Finance is the New Human Drama

 

Within Finance, the Big Money Institutions of Intergenerational Fiduciary Loyalty and Prudence are the New Future Heroes

The First Act In This New Drama Is A Crisis In Personal Agency

Many people like to think of Money as Treasure, as something valuable in itself that is good to have, and better to have more of than less.  There is some truth to that. Also, a more technically correct definition of money is that it is a social construct, a legal document called a negotiable instrument: an IOU.  Seen as such, it can also be seen as a technology that people use to trade surpluses across distances of time, place and social connection.

Trading surpluses is how we create economies as our uniquely human way of being in a world that we make through our technologies out of the world of Nature into which we all are born. The word “technology” is used in this context in its more general meaning, as learning about how the world about us works and how we can take the world about us as we find it and change it to be more a way we choose to make it.  Applying learning through technology requires a concentration of effort and produces a surpluses of stuff.  These surpluses can be traded with others, who concentrate their efforts on other technologies, for a share in the surpluses that they create through their technologies. Through this process of concentration and exchange, a population living together in a shared economy can build for itself a world of choices that is much richer and more diverse than any one of us going it alone could ever hope to enjoy.

Famed entomologist and theorist of human being E. O. Wilson made quite a stir back in 1975, when he published a book that he called On Human Nature. In this book he shared his observations about how similar ant societies are to human societies.

At the time most human behavioral scientists were busy studying chimpanzees, as our closest genetic relative.

E. O. Wilson pointed out that chimpanzee societies are not really that similar to our human societies.  Chimpanzees don’t collaborate the way we people do.  Chimpanzees will collaborate on a task only to a point. Then they get bored, and wander off. Humans stick with it, working together until the job is done.  Then, we find a new job to do. Together. In this way, people are more like ants, according to Dr. Wilson.  Ants stick with it, like people do, until the job is done. And once one job is done, like people, ants take on another task. 

Dr. Wilson may have gotten the collaboration part right, but he missed this other part. He missed the part about creativity.

Ants are not really like people, because ants are not creative. Ants do not make history.  The history of ants is that there were some ants, then there were some different ants.  But they all just did the same ant things.  

Ants do not have culture. They do not have civilization. 

We, as people, do.

People make history. That’s what we do.  Our lives today are very different from the lives that our parents lived, and those lives are different from the lives of their parents, and so on back into the darkest recesses of Time, when Man first picked up a stick, and lit a fire.

Ever since then, we have been making things, and the thing we make the most is change.  We do that collaboratively, as Dr. Wilson pointed out. We also do it creatively.

Human history is the history of our creative collaborations in taking the world about us as we find it, and changing it to be more a way we choose to make it.  This history is creative. It is collaborative. It is also adaptive. And evolutionary.  Dr. Wilson missed that also. Ants don’t evolve. Generation after generation, ants are just ants.

In some ways people are just people from one generation to the next.  In other ways, each generation is also unique, the creation of its own creations.

And these creations are always getting better, generation after generation.

That’s the evolutionary part.  Every time one generation makes a change in one thing, that creates both the need and the opportunity for other generations (and sometimes the same generation) to make other changes, in other things.

There’s a lot of creative collaboration that goes into this process of making evolutionary changes.

  1. It begins with explorations of the change, through art thinking and philosophical questioning. 
  2. That leads to scientific expression of new insights into how the world about us works, and how we can change the way the world works, to make it work more a way we choose to make it. 
  3. That gets put into action through engineering to make technology. 
  4. That gets applied through enterprise for collaboratively co-creating surpluses of that technology as new learning put into action through engineering for sharing with others through social contracts between enterprise and popular choice that make new choices more popular as better fit to changing times, letting previously popular choices fade into history as a good fit at an earlier time.

It takes time, effort, expertise, materials and supplies to collaboratively co-create surpluses of technology through enterprise. These things cost money.  When enterprise needs money, finance provides it. Finance is a social structure for social decision making that aggregates surpluses saved by individuals and deploys those aggregations as investment in enterprise for putting new learning into action evolving prosperous adaptations to one or another of life’s constant changes.

