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Thursday, May 5, 2011

economic atheism

Terminator seeds are seeds that give a high yield due to being modified in the lab, however since the company that makes them is in the business of selling seeds they are genetically modified so that the plants that sprout don't grow seeds and the farmer has to go back to buy them. In Europe they can now make sugar in the lab, a refined process that needs no sugar cane to be grown, crushed and filtered. The sugar is of higher quality, cheaper, and much more efficient. A lot of pharmaceutical breakthroughs are coming from plants found in Africa and processed in the west. In fact a lot of what is done is that scientists ask traditional healers to provide them with herbs that work, the scientists then set to work extracting the active ingredient. When the healers ask for a share they are politely told that the active ingredient is such a small percentage that their help is negligible or at best the spoils they will get are minimal. Anyway what is their claim? This is not their knowledge there is no novelty or inventive step on their part, 2 things integral to patents.

I believe in the free market. I don't know why but that is my chosen denomination in the religion of economics, the god of supply and demand that evens all out, the true great equaliser. I have always believed that you should put it to the market and let it decide, as long as its free. The oil prices we suffer in Kenya are a cartel, they force demand to go up and make prices artificial so I have no problem with calls for their regulation. But when I watch the news all I see is politics and misery, that's all they bring and am not talking about CNN and the western channels that everyone says portray Africa as a hand basket awaiting a handout. No, look at the local channels. You would think that all that happens in Kenya is the ramblings of a few politicians that are rarely wise or original, then some people rape children left in their care or old women, sometimes they are caught and stoned. Then the stocks go up, the stocks go down, Manchester united plays arsenal, and there is a slight chance of showers. This is news this is what comes without a fail at 9 pm every day. So I don't watch it. I just don't it's depressing, I learn nothing new plus this is a free market, I don't like what they supply so I don't demand it. Am tired of all the people who say they don't like news being only about all the above yet they still watch it faithfully. That's called perpetuating the problem. The media will respond to market forces, if enough people stop watching news they will change the content but that's not going to happen, because a disproportionate number of people love to see politics and wallow in the misery of all the rest, their lives stop when Manchester and Arsenal are playing and as I was reminded yesterday they don't even have to be playing each other. So am not angry at the media, that would be blasphemy against the god of supply and demand. They are responding to market forces pure and simple. And I believe in the free market.

However this same way of thinking tells me to have no problem with terminator seeds because those guys developed them and they should be rewarded for their labour. But these same mechanism is bankrupting the African farmer. The free market tells me that the most efficient way of producing sugar is the best and if we can't cope we should get out of the sugar making industry. It tells me that those scientists who are ripping off the cultural heritage of our ancestors are right, I tell myself they don't give any money to the family or the students of the guy who invented penicillin unless those people prove themselves. In a free market it becomes easy to commoditise humanity to make us only worth as much as we can produce and no more. But I feel guilty about those thoughts. My brain leads me to the well but my conscience won't let me drink the water. I don't know why. I have been free market for a long time. But I can see it's not working. The world produces enough food to feed itself yet there are children starving, millions and millions, I hate thinking about that fact.

Of all the abominations mentioned in religion there should be one about obesity and starvation being 2 of the biggest killers in the world at the same time. But this is what the free market gives me and us. A world of contradictions, where the cost of buying is selling ourselves and even then not everyone makes it. Everything in my brain tells me that if the sugar is made better elsewhere and cheaper this is better for the whole world. The consumers can afford more of it, the guys who used to grow it can grow something else and there's more food for everyone in the simplest economic terms this is how it should work but my experience with the world tells me it won't. They will make the sugar and we won't afford to buy it. Which should be OK since we still have our own guys making sugar but this guy lives off exports and since this is off the shelf he does not make any money. His land may not be suitable for any other agricultural activity and growing a new crop takes time. Some of them have yield time of a couple of years, what does he do in the mean time. Live off the interests of the loan he took with his farm as security? Then suddenly Kenya has no foreign exchange and we can't afford to buy anything. No even processed sugar. gods always have an evil, that of the free market demands sacrifice, nothing given for free. If you have nothing to trade you will have nothing. And now we can't even trade sugar. So we stir salt tears into our tea. But how long before they can genetically modify tea in a lab?

The free market has brought us a lot. It has created peace more than any other religion, except of course for the fact that some people profit from war so like all true religions millions have senselessly died in its service. I guess am having a crisis of faith, an economic crisis of faith. I don't see any other way the world could run, I don't think there can be, but there are too many holes and I don't want to stay up late at night and ask yet another god why children are starving to death, or why a dollar a day feels like a windfall for some families. The fact that we can feed the whole world means these are problems of our own creating. There is no eternal force determined to make life hell, there is just us and our greed and laziness. Innovation is rewarded but this means you should stand on the shoulders of giants. If you can't innovate hope you live in a country with a rich government and a good welfare system. But our giants are not tall enough and our whole continent needs a welfare system. “a scar on the conscience of the world.” is how Africa was once described.

I don't have any answers to the question why the free market is not working for the world. I have at best a rudimentary knowledge of economics but am beginning to lose faith. I know that economic atheism is around the corner and I don't want to feel that lost. But I have no idea how not to. For the last 2 days the traffic has been impossible because there is no fuel in the petrol stations and everyone who owns a car has been lining up for what's left. Then I heard that this is not a real shortage but an artificial one, the government tried to impose price control and they responded by hoarding the stocks. After a few days of people queuing for hours for petrol they will be ok with forking over whatever prices the oil companies ask for petrol. I think this kind of cartels are the golden calf that god struck down. And I wish everyone would leave their cars at home and use matatus for a couple of days, but I never learned how to ride a horse, or how to beg for that matter. Now am closer to economic atheism than I was before, but that's life isn't it.