The C-Word

In last week’s discussion with the Renegade Economist, Fred Harrison made a somewhat bizarre comment regarding monetary reform advocates:

Renegade Economist: People who believe in the need for monetary reform really are fixated on it. And many of them think there is some kind of grand conspiracy that allows the bankers and those who have money to control our society.

Interviewer: Is there?

RE: There isn’t; no there isn’t – other than that , within the rules of the game, there is a bias that favours a certain categoey of people against the interests of the majority. Now, that’s not a conspiracy – that’s written into the laws! So when people make statements about how they’re going to exploit the current crisis to their own advantage – well they’re not making any secret of the fact that yes, they have a lot of money and they are going to get even richer.

I: Because it’s in the rules?

RE: Because it’s in the rules.

He reaffirms this perspective towards the end of the interview when he is asked:

I: So the system’s working as it should work?

RE: It’s exactly as we’ve had it programmed and we’ve inherited it.

So, of course, the obvious questions that should arise are from this are: Who determines the ‘rules of the game’? Who writes ‘the laws’? and, Who ‘programmed’ the system? The Renegade Economist doesn’t seem to see the merits of discussing these issues:

Interviewer: There are alot of monetary reformers out there and alot of them (as you say) subscribe to huge conspiracy theories and we should do our best to try and put this to rest…

RE: Well, nothing is going to convince that community of people…

The reason that Tiberius finds this so odd is the Renegade Economist himself does not mind dabbling in an analysis which comes close ‘conspiracy theory’:

A century ago a group of influential economists calluded to manipulate the building blocks of Classical Economics. They had an ideological  agenda. The future that they shaped is our reality. […] Their mission was clear: to protect the vital interests of the privileged few but to do so they had to conceal the unique qualities of one of the Classical factors of production – land.

He doesn’t however use the dreaded ‘c-word’ and instead what the Renegade Economist tends to describe is some kind of systemic bias at work. As  Tiberius recently tried to explain with the aid of a packet of cornflakes, many of the problems that we face today are systemic. However, as he also tried to make clear in a subsequent post, this does not mean that conspiracies do not exists – indeed they are one of the mean by which many of these systemic biases function:

the current box we all live in was actually designed by the bigger flakes themselves:  not necessarily consciously in a ‘lets think of the best design to ensure our dominance’ fashion, but rather slowly and incrementally in more of a ‘this seems to work best for us’ way – though less ‘Blind Watchmaker’, more ‘Short-sighted Bastard’.

The problem is that ‘conspiracy theories’ are given a bum rap because they are generally seen to be over-simplistic and all-encompassing – and, indeed, some of them are. However it doesn’t follow from this that there are no conspiracies, nor that a ‘conspiracy theory’ cannot be the best explanation for the facts in some cases. Despite this, the ‘c-word’ is generally used as a pejorative term used to silence dissent and it seems that it’s therefore considered to be more ‘intellectually acceptable’ to promote what may be called a ‘systemic bias theory’.

The unfortunate result is that people tend to adopt an analysis that is either/or and fail to recognise that there is a dynamic interplay between these factors at work: systemic biases create conspiracies of interest, which in turn also cause further system biases, and so on.

To try and explain this it is best to look at the favoured metaphor of the ‘systemic bias’ purveyor: evolution by natural selection.

No one makes the Lion kill the Wildebeest – it is simply part of its nature to do so. The Lion’s ‘nature’ is a the sum of a biologically determined set of predispositions to its behaviour – all of which (so the theory goes) have at their root a genetic underpinning. These genes are selected for (and against) by an incremental and directionless process of which the Lion has no awareness and no control. Lions may cooperate with one another in achieving their tasks (hanging out in prides, hunting in teams, etc) but they have no idea why they are doing so, and this behaviour is simply a more complex example of this self-gene system at work in social animals – they are not ‘conspiring’ in any sense.

But this metaphor only works  so long as none of the agents become aware of their own interest and how the rules affect them.

Let’s look again at our Savannah setting should the lions become self-aware:

If  the Lions become self-conscious, then, in time, their own ‘Darwin Lion’ will develop a theory of natural selection, and their ‘Dawkins Lion’ will explain that the driving force of this evolutionary process is the individual genes make every living thing : Lions and Wildebeests included. Some Lions will be impressed by these facts, and one particularly enterprising feline may suggests they utilize these new understandings to try and develop more successful hunting strategies. An idea may be proposed: instead of always targetting the weaker Wildebeest young, the Lions make a pact to only hunt the stronger calves. They agree that all the punier Wildebeast will be allowed to live until they have reproduced (after which lunch!). A few generations later, thanks to these artificial selection policies,  there are would be a greater proportion of weaker Wildebeast in the herd and hunting would become easier.

The Lions would still be, in a sense, ‘trapped’ in the evolutionary system (they’d still have the desire to hunt/kill Wildebeast), but their awareness of it would  enabled them to agree (conspire) to forgoe the short-term advantages (which the selfish-genes thrives on), in favour of a greater long-term prospect. They would have therefore changed the mechanics of that system to their advantage.

In terms of our own ‘economic system’, Tiberius doesn’t think a group of people sat down and explicitly mapped out the best method possible to ensure the dominance of the few over the many. Instead, the system has developed incrementally (like natural selection) but deliberately (unlike natural selection), so what we have now is like an animal that has been selectively bred – sheep, cows, dogs, etc.

For example, noone set out to ‘make a Great Dane’ in the sense that they were working from a blueprint. Instead certain dogs were consciously chosen to breed in order to fix certain inheritable characteristics that were considered desirable – and this eventually led to a tall, funny-looking dog. Saying that our system is ‘inevitable’, or ‘conspiracy-neutral’, is a bit like arguing that the Great Dane is a ‘naturally-occuring’ animal.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendancy in modern humans to be very puritanical in their view of the world. In the case of the c-word, this means on the one hand, those that see a conspiracy in almost everything,  and those that failing to see even the most outrageous examples. This more complex reality needs to be as acknowledged as explicitly in the case of land reform as it does in monetary reform and, in his excellent book “Who Owns Britain“, Kevin Cahill spells this out clearly:

All these advantages were deliberately conferred on the already priviledged by a manipulation of the law which created the modern Land Registry…

Much more than a simple cover-up, it is an ongoing conspiracy even in an age when such a term is frequently and wilfully over-used.

This book is about that conspiracy and its consequences. [emphasis added]