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#280: Not what you’ve been told

#280: Not what you’ve been told



Intended for an educational documentary, The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is a 1945 composition by Bejamin Britten. A similar title – A Young Person’s Guide to King  Crimson – was used for a progressive rock compilation album released in 1976.

What we need now is a Young Person’s Guide to the Economy. The term “young” can be applied however we wish, and the main advantage enjoyed by those who are young in years is that they have less to un-learn.

What passes for economic orthodoxy is, for the most part, a set of tarradiddles determinedly rooted in the agrarian economic conditions of the 1770s. Chief amongst these tarradiddles is that the economy can be explained and managed in terms of money alone, such that natural resources in general – and energy in particular – need not be taken into account.

This, given our control of the human artefact of money, leads to the proposition that we can look forward with confidence to infinite, exponential economic expansion on a finite planet. This is an idea which – in the words of Kenneth E  Boulding, co-founder of general systems theory – could only be taken seriously by “a madman or an economist”.

The main problem with conventional economic theory is that it originated at a time when virtually the only energy used in the economy was provided by human and animal labour, and the nutritional energy which made that labour possible. We hear echoes of this era every time someone measures productivity by comparing economic output with hours of human labour.

Back in the 1770s, it was reasonable to conclude that labour (remunerated financially), monetary capital investment, ingenuity and financial incentive were the factors that drove the economy….

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