Inside the Diner: Getting a Handle on Wealth

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on January 15, 2017

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

In response to my recent article The First Law of Wealth, one of the regular Diners JRM began a thread to discuss the nature of Wealth and how we define it.  Below you will find some of the differing perspectives on what Wealth is or is not, and how they define the concept.

Note:  As with all Inside the Diner compilations, the Napalm has been edited out for a smoother read.  Full version is available Inside the Diner for those wearing fireproof BVDs.

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From JRM:

This thread is for discussion of a tangent which appeared recently in RE's thread, The First Law of Wealth. The basic theme was and is the question, What is wealth, really?  I take this to be basically a philosophical question.  My contention has been that Adam Smith's definition of wealth, which has been the accepted mainstay of modern economics, is deeply inadequate and problematic — both formally within the field of economics and less formally in everyday usage outside of this field.

Smith defined wealth as "the annual produce of the land and labour of the society".  The concept is further elucidated by Smith in his writings, of course. The Wikipedia article on Wealth, in attempting to be more specific or clear, states, "This "produce" is, at its simplest, that which satisfies human needs and wants of utility."  The concept has always been a bit contentious, rough and ambiguous.

I have proposed that wealth is better understood as well-being. This concept is also a little vague, but I find it more clear than Smith's.  I proposed that we in the contemporary world should seek to gather together a more thoroughgoing theory of well-beinga General Theory of Well-being derived from various sciences, physical and social, as well as of relevant sub-fields within philosophy such as ethics and aesthetics. 

The notion that wealth is better understood as well-being (synonym: health) occurred to me when I read the etymology of the word, which roots the word "wealth" in the Old English word weal.
 

Quote

weal (n.1)

"well-being," Old English wela "wealth," in late Old English also "welfare, well-being," from West Germanic *welon-, from PIE root *wel- (2) "to wish, will" (see will (v.)). Related to well (adv.).

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=weal&allowed_in_frame=0

 


The English word "health" has a different Old English root, but the concepts are intertwined. ( http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=health )  I take health to be at least roughly synonymous with well-being, if not a perfect synonym, and treat these as synonymous here.

A General Theory of Well-being (health) can (hypothetically) be derived, with some time and effort, from a study of the application of the concept of health and well-being as it appears in various sciences, be it medicine, biology, ecology, psychology, etc.–, but also in philosophy such as in ethics and aesthetics.  No such General Theory seems yet to exist, and so any progress in defining wealth in these terms may well depend first on such a General Theory.

I believe a very potent key to unfolding this inquiry into a possible General Theory of Well-being, and thus of wealth, may be found in the concept and science of resiliency — which is an important topic in systems science and theory.  Resiliency is a principal concept wherever health and well being are discussed philosophically and scientifically. This is so in psychology, ecology, medicine and so on, and I believe this is hardly a coincidence.  Resiliency and fragility are more than merely philosophical concepts; they are fundamental attributes of all systems.  And systems can be found … nearly everywhere, be they natural systems or artificial ones.

I believe that if a General Theory of Well-being should emerge from its current incipience, not only would this precipitate an inevitable re-framing of economic theory on the level of a paradigm shift in the field, but it would constitute the basis of a re-framing of our entire modern world view as a whole.  This would transform the entire field of education, of commerce, of architecture, of design generally….  The result would be a revolution in nearly all academic disciplines and a return to the unity of knowledge which pre-modern people had always taken for granted.

 

From JRM

Hypothesis:  Resiliency is a concept with applications across many disciplines, scientific and beyond.

Evidence:

http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss1/art23/table1.html

I'll compile a list of online resources which discuss resilience across various disciplines over time, and invite you to add to this list. 

Speculation:

I strongly suspect that when we gather together functional definitions and descriptions of the concept of resiliency in many fields of knowledge, in their simplest terms, we can set these next to one another and discern what is common to each, thus constructing a universal concept of resiliency alongside a general theory of resiliency.  I further speculate that the association of knowledge of resiliency from many fields will result in cross-fertilization between disciplines (subject areas). 

I believe some of the weaknesses of theory in, say, economics (e.g., in economic resiliency theory) may be revealed by association with the concepts and applications of resiliency theory in other disciplines, with psychology and economics, medicine and ethics/aesthetics, politics and history informing and enriching one another via this association and an associated interdisciplinary dialogue.

This is necessarily a critical inquiry, in the sense that a critique of disciplines and their theoretical orientations is likely to emerge with such a rich, interdisciplinary investigation. 

Inevitably, the philosophical concepts of fact and value will come into play here.  These two have been strangely at odds with one another vis-a-vis the fundamental division of the academic realm (education) into "the humanities" on one side (and associated "soft-sciences" such as social science generally …)  with "hard" physical sciences on the other.

