WHAT MOVES THE INVISIBLE HAND?
“Sometimes I dream of saving the world, saving everyone from the invisible hand; one that brands us with an employee badge; the one that forces us to work for them; the one that controls us every day without us knowing it…” Elliot Anderson (in Mr. Robot)
In the competitive paradigm, there will always be financial winners and losers, regardless of what economic policy or political party is in place. This realization is of crucial importance because many still believe that either capitalism or socialism is the answer, but history has proven that both of these approaches fall short when the key ingredient is missing. We know that income inequality, for example, has been rising in the US since 1970 whereas people in socialistic economies are forced down to live within the limits of the lowest common denominator.
Any (financial) system is only as good as the deeper intentions running it, the paradigm (check out the competitive vs cooperative paradigm here).
In 1776 Adam Smith gave us permission to seek only our own benefit when he published “An Inquiry Into The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” In his classic book, he stated that voluntary trades in a free market produce unintentional and widespread benefits (as if caused by an invisible hand). Second, these benefits are greater than those of a regulated, planned economy. In a nutshell, “In (free) competition, individual ambition serves the common good.”
Mr. Smith did not take into consideration that “individual ambition” can dramatically vary depending upon the type of paradigm the person in question is coming from. It is precisely the quality of these aggregated ambitions (the “invisible hand”) what might, or might not, serve the common good. For Adam Smith to be right, we need the right type of ambition. For example, imagine that you own a fishing business and that you make your living selling what you capture in a nearby bay. If you come from fear and scarcity, from a need to make money in the short term regardless of the consequences, you might overexploit the bay leaving no fish reserves for the next fishing season. If you, on the other hand, come from trust and abundance (because there is a system that supports you even during difficult times) you will not sacrifice your long-term success for a quick buck. Two different decisions with two different outcomes, one is truly economic (that is, sustainable) the other is not. In economic theory, this is called “the tragedy of the commons”: natural resources cannot defend themselves from short-term economic greed driven by F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out).
Traditionally, there have been two approaches to economic policy. One is the Keynesian (left wing) approach, which implies regulation (to tell the fisherman what he can or cannot do, and also force him to redistribute his earnings). The other is the Friedman approach (right wing) where we let the fisherman seek his own benefit without any restrictions (assuming the “invisible hand” will take care of the rest). Neither of these approaches work for both the individual and the group when they operate out of competition because fear ends up creating scarcity at some level.
Since we fail to include the human condition in our economic approach, we remained divided and missing the point: that neither markets or governments are good or bad inherently; it all depends on the people and their aggregated decisions.
“Adam Smith needs revision… Adam Smith said the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what is best for themselves…Incomplete! Incomplete! Because the best result would come from everyone in the group doing what is best for himself and the group.” Russell Crowe playing John Nash (Mathematician and Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994) in A Beautiful Mind.
Picture this. At a traffic crossroads, the most efficient way for all vehicles to move is by yielding to those drivers with a green light. If you skip a red light, sure, you could get to your destination faster a few times, but as soon as other drivers realize that every person is out just for themselves, they will do the same and traffic might end up getting slower and more chaotic for everyone. This also applies to economics. To optimize our economy and enjoy higher levels of abundance for all we need to “yield” and not think just about ourselves.
Create a free market (because humans like and deserve freedom) but instill in people and institutions the absolute necessity to make trades and decisions that are not based on fear or scarcity, power or personal greed, but on the need to serve both the individual and the group. The “invisible hand”, then, will organically benefit everyone, even without restrictions or regulations, and create more abundance in the long term.
The infinity symbol is a simple, yet elegant representation of this mindset in action. Whatever you do to others or your environment comes back to you. As we are not isolated from our society, but profoundly connected, giving and receiving is in practical terms one and the same. When money/energy flows, it can bring abundance to all.
To put this principle into practice our communities should be like those forests that Suzanne Simard beautifully describes in which “… when one seedling is under stress if it is small or shaded or nutrient poor, other plants send more carbon.” In a forest there is no cap to your growth, the sky is the limit (it is a land of opportunity, a free market), but at the same time, there is a safety net (soil) to sustain your life comfortably (a welfare state). The economic institutions and instruments of our time should be serving us, the people, not the other way around. We forget that the way our economy is run and organized is not set in stone the way natural laws are. Therefore, budgets could be changed in few months, along with priorities and resource allocation, to make sure that everybody had (financial) security; that everybody could survive without the need to get a job.
“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”― R. Buckminster Fuller
When you uncouple living in society as an adult from the need to make money in order to live with dignity, you stop being driven constantly by your survival instincts (will I have enough for rent this month?). All of the sudden, you experience less worry and fear and have the time freedom to pursue your true interests and purpose. Imagine that!
I still remember how shocked I got that day when I entered my new real estate office (where I worked as a sales agent). I was greeted by a voice, but I could not see anybody there! Then, I realized that the sound was coming from a television placed right above the main desk. It was a virtual secretary that was attending three offices at the same time. How clever! Is it not? Technological development will continue to take over traditional jobs. This is known as technological unemployment. It is real, and it will continue to increase as companies and institutions attempt to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Instead of complaining about it, let’s embrace it and see it for what it is: a blessing (if we can combine it with a basic universal income or something similar to support people).
“We need a new ethic in politics that decouples a person´s claim on existence from doing profitable work that someone will pay you for…because a lot of that work is going away…this is the greatest opportunity in human history. We are talking about canceling the need for dangerous, boring, repetitive work and freeing up humanity to do interesting, creative, fun things.” Sam Harris (Neuroscientist) on universal basic income.
Elon Musk, the founder, and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, puts it this way: “There’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation, I’m not sure what else one would do… People will have time to do other things and more complex things, more interesting things. They will certainly have more leisure time.”