Posted tagged ‘economic history’


September 12, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Good afternoon!

At this moment, I’m sipping coffee contained in a pack that is sold for worth P130, or $3.00. The pack is one of the domestic brands of brewed coffee blends, ready for the drip coffee maker, of the Arabica and/or Robusta varieties. In economic parlance, this coffee is a commodity because (a) it was intended for exchange and not for the coffee producer’s consumption alone, and (b) money was used to acquire (purchase) it.

I have such deep fondness for coffee, as I acquired my coffee-drinking behavior as a childhood habit yet. In my hometown of Tuguegarao (city), Cagayan province (North Philippines), coffee beans were grounded into powder form and sold right inside the ‘wet’ market, was brewed using the local decoction techniques, and was consumed by people of all ages from pre-school to senior’s age. That was then, and that was how I learned to drink this beverage at age 5 more or less. I was hooked to the habit since then, even as I continued to drink milk that I still do till now. Both coffee and milk are among my health formulas, and both are commodities.

The question I’m asking now is, will commodity-based economics survive the times ahead? Both coffee and milk will survive for sure, but will the money economy that underpins them survive as well? As to the broader world system of capitalism, will it survive too or is it in fact on its death knell today?

Capitalism was the last of the world systems that embodied the ‘money economy’ to which it properly belongs. With the opening of the 20th century, the socialist world system appeared on the social landscape and attempted to serve as an alternative to capitalism, but this experienced its early demise as its implementers found out that it cannot be sustained after all. Both capitalism and socialism are embodiments of the ‘money economy’ as it later turned out to be, they are just but two sides of the same coin: the ‘money economy’.

Socialism is gone, and no matter what attempts there may arrive to survive it in some other forms, this variant of the ‘money economy’ is gone. Now capitalism is all alone, and it is getting more real than virtual that it too is bound to crash a catastrophic end, and with its demise, the “last of the (economic) Mojicans” is bound to disappear (my apologies to Mojicans if my note sounds ethnically incorrect). And with capitalism’s demise, the whole of the ‘money economy’ folds up like unto a book that had reached its last chapter, and deserves more to be consigned to the archives of history.

The Frankfurt school thinkers, notably Jurgen Habermas, cogitated that capitalism’s life span was extended somehow, and was dubbed as ‘late’ capitalism in this last phase of the world system. In this phase, state planning and interventionism were infused into the system to extend its life. Before ‘late’ capital came the mercantile, free enterprise, and monopoly phases of this world system. Will there be another phase to capitalism after ‘late’ capital?

Before I answer that extension of life span, let me stress that ‘late’ capitalism shall end in the following process and manner:

·        The re-introduction of liberalization—of free market and free trade principles—into ‘late’ capital shifted engagements away from production, the real foundation of the economy, to the sphere of predatory finance, thus producing the gargantuan ‘bubble economy’. The ‘physical economy’ of production transmogrified into the ‘virtual economy’ that produces no real value other than imaginary or delusional values. It is ‘mad economics’ in operation, no longer the ‘rational economics’ of mercantilists, classicists and neo-classicists.


·        The ‘mad economics’ led to the yawning gap between actually produced values and the aggregates of financial derivatives and debts combined, to the extent that the former shrinks at a rapid rate relative to the latter. As bubbles burst from one commodity sector to another, leading eventually to a crisis of gargantuan proportion, all the more will production shrink, unable to produce values that can input into the demand functions for fresh money to pay for aggregate credits, primary debts, secondary debt obligations, and so on.


·        The crisis will then move on to the further shrinking of production, tightening of credit sources, and hyperinflationary situation in utilities (notably gas & power), food, base metals and other vital commodities. Total economic collapse results from the foregoing.


·        The economic then leads to social unrests, turmoil, upheavals, civil wars, food wars, water wars, and possibly intercontinental wars such as another 3rd world war. The clash of world powers and their surrogate emerging markets will become the flames of a possible long war akin to the 30 Years War (c.1618-48).  

Let me now end at that instance. Suffice me to proclaim that the death knell of ‘late’ capitalism and the whole of the ‘money economy’ of the last 2000 years or so are ending. The ‘non-cognitive economics’ of the Roman to feudal era, the ‘rational economics’ of the Renaissance to monopoly capital era, and the ‘mad economics’ of ‘late’ capital were markedly the underpinning mediation processes of that entire 2000-year epoch. The epoch and its last phase of capitalism is rapidly drawing to a close.

[Writ 22 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila.]  


September 10, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Magandang umaga! Good morning from Manila!

As one can see in the title, Adam Smith’s ideas about political economy were unoriginal or copycat. So I’m going to articulate some notes about the matter. This may come as a shocker to the devotees of Smith and fanatical ideologues of liberal or free market capitalism, but it had to be accepted. This is a matter of fact, not of speculation or libel.

