23 January, 2012

It’s stuff that makes the world go around, not money

Flashback: first posted May 28th, 2008
“… we’re moving back to a world of stuff, whether that’s vegetable oil or copper or zinc or cotton. Stuff that you can hold in your hand and drop on your foot.”
That’s from an article in the LA Times. While that particular article looked at the renaissance of old-economy US commodity firms with the liberalisation and industrialisation of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) et al, there’s another interpretation: that the world of stuff has always been the fundamental driver of the world’s economy, and that it’s reasserting its fundamental power over the worlds of finance and services.

I define the world of stuff in a pretty broad way: everything from food, water, materials, energy and manufactured goods through to electrons (power and communications) and those services directly associated with the delivery of stuff (e.g. shops, warehouses, transport networks, utility networks). Things get a bit vague when I start looking at films and bespoke software, but you’re a smart bunch; you can live with a bit of uncertainty. (OK, not the IT guys - never any good with shades of grey).

Although finance and services are essential elements of the world’s economy, and have been ever since their invention thousands of years ago (I’ll even classify politicians as part of the world of services), they are mostly facilitators of our ability to make, sell, buy and use stuff. Yes, we do spend money and time on other things, such as education (arguably so we can achieve the means to get more stuff), entertainment, healthcare, etc., but those are afforded by someone somewhere producing stuff that others want. And when stuff isn’t being produced and purchased, the rest can go hang.

Those who look disdainfully at the world of stuff have a misguided sense of their own importance or self-righteousness. Civilised society owes its very existence to the world of stuff. Those in finance and services (including politicians) would do well to remember that connectedness.

PS. This isn’t an argument for every national or local economy to make manufacturing its cornerstone. The phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” springs to mind, but don’t mistake me for a Marxist. Each should do what it does best and buy what else it needs

1 comment:

Bigcake said...

If you include flim, music etc (and I think you should) this'll make the SOPA battle one between the stuff makers and the non-stuff makers.