Paying for Better

It would be simplistic to attribute the Scottish Enlightenment to the Act of Union. It is not uncommon in history for people under the stress of intense change to stabilise themselves in thought of a socio-economic nature. What’s remarkable is the enduring application of that thought. One might consider that Scotland was the first place where what would become the Anglo-American tradition was tested, but it would be more accurate to say the likes of Hume and Smith were instrumental in the formation of the Anglo-American tradition as we now know it.

It is most revealing to characterise the Scottish Enlightenment as practical Calvinism. Calvin took a relatively spiritual position, abandoning the majority of sacraments and denying Papal hierarchy, yet simultaneously provided the rigorous structure and organisation required to maintain a coherent human collective. The result was to move Platonic dualism from the sphere of religion to what we now call politics, to such effect that much the same doctrine fostered both the socialism of central Europe and the individualism of North America. Calvin’s lingering cultural dominance in modern Scotland goes some way to explain why Socialist Nationalism isn’t regarded as an inherent contradiction in the country.

The distinction between right and left can be made on how we know one another, with the difference only in the start point: Right-wing individualism or left-wing collectivism. Politics is conventionally the art of building a coherent group from either notion. In practice neither notion can escape the other. The clearest example of that is found in currency: As an economy, a currency is shared across a group (nation), but is often used to form very distinctive sub-collectives. Critically these retain a reference to the parent group through the shared currency. For example, the needlessly expensive car conveys both status or familiarity (an act of communication, in Wittgensteinian terms) via direct membership of a certain elite group, and status/familiarity as balanced against those that cannot afford such a vehicle. “Personal” transport provides an excellent case study, since it transpires to be nothing of the sort.

This apparently simultaneous and contradictory desire for sameness and difference is a recurrent theme of humanity. The finest exemplars of the pattern – Spinoza and Boethius – do so in death. To solve this dilemma is to cease to be human. It is solvable, just not within the dimensions that binds us (out-with time), and thus not applicable to those involved. That we might seek to solve it is as inherent a contradiction as the one presented within the dilemma itself. As befits recurrent themes, this particular one echoes through much of this text. (The term human is used here to refer time as experienced by humans, but much the same applies to most things most humans experience. Exceptions are outside axiomatic mathematics or empirical physics, often extremes of theology or cosmology.)

Currency induces stability by reducing complexity. Fixed value tokens form otherwise inter-related decisions into neat hierarchies where everything can be translated too and from a universal token, such that all decisions can be taken using manageable, ideally comprehensible, matrices. Where one decision does actually affect another decision, this is reflected in adjustments over time to the relative value of the universal token between the two decisions. The weakness with this system is the application of time as a variable, not a constant.

As constant, time regulates (regular) humanity at the rate of change optimal for it. The direction of that change is given by hope to the good. (The conflation of time and humanity in “it” is an expression that each is the same. The bias of time to the good is closely related.) As a variable (inherent variance), time acknowledges that different individuals perceive time at differing rates (intellect, reaction), and only share time in part over gradually perpetuating generations. Such variables are regulated within the exact same contradiction outlined two paragraphs above.

The weakness of currency is thus not that these variables exist, but that the interplay of currency adjustments over time tends to emphasise the extremes, and relatively devalue the centre ground where the majority of the economy should function: Risk-based economies place a premium on those who can optimise worth at the extremes of axiomatic mathematics. (Axioms reflect the human sphere – all things that are bound by time – where an economy must remain. Incompleteness has the capability to describe dimensions out-with, and as such cannot be applied.) The paradox, or inherent counter-balance, that while such extremes are required to manage complexity, extremes are prone to social instability (inequality), reversing the initial aim of currency.

