Olympics and GDP fun facts– Of the 11,090 athletes competing in 339 events, the US has sent the most athletes (657); followed by Japan (615); and China (406). Many or the reporting I have seen on the first page of Google™ using simple search queries, tries to account for the ratio of medals-to-event as all medals rather than just 1st place, and few have included the ratio of athletes-per-country. It stands to reason that the country who overwhelmingly sends the most trained athletes across all events will win a medal.
This is the problem. It’s like GDP. The US is so desperate to be seen as the winner that they will change the accounting rules across a very wide media spectrum to assert that very image. When asking the simple question of what country won the most events at the Olympics, the simple answer is China. Similarly, what country has the highest GDP? In terms of PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), which is really the most fair way to measure a country’s economic output in relation to its currency (as it does not include barriers/access to trade and other costs that can significantly offset national accounting measurement), China has been ahead of the US for years now.
But just as with the medal count, the US and its cooperating institutions will rely on GDP being measured in “nominal” figures, which essentially accounts for its access to international goods. As long as the dollar remains the international trade currency, it will always have greater access to global goods. Similarly, as long as the US sends the most athletes to international events, they will win the most medals.
What the Olympic medal count really speaks to is not simply a nationalist or race/gender-based construct, but to an economic one. What we should be asking is what countries invest in programs designed for athletic exceptionalism. The larger economies are all heavily invested in athletic programs, and clearly there is a correlation in national spending with international sports and medal counts. What these Olympics should remind us of is that this is not simply what country produces better athletes, this is a competition over what kind of economy invests winning resources into training facilities and methodologies: public government support vs. private or corporate sponsorships.
In Mircea Eliade’s “Myth of the Eternal Return,” he describes a “terror of history” that at face value, exposes the difficulties of historicism as a cyclical series of repeated events that overflows with “evil,” with warfare, injustice, sufferings and annihilations. How do we contain the endless examples of violence and campaigns of terror, genocide, slavery, theft, fraud, exclusion and the ongoing dispossession of people from their land and resources? We would have had to be left out from the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason if we are to believe that the cycle of dispossession and abuse is part of a sacred natural cycle. How then are we to believe that laws and regulations that seek to compensate or criminalize abuses we discern as evil or unjust are controversial, unless there is embodied within the system a perverse notion of justice that privileges the accumulation of wealth and power.
While Eliade is often associated with his support for fascist or nationalist campaigns, his analysis over the sacred and the profane draws into question the very contradictions of whether we approach history as a system predetermined by cyclical cultural narratives or as a linear series of events. In his study, what Eliade does in his conclusion is tricky. As the rational solution for transcending the cycles of history, he introduces the Hegelian dialectic, the linear progression of thought and action promoting an ever forward advancing discourse of history. He then follows that up by expressing the spirit of the dialectic with the practical application of Marx’s program of historical materialism, anchoring the dialectic down to the practical conditions of labor, wages and the social sciences. Then, strangely, commensurate with his support of fascism, Eliade undermines the practicality of this logic by aligning Marx’s application as “militant,” as if the promotion of faith were an innocently benign program in the history of colonization and systemic inequality.
What Eliade refers to as the terror of history, is an existential trap that seeks to locate our will within the confines of the archetypes and repetition of primitive humanity. How we emancipate from that history, he concludes, “is through faith,” and that through faith, “everything is possible for man.” What is challenging about this program, is that we are already seeing the terror of history impose itself onto a world that is currently confronting its extinction. This existential trap can, on the one hand be viewed as a Thucydides Trap between China and the United States, where many in the west are pursuing campaigns for war as if it were already an inevitable conclusion for challenging the post-Cold War hegemony.
Simultaneously, reversing climate change is something that cannot be postponed and the primary reason that we remain stuck in this terror of history, in this multi-fisted assault against peace, is that there are forces that are invested in economic power that reject peace and reconciliation and seek to pursue the ongoing hegemony, despite all the evidence that squarely locates the cause of our global disenfranchisement on unfair economic practice.
Emancipating us from this terror of history requires us to understand what is most critical of history, and that is the perpetuation of systems that enforces conditions of racism, colonialism and slavery, and justifies genocides and ecological degradation. If the context of reparations is to provide for justice, to equalize the impacts of our so-called evil, we should approach our relationship with time and history towards the practical matters that govern family, property, political, moral, judicial, economic and environmental organization.
An accounting of restoration, much like an economics of history is only as tangible as how we value justice. This value is necessary if we are to stop the cycles of systemic violence that spiral with repetition through history as if it were an inevitable occurrence of anthropomorphic will. Restoration, as with reparation, restitution, or repatriation is not simply an acknowledgement of claimant’s rights for return or compensation, it is a recognition that if we are to heal our planet, relationships and interactions and move forward with peace, justice and reconciliation, we must acknowledge that the terror of history is a dark shroud that perpetuates systemic cycles of violence.