This note is not intended to demean Smith nor to denigrate those whose actions are copycat, far from it. Doing copycat items is among the pathways to success, this lesson is greatly stressed most specially among marketing professionals. If one cannot succeed through innovative or original ideas and practices, then take the ‘copycat way’. Network marketing had already perfected the ‘copycat way’ in fact, by way of optimizing the principle of duplication  (duplicate those presentation lines and themes before your niche customers or clients).

There are people who have this wrong notion that Smith invented liberal capitalism, and this has to be corrected. A simple knowledge of economic history will do. Having taught economic history at the Philippine’s premier university (U. Philippines) for some time, I know as a matter of fact that couples of influential writers emerged in the theoretic domain—who were focused on economic questions—before Smith appeared in the social landscape. Smith appeared when physiocracy, to which Smith properly belongs, was already making waves in France through the works of such gentlemen as Quesnay and Mirabeau.

But as one can see, Smith was a Scot, of the British Isle, and right in his own backyard there were couples of gentlemen too who wrote voluminously on the subject of political economy, from a vantage point that was already departing from the mercantilism of the previous couple of centuries. The departure concerned the sources of wealth, where the same thinkers opined that the ‘sphere of production’ had to be emphasized more than the ‘sphere of exchange’ which the mercantilists, notably Thomas Mun, discoursed on.

Some representative thinkers who preceded Smith were the following:

·        Sir William Petty (1623-87): Considered the founder of political economy. A charter member of the Royal Society.


·        John Locke, Sir Dudley North, David Hume, David Hume: Further propounded on basic principles of political economy. E.g. rent, trade, role of government.


·        Richard Cantillon: His book Essai sur la nature du commerce en general (1755) was “the most systematic statement of economic principles” (E. Roll, A History of Economic Thought).


·        Sir James Steuart: Wrote the voluminous Principles of Political Economy (1767), which was among the first textbooks in economics of that time.


·        Honore Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau: Enlightenment thinker, involved with the French revolution, a political moderate who opined that modernizing France better follow the US model of industrialization path. He influenced many younger physiocrates.


·        Francois Quesnay: Formally a fellow of the ‘economistes’ or ‘physiocrates’, was known for his popularization of the ‘tableau economique’ (economic table, title of his book), bringing political economy closer to empirical science.


·        Jean C.M.V. de Gournay: Another eminent fellow of the ‘physiocrates’, who collaborated with Quesnay in advancing principles of political economy.


·        Nicolas Baudeau : Wrote Introduction a la philosophie économique (1771).


·        G. F. Le Trosne: wrote De l’ordre social (1777).


·        André Morellet:  “ best known by his controversy with Galiani on the freedom of the grain trade during the Flour War” (quoted from Wikipedia).


·        Mercier Larivière and Dupont de Nemours: Also eminent members of the ‘physiocrates’.

Smith actually lived in Paris during his youthful heydays, where he stayed with the equally youthful Duke of Buccleuch circa 1764-1766. The Parisian exposure was Smith’s way of baptism into the illustrious physiocrats’ thought streams, and the rest was history.

So to my fellows in the professional world and this planet who continue to churn thoughts that Smith was the ‘originator of capitalism’, please rethink your opinions. Historical facts do not the least substantiate your thesis. Rather, what is right is that Smith brought political economy even closer to empirical science than ever, and his Wealth of Nations was a monumental effort during his time to construct a text book on the subject that was considerably a scientific material more than philosophy (ethics, metaphysics) though Smith still wrote philosophical treatises within the ambit of the methods of philosophy.

I need not belabor the point that Smith didn’t invent empiricism. Just by reflecting on the names above, one can see the names of giant figures in British empiricism (e.g Hume, Locke), who themselves took off from intellectual giants that preceded them (e.g. Francis Bacon).

So, please disabuse yourselves of Smith as ‘originator’ of anything. He never even boasted of originating anything at all. Rather, he systematized thought constructs that were already prevalent during his heyday. The purposes of his economic doctrines were already explained in some other articles writ by me.

[22 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila.]  


September 9, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

To continue on the theme of laissez faire, a doctrine started by the French physiocrats and systematized further by the Scots, let it be known that the principle of ‘free trade’ generated by physiocracy was largely a doctrinal defense of slave trade. [Physiocrats were philosophers who focused on economic problems, while philosophes who focused on political, ethical, and epistemological problems.]  

I already elaborated in a previous briefer that Adam Smith was an ‘intellectual prostitute’ whose services were procured by the British East India Company, precisely for the purpose of crafting in theoretical form the ‘free trade’ doctrine that was to justify, though subtly, the slave trade of that historic juncture. I gained the information about this rather shady background of Smith from a fellow political economist, Butch Valdez, a Fellow in the defunct Independent Review circle of 1990s Manila.

The physiocrats were already quite sophisticated in their modeling of economic reality then existing, and from out of that physiocratic subculture emerged Adam Smith whose synthesis of the existing doctrines of his time produced the Wealth of Nations. In the same book and related philosophical writings, Smith discoursed both on micro and macroeconomics, explaining in physiocratic terms the source of national income (termed ‘wealth’ at that time) from out of domestic engagements by landlords, capitalists and laborers, as well as international operations notably those accruing from overseas colonies’ operations.