Further speculation:

Until recently, most people have been fairly comfortable discussing wealth as "material wealth" (tangible, thus amenable to scientific analysis and with a clear definitional boundary) as if it were wholly "material," and thus a discrete concern in relation to "non-material wealth" (which has oftentimes been treated as an "aside" in economics).  My hunch is that this is largely due to the traditional popularity of a "fact/value" distinction in philosophy.
( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fact%E2%80%93value_distinction ) This also relates to our cultural habit of assuming that science cannot directly address ethical and aesthetic questions … and that ethical and aesthetic questions ought not be allowed to "muddy" or "muddle up" scientific ones.

(Edit:  In the near future, I hope to demonstrate why it is that material, tangible "wealth" can neither be conceptually, theoretically or practically be sharply segregated from non-material aspects of wealth.  These "two" are interdependent to the core.)

This is all rote habit in the dominant culture, so finding a bridge which all sides would be comfortable with will certainly present a challenge. 

I believe that bridge is near at hand, and not so "impossible" as we tend to suspect.

Doomer Context:

This being the Doomstead Diner, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Doom or Collapse.

My basic answer is …

(a)  At least some of the challenges and risks in Collapse can be at least partially addressed or ameliorated by altering maladaptive, dysfunctional and inappropriate systems  and habits, before, during and after Collapse.

(b) Doing so will likely require a more thorough comprehension of just what it means for systems and habits to be maladaptive, dysfunctional and inappropriate.

(c) "Prepping" should not be an isolated, purely individualistic (or familial, or tribal…) activity, because…

(d) We're all in this together.

(e) Etc.

 

From JRM

Those with an interest in Collapse should be interested in the complex systems theory concept called "adaptive capacity." Note that in the following definition of that term the principles are applicable across disciplines.
 

Quote

Systems with high adaptive capacity are more able to re-configure without significant changes in crucial functions or declines in ecosystem services. A consequence of a loss of adaptive capacity, is loss of opportunity and constrained options during periods of reorganization and renewal.
Adaptive capacity in ecological systems is related to genetic diversity, biological diversity, and the heterogeneity of landscape mosaics. In social systems, the existence of institutions and networks that learn and store knowledge and experience, create flexibility in problem solving and balance power among interest groups play an important role in adaptive capacity.

http://www.resalliance.org/adaptive-capacity

 

"In social systems, the existence of institutions and networks that learn and store knowledge and experience, create flexibility in problem solving and balance power among interest groups play an important role in adaptive capacity."

These are broad, general terms, of course!  This is just a beginning to understanding how what is true about ecosystems is similarly true about social systems.  What does "learn" mean in this context?  This sounds like a simple question, but its deceptively simple.  Real learning, if you think about it carefully, must necessarily be in accord with the facts, with what is real and true.  Otherwise, it's not really learning at all.

Facilitating real learning (genuine education) has a kind of value which Smith's definition of wealth simply does not take into account.  This is but one of probably thousands of examples in which the richness which is true wealth has no accounting in Smith's definition of wealth.  Only economism is so reductive in this way as to measure "an education" in tuition fees or future earning potential to ascertain its 'value'.  Economism, here, bears similarities with scientism, which is not science but ideology.  Both are illusory ideologies, artifacts of simple-minded reductionism.

It's also worth noting in this context that the essentially economistic modern economic world-system, rooted as it is in a "thin" value reductionism, can readily be shown to shore itself up through a kind of parasitism, or expropriation of "wealth" through the consumptive reduction of values external to itself: e.g., resilient and regenerative systems, genuine education, social well-being, etc.  These are food for the hyperindusrial system. Its waste product is fragility.  You might say it eats good things and poops out shitty things — or fragile, shallow, empty things.  It therefore must reduce real learning to pseudo-learning, real education to a farce.

Thus the popular culture term for it: "death culture".

 

From Ka

I don't think I see the point of this. First, I can't see treating 'health' and 'wealth' synonymously. Suppose you were in solitary confinement, fed three bland but nutritious meals a day, and had an hour a day in the exercise yard, you would be healthy, but would you say you were wealthy?

Secondly, in usual talk, people call people "wealthy" if they have the money to buy the things that (they think) will make them happy, and "poor" if they can't. I take it you want people to stop thinking that way. Well, yes, but rather than go through complexity theory and talk of resiliency, wouldn't it be simpler to just point to the Sermon on the Mount, or the Eightfold Path?

 

From Surly

Ts is a very thought-provoking post. For a good while I've been trying to put together disconnected thoughts about the ideology of "growth" and the morality of the spreadsheet. This kicked some of those ideas good and hard.

I'm gonna need a bigger boat.

From Eddie

I've been reading the thread, and I'll have to admit JRM loses me at times, but I agree that wealth amounts to more than money in the bank, or gold or diamonds.

But I have to distinguish wealth from "well-being"…..wealth implies a store of value, which would include JD's example of a pantry full of homegrown food. It might even include a well-exercised and well fed body that gets adequate sleep, because that prevents illness. But the general idea of physical health? I'm not so sure. It gets complicated.

Some people are born with defects that mean they live their entire lives with diminished health, even though they try hard to be healthy. Some people abuse their bodies terribly, and yet remain generally healthy. That's a karmic thing, in my book.

