01 October 2008

Elections and the real economy

With federal election campaigns under way in both Canada and the U.S., this is a good season to be noticing rank abuses of language. One example, which has become so familiar as to render us oblivious to it, is the way politicians (and the corporate media) talk about ‘the economy’.

The real economy is the structured flow of materials, energy and information through the systems that sustain and enhance our lives — that is, through our bodies and those extensions of them which constitute our communities. When the real economy is healthy, our communities and most of us are healthy too, by definition. The most basic and essential economic reality is the global ecosystem and its energy source, the sun. That's where all the wealth on this planet comes from — but we have managed to conceal this reality from ourselves by devising artificial means of measuring wealth.

This was inevitable, i suppose, once we learned how money, as a medium of exchange, can help to facilitate the flow of wealth. But it also facilitates the accumulation of wealth by some people at the expense of others. Money makes it possible to extract wealth from the real economy without contributing anything to it (other than toxic waste). In the past century, this process has been enormously accelerated by the invention of artificial ‘persons’ called corporations. These have now grown into gargantuan entities with almost unlimited power to manipulate the real economy while also insulating their owners from the consequences. Now the movement of money consists mostly of currency trading and other manipulations almost wholly divorced from economic reality. The stock market, as an index of ‘the economy’, amounts to a vast delusion.

All of this is just common sense for any adult citizen these days, but you wouldn't know it from the way most politicians talk about ‘the economy’. Coming from them, it's really a code for corporate profits. They try to conceal this by talking about ‘jobs’, as if every ‘job’ were a genuine means of subsistence for some real person or family, rather than a means for the corporate employer to extract wealth from the real economy (as most jobs are nowadays). Political images, advertising and careers are routinely bought and paid for by the same corporations who dominate the delusional ‘economy’.

The current financial shakeup in the U.S. could be an opportunity for people to wake up from this delusion and reassert democratic control of the real economy. But this can only happen if we turn our political attention to the real economy. Fortunately there are nonpartisan resources for doing this; one of them is the Vote Environment website hosted by the David Suzuki Foundation, which includes briefing papers on the vital issues and a blog for discussing them.

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