Things that don’t exist

It’s fun to read stories about make believe. Imagination is a wonderful thing. But when we want to talk about serious stuff, it’s best to avoid using words if the thing they’re meant to stand for just doesn’t exist.

How about “The Economy”? It sounds like an organisation. We like to think we can measure it and understand it, as if it were a business or a household. We even think we can forecast what it will do tomorrow. We can’t. It’s like a flock of starlings in flight, amazing patterns, ever changing, unpredictable. We can’t tell what is happening in the brains of the starlings to guide their flight. The economy is like all the flocks of starlings in the land. We can hardly measure what is happening, let alone predict the next movement. “Economy” really means the total of the actions of every person in the country. Actions follow from thoughts, so just because you do X today doesn’t mean you will do X tomorrow. We can’t know people’s thoughts and we can’t predict them. There’s no time here to expose the fiction of GDP, but it’s a great story for another time.

Group Identity is up next. Can we divide the country into groups by race or skin colour? We can imagine it, but we can’t do it. The first problem is that skin is not black or white or brown or red or yellow. Primary colours exist in science but there are no dividing lines in human skin colour. Even if there were, it would still be a world-spanning leap of logic to say that people’s loves, wants and beliefs are linked to their skin colour. Your skin colour doesn’t tell me where you started from and where you are going. Every person deserves to be treated as an individual. Pretending that we have group identity is just a way of dividing us to conquer us. It’s nonsense and it damages society.

Heard people talk about “Exploitation” of workers? Britain and then the US led the way in abolishing slavery, for the first time in human history. I feel enormously proud of the people who did so. Up till then, you could own me. That is exploitation. But you can’t exploit me by offering me a job at a low wage. If you don’t pay me what I am worth, someone else will. I am free to go. How can you build a successful business if you pay your staff less than they can earn elsewhere? They will desert you as soon as a better offer comes along. If I am worth only a low wage today, am I trapped and never able to improve? No, our society provides support to help me better myself. We should all aspire to see the lowest paid become better off. But talking about exploitation means we’re lost before we start.

And just one more before you go. Non-state Monopoly. If a business gets very big by offering us something better, is that bad? If they get lazy or stop improving, won’t others catch them? There are hordes of entrepreneurs and piles of money trying to find gaps in every market. No business leader can sit comfortably, because consumers are such hard taskmasters. Businesses have to adapt every day, learn again, throw away their painstakingly built ideas and assets and try again. Unless …. their lobbyists can trick politicians into building protected spaces for them by creating regulations. Regulations make it hard for competitors to rise. That protects the strong and leads to crony capitalism, the killer of consumer satisfaction.

Next time someone tells you about something, ask yourself whether it really exists. Don’t be fooled.