In any case, health can go from great to really bad, really quickly. Once you're at the age where bodies naturally decline, no amount of good behavior and good diet guarantees health.

There are so many valuable things we put little or no value on in our culture….like the air we breathe, which is literally life  itself, from moment to moment. Don't think so? Try holding your breath for a few minutes.

Time….the wealth of youth. Time to do so many things, yet most of us, me included, waste time like it was unlimited. But once again, karma plays a role in how much time we get in a lifetime. An accident can snuff out the healthiest, youngest person…and they're just….gone. When you get older, you become more appreciative of time, I think. But young people? Not so much.

So, those things are valuable to me. But I've never figured out a way to store time in a bottle. According to some experts I like, like Ugo Bardi, we won't lose air before climate makes it impossible to grow food and live….so I think putting air in a bottle is probably not much of a strategy either.

The greatest wealth of all might be in good DNA. That's intergenerational wealth of the best kind in my book. Whoever it was who decided all men were created equal didn't know much about genetics. But that's a karmic crapshoot too. You get what you get.

Another kind of well-being is self-image. If you are born with DNA that gives you a healthy psyche, and you have the right kind of parenting (like before age four) that shapes you into an individual with good self-esteem. Growing up with a parent or parents who are your strong advocate in the world outside the home. Growing up with happy siblings and parents who love each other gives a child wealth that they will carry with them every day of their life. But you get that or you don't. You can't lose it once you have it, and if you don't get it early, it's damned hard to get at all.

Things that make us physically comfortable and protect us from the weather. Housing, heating and cooling,  a decent mattress to sleep on…all those things contribute to well-being. Whether you can stockpile comfort? Some things maybe.

What I'm getting around to is that I think of wealth as some kind of stored value. And most stored values are physical world values. Values of well-being are largely not amenable to being deliberately stored for future use.

Money, as long as the system functions, is a store of wealth…and then, when the fiat currency dies, it no longer is. So fiat money and digital dollars in an account of some kind are fragile. But they are really convenient in the world that now exists. The problem is the future.

Gold has a host of issues, but it's durable. Silver is too. How to buy metals and store them is a subject for a different thread. They do represent wealth,in my opinion, all arguments to the contrary fly in the face of history.

Food is very storable these days…but the ability to grow food into the future is really valuable too. To me food resilience is real wealth. Stored food, seeds, a place to plant them, food animals…all those things are tangible wealth.

Stored fuel is real wealth, but it's expensive. But a propane refrigerator and a 3000 gallon propane tank will give you refrigeration for more than five years. Fragile? Only if war breaks out.

Solar PV panels are a form of real wealth. You need knowledge about how to use them. There's a lot to know. Fragile? Definitely. But durable too, good for decades if they aren't broken.

Transportation. A sailboat, fully provisioned, could be a ticket out of war zone. We've written a lot about that. Wealth, yes, but a boat consumes wealth too. I wouldn't have one unless it was also my house. Too much ongoing cost and too much maintenance required.

Tiny house, like Dr. Chia, with all its well thought-out systems. Definitely a form of wealth, to me.

 

From JRM

I don't think I see the point of this. First, I can't see treating 'health' and 'wealth' synonymously. Suppose you were in solitary confinement, fed three bland but nutritious meals a day, and had an hour a day in the exercise yard, you would be healthy, but would you say you were wealthy?

 


Let's begin with the simplest Venn diagram.
https://d2gne97vdumgn3.cloudfront.net/api/file/RXqIbx54RTKarFp7Bv4F

In the leftmost circle section write the word health.  In the rightmost circle section, write the word wealth.  In the center section of overlapping circles, write a question mark.  Under that question mark place an H. H, here stands for "hybrid concept".  Cats can't breed with dogs, but take a moment to imaginatively visionalize what the outcome may look like if a rat terrier bred with an abyssinian cat.

Tough, isn't it!

Now imagine that wealth and health have much more in common than this rat terrier and this abyssinian.  (They most certainly do!)  What you're beginning to do here is to re-frame both terms in the middle section of the Venn diagram. The trick here is to allow each term to modify the others a little, to re-contextualize it, to bring it into another meaning which is both health and wealth.

This task is impossible if the concept of wealth you're employing is very shallow, rigid and narrow.  And it's NOT EASY to make something shallow deep, something rigid supple, something narrow wide.  It's an act of imagination — but what we're imagining here is not something like a fiction, a unicorn, say.  We're imagining what's really there in order to see what is really there.

In this context, let's examine the typical bundle of carrots we find in our grocery store today in relation to the typical carrot found in a grocery store in 1950. 
 

Quote

fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/

 


Through profit-driven breeding practices and profit-driven farming practices much of our food has become less beneficial to us, less nutritious. Less "healthy" (conducive to sustaining our well-being, our health).  The soil is less valuable than it once was. The food is less valuable than it once was. 
if "value" in this context is roughly equivalent to wealth, we're all less wealthy than we once were because of these practices meant to produce wealth.

