05 December 2018

Loot is not growth

This is one of those things that ought to be a tautology and yet falls prey to habits.

(Rather like "greed is a sin".)

Loot is what you get, and looting is what you do, when you take something by a means other than voluntary exchange on the basis of present or threatened force.  (The threat can be implicit.)  (If you're doing services rather than goods, that's slavery.)  (Theft is when you lack sufficient force and loot by sneaking.)

Let's also remember that any commodity has two relevant prices; the extraction price (what it cost you to get it), and the market price (what you can sell it for).  You can't get away from this just by installing a looting-normalizing legal framework.

So the present pass -- the historical disjunction of our days -- occurs because the extraction price for loot has surpassed the market price of loot.  The basis of the colonial expansion economy melts into air. [1]

So you see much panicked effort to create more pro-looting legal frameworks (various US states, Brexit, etc.) and you get the last couple generations' increase in inequality as former colonial powers start in with the internal colonization.  (And you get into "is excess rent extraction loot?" and I'll say "look at the question"; yes, of course it is.)

The fix is simple and obvious (and is not wrong!) -- stop looting.  We know that, because the things that aren't loot -- education, local focus of direct investment, research both abstract and practical -- all do generate growth.  (That is, you are passing a new increase in capability into the future in the expectation that it will persist because under fair and complete accounting, you've increased the supply of value.  (ratio of benefit to cost has increased.))  If the resources that go into enforcing the looting systems just went away, never mind were redirected, we'd all be better off.  (The simple example is Utah figuring out that giving the homeless housing is less expensive than anything else.)

"Populism" is an assertion that the looting economy should continue, and the designated classes of victim should be maintained as they were in former days.  That's all.  It's not complicated.  The fix is not pointing out that the people taking that position aren't being their best selves or demonstrating able cognition; the fix is to present a status-increasing alternative.

(It's not like we haven't got a bunch available.  We need new housing stock, new cities, new transportation infrastructure, new food production, there's almost infinite work to do.)

The requirement to get there -- a recognition by the wealthy and powerful that their wealth and power is not, and cannot be, the systemic purpose of a stable and prosperous society -- has been historically challenging.  I take a modicum of hope from recognizing that this particular miracle has happened before; that's what the British landed aristocracy did in accepting the industrial revolution as an alternative to Napoleon.

But only a modicum.  People are astonishingly good at concluding that the angry storm gods can't possibly be angry with them.

[1] much of this has to do with the availability of open-loop resources (iron, copper, etc.) but it's got to do with the relative ease of getting rents from technological upticks, too.  What you're seeing with the net is massive spending to get control of something that isn't profitable.  Waiting for the starving leviathan to die isn't a good time.  And what you're seeing with millenials is a willingness to crash the system by, in effect, eating the seed corn; subsequent rents depend on a certain minimum prosperity on the part of the general population.

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