In some indigenous S American cultures (I’m reaching back to Alf Hornborg’s research I think, too lazy to track down the footnote for a short comment), there were two economies. One was the economy of necessities, like basic food, shelter, water. The other was the economy of frivolities, like fashions, art objects, gourmet foods. The economy of necessities was strictly regulated and (we might even say) socialised: no speculation was permitted and iirc, there were even two distinct currencies, one for each realm, which could not be interchanged. Speculation (e.g. gambling) and entrepreneurialism were allowed in the frivolous economy, but not in the necessity economy.

All this proves to me is that good ideas never occur only once. Take this model out of its historic, feathers-and-gold-breastplates cartoon vision of “primitive” culture (ha!), and you have the modern social democracy: the necessities of life are protected from profiteering, because profiteering on the necessities of life is just another way of spelling extortion and immiseration. But the fun&games economy, like iPads and spinners and pet rocks, is allowed to flourish in full speculative, irresponsible glory. However, and this is a big however, this model only works if the “risk takers” and “wealth makers” in the speculative economy truly have to take risks and live with the consequences; they don’t get to raid the necessity economy to bail them out when they make mistakes; and their mistakes therefore do not endanger the well being of the public at large.

Fast forward to today’s US model of capitalism, where the speculative economy has eaten the necessity economy for lunch, and extortion, precarity and immiseration are working policy. This also is not new. We saw it in its full blossom in 19th century England, and it was not a pretty sight. There are those among us, make no mistake, who would love to roll the calendar right back to mid-C19. They would like to undo every reform that has happened since then, every reform that has lengthened lives, reduced fear and want, gradually mitigated violence and crime, curbed brutality, empowered the previously disenfranchised. They are proponents of a new barbarism, and for the last few decades they have been winning. We are ripe for a new reform movement, and I do hope I will live long enough to see that tide turn. If I don’t see it turn, I may instead witness a return to the conditions of Dickens’ and Hogarth’s London, and that would be a sad last chapter to go out on.

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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