Our pursuit of wealth, more often than not, results in a reduction of wealth.  Once you get that basic concept you can then examine most anything in our society and economy and find out whether and how this same thing is happening in that context.  It will shock your pants off if you look carefully. These are not a few isolated incidents but a whole way of life.  "Death culture".
 

Secondly, in usual talk, people call people "wealthy" if they have the money to buy the things that (they think) will make them happy, and "poor" if they can't. I take it you want people to stop thinking that way.

 


… and talking that way…

Actually, no. Not in everyday, ordinary life.  Not yet.  I think that will come if the paradigm shift continues to unfold and deepen.  In the mean while, just expect that the word "wealth" is much less clear in its meaning than it was yesterday.  Or last year. Or fifty years ago.

What I'm doing here is enriching the concept of wealth by attempting to remove it from its abstract context and to set the concept back down in the actual world in which we live–this concrete world.  A thing is abstract, in the philosophical sense, when it doesn't exist in the world of time and space. It is concrete when it does.  I'm talking about concrete wealth, and that breaks all the unwritten rules about wealth which economists and politicians (etc.) prefer us to utilize.

It's one of the many ironies here that when I speak of concrete wealth, as defined above, I seem to be making something very tangible less tangible!  After all, Adam Smith's "wealth" seems to be as tangible as could be!  No one could doubt that potatoes and barns and houses are both tangible  and of utility (which two components is the essence of Smith's concept of wealth).  But there is a method, and reason, for my madness!  As a careful observer and student of human ecology, ecological philosophy and ecological design over many decades, when I brought (and bring) my conceptual tool kit to things happening in our real, concrete, tangible world I keep seeing the same damn thing wherever I look!  One begins to notice a freaking pattern after a while. And the pattern is this: We modern, contemporary people, caught as we are in the fact and ideology of hyper-capitalism (a.k.a., hyperindustrialism)  have been plundering wealth as well-being like there's no tomorrow.   More often than not, we are reducing the well-being of living systems — personal/individual (our own bodies),
ecosystems (ecological, environmental), social (social health/well-being), emotional, aesthetic, spiritual…. Anything we are apt to call good or valuable is at risk or is being severely eroded in the name of "wealth production" — and it's about time for us to open our eyes and see what the hell is really going on here in the name of creating wealth!

We went so far astray because we have cultural blinders on. It worked out relatively okay for a while to use Smith's version of "wealth" as a guide, but now the consequences are much too severe to be ignored.  Let's stop ignoring it then!   I'm attacking the heart of the matter here. I want to pull those blinders off and show the naked world as it is. After all, we cannot honestly address a problem we cannot comprehend.

When I talk about "the naked world, just as it really is" I am talking not about objects, usually — which are real but only in a secondary sort of way.  I'm asking you to see everything as processes and flows, movement and relation.  Processes and relations.  This is my ontological frame of reference.  For me, processes and relations are primary, central.  Objects are real on in that they are fundamentally a matter of processes and relations.  This is why when I speak  of "the concrete" in relation to "the abstract" I sound a bit mad.   When I look at a thing, I see a flow.  Flows reveal a crucial aspect of relations.  All things are processes and relations.  (Smith, being an Early Modern, would not know what I mean.)

Also, I take disciplinary boundaries in knowledge fields as, at best, a heuristic device.  All useful knowledge, as I see it, is inter- or trans-disciplinary.  The field of knowledge is one.   Nothing so befuddles us as the perverse concept that we should stick to a discipline (subject area, e.g., economics, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, physics).

 

From Eddie

All good things come from Mother Earth, and we treat her rather abysmally. I personally doubt that we humans can collectively get over the extraction economy paradigm. You have to see the big picture, and you have to be interested in something besides how much money you can get from selling scarce resources. You have to look out for the welfare of future generations.

For the most part, the people who do recognize the problem are not the people making decisions on what gets done.

And it's very, very late in the game.

It's the bottom of the ninth, and the bases are loaded with fat cat billionaires.

 

From JRM

Oh, gawd, thank you!  This is precisely why I like dialogue, conversation…. If we stay with it we can, as RE puts it, "drill down".

I want to really drill down on this quote from you, Eddie. 

I've barely begun to give clear shape and specificity to the world-shaking insight which occurred to me when I learned the etymology of the word "wealth," which links wealth to well-being.  My whole view of the world began to dramatically re-orient, because I finally had the key which allowed me to fully see, understand…, comprehend what I'd be learning about since I was a kid. It was the Super Decoder ring that resulted in my own personal paradigm shift.  And there's no better way to give clear shape and specificity to a very complex insight than to write about it.  But I can't write about it meaningfully without a dialogue! It's too lonely an endeavor for me, sitting all day at a desk, thinking and writing all alone.  The writer/philosopher's life is too lonely for a gregarious guy like me.  And, besides, I need to test what I'm thinking about.  I don't want to go down blind alleys and get lost.  You fellas are helping me keep my path lit.  (We have some extraordinary people gathered here!  I feel very blessed by that.)

