Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘higher consciousness’

• ‘Voluntary Simplicity’ Brings Higher Consciousness into Economics

Posted by Ron Robins on February 3, 2009

A sweeping new consumer frugality is enveloping the developed world bringing higher consciousness into economic affairs. Some call it ‘voluntary simplicity.’ And it ties in well with my thesis that as a more balanced, higher consciousness arises in consumers, their consumptive and savings habits will change significantly and more sustainably. Thus, I believe the age of Enlightened Economics is ahead us.

Voluntary Simplicity defined

The term voluntary simplicity (VS) according to the Simple Living Network is first thought to have been used by “Richard Gregg who, in 1936, was describing a way of life marked by a new balance between inner and outer growth.” Some might argue that numerous people are being forced into VS-as the unemployed might be, for instance. There is some truth to that. Nonetheless, I believe that most of us are sensing a new reality dawning in the consumptive habits of almost everyone around us.

For example, more and more people in developed countries are realizing that their lives have become so dominated by material possessions that the caring, maintenance and use of some of these possessions take too much of their time, energy and money! (i.e. ‘McMansions,’ large homes for just two or three people are going out of style.) They are also realizing that many of these products are damaging to the environment. Thus, a degree of frugality is coming to be seen by countless numbers of people as the way forward. It is important to understand though, that this VS style of living is not to be compared with an agrarian ‘back to nature’ lifestyle, nor related to material impoverishment.

The Simple Living Network states that the values underlying VS are: material simplicity, human scale, self-determination, ecological awareness, and personal growth. These personal values are often attributed to individuals of higher consciousness, and mesh well with the understanding of Enlightened Economics, which believes that with rich inner development of our minds will come the ability to fulfill our individual and collective economic aspirations.

The exact numbers of individuals abiding by the VS lifestyle, either knowingly, or unknowingly, are not known. But it is apparent that its ranks are growing fast. Evidence of this is seen in the cutting back of material consumption, increased spending on education, and a deepening interest in the environment, personal growth and spirituality.

Modern economies lose their way as happiness fades

Economics should be about assisting us in fulfilling our dreams while allowing us to enjoy great happiness and fulfillment in life. However, as practised today economics is sorely lacking in achieving such goals. In fact, when looking at measures of happiness, authoritative research by Dr. Robert Lane of Yale University, shows happiness actually declines as GDP grows! Other studies such as the one by Prof. Arthur A. Stone, of Stoney Brook University School of Medicine, demonstrate that happiness is unrelated to income.

People in developed countries everywhere are beginning to understand the deep flaws of a modern life based principally on the acquisition of material possessions. Hence, our lifestyles are increasingly favouring the nourishment of our subjective values and inner development, over outer material goods.

The coming era of voluntary simplicity

VS lifestyles encourage more entrepreneurship, independence, self-employment, the purchase and manufacture of sustainable products and services, lower debt levels, reduced consumption, and higher savings rates plus a tendency to save and pay cash for purchases. (For related reading, see my editorial on the Investing for the Soul website, Everyone Becoming A Cultural Creative.)

With society favouring qualitative and subjective values related to lifestyle, there will be considerably less emphasis on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistic. This statistic simply totals the market value of all final goods and services sold. New economic measures that include quality of life factors will become the norm. These other measures might include the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), and variants of them.

The economic transformation giving rise to voluntary simplicity

Almost nobody in the mainstream economic community predicted our present circumstances, illustrating the deplorable state of economics in our institutions today. They naively believed it was fine for debt to grow exponentially while incomes stagnated and savings crashed. And then they wondered why the consumer stopped spending and acting more frugally. It’s amazing how such brilliant minds could get it so very wrong. It was primarily only those (like myself) adhering to the ignored and maligned Austrian School of economics who largely got it right.

People in developed countries are increasingly favouring more non-material growth that is founded on higher inner values, knowledge, simplicity and sustainability. They will not abandon material joys, but the emergence of VS is telling us that long-held so-called economic ‘truths’ are shattering before us. An age of Enlightened Economics is being born.

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© Ron Robins, 2009.

Posted in Consciousness/Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

• Short-Term Thinking Created Economic Pain

Posted by Ron Robins on December 12, 2008

Short-term unbalanced thinking has gotten us economic pain. The dangers of short-term thinking in economic matters became particularly evident to me in the late 1990s. At that time I said to colleagues that if the U.S. does not change its course, it is heading towards major economic difficulties. I made that statement after studying the trends of many economic statistics, particularly those of debt accumulation and savings rates.

Illustrating the short-term thinking at its worst is the current dire situation of Detroit’s Big Three auto makers.

In 2001, I quoted Maryann Keller, a top auto industry analyst in my still unfinished book, Investing for the Soul. She said in a Forbes article that year, “[That] Chrysler, GM and Ford spent billions of dollars to buy their stock in the open market since the mid-1990s… It was always obvious that product spending [developing new autos] was being sacrificed to provide trading liquidity [ease of selling stock] for big investors while boosting earnings per share. GM, Ford and the Chrysler Group today [remember this was 2001] find themselves with growing gaps in their product portfolios as they lose market share…”

Short-termism pervades current thinking in economics, finance and business. Examples of this are everywhere. In economics, the U.S. Federal Reserve is always trying to fine-tune interest rates to effect relatively short-term changes. In finance, managers of ‘long-term’ mutual funds turnover their portfolios more than 100% a year (refer to page 18) as they are primarily evaluated on their latest quarterly results. In business, many CEOs who want to embed in their companies’ long term beneficial environmental, social and governance (ESG) actions—are handicapped by investors looking for short-term gains.

