GOATONOMICS - HOW OUR FAITH DETERMINES OUR SHARE OF THE ROAST by Axel Reimann - Read Online
GOATONOMICS - HOW OUR FAITH DETERMINES OUR SHARE OF THE ROAST
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Summary

How about a totally new perspective on the economy? In a market economy, we all get what we deserve. At least, that’s what we believe. But more confusion reigns now than ever: who actually decides how big our share of the roast goat will be? Market laws or a curious arrangement construed by the powers that be? Axel Reimann explains why more and more people are questioning their faith in the economy and what impact that may ultimately have. In a humorous, vivid, and unconventional style, he reveals how the economy in Western cultures is on the verge of secularisation, what our overnight bank accounts have to do with world peace, and why it would be hell on earth if we no longer had anything to worry about. He also tackles why property needs priests, and how Franz Beckenbauer came to autograph pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini.

A new perspective on the economy - humorous and descriptive. An unusual evaluation of how we deal with money.

Published: BadPress on
ISBN: 9781547502837
List price: $4.99
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GOATONOMICS - HOW OUR FAITH DETERMINES OUR SHARE OF THE ROAST - Axel Reimann

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Acknowledgements

Warning

You won’t believe me. Even if you do, you won’t change a thing. But what if you did? Well, there’s really no point. So just put this book away! There’s still time. Have a glass of red wine instead. Have a look at what you could currently earn on an overnight deposit account, or whether you should buy gold or property after all. Go on, treat yourself!

You want to carry on reading anyway? Really? I bet you’re thinking: what can possibly happen? Well, I’m warning you now: you will lose your faith. Even if you’ve been an atheist for some time, or believe you’re one. If you carry on reading this, you may end up forsaking your religion by the time you finish. You might become a heretic. You might fall victim to existential angst and start fearing for your own future. Perhaps you’ll even do something rash – become a new Martin Luther, for example. Watch out!

One thing’s for sure, by the time you’ve read the last page of this book you will be more baffled than ever before. And you will never be able to return to the safety of your old belief system.

However, I do have some good news: by the end of this book you will be freer – maybe. Like someone who realises for the first time that there is no wrathful god out there when lightning strikes and thunder rolls.

By the way, this book is about economics. In other words, it’s about your cash. But that’s only the half of it. So, be brave and read on!

THE DAY THE GOAT DIED

The meat was sizzling away over the fire and everyone was hungry. I was sitting with the elders of the Maasai village and just explaining why I still didn’t have any children at my (ripe old) age. (That was a few years ago now, and since then I’ve had three.) One of the Maasai men in the group looked at me, puzzled, wanting to know if there was something wrong with me. No, I replied; it’s just that where I come from, it’s generally the case that women and men sometimes – well, you know, it just takes time. Once again, looks of total puzzlement on their faces. I desperately looked at Stefan, a friend from Germany I was visiting, who was living with the Maasai. Cattle! he shouted at me. That was what saved me. I had understood: First I have to have enough cows. Everyone nodded in understanding.

A Maasai asked if I had ever drunk osarui, a mixture of milk and cow’s blood: really healthy, really refreshing. I suspect I went a bit pale. No, not yet, I admitted. Then there was the meat: the elders and the guests got the best bits, then the young warriors. Women and children were initially left hungry, waiting at a distance until the men had had their fill. None of the women would have dared demand her share of the meat beforehand. If there’s nothing left, the Maasai women say: Kitaduaa – we have seen it, the meat. That’s enough for us. And then they cook themselves a soup from the gnawed bones.

The Maasai used to believe that all cattle belonged to them. Engai, the God of creation that sat enthroned on Ol Doinyo Lengai, a volcano in the north of Tanzania, had entrusted the cattle to them. Therefore, all other cattle owners had to be cattle thieves; an assumption that has occasionally led to odd conflicts.

It’s a similar story when it comes to land. The Maasai find it extremely strange that land can belong to a person, or that individuals can buy and sell land like goats or cattle. Boundary fences are a nuisance, as are contracts securing property. This has meant that other groups of people with different views on land rights have often taken unfair advantage of them, ultimately leaving them today with only a fraction of their original grazing pastures. In the meantime, the modern world has been busy setting up game reserves, agricultural businesses, and tourist accommodation in their place around them.

