Economies of Speculation

by Joseph Burney

In my MBA class on Social, Morals, and Ethics we discussed capitalism versus socialism, and the pay gap between CEO's and other employees. This is my response to my cohort:

All great nations of the world have economies built on violence. Know matter which way you flip that old binomial coin, it will always land on a symbol of fear.

I had an interesting conversation at out Cohort’s soiree last weekend. A few of us spoke about the common origins of the colors, shapes, and symbols of nation’s flags. It was brought to my attention that often the flags from nations that have been conquered dress themselves in the symbolic ideas of their conquerors (perhaps by force or by necessity.)

I preface this symbolism by saying what intrigues me most about a lot of our discussion posts are the assumptions and critiques around national identity, social parameters, and individual rights and beliefs. At the center of all this is a shadowy question about our identity dressed in the bloody robes of history. 

 I think we can stretch this idea of identity out some— extending from the personal, to the familial, to the group, to the city/state, to the country, and hopefully to the world. This global identity, though the most abstract is the most present in all of our lives (even more so when you watch a good sci-fi movie.) However, these days we speak of citizenship, but America is made in China (check the label). We speak of property rights , but what is owned is stolen. We speak of equality and equity but only in English. This all gives insight to something very interesting and prescient in our times—the meme of ideas.

The Meme of ideas, is this passing on of culture, morals, beliefs, guidelines, and in its largest iteration, nations, coalescing around a collection of values which manifest as an economy. This can be seen most apparently in the best and worst of any viral sensation of our times. Ideas spread like wildfire, and the fires that burn longest find good kindling in all of our hearts. 

However, when I read Friedman and Cohen alongside of the CEO article, I can’t help but feel that these economies (socialism and capitalism) are all built on speculation. The Dictionary by Merriam Webster defines speculation as “assumption of unusual business risk in hopes of obtaining commensurate gain.” I hang on the words “unusual” and “risk” and the numerous connotations which lie upon them.

In Accounting class we come to find that much of the economic value of civilization is built upon models which often exclude a portion of the population. These models are also at the digression of he firm’s (country’s, nation’s, group’s) managers who being paid exorbitantly must increase that value with cost, risk, and depreciation, to name a few. I relate these limited models to our ideas around economies and nations and even further to the identity of humanity ourselves.

Cohort, what is the earth’s “Salvage Value?” Are we a global corporation, a hive, making what, just more? More of the same old story? But here is where I have shown my hand, for speculation is a lie we use to tell the truth, this could also be defined as a story or myth. And so that deep shadowy question around identity is framed and parceled by stories which are bought and sold in all forms of currency. Here is where i think we should ask ourselves not just about our stories, but also about all the unaccounted for in this system. What else is the purpose of education if not to acquire these elusive trappings of wisdom? Right now, capitalism drinks from the river of information, but the data spoils in its mouth because plastic cannot be digested. 

Let the data stream, let people dream, “of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings…” - Alice in Wonderland. I say all this to make a point about the speculation or better yet, the spectacle which surrounds our economic systems. “Panem Et Circen” the Greeks called  it “Bread and circuses” The looping mantra of hunger and drama upon which nothing changes. We must use these times of upheaval and unrest to better recognize the shadowy figures on Plato’s cave as not the real thing. We are real and we need economies that account for us. All of us. A gargantuan task, perhaps but the mechanisms are in place, and the meme, the hieroglyph of our times, can change everything in a moment.

So... what is our story?

-J. Benjamin