Who controls the economy?

The economy shapes much of our lives. It determines what job we can or cannot get; it determines what we can buy or cannot buy; it determines where we live; it determines what healthcare we can get; frankly there is little in our lives which is not influenced by the economy.

With something so important for us, it makes sense to ask what power controls it. For instance, if the economy is going well, usually well-being indicators point upwards; if the economy is doing poorly, misery ensues when hospitals cannot afford drugs or the government cannot afford to pay pensions. But who decides if the economy is doing well or not? Is it our modern democracies? Hardly. Politicians like to promise economic growth and jobs but, as a matter of fact, the economy is largely out of their control; since, though they may have some influence on the workings within one country through taxation and legislative frameworks for conducting business, no single political entity has any control over the world economy. And, if the world economy is doing poorly, so will the economy of individual country.

We might say that money is the driving factor of the world economy. After all, money tends to go where it can generate the highest returns. For instance, if you had one million dollars in an account at Bank A and Bank A would give two percent interest, you would quickly move your money to Bank B if this bank would offer three percent interest. This forces companies and countries to be competitive in the sense of being able to attract money. But this does not warrant to say that money would rule the world economy. If that were the case, it would be far more predictable. Money does not invest itself but is invested by people and these people often do not follow predictable pattern in investing their money. Furthermore, the flow of money and investments is limited in many ways by laws and governments.

I think that the economy is not shaped by any of the factors listed above but by all of them. Indeed, there are many more factors which shape the economy, such as the weather and technological development. The economy is very, very complex and we do not posses the knowledge or ability to steer it. I think this is a very scary situation. For something which is so important for us, why do we allow to have so little control over it? Since there are many ways in which we could exercise more control, such as by directing the flow of investments, I think this should be one of our foremost goals; to get a better understanding of the economy and empower ourselves to oversee it.

Since the economy is global, and has been this way for a very long time, we need to build global political systems in order to control it. We need to assure that the drive for high returns is used for the interest of the people and not against it.

Consciousness: What is all the Fuss About?

Today I listened to a podcast from the show Waking up with Sam Harris. The topic of the podcast was consciousness and the self the guest was a Anil K. Seth. I haven’t finished the podcast yet (it is over three hours long) but even in the beginning I couldn’t stop wondering why it would be necessary to make such a big deal about the concept of consciousness.

Sam Harris said that consciousness was the most important thing in the universe since everything we perceive we perceive through the lens of consciousness. I think that is an odd way of thinking about it. Sure, for us individually, that is true; but objectively it is most likely well of the mark. The universe is such a gigantic place, filled with wonders we know of, and even more of whom we don’t. That we have any importance at all, apart from being a small piece in something large and beautiful, seems very unlikely to me. In effect, our consciousness also does’t matter much, since we don’t matter much.

I do agree that there is a need for us to find a source of spiritual wealth; to have something we believe in which is above and beyond cold, hard natural laws. However, I think it is misguided to search for this in our consciousness; to see something magical in it with significant spiritual value. I think there is a very easy explanation for the existence of consciousness; that it is something which enabled the long line of our ancestors to find better solutions to the problems the environment presented them. In all likelihood, it exists in all our relatives in the animal kingdom in a modified form; just as our brains, legs and heart.

Philosophers often make a big deal about that we would never be able to ‘know’ what it was to be like a pig, for instance. But I think we do know. Since our brain in many ways is very similar to a pig’s brain it is very likely we have the same feelings and insights. We know when a pig is afraid, we know when a pig is joyous; and we know so only because the pig is a mirror of ourselves in so many ways.

Consciousness is simply a model of the world; an abstraction. Like any abstraction it is more than the physical world but it is grounded in it. It is a wonder beyond comprehension that nature could result in such a mechanism and that our brains are capable of supporting this model. It is however undoubtedly very insufficient for the tasks we set it towards in our modern world (like trying to define consciousness); it was simply not designed for this.

We can marvel at the existence of our consciousness but we must also acknowledge that there is nothing special about it; even that it is lacking in many ways. Thus exploring our consciousness is not a path which leads to truth. Our collective insights, enabled and advanced by technology and robust methodologies, are far more valuable and a better guide for us to build a better self and a better life.

Image Credit: johnhain

Jewellery

Ornaments are an important part of nature. Flowers use them to attract bees. Birds use them to attract mates. Frogs use them as protection from predators. It is therefore not very surprising that jewellery, face painting, tattoos and other ornamental devices are one of the many things which are shared by all know human cultures.

I often talk about spiritual values and the spiritual dimension of our existence and how it is an important part of living our life fully. Beauty and art are important bridges to the spiritual world and jewellery and other ornaments can convey beauty, and we should embrace them as valuable enrichment of our lives.

Unfortunately jewellery is often used for other purposes than to delight our aesthetic and spiritual senses. The most important of these is the visual expression of power since jewellery is not chosen for its aesthetic value alone but for how expensive it is.

If I wear an expensive piece of jewellery that you cannot afford, it shows that I have more ability to purchase – or obtain in other ways – things which you cannot. If you give me an expensive piece of jewellery as a present, it shows my power over you and you transfer me some power in form of the monetary value of the item.

This function speaks to our primate mind, which we are not guilty of possessing (since Nature has bestowed it upon us) but which we are guilty of not recognising and aspiring to transcend.

Just think about diamonds. I won’t say that diamonds are not beautiful – they are wonderful creations of Nature – but I am puzzled why other precious stones are not used as often in making jewellery; since they are just as beautiful to me. The same goes for gold. Sure it is pretty but other metals and materials are just as capable of delighting our eye.

Jewellery is often made from gold and diamonds since these are expensive. Which shows that the contemporary jewellery is often not in ornament but used as expression of power. The problem with that is that jewellery as power display does not enrich our live or the lives of others.

It does have costs for us, though. Firstly, we need to use our money to purchase it and thus cannot use the money for something more wholesome and valuable. Secondly, mining for jewellery and gold comes along with major environmental destruction.

Imagine a world where we create jewellery for its beauty; where the bulk of its costs goes to artists for their creativity; where we use it as a way to express our individual personality rather than all wearing pieces that essentially look the same safe for them using different amounts of expensive material.

We do not benefit from gold and diamonds. Corporations are. Sure your wife or girlfriend will be happy if she receives a nice piece of jewellery from you. Sure that happiness is often based on how expensive that piece was. But maybe you can think of another present; one that does not come along with environmental harm and that complements her as a person. If you are a potential receiver of jewellery as a present, think if you really need it or if there are other things (or actions) which might make you just as happy, or maybe even more happy, than receiving certain stone on a certain piece of metal.

Image credit: Nawalescape