The latter is where the Maasai are occasionally allowed to show off their dancing skills in traditional costumes. But they won’t condescend to any more than that. Until recently, most Maasai hadn’t shown the remotest bit of interest in farming. After all, it would be sacrilege to fulfil a task other than that charged to them by the Almighty at the beginning of creation: to graze the cattle that had descended from the heavens on a long leather rope – a blessing and a unique feature in the story of creation. The other tribes, according to Maasai folklore, weren’t quite as lucky: one tribe had to hunt wild animals; another one became farmers. Someone from one of the tribes, consumed by envy, then apparently cut the cord between the heavens and earth. That’s why relations with the neighbours have never been entirely relaxed.

Talking of relaxed, the women of the Maasai are the ones who do most of the work. They build the huts, milk the cows, collect firewood, fetch water, and make jewellery. They also look after the small livestock, like the goat that died just a few hours ago before we men made short work of it. The Maasai women still work when they’re elderly, while the men have long been allowed to just sit around twiddling their wildebeest tails.

A Maasai legend explains this inequality thus: once upon a time, the Maasai were actually two different tribes. One was women only, the other was men. The female tribe owned antelopes, elephants and zebras, and the male tribe had cattle, sheep and goats. Every now and then, the two tribes would meet up in the woods – the result being children. At first, children were brought up by the women. The boys joined the men later on, and the girls stayed with the women. Everyone was independent, had equal rights, and was free.

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending. According to oral tradition, the women bickered too much. In the end, the herds had had enough and scarpered. As for the elephants, the moaning and whingeing became unbearable, so they too decided to up sticks and leave. This meant the women had to join the men and renounce their freedom. They lost their equality, became dependent, and had to work for the other sex. The Maasai tribe was born.

Another legend claimed that this injustice was due to the women being too wrapped up in taking care of the children. Instead of looking out for the herd, the mothers refused; the children needed to eat something first. The outcome? Goodbye herd, patriarchy here we come. That’s what the mother hens get for clucking over their chicks!

I wouldn’t mind being a Maasai warrior, I comment, grabbing another piece of roast goat from the metal plate. Stefan says nothing. It’s late afternoon and we’ve been sitting with the elders for nearly two hours, somewhere in the Maasai Steppe of Tanzania, a 24-hour bus journey from Arusha. The Morani, the young warriors, have already withdrawn – maybe the visitors from Germany are simply too boring. Suddenly, one of the elders stands up, runs to a tree, and beckons us to him. The other men follow him too. I’m more cautious, grasping the small bottle of antibacterial hand gel tight in my left trouser pocket, and my Swiss army penknife in my right.

One of the elders drags a yellow crate into our midst, a drinks crate. I don’t believe it! How the hell did that get here? Stefan couldn’t answer that one either. The elder shoved a Coke in my hand. It's the real thing, you know. Every advertising agency between Atlanta and Zhengzhou would love me if I’d filmed that back then, or at least taken a good photo or two: Coca-Cola, the global fizzy drink in the Maasai Steppe – dragged here by wild warriors in a day’s march. Probably cost a fortune, too. How many Maasai bead necklaces had had to be made and sold, by the women obviously, to fund that one? What kind of bartering was necessary to furnish people in this remote corner of the world, who can quite easily live without globalisation, with a crate of Coca-Cola? And – a question that probably only interests Germans – is there actually a deposit on that?

No doubt I mumbled something about a miracle as I opened the bottle. Nobody apart from me seemed to be that amazed about Coke suddenly appearing out there in the middle of the bush. And it was only me who really wanted to know the price of this crate of Coke.

I’m really glad that none of my partners in conversation asked me what my job was that day. That would have been a pretty daft question to the Maasai anyway and the answer would only have caused more head shaking. How can anyone expect to get a herd together by writing words? I perhaps might have added that I had studied economics and then gone on to talk about the market and capital and globalisation in my most authoritative tone. I could have explained why people in Atlanta, USA, are very happy when the Maasai drink Cola instead of cattle blood; why it’s forbidden for the Coca-Cola logo to be painted on a Maasai warrior’s shield, for example; or how there can possibly be women in my tribe who are at least 400,000 times richer than me.

At any rate, I would have been able to tell them with great conviction that the laws of the market will catch up with the Maasai sooner rather than later; that their only chance (of survival) probably lies in sustainable tourism, i.e. in well-meaning, well-off travelling retirees from Europe, North America or Asia who will trade a night in the Maasai Boma for the current value of a cow.

Maybe the Maasai would then have considered me to be a real laibon, a combination of seer, medicine man and priest, a kind of religious adviser to the elders of my tribe.