It was from the latter that David Ricardo, disciple of Smith, took off to articulate the principle of ‘comparative advantage’. In the writings of Ricardo, the discipline of political economy moved much closer to empirical science, a feat that I myself had come to admire. David Ricardo was hardly any ‘intellectual prostitute’ to reckon with, but rather was he a financier who engaged in the evolving bourse and speculative pursuits of his own time. But slave trade was very much alive during his time, and there could be no doubt on his part that his theory of international trade served in no small measure to justify the conduct of slave trade.

In my youth yet did I come to learn, from the likes of Alejandro ‘Ding’ Lichauco, a Harvard-schooled economist and corporate executive, that free trade couldn’t be enforced without imperialism. It was a perfect income-generating strategy for Britain particularly since this world power had an entire empire to manage. Absent that Empire, and free trade will collapse. (Ding Lichauco was later a leading Fellow of the Independent Review in the 1990s.)

However, it was only much later that I was able to connect free trade directly to slave trade practices, thanks to my Fellows in the Independent Review, notably Butch Valdez. Slave traders were legion around the years 1700-1850, or up to the decade preceding the US Civil War and China’s Taiping Rebellion, and at one time British traders alone owned over 20,000 ships plying the oceans to market African slaves. Within America, Portugal and Spain both engaged in the same trade, though including Indians aside from Blacks, often with the blessings of the Vatican. It was huge bucks, this slave trade, more so that the bourses began to factor slave availability and chattel quality in the valuation of certain cash crops, which then factored in the valuation of main stock trading articles and nascent insurance forms.

The very same slave traders had in their employ not only those early stock traders in London and elsewhere, but also lobby groups and journalists whose tasks included bribing legislators and bureaucrats to keep them blind about the noxious trading of human chattel. There was no way that slave trade could survive in a policy environment of high regulation, more so in a context of ‘activist state’ intervening so heavily in investment areas (dirigist development).

It was only in a state with least regulations did slave trade flourish, the only regulations it seems coming from God Almighty (who would punish the traders for their sins post mortem). But even God Almighty had a long-drawn policy of non-interventionism in the physical plane, a laissez faire attitude that favored the physiocrats and their notorious slave trader sponsors. As far as Earth was concerned, it was the oligarchs who are gods till now, and so they define which doctrine to advance at every turn of epochs, historic periods and cyclical episodes.

Since the slave traders then had to reckon with powerful mercantilist doctrinaires such as Colbert, whose writings influenced France’s intellectual and governance circles and US’ policy makers notably A. Hamilton, there was no way that slave trade would fail to catch the eyes of politicians and libertarian groups, and before long the same trading ‘best practices’ would be criminalized as malpractices. The same mercantilist policy makers, who were dirigists and regulationists, swarmed the Kings’ courts everywhere, who didn’t mince words in attacking slave trade and slandering the traders before the nobles and mediocre bureaucrats (who always needed some godfather thinkers as mentor-guides for their actions).  

That was why physiocracy failed to gain foothold in its own home ground of France, and had to be exported to the neighboring British Isle where it obtained further fertilization. Finally, upon the further expansion of the British Empire, physiocracy caught the eyes of the nobles, politicians and bureaucrats. At that moment of convergence of interests for laissez faire, Smith was already ripe for the picking, via the British East India Company, whose satisfactory work was vigorously propagandized by the coteries of doctrinal converts.

Smith gained not only fame but also great following, and among his followers emerged David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus. The works of Smith and his contemporaries, five to seven decades later, inspired another coterie of philosophers, the Classical Evolutionists (Darwin, Spencer, Morgan, Tylor, Frazer, etc), whose theories of ‘natural selection’ (Darwin’s) and/or ‘survival of the fittest’ (Spencer’s) were defended via the physiocratic principles of scarcity and competition.

With a fairly equal number of free market-free trade theorists at hand, promoted in public and private circles by an emerging financier class that was awash with money and enjoyed wide social networks among the elites, free trade came to challenge and demolish mercantilist doctrines in shock waves of mighty discourses. Needless to say, for a certain period, the slave traders celebrated to the highest heavens their shallow victory for seeing their candidate doctrine ascend the intellectual pinnacle, their intoxication behooving them into believing perhaps that they were Gods of Olympus, a deluded image inherited by their financier pedigrees of today.  

That was then. Till slavery in its old form eroded. Free trade declined at the inception of the 20th century, but was later revived by the Chicago school and its adherents. Are we then ready to slide back into another round of slavery? What would be the forms of slavery this time, if the old form refuses justification and public acceptance? Isn’t the trading of human labor overseas a mere disguise for slave labor? Isn’t the privatization of jails—currently being experimented in the USA—an undisguised slavery as the prisoners will be considered chattel of Big Business, the same corporate groups that fund the purses of ‘corporate social responsibility’?

I’d end this piece right here. A pleasant day to everyone.

[21 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila.]