Rate of change and complexity as their interaction. Hume’s inductive logic forms the contemporary template. (Hume expressed this through objects, not events, and thus conceived a lesser complexity-in-time than his principles were subsequently applied to.) However since the limitations are human, the recurrent contradiction, a wide range of models of knowing are equally valid. Or from a modern Analytical perspective, equal in their Verisimilitude, ultimately all just as insolvable. This places payment for things not as an independent function, but integral to the political model we adopt towards one another. Such is especially poignant in the Scottish context, where the politics are likely to shift while the base currency remains firmly rooted.

Economists traditionally categorise transport as a derived demand, and implicitly focus on the economic activity the transport is supporting: Transport defaults to an enabling function, a meta-layer within the economy. Its added complexity (to the overall decision making hierarchy) is unwelcome, and tends to attract specialist optimisers – agents whose role is to simplify transport-related interactions for others. Such meta-layers are common within tertiary sectors with non-intuitive supply/value chains, sectors which tend to dominate modern economies. Traditional asset (object) based utility economics are not well suited to such sectors and economies.

A quasi-Stoic approach substitutes objects for actions, not as proxies (as in Franklin’s value of time), but by considering the entire economy as change over time. Rather than focusing on complex arrangements of objects, consider the rate of their overall change, specifically the degree of variance from the rate of change humans expect to encounter. In a simple example, by the time the negative consequences of a resource being used occur (exhaustion, pollution) an alternative (source, method) has been devised or secured: Instead of failing to understand the complex minutiae of the interaction of objects, one is concerned with the perpetuation of the process as a whole, as balanced against the expected rate of change over time.

Expectation. Optimism. Hope. We can seem as reliant on the distortion of time, as we are on the bindings of time itself. Like free will, as much as we need to maintain a sense of hope, both are rational nonsense. That is not to belittle hope – it is just as important to the perpetuation of humans as the economy of objects or actual change – hope merely defies structured analysis. The broad requirement is for a sense of the not-now to persist humanity beyond the life of any one human (at its simplest, that our time overlaps with that of our parents and children). The association of the arrow (direction) of time to a bias to the good is theological contentious (not least due to differing views on pre-destination and how the sense of time is communicated between people), but it is a common theme running through many cultures, including modern Scotland.

There are several models of “better”, all familiar to marketers, and all reliant on degrees of delusion over a range of time periods. Betterment relative to those in the same time can only be sustained by a minority, since if everyone obtained the same, each would remain unchanged relative to everyone and nothing would be achieved. The minority that succeed then need an alternative focus to maintain hope (one yacht is never enough), so the entire system is in perpetual delusion. Betterment relative to the past is inconsistent: Younger people may look to the future while at the same time older people revel in the past. In practice change over time can only be said to be different. The exceptions tend to be extreme and manufactured – such as the contrast between war and peace. The most honest model of betterment is inconsequential, set against a probable event. I hope it will be sunny tomorrow, but it doesn’t matter too much if it transpires not to be sunny, and in any event there will eventually be a sunny tomorrow.

Underlying this is the principle that one cannot hope for what is known, where known implies intimate experience (gnosis), since such knowledge is of the same time. (So much so as to cancel time out – akin to the end of rebirth, common to most Indian traditions – but also more fleetingly in the truest forms of love.) This should pose a challenge to the very notion of hope, but in practice such knowing is rarely if ever obtained, while complexity ensures at least partial ignorance of most things. That hope is substantially based in a delusion that is so easily conflated with knowing, adds a dimension of complexity. And it adds that complexity to the currency (and by extension, human) system by virtue of the same tokens being used for both the real economy and the imagined, such that many products and services straddle both at once.

The flaw is thus not that hope and actuality exist in the same economic system. That works in practice because both remain within the same human limitations (the recurrent contradiction). Rather that the rational logic that determines spending – and responsibility – within the actual economy simply doesn’t transfer to the economy of hope. The gap exists in commercial business, whose assets may be accounted for rationally, but whose product or staff may be fostered largely by hope. But it is a particular problem in the public sector, which has causal (rational, hierarchical) responsibility for delivering the aspirations (hopes) of their electorate. Only a divinely ordained ruler could deliver both.