Anyway, a great place to Drill Down is around the concept of wealth as "stored value".  I love that! It's a very deceptively simple concept, because both terms, unbeknownst to most people, are wildly vague and ambiguous.  I consider this ambiguity to our advantage, here.

The term "value" is ambiguous and vague because when the word sits there all alone it's not qualified or characterized, as it would be if it had the modifier "utility (utilitarian?) value" — though even that is rather vague!  What we see here is that the word "value" has a great deal more dependency on particular context to have any meaning at all.   That said, I'm fully aware that in today's market economy a thing has "value" only in exchange, and the currency of that value is generally money (even gold is purchased with money).

So I've begun to examine the term "value" in "stored value".  Now let's look at "stored".  This term too is wildly context dependent to have much meaning.  As we all know, some "wealth" is "stored" exclusively in digits in a computer somewhere (in the cloud?)…. When that "wealth" suddenly evaporates, it does not evaporate in a literal sense, like water (which can be stored wealth).  Then there is the storage of vegetables, another kind of wealth.  Yes, we can see the vegetables in the pantry jars as wealth, but do we see the soil, air, water … the flows in those jars?  If we do not, we will miss the storage of seeds, the stored up knowledge and skills of the gardener… and we may miss the fact that those veggies were grown by someone who COULD have used those same hours (a form of wealth, hours) to earn thousands and thousands more dollars at another skilled activity.  Industrially grown vegetables are "dirt" cheap. But they do not store the knowledge and skills of growing them, the joy and freedom of doing so… They do not store the seeds of heirloom species. They do not store the social relations value which can only emerge in a community garden. They do not store food security.  They do not store the comfort of knowing that one has food security in a fragile food system (fragile mostly because 
of the fragility of the financial / economic system.)  They do not store the regenerative practice of caring for the soils nutrient value.  And I hope I'm making my point here, because, quite honestly, I could list the things not stored in industrial food until I am blue in the face.

And that's just one tiny fragment of all I have to say about storing wealth.  I'm all for storing wealth!  In fact, that's what this whole topic is about! But we cannot meaningfully discuss the storage of wealth without pointing out the immense gaping hole in our collective storage facility, out of which wealth is gushing much like the oil and gas gushing up out of the ruptured pipe in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon calamity.

But I intend to go several steps beyond familiar ecological economics critiques in my exploration of the gushing waste and destruction of wealth which our society's wealth destroying death culture system is producing.  For when I turn my gaze away from the ecological and environmental ruin, I see also social ruin, emotional ruin, spiritual ruin spewing up out of that rupture. The very same rupture!  I want to stop this madness! Now.

But first we must understand why it is spewing up waste in the pursuit of "wealth".  And we can't do this without taking all forms of wealth into account, and seeing how they are all linked together. 

To do THAT is to usher in a paradigm shift not only in economics, but also in the very worldview which "runs" our world.

 

From Eddie

I see also social ruin, emotional ruin, spiritual ruin spewing up out of that rupture. The very same rupture!  I want to stop this madness! Now.

That would be nice. I do agree with this assessment.

 

From JRM

I don't think I see the point of this. First, I can't see treating 'health' and 'wealth' synonymously. Suppose you were in solitary confinement, fed three bland but nutritious meals a day, and had an hour a day in the exercise yard, you would be healthy, but would you say you were wealthy?

 


Eddie and I have begun to discuss the notion of the storage of wealth, and of wealth as something stored.

Here, Ka, you are in some sense — perhaps unwittingly — addressing this very same topic.  I would suppose that it is for the sake of simplicity that your question was directed at an individual person's wealth.  By starting with simple things, oftentimes, we can acquire a concept which we may later apply to more complex things.  So starting with an individuals wealth seems to make sense.  But this is a problem for us here because the dominant paradigm, which I seek to illustrate an alternative to, is focused on the accumulation (or storage) of wealth (as defined by A. Smith) in units smaller than the whole system.  Focusing on an individual perpetuates this atomistic approch.  Specifically, the focus on the isolated individual, as in your case illustration, seems very likely to be requesting of us to examine wealth in social atomism terms.  Social atomism assigns the individual as the basic unit of analysis for all implications of social life. It's a form of reductionism as applied to social systems.  Our prisoner is himself being "stored" (bound, contained) — but away from various kinds of wealth which are outside of his storage container. 

I'm attempting here to further develop the notion of storage, which I see as containment.  People can be "contained" in relation to — with — wealth, or  away from wealth.  Examples of being contained away from wealth are in prison, outside of a "wealthy" gated community, … or anywhere where food is stored with limited access (e.g., grocery store for those without job/money,  family pantry).  Containers have boundaries.  Boundary is our fundamental concept here.

For you to understand what I'm getting at about the proposed alternative paradigm of wealth, we have got to look at it without a social atomism filter on our goggles. If social atomism assigns the individual as the basic unit of analysis for all implications of social life, what would be the characteristic of it's "opposite" … out on the other end of a spectrum?  I will propose the term "social holism" as the contrast term.

