access directly? Universal basic access to land might even preclude the need for UBI, no?


  2. bryncocyn says:

    Absolutely – I was paraphrasing the ideas of others and thinking of all the least worst options, we might suggest to the powers in the unlikely event that they stooped to ordinary human height and listened.

    For myself, shut unnoticed in my garret, all I shout is, that we must reclaim all the commons we can and in the hope that others will do the same. We did have that massive redistribution of land to quieten “occupied” Ireland and now the community buy-outs in Scotland. Would the powers stoop to quieten the new diggers and levellers? Meanwhile, town allotments are rapidly disappearing into the mouths of development – and the “affordable” housing in those developments will have not the smallest patch of garden.
    Universal Basic Access to Land is of course a deep moral right, which the enclosures have desecrated. Of course that moral right is subject to the still deeper responsibilities of the common.

    It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the battle for the commons is less a conversation and more a war – in our time, a war for the future of the species itself and of whole ecologies besides.


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