Even today, the financial bailouts are ad hoc arising from the immediate financial market chaos. However, over the next year it will become apparent that this short-term oriented government borrowing and spending binge will not solve the basic long-term problem of excessive debt. In fact, it only adds to it. Every family knows that you cannot forever borrow more than you earn and spend your way out of debt.

Soon, the U.S.A. will have to face-up to the reality that, either willingly or coerced, it will have to save more and spend less. It would be best if this could happen gradually over say, seven to ten years. That might well have been possible in the 1990s. But today though, it is unlikely as many consumers have hit the ‘debt wall.’ Unable (or unwilling) to borrow, they are reducing their spending significantly.

I believe next to hit the debt wall will be numerous businesses in the first half of 2009 followed by the possibility of the U.S. government itself, perhaps in the final six months of that year. Then a new reality will dawn in the minds of Americans and people everywhere. Their thinking will have to change.

Very few economists and financial market participants attempt to understand the connection between our thought processes and economic behaviour. Yet it is so obvious! The only permanent way out of this mess is for people everywhere to gain an inner sense of balance and well-being while developing their creativity and intelligence to earn more.

Such balanced, developed individuals will not sacrifice their longer-term material and spiritual goals for short-term gains like a drug addict needing an immediate ‘fix.’ This is the central, unacknowledged task, for individuals everywhere amidst this economic turmoil. When accepted, it will usher in an age of Enlightened Economics and bring unprecedented global affluence.

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© Ron Robins, 2008.

Posted in Economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

• Pre-Conditions for a Sustained US Economic Revival

Posted by Ron Robins on April 21, 2008

The US has achieved many periods of sustained and rapid economic growth. And it can do so again. However, as history demonstrates, a big bust results if the growth is spurred by excessive monetary and credit expansion. For the past 25 years or so the US economic expansion has followed the woefully excessive monetary and credit expansion script. The US will not be able to pull itself out of the present economic malaise without dealing with its inordinate levels of debt and ‘exponential’ credit growth.

It is rather sad when most economists and investment industry professionals do not talk about the enormity of the debt and credit expansion problem. Unfortunately, it seems these ‘experts’ are either told to shut-up, prefer to overlook the obvious, or to simply lie about it being a problem! After all, what bank economist wants to tell his bank that its customers should reduce their borrowings, and thereby reduce the bank’s lending and subsequent earnings! More than likely the bank’s stock price would plummet. There is simply no incentive for most establishment economists to be truthful and every reason for them to lie.

For the US to experience a true long-term economic revival, I believe four things need to happen.

1. US debt growth will have to about match, dollar for dollar, GDP and income growth.
Presently it takes around $6 of new debt to create $1 increase in GDP and $4.75 of new debt for every $1 increase in national income. This is bubble territory. Look at this historical chart showing the explosive growth of America’s debt in relation to its national income.

Source: Michael Hodges America’s Total Debt Report/financialsense.com

If income grows slowly while borrowing grows rapidly, eventually there is a solvency problem. That is where the US is today. If the borrowing were primarily to increase overall productive capacity – the increase in production would have created greater income to help offset massively increased borrowing. But this has not happened. Much of this bloated US debt load is concentrated in the financial, mortgage and government sectors, and for the financing of its trade deficits. The debt contraction will be particularly acute in areas related to the financial and mortgage industries and generate extraordinary difficulties for the economy at large.

2. Debt to GDP ratio has to come down by around one-third
Debt at around 350% of GDP and growing 50-100% faster than the rate of GDP growth for more than 25 years – is utterly unsustainable. Following on from point 1 above, the US is basically beginning to experience an insolvency problem. Credit availability is declining while default rates soar. As a result, it has to reduce its overall debt burden. Nations frequently resort to inflating their money supply to deal with their debt burden, as Germany did in the early 1920s and Zimbabwe is doing today. So with the significantly increased amount of money swashing around, debts not being indexed to the growth of the money supply, are more easily paid off. Present moves by the US Federal Reserve now indicate that this is the path they have chosen. According to shadowstats.com, the broadest measure of US money supply is growing at an annual rate of around 17%!

3. Personal savings rates have to move beyond 10% per annum– from around zero at present.
High growth economies have high savings rates. It is that simple. The savings go towards spurring productive capacity – rather than to consumption – and produce fast income growth. In most years between 1952 to the late 1980s, the US enjoyed a personal savings rate above 10% of income. (See this graph by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

4. The above 3 conditions have to persist.
It is no secret as to what are good, or bad, macro-economic conditions. The above are key conditions that have to be met to ensure true, long-term, high growth macro-economic performance.

Summary
The message is that the US must significantly reduce its overall debt levels, avoid building-up new debt in excess of GDP or income growth, and for individuals to start saving again. I have no-doubt that these conditions will be met. But before they are met the US is likely to experience an extended period of rolling recessions over many years. And a depression cannot be ruled out either. During this process I expect to see among Americans a transformation to higher consciousness and a growing understanding of economics and its relationship to natural law and the environment. Americans, and people everywhere, will come through this much wiser. A new global Enlightened Economics framework will be created and form the basis for improving living standards and quality of life for all in our world in the years to come.

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© Ron Robins, 2008.

Posted in Economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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