I did not find a good, succinct definition and explanation of social holism on the web right away, so I settled upon offering this explanation of holism versus reductionism insteadhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_kbt7h1YRw  I only watched a few minutes in, so i don't know if it eventually gets into social holism, per se.  But if you grasp the holism / reductionism distinction you should have the basic idea.

The economic paradigm proposal I'm proposing takes a holistic perspective on all things: wealth, health, value, society, individual people — everything — even money.  I have no interest in atomism of any kind other than for the purpose of contextualizing the "atoms" in a holist perspective.

I do not believe in atomistic wealth at all. Nor do I see true wealth as fully containable — because wealth, like all things in the real world, are process, flows and relations.  Even the five gallon bucket of dried pinto beans, to be "wealth" must eventually become unsealed, cooked and served.  And the use of gold for exchange implies and constitutes a flow and a relation.  It is not fully contained.  But neither is a cell, nor an individual — in biological terms.  In the cell, health and function depend upon a semi-permeable membrane.  The same is true of whole organisms, in some sense. And of whole communities…. Even Earth is not a fully closed system.  It requires its relationship to the sun, for example, as a whole living system.

Flow. Process. Relation.               Not static, rigid, fully internalized objects.

 

From RE

When you talk about wealth, you have to first consider the hierarchy of needs.

Before anything else as a Homo Sap, you need Food, Shelter, Water, Breathable Air and Clothing.  These are all material things.  The first 4 are absolutely essential, the last could be optional in a climate warm enough year round.  However, even in quite warm climates with primitive people they don't usually go around buck naked.

In Industrial society, the first 2 always cost money.  Water has in the past been free, but now Water bills if not paid directly are paid with taxation.  Air is still generally free, but in quite a few places is now not fit to breath.  Clothing always costs money.

Now, here in the FSoA, before you can even start to think about Wealth enough to afford Health Care, you have to have enough to cover all those basics, plus a few more now necessary like transportation and communication.  The problem here is that for half the population, they only have enough to cover the basics.  If you don't have enough for food or shelter, you're not going to be very healthy.

Now, once above the median income, you start to have enough money for some Health Care, but depending on what your health issues are, it can get quite expensive to try to stay healthy.  Insurance itself is quite expensive, so you're now moving up the ladder of costs you have to pay out each month before you can even begin to think about saving some material wealth for security, whether that material wealth is measured in canned foods, dollars or gold coins.

Only after you have covered all these material things and health coverage and some savings can you begin to start to look at other sorts of wealth, like spiritual wealth or environmental wealth.  People in India for example are too busy just trying to get enough food to eat each day to be able to do much in the way of enhancing their spiritual wealth or the environmental wealth.

The problem here is that all the essentials of living have been thoroughly monetized.  So the general definition of wealth is how much money you make or have piled up in savings.  Until we can run a society that is free of money, this will continue to be the general definition of wealth.  A lot of money buys you good healthy food to eat, you can afford to shop organic at whole foods.  A lot of money buys you health, you can afford 7 heart transplants like David Rockefeller.  A lot of money buys you a relatively clean local environment to live in, you can build a beautiful McMansion in the Rocky Mountains overlooking a river full of fish with clean air to breathe.  The only form of wealth money does not buy directly would be Spiritual Wealth, but even here having all the other things well covered gives you time to contemplate existential questions.  Not to say you can't do this even if you are materially poor, since it doesn't cost any money to dwell on the nature of existence, but usually if you are worried about where your next meal will come from that is more at the forefront of your thinking.

So anyhow, when I use the word "Wealth", because of the nature of a society that is run on money, I'm talking about monetary wealth, not all the other types of wealth which you might define.  I think most people use this definition when talking about wealth.  If you want to avoid confusion, it would probably be a good idea to create a new term for the other areas.

 

From JRM

I think most people use this definition when talking about wealth.  If you want to avoid confusion, it would probably be a good idea to create a new term for the other areas.

 

 

Quote

"Edward S. Herman, political economist and media analyst, has highlighted some examples of doublespeak and doublethink in modern society. Herman describes in his book, Beyond Hypocrisy the principal characteristics of doublespeak:

What is really important in the world of doublespeak is the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it; and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doublespeak#Origins_and_concepts

 


I'm concerning myself here mainly with how the word "wealth" is used in doublespeak, and especially as it is used "unconsciously".  If we do not understand what real wealth is, we are subject to other people's use (and abuse) of the word.

It is good that we keep in mind that "wealth," as the term is now popularly used, is "generated" through the clear-cutting of intact, old growth forests — which are "replanted" as tiny monocrop saplings … and through the dropping of bombs on towns and cities full of innocent non-combatants….  It is "produced" by damming wild rivers, fracking the hell out of oil and gas fields, and blasting the hell out of mountains under which coal can be surface mined.  It is created through the destruction and replacement of locally owned businesses with corporate giants….  And if a child gets asthma from the burning of coal, that creates "wealth" in the hands of those doctors who "treat" the asthma.  (I put "treat" in scare quotes because if a doctor wants to "treat" coal-caused asthma she will seek to shut down the coal burning plants. That will be the principal treatment method.)