It is not enough to say, for example, that monetary compensation for seizures guided by the applications of misguided law is enough to reconcile generations of abuse, exclusion or land and resource theft. After all, the issue around systemic transgressions may not simply be resolved by individual arbitration claims, but rather by a restoring of rights and claims. One of the problems, however, is legal jurisdiction and simply deciding what law to interpret, what court, and what compensation may be insufficient for ending systemic bad behavior.
For a country like the United States, for example, whose evolution cannot be separated from genocide, slavery and dispossession, acknowledging this history does little for ending policies that perpetuate systemic racism, class struggle or gender inequality. Some of President Biden’s recent Executive Orders addresses this very issue by promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workplace and has already addressed the advancement of racial equity by supporting underserved communities in the Federal Workforce.
While the Federal Workforce only accounts for about 2 million people—or about 1.25% of the total workforce, the Executive Orders are at least an acknowledgement of the systemic failure of present-day Capitalism, and the abuses of liberalization in our trade, tax, and investment policies.
The admission of wrongdoing is simply a first step in restoring a pathway to dignity and justice. But even with an admission of guilt, there are far too many who continue to believe in the agency of power as being the justifiable motivation for perpetuating bad behavior. We must, as a matter of practical concern, regulate the bad behavior of ideologies that perpetuate the fiction of the Social Darwinist’s “survival of the fittest” trope, when its opposite—”mutual aid”—is the verisimilitude of our natural interactions, and the greater natural law.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital and Ideology reminds us exactly why, for example, the assault by conservatives in the United States wants to ban Critical Race Theory from the public school curriculum. Confronted by the extreme inequality of our present economic system, Piketty has provided us with the most inconvenient truth, which is that the dominant economic system is the inheritor of “slave societies”, of “colonial societies”, of “ownership societies.” If we are ever to move beyond the crisis of gross inequality, we need to rethink global economic strategies, beyond 20th century monikers that reinforce Cold War thinking. Such strategies are not only possible but should be the foundation for all decision making criteria. Additionally, the rubric against the promotion of implementing systemic change, is not a lack of Public Will, they are enforced. barriers like law, international treaties and a taxation system that does not allow for just and equitable redistributive wealth.
In practical terms, an economy of history and an accounting of reparations are intangible targets that may seem impossible to quantify in the context and otherwise disparate history of justice issues, particularly since except for some paltry examples for systemic compensation, history is bereft of systemic reparation schemes.
Addressing this lack of reparations– whether human or ecological– is there an approach by which quantitative indicators could be used to end the terror of history, the repetition of failed systems?
The very first principle to look at is economic. What kind of economic practice can we devise if the very foundation of our economic principles are predicated upon lies? When lie stacked upon greed, buried beneath deceit, motivated by guile, hurled upon coercion, is neither commensurate with the discipline and rigor of science and philosophy, it is still a fictive conceit.
That the discipline of economics should rest so heavily on Malthus and Darwin and the faulty principles behind natural selection should give pause to anyone continuing to vouch the virtues of Free Market Capitalism. However, global societies have become so entrenched in this system that resolving this could itself be an extinction scenario. What is evident is that we need a transitional scheme that will minimize global disruption, and the way to achieve that is by adopting a new ecological accounting framework that is focused on mutual aid and development. When the United Nations adopted ecosystem accounts into the National Accounting System, they took the first leap. Now the question is what should this equation look like.
The intemerate equation is that nugget. It may not be the only tangible nugget that may be adopted, but it is a starting point by which we can use ecological accounts to repair the terror of history.
China does not have a One Bank One Index economic-ecological accounting scheme to complement its One Belt One Road infrastructure and development plan, but it should since it is well-poised to be the leader in infrastructure and debt financing for the Global South.
However, to say that a One Bank One Index (OBOI) accounting scheme does not exist is simply another way to unveil strategies for an ecological post-pandemic economy that could potentially fill a vacuum caused by a series of economic downturns that began with the Wall Street collapse in 2008 and culminated into the miasma of our global pandemic economy.
China’s leadership in the implementation of the Paris Agreement, SDGs (esp. poverty reduction) would be confirmed and enhanced by supporting an economic-ecological index.
The recent G7 summit and Biden’s Build Back Better World (B3W) suggests that the Western economies will seek to push forward an aggressive model for ecological accounting and this is not likely to bode well for the Global South. We need to explore more equitable accounting schemes to address the problem of global leadership, national/regional development, and sustainable local and rural livelihoods. China, who retains its position of solidarity with the Global South, is well-positioned to be the normative source of economic value and infrastructure financing that should be considered dominant.
