Adam Smith Revisited
By David Anderson
23 May, 2013
Unsustainable resource exploitation is stretching the ecological carrying capacity of our planet; all exacerbated by rapid technological advancement, expansion of human population and economic stratification dividing the rich from those below them. Our Biosphere is under severe strain. Temperatures will soon rise faster than we can imagine. Once the heat extremes have begun, we will not be able to stop them. Then there will be no second chance to return to normalcy.
As it always has been with all species that defy planetary order, ours will soon be facing a painful adjustment and even the possibility of extinction.
How did we get here? Throughout human history we see a pattern repeating itself over and over again. It can give us an answer. A small group is able to exercise control over the minds of vast numbers below them. It is accomplished by a two way arrangement between those who interpret and enforce religious belief and those who own property. Acting in consort, the religious enforcers and the moneyed owners of property are able to maintain their control. Anyone in the general population who attempts to break their hold is punished or at the extreme eliminated.
Reaching as far back as early Egypt, we saw this in the life story of the Pharaoh Akhenaten (1350 - 1334 BCE) and the murder of his son Tutankhamun. Akhenaten defied the established Priesthood. We also saw it during the Medieval Period in Europe. Those who would defy the church were silenced, some burned at the stake.
As in Egypt with the many monuments still standing and in Europe with the magnificent and pristine Cathedrals and Castles covering every corner of the land, we are reminded of this religious/oligarchic stranglehold. In and on the European cathedrals we can see sculpture and other art work showing religious symbolism being used to keep the general population in subservience. The graphic mantels depicted in bass relief above the main door on nearly every large cathedral are particularly graphic; one group of individuals blissfully ascending into Heaven (with Jesus as the arbiter) and another descending into the terrors of Hell. Back in Egyptian days such pictorial depiction, although less horrific, served the same purpose. The ancient Egyptians believed that, when they died, their souls would be judged as to their thought-process during their lifetime before being granted a place in the Afterlife. This judgment ceremony was called "Weighing of the Heart" and was recorded in Chapter 125 of the Egyptian funerary text known as the "Book of the Dead.” It showed the soul of the departed being weighed on one scale against a feather on the other.
Now to our current age: Here we see the same archetypal representation. God and Oligarchy still fill the picture; however, beginning with the Enlightenment and then the Renaissance the power of the Abrahamic/Christian god was forced to take a back seat – as well as the weighing of souls. A new god entered the picture.
Fast forwarding to the Eighteenth and Nineteenth century, this new god took hold in the form of Adam Smith’s hidden hand underlying the working of supply and demand – known today as the capital market system. (note should be made that this was not Adam Smith’s (1723-1793) intention)
Then, in the Twentieth century during the Golden Era with the Gatsby exuberance and Optimism bias in full swing, Americans were presented with the first “real life” evidence of that hidden hand. Materialistic fulfillment in the here and now had replaced the Abrahamic god fulfillment of ages past. It became attainable right here on earth. Adam Smith’s supply and demand had become the hand of a god with the potential of fulfilling the material needs of everyone on the planet.
There were those who disagreed. This led to the anti-capitalist theory of Carl Marx questioning of the humanitarian validity of market capitalism. But after the implementation of Communism in the Soviet Union failed, this humanitarian validity by way of Marxism lost its rationale, and those who remained sympathetic to the objective were ridiculed, met with banishment and labeled liberal or socialist or even worse; “commies.” They remain so ridiculed by the far right today.
At the same time, at least in the advanced economies of the world, material wealth was far exceeding that of Egypt or of Medieval Europe. This served to raise the divine status of this new god of the marketplace to new heights. In the name of this new hidden hand god, the oligarchic billionaire super rich could now, without impunity, move around the world in their private jets and Maserati, Bentley and Rolls cars from estate to estate, and from their five, ten, to twenty million dollar penthouses. Unbridled capitalism had produced a wealth inequality that was even approaching the wealth inequality of Egypt and ancien régime France.
And as for the business schools and their professors; the PhD free market economist mentors to the students had become the new priests. For the newly minted MBA’s, the investment banking houses had become the new cathedrals. One could even go so far as to say that Milton Friedman had become the new pope, Alan Greenspan the devoted acolyte, the Chicago School of Economics the new Vatican. So it was much the same as we saw in Egypt and in Medieval Europe except with greater material exuberance. The religious/oligarchic societal paradigm remained in place.
Recently, however, haunting questions about this capitalist god of the marketplace have begun to form: Will we all end up like Egypt – or worse? Is this new god as flawed as were the ones of the past? There is mounting evidence that this new god is terribly flawed. Irreparable ecological damage is now clearly visible. Consumption is increasing at a rate that cannot be sustained by the planet’s limited resources. An exploding world population is demanding a higher and higher standard of living. Some are saying that we in our modern age have put together the perfect free market Laissez-Faire formula for our own self-destruction.
This hidden Adam Smith hand of god has no recognition of what are now being called; “negative externalities” (those future costs not priced into current market prices). As a result, evidence is rapidly accumulating showing that we are diminishing our planet’s capacity to sustain future generations.
And those facing the human tragedy will include the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the Koch brothers, the climate denier Senator from Oklahoma, the climate denier Senator from Florida, the one from Arizona, the Governor from Texas, the Russian Chinese and American Oligarchs, the billionaire oil rich Arabs - and members of The American Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the US Chamber of commerce.
David Anderson, graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Hawaii (Harvard Asia Pacific) Advanced Management Program over a thirty year career was an international risk manager and senior executive at several of America's premier multinational institutions. During that period he became increasingly aware of the underlying cultural, institutional and religious causes of past and present civilizational dysfunction and conflict. He brings together a wide range of interests in his writings, namely; theology, history, evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, geopolitics, and economics. He has written three books. A fourth book is near completion. It can be seen on www.InquiryAbraham.com His first, Holy War the Blood of Abraham, was written after 9/11. It focused on many of the elements of early Abrahamic belief that are now acting as an underlying force driving today's Jewish/Christian/Islamic conflict. The Infidels, a second book centering on Islam was published two years later. His interest then turned to those religious images that during the Bush administration were directing not only the American political process but also the future of Western civilization. He wrote his third book; "Q" Question Will Human Species Survive? His new book calls for a radically different understanding of the relationship of Homo sapiens to Planet earth and the cosmos. It challenges the implicit ecological legitimacy of our political, social, religious, and economic institutions. It makes recommendations as to how they can be restructured in order to meet oncoming demands and spells out in detail what is likely to occur if this does not take place.
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