Undoubtedly, the world's largest store of "wealth" is in the form of fossil fuels, which, if burned, would surely result in the mass extinction of most currently existing Earth species.

That's doublespeak, and doublethink.  It is, in other words, false.

I will not allow the word wealth to be misapplied for the sake of convenience.

All true wealth must be produced via either sustainable (thus good) or regenerative (better) practices.  Anything else is doublespeak and doublethink. 
And that's just the start, because man cannot live on bread alone.  We have more than merely material needs, such as our need for belonging, connection and community.  It is not enough that we be merely sustainable or regenerative in ecological terms. We must also become sustainable and regenerative in social terms. Etc.

 

From RE

I will not allow the word wealth to be misapplied for the sake of convenience.

 


Your problem here is that you can't communicate with people if your definition of wealth is radically different from theirs.  You have to use commonly accepted definitions of a word to be understood.  For Wealth, according to Merriam-Webster, the definitions are:

Definition of wealth

    1
    obsolete :  weal, welfare

    2
    :  abundance of valuable material possessions or resources

    3
    :  abundant supply :  profusion

    4
    a :  all property that has a money value or an exchangeable value b :  all material objects that have economic utility; especially :  the stock of useful goods having economic value in existence at any one time <national wealth>

It's not a lot different than your beef with the fact the righties have the word "Libertarian" sewn up.  You want to try and "take back" this word from them.  Now you want to redefine what the commonly held notions are of "Wealth", to take that word back.

I don't think you will be too successful with getting back either word.  Define a new one, and you might communicate the ideas better.  Using a word most people use differently than you do just spawns confusion.

 

From JRM

"Your problem here …."

 

No, actually. It's not my problem alone. It's also your problem, and the problem of anyone and everyone subject to the misappropriation of words. 

Curiously enough, your post began with

"1
    obsolete :  weal, welfare" (a.k.a., well-being)

Along come some people who decide to hijack the word wealth removing its original meaning from back when it was "weal" (well-being).  Adam Smith writes a voluminous text with a voluminous title, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" in which he redefines wealth as so much personal, familial or national property-stuff.  He gets folks to buy into his definition, and pretty soon dictionaries are calling the earlier definition "obsolete".  If in twenty, fifty or a hundred years Smith's version is decided to be "obsolete," as well it may, it will begin to look like a tennis match, the ball flying back and forth across the net.  So who's right, then, over the long haul?

I say I am.  So I'll keep the original meaning of the word, thanks.

My argument is much better than Smith's.  He didn't understand complex systems half as well as I do.  I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.

https://youtu.be/kleqF3X1_l4

 

From RE

I suggest using the word Weal then to get back to the original meaning you wish to communicate.


Weal seems to me to be precisely what you are talking about, and it's a word already in the dictionary!  So you don't even have to define a new word here!  You've already GOT one to use!

I could write a whole blog on this with no problem whatsoever.  I'll start a paragraph…

Here on the Diner, we are concerned not so much with the "Wealth" of society as the "Weal" of society.  It's not a word commonly used anymore, but it should be.  The word and concept of Wealth that developed from Weal is destructive to our society and our planet…

 

From Palloy

In English as spoken by the English, "weal" is not obsolete, and is almost always qualified as "the common weal", and hence British Commonwealth, etc., meaning the welfare of the nation/Empire.  I suppose there could also be "the personal weal" and "the family weal".  Since I think you want to compare/contrast "personal weal" with "personal wealth", it would definitely make sense to use another phrase. 

The family weal has implications of giving value to family relationships, which can be paramount in peoples' lives – if you have a good, loving relationship betweens spouses, and between them and their children, poverty of wealth can be endured/overcome.  "When I were a lad, …"

https://www.youtube.com/embed/Xe1a1wHxTyo

From Lucid Dreams

Currently I'm reading one of JMG's latest books Dark Age America.  He talks about wealth and money, and he points out that money is not the norm in terms of our species time on Earth.  However, the arrangement without money, from a western POV, seems to be feudalism. 

Another idea that seems to work against money, I don't know too much about, and that is anarchy as a political movement.  I've never read any books on the subject, but I suppose I will soon because I have been growing interested in it lately.  Yet, it seems to me like just another idealistic movement that won't work simply because of it's composition of idealism.  I've learned that too much idealism just equals delusions.  There is maybe room for a smattering of idealism in daily life, but beyond that and you are setting yourself up for agitation, friction, and needless strife.  I'm well qualified as I have spent my entire life wallowing in idealism.  Even now, having identified this problem of mine, I still find it hard to ascend up out of the pit of idealism.  Idealism works in the realm of spirituality, and that is it's proper place it seems to me. 