When the UN Statistical Division announced their revision to the GDP System of National Accounts last March, the framework may have lacked specificity as to how accounts would be treated, but the language is clear: national accounting systems will no longer “be heedlessly allowing environmental destruction and degradation to be considered economic progress.”
Taken at face value, there is a lot to celebrate with that expression. But considering that most of the proposals for natural accounting systems were devised by institutions in the advanced economies with little participation from the South, indigenous or other impacted peoples, it is difficult to see environmental accounting as a truly global initiative.
Those in ecosystem financing are mostly aware of controversies with Cap and Trade, or the exclusionary policies of Big Conservation where large swaths of blue/green spaces of oceans and forests would be managed and accounted for by the large economies using technologies from Dept of Defense sub-contractors. Yet, apart from a few critical minds, there remains little in the way of addressing these flaws.
Much of the logic behind the adoption of these conservation enclosures is simply the urgency of something needing to be done, and since Western interests continue to paint China as a bogeyman across all sectors, it would appear that if there is nothing better on the horizon, then the global initiative is to pursue the hegemonic enclosure with all its flaws intact.
The China-led One Belt One Road is operationally an infrastructure and development initiative, delivering the Global South new access and opportunity in trade of goods and services. While it does bring advantages to China, it does not accomplish this through privatization regimes, enclosures, destabilization of democratic governments, or economic rights abuses that it is often accused of.
What is factual, is that without interference, the Belt and Road Initiative has the technological and institutional structure that would support countries and regions to participate in a much more viable market without being compromised by the neoliberal financialization and militarization of containment, obstruction and destabilization.
When we trace the evolution of the UN SEEA for example, beginning in the 1990s, textual language marks the evidence of how institutions shifted from “degradation and depletion” to corporatization and private investment. This arrangement was not simply that of a practical matter, it was a structured and deliberate agenda motivated by the very groups that would seek to benefit from our ecological crisis.
Revising our national accounts to include ecosystem services does not preclude that this was merely an exercise in corporate conspiracy, but rather an existential necessity if we are to ever restore our environment. And while the potential crisis that awaits is the competition for global climate leadership, ecological economic accounting schemes like our Intemerate Equation provides an equitable approach to the distribution of global wealth by providing a comprehensive accounting scheme whereby ecological-economic benefits are equitably received.
Foreboding initiatives already suggest that remote peoples may soon be desperate enough to be manipulated into abandoning their homes without a fight. Australia, for example, has proposed that Tuvalu swap national territory for citizenship. Each extreme weather event brings impacted peoples that much closer to embracing the faux-generosity of exploitative interests.
The combination of several factors that include our present global pandemic: the rise of the Belt and Road Initiative and the benefits it provides for the Global South, new multilateral institutions like the AIIB, the BRICS-led Contingency Reserve Arrangement, the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System, advanced communication technologies including the release of Huawei’s Harmony OS, open-source AI technology like the ARIES for SEEA, and a new data economy all cohesively line up for a relatively seamless transition into a new ecological-economic global economy.
This global transition should be a boon for the Global South. New infrastructure and alternative financing alignments provide regions with an opportunity to choose ecological restoration over degradation and depletion. It is a roadmap to reverse decades of exploitation and embraces new service sectors for labor, development of specialized technologies and intellectual properties, and open the door for new financial sectors where entire communities can own, package, market, and invest in restoration schemes with or without already established financial institutions.
What a People’s Prospectus could deliver is a missing piece of the puzzle for the global economy, which is how we foster sustainable livelihoods in rural and isolated communities that complement highly risky involvement in agricultural or extractive production.
What happens if the people manage their data commons? What happens if our ecological data were stewarded by those who are customarily engaged with local biodiversity? Who profits when ecological restoration packages are created by those very communities who would benefit from local restoration services?
The “ownership” or management of that data would not fall under the manipulations of insurance companies or Wall Street investment funds, but rather the communities that would seek to ensure their own wellbeing and profit from investing in their own labor and intellectual property.
To reduce socio-ecological and economic risk and uncertainty requires local control of “private property” in the form of local intellectual property. This type of control would strengthen ties to rural communities, allow poor families to plan families around sustainable income and reduce the risk involved with urban-rural migration. In other words, ecological data promotes social cohesion and a sense of belonging, while providing a sustainable alternative source of income or credit to local authorities, even as data is aggregated and channeled through national and global infrastructure, in alignment with our vision for a One Bank One Index program within the BRI.
A People’s Prospectus: one bank and one index, community data flows, international transactions, indigenous auditing, trans-local market capitalization. A People’s Prospectus could circumvent Wall Street, bypass hedge fund managers, ignore transnational privatization regimes, and engage in financial markets where they would hold the equity and benefit from their own services in what we might call trans-local, inter-global trade.
