The Invisible Hand

Ah, you want me to define the invisible hand? I cannot. It has a depth beyond words and a complexity beyond my singular intelligence. It is the collective hand of all the hands, which create, or diminish the common good. How do we know what is right, or wrong? I can attempt to define how I’d like to steer my own course – and where I’ve failed, or succeeded. We learn rules of thumb. But some things are deeply wrong, or deeply right. Others are arguably wrong, or right. We discuss them, but can we explain the depth? Those depths, for want of a better word, are felt, not thought. I can live them, but they are beyond the reach of thought. Why is murder wrong? We cannot say. We know only that it is taboo. Some words are evocative, so that a writer can conjure those depths – we re-live them in the best verse, or prose – but still they are undefined. Music does the same.
Without that deep, indefinable truth, societies would fall apart. I suspect that flocks, packs and herds of other species are united by similar convictions. We are all fierce in their defence.
For me, the invisible hand weaves the culture from every contributory influence – from all the trades and pleasures, which are guided by a moral common. It is what people do for right, or wrong – its muscular power swelling, or shrinking accordingly. Of course, wrong is often not intended, but is the outcome of a mistake. Mistakes live happily on the common. Do fossil-fuelled tools empower the hand? They do not. They kill it. They have emerged inside the enclosures. Enclosure defines right to irresponsible property. Fossil fuels have not received the moral scrutiny – and the pragmatic trial and error of the common.
How about some similes for the invisible hand? The Holy Ghost? Philip Pullman’s dust, or his secret commonwealth? – the workings of the long durée? – the bonds of love and family? And then we have a cascade of related words – honour, duty, sanctity, trust, betrayal…
The invisible hand can only live on the common. It is killed by enclosure – starved of contribution.
What about those arguably right, or wrong behaviours? Justification can walk, step by step across enclosures fences into the deeply wrong. We shout – By all that’s holy, stop! But justification says, why? If we kill subversives, then peace for all will return. If we charge £290 rent for our status, above our wage of £10 per hour, then we, the wise – the architects, GPs, solicitors and so on, can grow time to think and study. – But I have to work 30 hours to pay for one hour of your time and have no time to study. Precisely, says the solicitor – whose “expertise” is unnecessary to us, but is statutory – statutory to the enclosure. It is crazy and plain wrong to the moral common. It kills the invisible hand.
Simply by that monopolistic enclosure – simply by that new middle class, ancient bonds of society fall apart.
In UK, across Europe and in the US, we’ve recently seen how that new middle class has taken over the political parties of the Left. It regards itself as educated; as enlightened and forgets to include that it is also rich, by extracting huge rents for its “services”. Where can working people go? They belong, they are told by Enlightenment’s newspapers, such as the Guardian – to the mob.
Here, surrounded by fellow mobsters, John Ball, Gerrard Winstanley, Martin Luther King… we appeal across the fences – by all that’s holy think about what you do! But we speak from the heart, from the ancestors, from the secret commonwealth and loved ones at home – without reason; without peer review…

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2 Responses to The Invisible Hand

  1. Joshua Msika says:

    But how do we give up our privilege?

    I did well at school, received a full scholarship to go to university, did well at university and landed a job at a research institute. I do my work well, so I’m told, but I am conscious of the fact that many people work harder than I do and earn less because their societal role is further from the centres of power. I am told I have done well to makethe best of the opportunities available to me, but I still feel like those opportunities are not available to all. I’m told this is called “Impostor Syndrome”, but I wonder whether that diagnosis has been invented by those who seek to legitimise their privileged access to wealth, income and power in society. I think the opposite condition – believing that one’s power and status is deserved and legitimate – is probably more dangerous.

    Do you know Peter Turchin? He writes about the cycles of history and the over-production of elites, amongst other things. One of the key variables in his theory is the “relative wage”. This is the median wage divided by the GDP per capita (mean wage). This gives an idea of how much income is being appropriated by elites v being received by workers and links to your idea of “status rent”.

    What’s interesting about Turchin is that he points out that this is not the first time that elites have developed, and will probably not be the last. He complexifies the story you have told in the past of a singular fall from Neolithic or even Mesolithic Grace, when we accepted Bronze Age warlords, and points out that we have been through many cycles at many different scales of elite/state/empire formation, growth and dissolution. See this post on evidence for a cycle taking place in the Neolithic:

    Reading Turchin, it looks like the best opportunities for an anarchist politics based on commons occur after the dissolution of a large empire, or in peripheries from which an empire retreats. Unfortunately, the new surplus produced (in the Common) as a result of this increased egalitarianism usually leads to a new round of state formation and elite production (what you call Enclosure).


  2. bryncocyn says:

    Hey, I like the sound of Peter Turchin. I’ll certainly explore further.

    I doubt that you earn more than an electrician, or plumber. Perhaps your income is even below the mean wage. At Bryn Cocyn, our money income is very small – far less than the minimum wage, but even so, we have many pleasures (riches) denied to most, unless they’ve money to pay for them. In my polemics, I’m careful to say GP, or consultant, knowing very well that junior hospital doctors remain in and probably “below” the plumber, or electrician category. They receive a simple wage, with no added rental income. Surely they are, or can be, fellow toilers in the delights of a moral common.

    A hope to mitigate despair is that our times are unique. At any rate it’s helpful to think so – and that, teetering on the last tipping point, we may turn back and break the cycles of history! Well…

    Francis Prior reckons the Neolithic mutated seamlessly and quietly into the Bronze Age – Bronze tools did not change the culture. He puts a date of 1500BC (late Bronze Age) for the “clan” war lords to emerge and for it all to go wrong. By then, it seems, the whole of Britain had been cleared for agriculture and land pressures and border frictions began… Court bards, such as Homer, began their tale telling then and in Britain, Anon set about the telling of those legends.


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