Thursday, November 14, 2013

Solutions Are Not Always Linear...One More Time With Feeling

Apparently I cannot say this enough. Do I wish today's solution sets were linear in nature? You betcha. There are few things lonelier in life, than being the fool who works on the prospects which clearly don't lend themselves to normal avenues of action. And yet, the definition of crazy is supposedly when something doesn't work but we keep trying to do that same thing over and over again, anyway. So which way is crazier? How crazy do we have to get before we try something else? This is also true for NGDPLT in that as long as the discussion revolves around inflation targeting, it's still the wrong conversation to be having about finding our way to a better economic place. To a degree, important aspects of nominal targeting also do not belong to the "logical" or linear realm.

However, my personal gripe today is in terms of guaranteed income proposals. Because - just like inflation targeting - conversations revolve around potential "solution sets" that don't get at the core issues involved. While I was glad to hear Tyler Cowen voice his concerns in this regard, I'm not convinced it really helped for him to "go there" in this post. Yes, guaranteed incomes can sound great on paper. Yes, they can provide assistance to people who desperately need help, and make others feel better for helping them. Even so, politically it's hard to say whether guaranteed incomes would ever "fly" in the U.S. anyway - despite the support they receive from those on the left and to a degree, the right.

But guaranteed incomes don't do a thing for long term solutions, and the overall equilibrium only goes further out of balance when little else gets changed on the supply side in production and consumption terms. And as Tyler indicated in so many words, it's just more welfare dressed up in slightly different clothes. It doesn't get at the root of the problem, which is that of bringing people back into meaningful lives and true social connections. Ultimately that's what it's all about, otherwise we are really wasting our time. We are long past the point of a couple of reforms "here" or a bit more common sense "there".

One problem for me is that it's somewhat difficult to make brief comments in other blog spaces regarding my work, and yet I find myself compelled to anyway. Of course that invites the occasional jeers and so mine was probably well deserved, when someone who goes by "Z" indicated that I should try for a fiction award. So here's what I didn't reply at MR. More than thirty years ago, in my initial thoughts about time coordination (in the middle of a recession), I would have been inclined to agree with him or her. That is, I wouldn't have considered such thoughts important enough to seriously pursue.

Even though I read little fiction, those early notes and thought processes felt so much like a science fiction novel that I came to call them "Enigami" - yep, imagine in reverse. Sure enough, the recession which had knocked me out of work for all that scribbling time, came to an end and all appeared normal. Before long I was back working and continued to do so steadily, that is, up until the spring of 2003. At that point I finally recognized that nothing was "normal" anymore, even if much of the primary economic news still sounded as if it was. When I was not able to keep a business venture going (and plenty of others also failing around me), I looked at possible options for non profit activity, but living in a rural area can impose significant roadblocks in that regard. Ultimately, I finally returned to my studies - and so the most recent "inward journey" was almost completely an economic emphasis.

As luck would have it, there is no clear cut way to approach any new normal which makes a lot of sense in previously designated contexts. That's why in so many posts I try to approach the problem of economic access in as many ways as possible (sort of like throwing mud at a wall...). Not only is there the vital issue of designating monetary activity for renewed economic access, there is also the problem of reimagining production processes for all income potentialities.

In other words, both aggregate supply and aggregate demand are at issue in the ultimate outcome. People have been blocked from participating in product definitions which actually make sense for so long, that getting there is going to be nothing short of a well thought out experimentation process. That's not an easy struggle, especially given the present fight over the very real connections between AS and AD which many a blockhead refuses to consider. Lots of "dots" can be connected in all of this, but not in the space of the couple of blog posts which many people actually have time to consider.

There are plenty who think I am wasting my time - some who think I could do better hanging out on Facebook to find new friends, perhaps. Or maybe going outside and building another cottage garden like the one which provided such good memories in my last post. But right now it takes extra effort just to keep some of the plants alive which Mom loved so much. Meanwhile, I think about the people in the world who are far more isolated and despairing of their purpose in life, than myself.

Fortunately, we often have the option of spending decades doing things that matter for ourselves, even when they don't have much meaning for others. Indeed, that's what people have tried to do in recent decades, and the worst part is that they have often been called selfish for this, when in fact they did not want to experience such things alone. For as human beings, experiencing things alone, really isn't the way we are wired to live our lives. At some point, our hobbies, passions, interests and challenges start to lose their meaning, if we are not also able to find ways to make them connect with the interests of others.

It's not enough to just give people money to write music in their room, for instance. That's why it's not enough to provide guaranteed income for someone to spend time with their favorite hobby if it's only or mostly for them to be experienced in a solitary way. That's why the idea of education needs to evolve to a sustainable and fully participatory whole, instead of permanently cutting people off from their peers and communities at arbitrary points of "graduation". By limiting the concepts of economic participation, credentials and rewards, much of educational value has now painted itself into a very fragile corner.

Once, I was told that my cottage garden should be "enough" for me, even if no one else saw it. And so perhaps it should have been, but it wasn't, for I am only human and never liked being a hermit. And most other people don't want to be hermits either. After all, that's why people gravitated to economic activity in the first place, because they really didn't want to be hermits. They were curious about what lay outside the realm of their own kin, their own ways of doing things, and their minds just needed to be expanded. Increased social activity with others from more distant places - which eventually evolved into the use of money, knowledge use and technology - you get the idea. What happened to all that?

That's the economics I don't want to lose - the context where economic connections set us free and allow us to feel good about ourselves and about being a part of the world. When economic life becomes less about inspiration and challenge and more about ever increasing responsibility for the basics of life - let alone punishment for those who can't provide them - economic thought loses the meaning which made it so great in the first place. If we do not find meaningful ways to make economics part of our lives again, none of this is going to end well. When people lose faith in economic ideas for creating better lives, blogs become mostly a place to wrangle over the minute details as the whole of them start to crash and burn. Perhaps I just believe in economic solutions more than I really should...

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