Saturday, February 05, 2011

Wealth, Power and Revolutions: What is happening in North Africa?

Jon Taplin posted a very interesting essay at TPMCAFE about the causes of the revolutions we are watching in the Arabic Middle East right now. It set me to thinking about the interaction of globalization and political power. What I took away from his essay is the following:

Cheap money allows those with wealth to purchase wealth-producing assets and take control of them. So it benefits those with wealth and the banks which manage their money.

Commodities increase in value at a more rapid pace than do sources of intellectual wealth, since the sources of intellectual wealth are uncertain while commodity prices are the inverse of the cost of the cheap money.

So wealth itself becomes the primary source of wealth. The productive economy declines in both value (as measured in money) and in social importance (as measured in political power.)

To state that wealth itself becomes the primary source of wealth and to suggest that political power shifts towards that wealth and away from real economic production is to describe how the economy has been financialized.

The thing I have rarely seen discussed is the "power effect" of money. Possession of money gives an individual the power to influence the decision of those who want the money, and in the financial economy in which we all depend on others for the basic factors of living, this gives those with large accumulations of money great power over lots of people. The Koch brothers are a prime example of this. But there are no reliable and consistent accounting measures of power as there are of money, so economists tend to dismiss power and power effects. The interesting thing, though, is if you go into an organization and conduct a survey of who has power and who does not, the results are quite clear. Everyone knows who has power. But there are no power statements to put in power point alongside financial statements when higher managers make decisions. Those with power can easily dismiss the power aspects of their decisions.

I have attributed the violence in the Middle East largely to the effects of globalization. Globalization is the process of replacing traditional economies with money economies. It is possible to audit and manage the economic changes in a money economy, but because there is no valid and reliable measure of power through society, the power effects of such changes are neither widely recognized nor are they managed. In fact, Libertarianism is the justification presented by the powerful for refusing to manage the social power effects of financializing society.

A revolution is what happens when power moves away from large numbers of people who depend on having the power they need to live their lives with dignity and some predictability.

No comments: