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#ResistTrump by joining a local Indivisible group, maybe?

An Indivisible group in Oregon

We need to keep making calls — they’re working! 5Calls, as always, has some suggestions, scripts, and phone numbers for your congress members.

Especially important, at least for voters in Ohio and Kansas: Calling to oppose Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. The vote on her nomination was delayed, and now could come Saturday or early next week. See here for the latest news on the anti-DeVos efforts and phone numbers for the possible swing-vote Senators.

Another issue which has gotten zero media attention: Congresswoman Maxine Waters is calling for a serious investigation of Trump’s Russian ties. Urge your congressperson to support her!

But if you want to go beyond calls, consider joining a local Indivisible group and visiting your elected officials in person with a large number of new friends.

Find (or start) a local group here, and check out the Indivisible Twitter feed to see some inspiring pics of these groups in action.

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guest
guest
3 years ago

@ALW Thanks for that–it’s oddly inspiring. I’m old and only see things getting worse for women–but then again, like I said, I’m in a tough industry for women and currently in an appallingly sexist company, so I’m probably wearing whatever colour is the opposite of rose-coloured glasses at the moment. Going to see Hidden Figures next week–I hope that will give me some perspective!

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
3 years ago

@ guest

I usually say ‘Adam Smith, you know, THE DUDE ON THE £20 NOTE’ and I swear half the audience reaches for their wallets

Hah! Guess what I did half way through that sentence?

Thanks for the link to that case. It gave me a wry smile and a feeling of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ (I literally today had to send an email to a potential investor excluding any reliance on representations about the potential profitability of a project).

guest
guest
3 years ago

@Alan What’s interesting to me about that case is that it appears to have been a wakeup call to the business community–Attwood absolutely acted in good faith, but it took 12 years and three cases to clear his name. British Iron had no qualms about playing dirty to try to get their money back, and Attwood’s good character and carefully guarded reputation for integrity were no protection against that. (British Iron went bankrupt paying Attwood’s damages; serves them right.)

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
3 years ago

@ guest

Oh I could ramble on for ages about this. It crops up all the time in my everyday work. I’m also interested in more general terms. Like the banking deregulation Trump has just rolled out. There’s always a pendulum between responsibility and caution and profitability and recklessness.

It’s back to your original point about how businesses felt (or at least purported to) a sense of public responsibility. But then Gordon Gecko becomes the role model.

It’s always been a bit of a fiction though; just look at the history of Barings.

guest
guest
3 years ago

@Alan It’s not that businesses felt a sense of public responsibility–it’s that people were obligated to treat other people fairly in business to ensure that they were treated fairly in return. Craig Muldrew writes in The Economy of Obligation in 1998 that up to then historians had no real understanding of the scale of the early modern economy–they postulated a low rate of economic activity based on the fact that very little money circulated. What Muldrew explained for his period, and what more of us now understand is the case for later periods, is that the entire economic edifice was built on personal credit. Say you and I do business with each other. We meet once a year to settle up–I’ve provided you with £100 worth of goods, and you’ve provided me with £101 worth of goods–so I pay you £1. The £1 is visible, the rest of the economic activity is not. That’s obviously a simple example; the credit chains for an extraordinarily complex economy could be very long, in space as well as in time. I’ve read lots of letters saying things like ‘x owes me £y, and x’s friend z owes him £a, so why doesn’t z pay me some portion of £a next time I see him and I’ll credit x for that part of £y’.

This kind of economic system can only work if the people involved know and trust each other. I and others have done work on how personal trust, which facilitated these kinds of informal credit arrangements, was established and maintained. Many business relationships were kin-related (people’s children married the children of people in related businesses to establish trust links) and religious (one of the explanations for the success of Quaker businesses), but most were built up through personal reference and association. One’s character was a marketable trait–if people could vouch for you you had access to credit. I’ve seen lots and lots of letters saying ‘I don’t do business with strangers–who do we know in common, who can assure me that you’re trustworthy, before I engage in a business relationship with you?’

As business was all about relationships, and as these depended on one’s character, if you couldn’t demonstrate to people you wanted to have an economic relationship with that you were worthy of their trust, by acting in a virtuous way, you wouldn’t have access to their credit, and would thus be effectively ostracised from the marketplace. ‘Long term relationships discouraged cheating; as rumour of unfair dealings discouraged others from interacting with their subject it was thus in everyone’s self-interest to act honestly.’

Interestingly, this ties into the history of money–a fantastic book about this is David Graeber’s Debt: the first 5000 years. Money was originally used only for taxes and religious offerings; Deborah Valenze, in The social history of money, talks about how as late as the eighteenth century it was still considered a little ‘dirty’ to exchange money directly for goods and services, and the reliance on personal credit and exchange gave the Georgian economy ‘an aura of gifting’. Aside from extending long-term informal credit, people maintained business relationships through exchanges of actual gifts–of goods, services and information.

Oh and speaking of credit–people in business wanted people to have credit with them; credit was part of the relationship. We read a lot in the literature of the time about people having ‘bills with their tailors’ and whatnot–but this wasn’t necessarily a bad or irresponsible thing. The example I use is this: say you and I are friends. Over the years I’ve lent you a few books, and you’ve lent me a few books. What if I suddenly come to your house with your books and say ‘here, these are all the books of yours that I have, I’m giving them back.’ The implication is that the friendship is over–I no longer have any reason to see you again. Another example is buying drinks at pubs–if I buy you a drink, and you don’t buy me a drink this time, we’ll need to get together again so you can buy me a drink. Outstanding credit is a way to maintain a relationship.

The economic system of peer to peer exchange based on credit facilitated by long-term personal relationships, which I call cryptocapitalism, has been generally ignored by historians–in my opinion it’s because of Marx, whose four-level economic categorisation leaves this stage out. (In writing this I’m realising that Marx himself was observing and writing during the transition from cryptocapitalism to modern capitalism–I’m not enough of an expert on Marx to know how much of what he calls ‘capitalism’ is the former rather than the latter; it would be a good research question.) Scholars have identified aspects of this economy, but have never drawn it out as a distinct system–E. P. Thompson does a good job of describing parts of this economy in Customs in Common, but as he is a Marxist he can’t really place it, referring to it as a ‘transition period’ between feudalism and capitalism. (How it can be seen as a transition when it resembles neither of these is beyond me.) Some historians seem genuinely baffled by it–here’s Gillian Cookson:

‘To accept that some kind of collaboration operated, and apparently worked well, requires an imaginative leap out of the competitive and confrontational framework upon which much late-twentieth-century management thinking rests. The evolution and success of the system is explicable in the artisan context of early textile engineering. Artisans generally took a long view of business, seeing continuation as a priority so that following generations had the means to make a living. This apparently anachronistic pre-industrial milieu provided a highly suitable setting for the new industry.’

End of lesson 1!! I feel embarrassed that I’ve just written out this huge long thing, but youall asked for it….

Jesalin
Jesalin
3 years ago

@guest

To be perfectly blunt about it, I never thought that anyone could manage to pique my interest in economics. You have managed to do that. I suspect it’s because you include the human element. Without that element of human relationship (which tends to be completely ignored) it is, to me at least, a dry, cold, and rather desolate subject. It’s really quite interesting when the human element is added back in.

guest
guest
3 years ago

@Jesalin As Scildfreja says, economics IS people. (Not like soylent green, different.)

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
3 years ago

@ guest

That was amazing! Thank you ever so much. I’m now digesting and cogitating on everything you’ve said.

In the interim I’ll just throw up a few bits you’ve got me considering. I’m probably teaching you to suck eggs but you know ‘goodwill’ is still a marketable commodity? It counts as ‘valuable consideration’ under contract law.

As for the ‘vulgarity’ of money. You may be interested in why barristers’ gowns have a pocket on the back called an ‘honorarium’.

Which leads me on to John Mortimer’s classic response when a grateful client asked ‘how can I ever thank you? ”

“Ever since the Phoenecians invented money there’s only been one answer to that question.”

