An Economic Fable Explained – Part 2

By - Monday 11th November, 2013

In part two, Susan continues her exploration of an economy driven by creative value as opposed to one driven only by money

Image by Ewan Munro and used under Creative Commons license

In the first part of this economic fable I mentioned the story from my piece about gentrification, Whatever’s happening, it aint’ gentrification.

Let’s return to the story. The owner does a complete re-fit and raises the rent substantially. Well-heeled businesses move in and sell obscure things like colourless teas and cater to people who already have a lot of money (symbolised by cigar smoking). This is about the fact that the economy becomes weird when money becomes the focus. The economy starts to favour symbols that reinforce an economic apartheid rather than forms that are useful to the collective pursuit of creating value.

In the end, there are no businesses in the building; it’s just filled with owners. This means there’s no ‘doing’ going on; it’s all based on the static and uncreative state of ownership for its own sake. Down the street, there are larger businesses that support the owners and a cafe that’s been replicated all over the world. Established businesses can be formulaic and risk-averse; they have reached a state where regimentation and uniformity are part of their guiding principles. This is yet another attack upon society’s ability to create value.

The flat-owners are older folks with children. ‘Older folks’ represent an old mind, encumbered by a habit of judgement so it has a tendency to value the symbols of success, more than the energy that created the success. ‘Children’ represent a new life, but are still too young to participate in economic exchange — by the way, when they become teenagers, they’re going to find it difficult to break into economic life, because the economy tends to down-value individual participants in favour of institutions.

The economy starts to favour symbols that reinforce an economic apartheid rather than forms that are useful to the collective pursuit of creating value

In the end, the situation is dominated by establishment — businesses and people who are already financially successful. Having become successful, the emphasis is on protecting one’s capital rather than creating new value. As a result, the community drifts away from principles such as newness, ingenuity, inventiveness and experimentation.

I think the two most important lessons to read in the fable are:

  1. Society must keep going back to its ‘youthful mind’ or else it no longer creates new forms and concepts of value. Creativity must be one of the most highly-prized tools in a community’s economic tool-chest because it is the driving force behind an innovative economy. The greater we can connect our economy with our creativity, the deeper the rewards will be.
  2. The story starts out with a collective assumption that the building has no value. On its deepest level, the building represents physical reality. When the mind equates value only with money, the concept of the miracle of human life participating in physical form is lost, and that is a very, very large thing to lose. I think it is one of the root causes of violence and a host of other problems, particularly human slavery and suicide.
It is only a youthful mind that can properly use time and physical reality because it sets proper end-goals such as fun

Ultimately, the empty building illustrates the idea that humanity is not appreciating its time on earth. The focus on acquiring wealth takes its toll by shifting emphasis away from the most obvious questions around why we were born in the first place, i.e. the purpose of human life. These existential questions are still in the forefront of the youthful mind. In fact, it is only a youthful mind that can properly use time and physical reality because it sets proper end-goals such as fun, happiness, creative fulfilment, healing, mutual support, spiritual growth, community engagement, and so on.

Let’s look at another ending to the story: what if the owner didn’t price out the artists? He wouldn’t have become rich as quick, but given the right leadership, the arts community would have grown, attracting more small businesses and creative types. It would have been a community based on imagination and the whole neighbourhood would have been filled with life.

The energy created by the community would have lifted nearby neighbourhoods and the result could have been a cultural spot and tourist destination worth more than what actually resulted. The owner might have been hailed as a visionary that allowed the community to form. He would have been rewarded not just monetarily but by the good will from all parts of society.

This is the kind of economy to which we should aspire; one in which there are both physical and spiritual rewards. Because isn’t this what makes us rich?  Isn’t it life itself?

  • Susan Oliver

    I finally figured out why defining “being rich” simply by how much money one has impoverishes society. It’s because there are so many other ways of being rich!

    How many other ways can we be rich?

    Rich in: enthusiasm, health, vigour, happiness, energy, creativity, imagination, vision, community, relationships, life, love, fun, courage, thoughtfulness, soulfulness, sensitivity, compassion, awareness, understanding, wisdom, patience, curiosity, wonder, new ideas, get-up-and-go-ness, health, optimism, eccentricity, laughter, ability to forgive, music, art, freedom, friends, a job we love to do, meaning, spirit,
    innovativeness, family, outlook, gratitude, peace, adventurousness, dedication,
    tenacity, playfulness….

    Any others?

    When we focus on money, we forget about all these other things. And it’s often through these qualities that we are able to make money!

    We can’t look at the meaning of wealth without these other ways or else we reduce the full experience and the true reality of being human.

    • Anne Giles

      Very true.