Saudi stocks have dipped on emerging market concerns. Foreign investor activity has been brisk in Nairobi. The Dollar is up but the Yen is down. The US tech sector slid. European futures are down. And the Australian Equities Exchange is embracing blockchain technology. A blockchain is a digital ledger in which transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly. Numbers, numbers and more numbers…..
I can’t imagine many of you either needed or wanted to know about any of that. I open with it tonight purely as a demonstration of how those who think that kind of stuff is important, in the greater scheme of things, might as well be living on the fourth moon of Jupiter for all the use they are to Planet Earth and its trillions of species.
And no, I’m not an ecology nut but yes, I do think there is a greater scheme of things. Homo sapiens is far from being the most successful (or important) species on the 3rd rock from the sun, but its capacity to feed, nurture, teach, protect and cure other members of that species is unsurpassed. I cannot, for example, think of another life-form above the microscopic zone on our sceptred sphere that has a lower neo-natal mortality rate than ours – or whose offspring have a higher chance of surviving to adulthood. The statistics on that are obscenely better in the West than in the East and further South, but the average is still hugely impressive.
The problem is that success has gone to our heads. I mean, literally: our headcount is far too high.
We keep reassuring ourselves about our species population explosion, but very little of it bears examination: we consume more water than we should, we destroy far too many unsustainable materials to house ourselves, we attack predators in a way that makes their final victory almost inevitable, we behave like vandals in relation to the food chains that keep important species alive, and we are obsessed with longevity, eternity and hegemony over rivals.
We are good at hunting, gathering, storing, cooperating and inventing as a pack animal, but all this is outweighed by our minoritycapacity to introspect neurotically, and suspect that others wish us harm. Sometimes, they do – but ultimately, we are intelligent thugs whose more irrational brain hemisphere spends far too much time in the ascendancy.
In 2018, quantity rules: the most young people going to College and University, the most believers in a faith, the most skyscrapers downtown, the most houses built, the most money spent on a football team, the most viewers at peak time, the most banking customers worldwide, the most jobs created, the most funds under management, the most hits, the most nuclear weapons, and the most friends on Facebook.
All of it is meaningless nonsense without a more qualitative investigation. And this sums up the problem with the financial and commodity markets I started out by mildly lampooning at the outset of this brief column. Tesla has the highest valuation of any car company, but it is a huge implosion waiting to happen. Google is the biggest search engine on the internet by miles, but just one intelligent software breakthrough by another company could make it history. America has by far the biggest gdp in the world, but also by far the biggest sovereign debt….and its currency is about to face the sort of serious competition it has never encountered before. The EU has more comfortably off consumers than any other trading bloc, but its liquidity, migration dilemma, dysfunctional currency and member disloyalty will lead to its collapse.
Not only are there far too many of us, far too many measures of our success are mathematical. The hitech automation of maths in market trading suffers from this disease as much as any other commerce in which we engage. Our calculations of wealth envisage a future in which every form of it will be equally convertible when the chips are down. I doubt if there is a single bourse trader on the planet who believes that…and yet all of them act unconsciously on a day-to-day basis as if it might indeed be so.
We are obsessed with wealth, but have lost all sight of worth. Not just proper stock valuations – although God knows, they are surreal enough – but also the real value of socio-economic contributions made by ordinary citizens: those who (as I outlined at the start) feed, nurture, teach, protect and cure all those people who go on to invent, sell, distribute and lead in all the best possible ways.
Longevity is a quantitative thing that exacerbates the population problems we already have. Hegemony and material wealth are power things that make one culture walk tall over another under entirely false pretences.
Compassion is a qualitative dimension that enables us to (among many other things) preserve the other species upon whom our survival depends. Investigation to debunk received truths is what stimulates the sort of discovery to make every life more fulfilling.
Today’s received truths are globalism, feminism, socialism, neoliberalism and Islamism. But every last one of them is based on quantitative assertions which are themselves irrelevant…..at the same time as being wrong on the basis of both natural and social anthropology.
Suspect rises, falls, percentages, levels, growth, decline, numbers and algorithms when it comes to life fulfillment, and the social stability donated by family contentment. By all means read the data: but interrogate the source, question the extrapolations, and always remember that, on much higher tax rates, far less bourse dependence, little globalism and lower personal earnings than today, the human race achieved better levels of personal calm, productivity, lawful behaviour and genuine liberty than at any time before or since.