Jesalin
Jesalin
3 years ago

Well yes, it’s just that in my experience economics seems to be exclusively discussed as though people don’t matter and it’s only the system that does. As you said, Smith tends to be discussed a-historically. (Which removes all of the social relationship context.) Admittedly my experience is rather thin, but that is what has always turned me off because I’ve always thought that ‘real’ economics would be at least 50% sociology. I hope I’m making sense.

guest
guest
3 years ago

Next up, lesson 2, in which the villain of the piece is introduced–the joint-stock company. But first I’m going to go watch Taboo, which is my thesis come to life on the small screen!

ALW
ALW
3 years ago

@guest

Enjoy it! I do agree that perspective can be hard to get when you’re mired in the horror of the present, and even if you can get it, it doesn’t necessarily make the present easier to bear. But sometimes, it might. I actually mentioned this topic to a friend I saw tonight and got some interesting perspective from his point of view: He’s a gay man who came of age in London in the 1980’s. His memory of the 80’s was as a time of sexual/romantic laisser faire, and consequently his experience of the 90’s was as a time of encroaching restrictions and public attitude changing for the worse. This was partly because of the AIDS crisis, but also just because the blurred lines of the 80’s were evolving more and more people who insisted on being acknowledged, not just politely allowed to exist under the table, and that threatened the mainstream. For him and so many others like him, that was obviously really shitty to live through, and nothing excuses that. But, as he points out, out of the 90’s came the consolidation and the drive to push to where we are now, where gay marriage and adoption by same-sex parents is a real, legal thing that a very significant section of the general population consider healthy and acceptable, something which seemed next to impossible in the 80’s. In other words, the 80’s were better for him than the 90’s, but the now is better than he ever could have imagined it could be in the 80’s. And although my knowledge of history is not the greatest, I feel like this could be said for most rights-type movements for the last century (different periods, of course, but progress being made, then a backslide, then building further still, and so on).

All this so say, there’s still a very long way to go for all of us (at 30 now I don’t expect to live to see us get there), and sadly things are looking like they will get worse before they get better again, but when they *do* get better again, there is a real possibility that they will be even better than our current idea of best. And that’s what keeps me going through the crap we’re in at the moment.

EJ (Marxist Jazz Weasel)
EJ (Marxist Jazz Weasel)
3 years ago

That was really, really interesting. Thank you, guest.

guest
guest
3 years ago

@ALW Bless you, and thank you. I hope you’re right.

opposablethumbs
opposablethumbs
3 years ago

@guest – thank you, that is extremely interesting and you put it so clearly and readably it was a pleasure to read (I’m one of the many who would be very happy to read any more that you feel like and have time for).

Incidentally, @everyone who might want, I have a feeling I’ve seen Debt: the first 5000 years as a free download somewhere at some point (unfortunately I can’t remember if it was a temporary special give-away or if it’s always available).

I’m also another person who struggles to keep economics terms and concepts/arguments straight in my mind for very long; if they were explained like guest just did, I think we’d all be eating it up. I guess being a good economics explainer is a really vital talent, like being a good science populariser or a good social sciences/psychology explainer like Scildfreja.

guest
guest
3 years ago

Yes! .pdf:

http://libcom.org/files/__Debt__The_First_5_000_Years.pdf

Now it’s bedtime, but youall are giving me such a big head, I’ll come back and do parts 2 (Adam Smith and the sociable economy) and 3 (the big bad) tomorrow 🙂

Rhuu
Rhuu
3 years ago

@guest: I honestly don’t understand how economists don’t get the

‘x owes me £y, and x’s friend z owes him £a, so why doesn’t z pay me some portion of £a next time I see him and I’ll credit x for that part of £y’.

bit. Haven’t they ever had a large group of friends? I’m not particularly fond of the idea, but it always seems to happen! You make a group order from thinkgeek or something, then someone else organises tickets to a concert, then someone ELSE organises a big dinner where everyone is going to pitch in 5$ for ingredients. And you’re like “OH, I’ll just pay 10$ because I owe 5$ for that thinkgeek order, and cover that organiser. And we’ll be square!”

I just never realised that that sort of thing would happen on a larger scale, and be the basis of an economy.

Though since it also happens organically in games like Catan or Bohnanza, that makes total sense haha.

Thank you for the lesson! Economics is something that seems so big, I really don’t know much about it. I enjoyed the people aspect of it as well.

