Much is made of the science of economics by folks who spend their whole lives in serious study of the vagaries of local economies. Basic “laws” that would be called theories in the real world of scientific study are promoted as if they are absolutes. The “law” of supply and demand, for example, is said to dictate the price of goods in an open marketplace, unless the “law” of inelasticity is superimposed, in which case, the first law may be less a law and more a factor.
In the real world of science, immutable laws can be deduced from experiments and observation. Of course, they aren’t called laws for the most part, but are instead referred to as “theories,” since they are always theoretically subject to contradiction by more deduction (from more experimentation and observation). But in actuality the theories of real science are far more absolute than the laws of economics.
Economics is a behavioral science. As such, it studies the way human behavior affects the flow of money and the acquisition of wealth. But all behavioral sciences are subject to the vagaries of human behavior, which are problematic at best, as anyone who has studied his or her own behavior, even in passing fashion, can attest. In a word, humans are fickle. They like what they like until the don’t like it, at which point they act as if they never liked it or always hated it, not even recalling that just five minutes ago they professed their love for it. And the “it” in that last sentence could be anything or anyone, which is why trying to predict how groups of individuals will react to ever-changing forces, such as supply and demand, becomes, well, unscientific.
Still, we want to understand and predict how economies can be made more functional, and so the “laws” are relied upon in making decisions that might affect those economies. Or at least they would be in a world free of ideologies. But, of course, being humans, we cannot deny our penchant to have opinions on how things should be, and so we ignore the “laws” when they don’t suit our ideological perspectives and rely on conflicting “laws” when doing so furthers those ideological perspectives.
In the earliest hunter-gatherer societies, ideologies were pretty simple. They all revolved around the need to survive. Thus, everyone in the small villages that consisted of groups with similar ethnicities (diversity was not even a word, let alone a goal) strove, each in their own way, to find food or to do the other things necessary to stay alive. Those who couldn’t hunt gathered. Those who could do neither found other ways to support the common goal of survival. Perhaps they prepared the meals or cared for the young and the sick or scared off wild animals or kept the fires burning. Everyone, in other words, found a way to help the community, and everyone in it, survive.
At some point, however, hunting and gathering got easier, and some individuals in the community became thinkers and artists and writers. Others began to make things, things that might be desired by other members of the community. And as these non-hunter/gatherers developed their own identities, the members of their village either agreed that they should be valued for what they contributed or rejected for not working for the common goal of survival.
And then, too, as means of travel were developed, one village would discover other lands and other villages, some of which offered other assets than their village had. Some of those foreign villages were amenable to trading assets; others were resistant. Thus did money and militaries become meaningful, money as the medium of exchange for trading assets and militaries as the means of conquering those villages that were resistant to trading them (or as the means of defending from the marauding villages).
As further advances developed, those early villages became more complex and more diverse in their needs and interests. Money, itself bereft of intrinsic value, now became valuable for what it could bring to the community or to those members of the community who had it. And military might, as a means of defending the village or otherwise advancing the village’s interests, became a valued component of a viable community, one that required economic support, with increased value accorded to those who served in military capacities.
At some point as these “advances” occurred, greed became a recognized human trait. The desire to have more may have been part of the earliest understanding that those early thinkers attained. Or maybe it was just a natural outgrowth of the realization that surviving could take place on many levels of subsistence. Some folks would only be fed enough to survive while others could actually have feasts on occasion.
And so, an individual’s worth became measurable by what he or she produced or was otherwise worth to the village. And those who produced more and especially those who produced more desirable commodities, as well as those who were for other reasons more valued, got more in return, while those who produced less or were otherwise less valued were given less in return.
In some of these early developing communities, the needs of the less fortunate were noted and those individuals were provided for in some measure. In others, they were not noticed or were not considered worthy of special attention. Perhaps the earliest ideologies formed from these pre-societal attitudes.
The foregoing historical review is undeniably simplistic, but it does speak to the development of economics as a behavioral science, even as it suggests the difficulty of developing any real “laws” that govern it. Fast forward some ten thousand years from those earliest hunter-gatherer villages and you have the economic reality of today, wherein societies superimpose their collective ideological judgments on the basic “laws” that would otherwise control the local economies of a given society.
Viewed in this light, politics can only be seen as an attempt to impose ideologies for the benefit of one or another of the groups that comprise the society. Should the economy provide the greatest support for those who produce the most or for those who need the most? Should it provide the greatest benefits for those who work the hardest or for those who are the most fortuitous (by accident of birth or by good luck in the investments they make)? Or should it leave everything to chance, so that those who suffer from uncontrollable “acts of God” are left to their own devices while those who escape such misfortune reap the benefits of that happenstance?
There are no scientifically right or wrong answers to these questions. And the morality that controls the answers will be as subjective as the human intellect is at contemplating the subject in the first place.
In the end, it isn’t a matter of whether we live in a village. Rather, it’s what kind of a village we want to live in.