While there is no promise that a People’s Prospectus will provide large payouts for communities, it will provide access for a wider distribution of funds and build new opportunities for local services, invariably stimulating local communities.
The Intemerate Equation provides one option for an ecological accounting roadmap for the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Island Countries (ACP). How we facilitate that is open for discussion, and while international financial institutions are caught in the middle of a system struggling to define new rules for global trade and development, unable to predict or contain the risks, an intemerate accounting side table could fill the economic gap resulting from decades of economic and ecological malfeasance.
Faced with lack of infrastructure, access to labor, and environmental sustainability, we have designed a regulatory and auditing infrastructure to prove proof-of-concept.
The combination of a global economic downturn, a global pandemic, and our looming environmental crisis should not be seen as an opportunity for exploitation just as Wall Street did by creating a Water Futures market behind everyone’s back. A post-pandemic economy should be seen as an opportunity to reset the global economy to one that is more just and equitable. If that cost can begin with One Bank and One Index, that might just be enough to derail the neoliberal impetus that seeks to manage and privatize our ecological biodiversity.
An intemerate accounting scheme leveraged against debt may be a crude quid pro quo, but with the amount of funding necessary to fulfill proof of concept, a One Bank One Index proposal seems like a very small risk to define a more just and equitable global economy.
The rationale over how we account for GDP is important. The United States has a disproportionately unfair and unjust advantage over most other countries over how it accounts for military expenditures.
The US BEA pushed for these accounting revisions before the UN System of National Accounts back in 2008. Arguing that “national security” benefits our national income as a fixed asset is a spurious logic that only benefits militarized economies, especially considering that the more just, fair and equitable “ecological security” was rejected.
Fixed assets are essentially infrastructure, or “common good” accounts that CANNOT easily be converted into cash. What the US did was change how we accounted for weapon systems, away from being an inventoried expenditure, something we account for when we take it off the shelf.
Imagine that in 2008, we could just as easily have had environmental degradation and resource depletion and household work accounted for in our national income estimates.
“The 1993 SNA states that destructive military weapon systems designed for combat, such as warships, fighter aircraft, and tanks, should be treated as intermediate consumption by general government rather than as fixed assets. This treatment is problematic for several reasons:
It fails to recognise that weapon systems provide a nation with economic benefits by protecting the liberty and property of its citizens.
It fails to recognise the role of capital in the production of defence services.
It fails to recognise that existing military equipment have value and can be sold.
When a government sells or transfers used military equipment, the treatment requires a counter-intuitive accounting entry of negative intermediate consumption.
The distinction between destructive equipment and non-destructive equipment that can be used for peaceful purposes is difficult to make in practice.
The treatment of military equipment used by the military is inconsistent with the treatment of the same equipment (for example, armoured vehicles) used by internal police.
The treatment is inconsistent with the latest international public sector financial accounting standards.
Many countries now maintain military equipment for long periods and are concerned about scheduling and providing for its replacement. “
To be clear, high GDP does not always mean that countries need to focus on military systems. Sometimes, as in the case with China, it really does mean positive growth of national income. The difference is that in China, the evidence is tangible with the rise of living standards and the hundreds of millions of people having moved out of poverty over the last two decades. Contrast that with the United States where millions have fallen out of the middle class and stagnant wages have only increased the cost of living. If people have less financial security and environments become more fragile when GDP increases, then clearly there is something wrong with how we account.
Imagine if ecological justice hawks and warrior accountants were sitting at this table rather than war department weapons industry and war machine lobbyists.
This is why ecological revisions to our national accounting system needs the participation of developing countries, indigenous and customary peoples and poor and impacted peoples. We would never allow this….
The World Council of Churches and the Pacific Conference of Churches hosted a webinar on the Reweaving the Ecological Mat program conducted by the Pacific Theological College, the Pacific Conference of Churches and the Oceanic Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies, University of South Pacific. The REM program was a three year program that explored how our ecology, economy, and cultural wellbeing could be a viable and tangible way to account for our future.
If climate change is the greatest threat to our existence on this planet, what the REM program did was to offer a solution on how to reverse climate change and pollution while promoting wellbeing and development for our region. This was done not by asserting another top down program demanding our consent, rather, through a bottom up program that respects and values people and planet.
Dr. Reverend Cliff Bird discusses the Oikonomics, a return to the ecological, economic, ecumenical and cultural relationship from which these terms derive;
Dr. Elise Huffer introduces the cultural and wellbeing factors necessary for any Pacific development scheme;
Arnie Saiki lays out what is behind the intermerate accounting scheme; and
Daphne Kiki, provides a view of the role our Pacific youth will need to play to shape our way forward.
What I think is clear is the role our churches and other religious institutions are going to need to perform to promote a new accounting framework if we are to survive the greatest existential challenge we have ever had to make.