Enterprise and Finance are not always perfectly accountable to the popular choice of everyday people living our everyday lives.  Sometimes government is needed to regulate the actions of both Enterprise and Finance, as well as the actions of everyday people who choose not to conform to those social norms that society has decided are so important to the well-being of society that the force of law is applied to punish individuals who do not voluntarily choose to conform their actions to those norms.

Societies are held together by a shared narrative about past history and future expectations.  These stories make up the cultural life of any society that is curated and perpetuated, while being evolved adaptively to fit the changing experiences of society, through various cultural and social institutions of civil society. 

If we map these social structures for social decision making to show how each structure is held accountable to popular choice of people in society, we see that enterprise is held accountable to popular choice through competition in the marketplace. This is the dynamic more or less correctly conceptualized by conventional economic thinking.  We also see that government is accountable through popular vote at the ballot box (and when electoral politics is not in use, or not responsive to the needs of the people, through public protest and civil disobedience), while civil society institutions are held accountable to popular choice in a marketplace of ideas.  

Finance, however, is problematic in our times, because the mechanisms for holding financiers accountable to popular choice for the financing decisions they make have been disabled.

This is a critically important problem to solve, because Finance is the primary social structure for social decision making through which a population chooses what its future history can, should and will be made to be through investment in technology and enterprise for evolving prosperous adaptations to life’s constant changes.

 

If our financiers are not properly accountable to the people for the choices that they make, they will make choices that are right for them, personally, but not right of us, socially. We are seeing this problem happen in real time, today, with inaction on climate action, but also in a laundry list of social problems that have their roots in financing decisions being made by financiers who are not being held properly accountable to the logic of their own financial decision making structure.  These include:

  1. Corporate Gigantism;
  2. Economic Elitism;
  3. Political Divisiveness;
  4. Corporate Capture of Politicians and Public Opinion;
  5. Financial System Instability;
  6. Pension/Retirement System Unreliability;
  7. Excessive Social and Environmental Extraction; and
  8. Inaction on climate and other changes in our changing times that require action at the scale of climate.

We are taught by conventional thinking that these must be viewed as the moral failings of bad actors acting badly, so that the way to take action is to bring the force of law down upon these bad actors, to punish them for acting so badly.  Of course, the bad actors have captured the instrumentality of government.  So that solution is really an illusion.  Nothing is going to happen if we stay locked in this theory of change, until the whole thing crashes, breaking the grip of Corporate Capture.

This cannot be our best.

Surely, there has to be a better way.

It is true that there are a lot of bad actions being taking by some very bad actors in finance today, but the failure runs deeper than that.  We need to think like engineers, and conduct a proper root cause analysis to find the points of structural failure in our social structures for social decision making through Finance, in order to see a way to fix that failure, reclaim our Personal Agency and hold our financiers properly accountable for the choices they are making about our shared future.

We can begin with an engineering-style diagram of how money is being made to move through our economy today.  The first thing we will see is that there are two cycles to this system: an individual cycle of Personal Finance; and an institutional cycle of Social Finance.  These cycles are connected through the investment of our individual savings aggregated by different financiers for different purposes, and deployed by those different financiers into different enterprising activities according to the unique logic of the social structure for social decision making in which they are expert.

We are all players in this drama of human decision making through finance to the extent we have personal savings sufficient to contribute to the system, but the primary actors are the Rich People, Do-Gooders, Government Officials, Moneylenders, Market-Clearing Price Makers and Superfiduciary Stewards of Society’s Shared Future who are entrusted with deploying the shared savings that get aggregated into their respective institutions of financial decision making.

There is much to learn about all these actors, but the one that is most important to the work of resolving our current crisis in Personal Agency is the Stewards of Society’s Social Superfunds, our Pensions & Endowments as Institutions of Intergenerational Fiduciary Loyalty and Prudence who are accountable to our shared common sense of what is properly prudent for them.

The logic of their institution should have them valuing Sufficiency through negotiated agreement on formulas for sharing in enterprise cash flows that are prioritized for social and environmental justice in the conduct of commerce.

Instead, they are valuing Growth in market prices for securitized shares traded on price in the markets for maintaining market clearing prices.

They are doing that because that is what we are instructing them to do.

We have to change our instructions.