JRM, this idea of yours is one of idealism.  On the one hand we have the empires practice of Newspeek to deal with.  They take over words all of the time and change their meanings, and they typically change them to their opposite meaning…which is what Newspeek is.  Not just words, but ideas and institutions."  "The Ministry of Health" being the place one would go to get tortured.  "Freedom is Slavery" and the like.  On the other hand, the idea of wealth is central to a corporeal existence, and it's defined as stuff and how much stuff you have, and what that stuff is. 

Yet there is the usage of wealth such as "he has a wealth of knowledge."  That means he has a lot of knowledge and knowledge is not a physical good.  It just means there is a lot of knowledge in his possession.  There is also spiritual wealth.  There are different types of wealth.  The common wealth, however, is money and and the things that money can buy. 

In this case, you cannot claim Newspeek because everybody uses the term "wealth" to mean material abundance.  The definition of the word has not been changed, you, JRM, are trying to change it, and so I agree with RE that you should just use another word.  This is similar to the debate we had about the word "cult."  Here on the Diner I believe the dictionary is judge and jury in these cases.  We rely solely on words to communicate via this forum.  The dictionary's purpose is to define words, and so we must acquiesce to those definitions.  The meaning and usage of words is a very nuanced thing, but in this case it is even less so than with the word "cult." 

There is a world of difference between the ideas of "wealth" and "value."   "Quality" is another word that comes to mind. 

You can't force spiritual ideas onto people.  It just doesn't work that way.  That's why the great spiritual practitioners simply point in the direction that leads to enlightenment.  You have to go their yourself or it doesn't work.  I'm of the opinion that real wealth comes from a spiritual place because in the end we all die and we can't take our "wealth" with us.  Doesn't stop us from trying.  The real wealth we are here for is an intangible wealth that is made of experience and knowledge.  I believe when we die we can take that with us, if only to help navigate our way back to source. 

 

From JRM

The dictionary's purpose is to define words, and so we must acquiesce to those definitions. 

 


Good, comprehensive dictionaries include the usage of the word wealth as I'm using it here.  And words are always changing.  They change when people use them differently.  And there's no reason why a person cannot call for, suggest, a change in usage. 

My purpose here, in part, has been to reveal how the popular use of the word wealth in economics terms is flawed and should be altered.

If what I'm saying here is "idealism," that's fine.  I have often been called an idealist. It's not a word I prefer to use to describe myself, actually.  I see myself as an intelligent person who despises falsity and ignorance being employed in "official" places as part of a system of deception, foolishness, destruction and oppression.   I will not stop sharing my thoughts about such things because it's supposed to be "idealism" which is supposed somehow to be ridiculous, silly or irrelevant.  Of course, if no one here is interested in some part of what I have to say, they can just ignore that part — this thread, for example.  It's not everyone's cup of tea, obviously.  But it matters to me.

 

From Lucid Dreams

The dictionary's purpose is to define words, and so we must acquiesce to those definitions. 

 

 

 

 

Good, comprehensive dictionaries include the usage of the word wealth as I'm using it here.  And words are always changing.  They change when people use them differently.  And there's no reason why a person cannot call for, suggest, a change in usage. 

My purpose here, in part, has been to reveal how the popular use of the word wealth in economics terms is flawed and should be altered.

If what I'm saying here is "idealism," that's fine.  I have often been called an idealist. It's not a word I prefer to use to describe myself, actually.  I see myself as an intelligent person who despises falsity and ignorance being employed in "official" places as part of a system of deception, foolishness, destruction and oppression.   I will not stop sharing my thoughts about such things because it's supposed to be "idealism" which is supposed somehow to be ridiculous, silly or irrelevant.  Of course, if no one here is interested in some part of what I have to say, they can just ignore that part — this thread, for example.  It's not everyone's cup of tea, obviously.  But it matters to me.

 


From one idealist to another, I understand your frustration. 

It's not that your ideas are ridiculous, silly, or irrelevant, it's just that they are ideal.  Economics is a "science" that can never be ideal.  It's made of statistics (lies), propaganda, lies, theories, and finally the reality that results from the combination of all of those things.  The truth is that economics is a lie.  It's just the science by which the men at the top stay at the top.  They are at the top because they want all of the wealth for themselves and they are vile enough to do whatever it takes to ensure it stays that way.  They are perfectly happy with their wealth, and they want the rest of the world to see things exactly the same way that they do.  They want us in competition with one another for wealth. 

No matter how you slice it, corporeal wealth is made up of materials.  Wealth is just having a lot of something desirable. 

I don't know…kinda feels like I'm pissin' in the wind here. 

 

From RE


You're not pissin' in the wind, because the word "wealth" is used commonly to describe the material world, generally speaking.  JRM wants to REDEFINE the word to encompass more than just material things.  As long as $MONEY$ rules the world, this is not going to happen.

Money will rule the world until the Monetary System Collapses, which it will eventually.  They always do collapse.  Neal Stephenson called the monetary system the "System of the World" in his trilogy The Baroque Cycle.  I highly recommend it for a read.

 

For still more on Wealth, including all the Napalm, join us inside the Diner!

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