Economics and The Challenge of Insecurity

Sometime ago, a friend posed this question: “Suppose a man walking down a path finds some apples and eats them to satisfy his hunger. He continues his journey for another mile and finds some more apples, and this puts him in a dilemma. The dilemma of whether to keep those apples for unseen rainy days or let it be for those behind him who might need it today, for he, has already satisfied his hunger. So what should the man do?” Today I attempt to answer this.

The ‘Insecurity Gene’

Long before time, when human beings were hunters and gatherers, they ate whatever they acquired from nature. Nature, however, was not always generous, so man became insecure and he started accumulating for rainy days. Then came ?civilized man?, mainly distinguished from the savage by forethought, or as Bertrand Russell puts it ?prudence?. Amongst many other things, this civilized man was marked by farming and living in larger clusters, than in the case of hunters and gatherers, to shield against any sort of natural mishap.

Despite the newly attained civility and prudence, however, the human gene carried the insecurity faced by his forefathers in the primeval era. This kept him living under a fear that nature will fail to provide him food as frequently as needed ? and so he overlooked the fact that united human beings can withstand any untoward natural incident which may deprive them of resources. Overtime, these tendencies bred greed, a struggle against fellow human beings and as a consequence led to a society where it was perceived that only the fittest could survive.

Greed & insecurity

Fast forward to present time, and we find this world still caught in the quagmire of greed and insecurity, despite all the technological advancement to preserve food, despite a relatively marked era of global peace, and despite the so-called more efficient concepts of local and international governance.

Greed to consume more, than what is required by our bodies, and more than what we have made our efforts for, and the insecurity to safeguard our future and that of our generations, has created an insane world of dog against dog.

Some men in history have justified this phenomenon as Nature’s inherent nature, based on the notion that the world is, by default, supposed to be in a constant state of flux. Taking a cue from several philosophical treatises on this chaotic view of life, economists have presented maximization as a norm, or ‘rational behavior’, what they like to call.

Arrogance: Skepticism of nature?s bounties

Now while these ideas may have become a norm, in my opinion, it is essentially the function of our ancient trait of skepticism over nature?s providence and the bounties it offers, which has led this world to the prevailing state of mayhem. In part this skepticism, is amplified by man’s military, or intellectual arrogance that he can manage the world independently, or through his preferred group of people ? thereby diluting the importance of society, and the cooperation that was supposed to branch out from it.

Apply causation to most contemporary problems; be it income disparity, poverty, hoarding, dumping, speculation, financial turmoil, deficits, wars, conflicts, water scarcity, global warming and so on; and one will find that somewhere down the line some person, or persons, will be invariably involved in an attempt to gobble up more than he can ever utilize ? just because he thinks that nature will not give him another chance. And by way of this thinking, man has justified cut-throat competition; created a run on resources to exhaust this planet, triggered political upheavals, and has left a climate that is almost, almost beyond repair.

Where do we go from here?

So, what do we do, and where do we go from here. Here I attempt to answer very briefly; a view each for the religious-minded, and for those who don’t specifically adhere to any concept of God.

For those who believe in God in one form or the other, the solution is in reposing the trust in God and doing away with the insecurities. The key is that, in whatever form of theism one adheres, God is the Provider and He shall make it alright. Understand, that with adequate and timely effort, man will eventually get what he wants, of course subject to the greater good as deemed fit by the Creator.

For those who view this line of thinking as too pacifist or self delusioning, here is another explanation. Life by nature, as well as by function, is ever changing. If it wasn?t changing it perhaps wouldn?t be life, it would be death. Change is life?s most inherent trait, unless of course you are a vegetable.

Change & insecurity

By way of recognizing this, one has to understand that any change, positive or negative, has an element of insecurity attached to it, like a necessary evil. You can fight it all your life, become a king of your own world, but insecurities will keep at it. Also understand, that as long as one shall live, whether in fortified or fragile economic, military, and political environments, insecurity will continue to exist, for it is the very nature of change, and change is life.

Embrace insecurity

Consequently, therefore, we will have to embrace this insecurity. Like surfers riding waves on a beach, we must appreciate the unpredictability of the sea, while being cognizant of the fact that, if one falters, others, lifeguards or fellow swimmers and surfers, will come save him. And above all, trust Nature.

This, can create a sense of cooperation and replace the rat-race-like competition that currently marks the world.

One can (and many economists will) argue that had it not been for competition, the world would not have grown this advanced. But that argument is found wanting when you take a look back and find that great works of mathematics, geometry, medicine, art & architecture science & technology and so on and so forth have been produced in great civilizations. Yes, those scientific advances were partly motivated by the desire to overcome other civilizations, but the fact is that when man became civil enough to live together in clusters, he produced works of science, and hence growth.

In recent history, the Islamic empire (dated variably between 10th and 15th century), saw scholars from a bouquet of religious and ethnic backgrounds coalesced works and ideas among themselves ? ideas that were both original as well as borrowed from farfetched civilizations in the east and west of the empire.

Likewise, the territories of Habsburgs in Europe, the courts of Chinese Ming, or even the gruesomely-painted Genghis Khan have been famous for the liberalization and exchange of ideas ? a trait that shows that cooperation has played an instrumental role in growth. The rise of America in its pre-expansionary or pre-imperialistic period also shows a similar trait, at least within the state; it shows how a country with almost no presence in the history of the world has suddenly appeared towering over others, just by ensuring a systematic coordination and cooperation of multicultural and multiethnic energetic individuals within the nation. Conversely, America?s feared fall from the top is being blamed to excessive competition, be it financial & banking, IT or in any another industry.

Breeding chaos

So yes, the idea is do away with insecurity because an economic system breeding on insecurity will breed further chaos and create a further run on resources, like a bank facing a run on its counters. If trust on Mother Nature is gone, so will be its bounties. But then again, the question is who is going to drive this social change. The age of prophets is certainly over, and has been replaced by the age of The Worldly Philosophers. Surely, meeting this thought-challenge is the biggest test of today’s leaders.

We request you, do not fail us.

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Author Information

Sohaib Jamali is a financial journalist from Karachi.

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