Ellen Ruppel Shell: meet The Great Turning

As I was reading a somewhat recent New York Times Book Review (July 19th that is; they do tend to pile up on my Sunday morning breakfast table sometimes), I discovered a courageous new voice in the cause for human decency in the face of global capitalism, Ellen Ruppel Shell. Her new book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, looks like great reading, and I’ll have to put it on my (too long) list of must-reads. After pulling up a few of her online articles at The Atlantic, my impression of courage was confirmed: she takes on some tough cookies, like Megan McArtle (who sounds like a most unpleasant person that I would rather avoid.)

However, I was most struck by a telling comment towards the end of the review by Laura Shapiro:

Ruppel Shell doesn’t conclude with any grand ideas for reshaping the world’s economy, …

I would like to connect Ms. Shell’s excellent work with that of Mr. David Korten — because he does have grand ideas for reshaping the world’s economy — which mesh perfectly with her efforts at improving the world.

I’ll be brief, as this is not meant to be an exhaustive or comprehensive. As an example, take the shrimp farming boom in Thailand that, she reports, supplied the cheap shrimp all-you-can-eat deals in American restaurants beginning back in the 1980’s, and its eventual demise into “…environmental degradation, human rights abuses and violence that left millions destitute.”

The ultimate cause for this kind of economic exploitation is excessive access to global capital by unscrupulous investors who crave quick profits over human welfare. If you have read David Korten’s work, starting back in 1996 with When Corporations Rule The World, you would know how he, for one, is intimately familiar with this phenomenon. But what to do? That’s the rub; for the force and ingrained culture and sheer power of global capitalism — politically, militarily and financially — seems impossible to fight.

But fight it we must, or we cannot live with ourselves. And I have come to agree with Korten’s summation of the problem. It is futile to attempt to “fix the system” by fighting global capitalism in the courts or legislatures all over the globe, where “the blessed unrest” is doing just that right now. The only real solution is to remove the fuel source for this cancer: the money supply. There should begin a movement in all countries all over the world to take back the legal right of banks to create the money supply and return to where it belongs: to the government. Of course, the temptation for corruption in weak sovereign governments will always be there, to print money for selfish ends. However, in cultures with a stronger history of more orderly government (and a truly free press), there are sufficient social pressures to provide an honest governmental service: to have the money supply serve the real needs the of the real economy — not the needs of the global elite. I’ll be doing my best to help it — along with Mr. Korten’s vision of where our global civilization must navigate, or perish: The Great Turning. Please check out his work; I believe you’ll be glad you did.

ARRA’s Economic Forecasts Disparaged

[This was an email I sent to Mark Cavanaugh, director of Colorado’s Economic Recovery Team, and to Greg Griffin, the Denver Post reporter who wrote the story, on Monday, August 3, 2009. I was incensed over the closing comment in the story, for reasons I address below.]

Dear Mr Cavanaugh,

I was disappointed to read that the Denver Post’s Sunday edition front page story ended with this quote attributed to you:

I have no idea where that number came from…I think it was pin the tail on the donkey.

— Mike Cavanaugh, Director of Colorado Economic Recovery program, page 6A, Denver Post, Sunday, August 2, 2009,
in referring to how the Obama administration developed its estimates of the number of jobs created by ARRA, the American
Reinvestment and Recovery Act

This was disappointing to read because (1) in the previous paragraph it was explained how the federal economists made the estimate, (2) it put you in the position of belittling and undermining the very mission of the Colorado Economic Recovery program which you are directing, and, finally, (3) disparaging the economics profession in general.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have much respect for economic forecasts either. However, I have worked as a professional economic consultant and have taught undergraduate economics for some years, and know well the obstacles that economists are up against when they are expected to deliver a forecast — but not given any reliable first-hand data sources on which to base them. So they do the best they can with what they’ve got — which often is not very much. The problem lies not so much with the economics profession itself, or its forecasting methodologies; rather, it is much like the old computer addage: GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. In other words, if the politicians and governmental administrators are unwilling to invest in better economic reporting systems, they will be forced to rely on such “donkey tail” forecasts; it is hardly the fault of the economists forced to work with the poor data.

It would not be surprising to hear that your remarks may have been taken out of context, and misrepresented by the reporter who wrote this piece; but, at any rate, it was an unprofessional and negative remark about a very serious topic. I’ve been unemployed myself since the end of last year, and sincerely hope that ARRA will have its intended effect.

Very sincerely,
Rick Casey