Rhuu
Rhuu
3 years ago

Oh! A pdf! *downloads*

guest
guest
3 years ago

@Rhuu haha I thought I was going to bed, but I’m not quite there yet…. Yes, exactly–that’s just how a group of friends, who know and trust each other, are connected through long-term relationships, and don’t see any benefit out of ripping each other off, would behave. One of my favourite research finds was a letter from someone who manufactured parts for spinning machines to the owner of a canal boat company–he wrote something like ‘hey, I ordered 40 pigs of iron but you only dropped off 38 on Tuesday–could you have a root around the bottom of the boat and bring me the other 2 when you find them’–that’s how two people who have a personal as well as business relationship interact. Informal mediation to settle disputes was preferable to formal contracts or legal action–letters like ‘you and I disagree how much I owe; let’s get two people we respect to hear us out and decide.’ This is capitalism, but a very different kind from what we see today.

So what happened? Here’s a hint for part 3: when we go to the Starbucks to buy a latte and hand the money to the person behind the till, that money is not going to her or her family, or even her boss–it’s ultimately distributed amongst thousands (?) of anonymous shareholders all over the world. Virtually all of our economic transactions these days are person-to-imaginary-legal-entity, rather than person-to-person–a kind of interaction that had never happened until the 1830s.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
3 years ago

@ guest

This just gets more fascinating! I’m really looking forward to the next installment. You’ve really got me thinking. I hope you’ll be taking up follow up questions. 🙂

You’re really putting a lot of the stuff I do in context. What’s especially interesting though is how much of what you mention still goes on. It’s just not as apparent. But we have things like ‘without prejudice’ discussions, alternative dispute resolution, and you may remember from some threads about the sharia courts how the arbitration acts allow for parties just to choose someone all sides trust to decide disputes and avoid the regular courts. It’s not just small businesses either. The biggest users of ADR are the oil companies. And those ‘Alice owes Bob, Bob owes Charlie, so Alice can do something for Charlie’ solutions crop up a lot. It’s ironic perhaps but barter, promises of future favours etc are really common in big business. It avoids legal costs and there can be tax advantages.

Trust is still a major thing in commercial settings. One problem that I often encounter is that there’ll be some hugely complex multi million pound deal and absolutely no written record of it. It’s all done on a handshake. That’s fine until something goes wrong.

Related to that is that I’ve done more defamation cases for companies than humans. Obviously corporations can’t suffer hurt feelings but they can claim for loss of reputation. You might not be surprised to hear that ‘imputations as to competence, honesty in business dealings or creditworthiness’ are treated with particular seriousness in law.

Dalillama, Shepherd of Demonic Crocodiles
Dalillama, Shepherd of Demonic Crocodiles
3 years ago

@guest
Add me to those who are loving the posts. I don’t have the energy to add much to the discussion, but it’s great stuff.

Dalillama, Shepherd of Demonic Crocodiles
Dalillama, Shepherd of Demonic Crocodiles
3 years ago

Also thanks for the link, I needed something to read when it’s slow at work.

Scildfreja Unnýðnes
Scildfreja Unnýðnes
3 years ago

This is a gloriously dorky conversation. I love it :3

eli
eli
3 years ago

Oh guest, thank you so much. I am enjoying the posts and they’ve got some wheels turning in my head about a long-abandoned research project. It’s a slightly earlier period than yours and based in Antwerp, but the issues you are discussing have been filling in some serious blanks I was struggling with at the time.

I don’t know that I’m in any kind of position to continue the work right now, but, who knows. I always got so excited about that project even though it was outside my ‘official area of expertise.’ It grew out of a joint art history/economics seminar that I enrolled in to fill an outside-your-department requirement. The professors were so supportive, too, much more than anyone in my department, but my researches were also confirming the more controversial aspects of their own work.

So a sincere thanks. And I think I should probably go read Debt, although I’ll probably get the hard copy from the library (which, yay, is in my branch and on the shelf!)

guest
guest
3 years ago

Good morning all–youall are inspiring me, thank you. In order not to hijack David’s blog, I’m going to carry on at the non-T open thread, and will post links rather than take up so much of David’s virtual real estate. See you there 🙂