Archive for November, 2008

Faith Based Economics: video

November 13, 2008

A video of my recent shiur, summarized in the last post.

this should link, or copy & paste in your browser

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Faith-Based Economics

November 3, 2008

(from “Faith-Based Economics: the Roots of the Financial Crisis”, a seminar I gave last monday at the PresenTense institute, video will be up soon: http://www.presentense.org)

The core of my thesis– from my ‘insider’ experiences at a fairly high level on Wall St.– is that ALL of the essential elements of the economy only have value because people believe that they do.  Money, stocks, bonds, real estate, ‘derivatives’, even gold and silver.  And they’re so inter-twined and tangled that even ‘commodities’– allegedly real things like grain, metal, or oil– have their values determined by the rest of the flawed system. The whole system is just games- gambling– played with belief, credit, faith, and all the money in the world.

This shouldn’t really be news, but people somehow don’t realize that this is the case or what it can mean.  Economists and actual bankers, brokers, and analysts generally treat that dynamic as a black box: however it is that people, by believing, assign value to each of these things.  They simply assume that people DO somehow value things, and make calculations based on that.

My point is thus that people value things only because they themselves have values– which are somehow expressed by putting faith into these things.  As a religious jew– religion in general, i think– has at least some degree of insight into what belief actually is, and what the practical consequences are of believing things matter, and how belief works and makes things real.

(“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Philip K. Dick)

The crisis has ripped away part of the veil– people are losing faith in the things (stocks, money, etc.) that somehow were holding the values they thought they had.  This CAN go all the way– our currencies and stocks really can go all the way to worthlessness, in the next months or years.  And of course the values of western, material society are hollow.

So: I assert, from a place of moral belief that this is not ‘illusion’, there is a real divinity in the world—there ARE real values on which we can base how we interact as individuals, and on larger scales.  Calling them ‘torah’ or ‘religious’ values doesn’t cut it, though, because they need to be translated into practical terms.  People need to understand how building real relationship between each other and with the earth and sustenance, can be expressed and VALUED in functional ways.  There needs to be, in effect, an actual, responsible way to express this as a system.  An alternative for when Babylon falls. The eastern Indians had wampum, western Indians had potlatch.  What will have or will we build?

The essence of money– the way it’s been in the world for the last five hundred or five thousand years– was as symbols of ‘surplus value’– “extra” wealth above normal ‘fair’ exchange.  As such it always came, initially, from slavery, pillage, theft, or piracy.  There’s blood on all our hands.

Can we finally break the lie that money (or technology) is value-neutral?  It’s NOT just who uses it or has it, it’s not just what you want to do with it.  It, itself, its essence, comes from ‘impure’ things, and cannot be purified.

Can we create a new ‘currency’ that will, in fact, be moral?  Can we find a way of measuring and exchanging value in the world in a way which upholds real values?

Babylon the throne gone down, gone down…