The truth is I’m not a laibon. However, I have spoken to some laiboni and read some of their holy scriptures. They would never have called themselves that, our laiboni. Instead they are known as Professor of Economics and Finance, economic leader, CEO, sometimes even critic of capitalism. This is their story – the story of the religious abyss in our economic system; an economic system shrouded in more superstition, mysticism and fog of religion than we would care to believe. In comparison, the cattle economy of the Maasai is the very embodiment of an enlightened economic system.

THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION

The things they encounter every day seem quite foreign to them.

-Heraclitus

Welcome to the I don’t like this system stew

It was the most brutal put-down an economics examinee could ever be subjected to: You’re not here to declare your faith in the market economy, the examiner exclaimed, rudely interrupting. If you want to confess, go to church! – rolling thunder instead of benevolence, love withdrawal instead of priestly ordination. Even the assessor looked taken aback by the angry professor of economic policy, who usually praised the merits of our economic system. And here he was letting rip on my fellow student.

Granted, on this occasion this fellow student of mine did stroll into the oral exam somewhat naively believing he could rely on the following phrases to somehow muddle his way through the exam:

1. Markets work – well, if only politicians, trade unions and lobbyists allow them to

2. Redistribution is stupid, especially the top-down (top performers) approach

3. Globalisation is a good thing, because factory workers, t-shirts and cameras are getting cheaper

4. There used to be Marx; he was the cause of former East Germany, the Soviet Union and, alas, North Korea. What a load of rubbish!

Then 5. there was Keynes: because of him we have national debts. Not a good thing either.

And 6. capital is a shrinking violet; capital won’t be locked up. Capital is...oh whatever, never mind, the main thing is that it exists and it’s protected.

That’s an extremely concise version of both the exam situation, which is quite a few years ago now, and the answers, but you get the gist. The point is that on that day the examinee and examiner parted ways in the most unfortunate manner conceivable: deeply disappointed.

It would seem that many of us have since had a similar experience: we diligently learn the right economic vocabulary, only to discover in the exams that we haven’t actually understood anything. You’ve failed, resit the exam! The economy can start flourishing again as much as it will, but the basic scepticism in our economic system will continue to grow with it. No-one can actually say how this is supposed to work – and those who might know, prefer to keep quiet. However, this much seems clear: environmental destruction, injustice, and any other kind of inconvenience? If in doubt, blame it on casino capitalism, neoliberal globalisation, and the greed of managers. Only those who can get through crises and catastrophes more or less unscathed, or who are maybe even on the winning side, consider such accusations of blame as the typical reactions of envious losers. Fair enough: why should anyone passing the exam with good grades care about the others’ disappointment? Above all, whatever you do, please don’t pry too much in case it accidentally slips out that I didn’t really get it either.

We float around in this whole I don’t like this system stew clinging onto a few fat I’m alright, Jack dumplings and try not to go under.

However, there’s an additional factor, something much more dangerous or sinister: helplessness. What’s more, it comes from the very people who should actually be helping us: economic experts and politicians. Obviously, this helplessness isn’t displayed overtly; in fact, quite the opposite. That’s no reason for not writing one more specialist book, analysis, or commentary, or giving one fewer interview, forecast, or statement. In fact, more books have been published about the latest financial crisis and its repercussions, for example, than about the Neolithic revolution, which was the period where this whole mess with economics and property started in the first place.

What’s more, despite the helplessness of the experts, there are more formulas than ever before: for more or less regulation of the financial markets; for more or less state involvement in the economy; for and against tax decreases; for and against tax increases; for and against budgetary consolidations; for more investment in education, kindergartens, childcare facilities, and nanoparticles – if necessary, on credit – and against; for higher bank equity requirements; against overregulation of the banking sector; and so on and so forth.

But what exactly are all these people trying to tell us? And why do they say that? After all, has it actually helped either you or me to understand even in the slightest why things are the way they are?

Anyone choosing to dig a little deeper will soon find out just how thin that ice now is that the economic experts are skating on, regardless of whether they are acting in an academic, political, or journalistic capacity, or on behalf of pressure groups, banks, trade unions, or companies. In a few academic circles, when no-one else is still listening apart from a limited group of people, i.e. those committed to studying economics, an economic crisis (or the intellectual bankruptcy of economics) has long been the subject of debate. But that hasn't really changed anything. At the same time, the number of experts and their publications is on the increase.

So, while the theoretical foundation of economics melts in the heat of political debates like a snowman at the mercy of the sun, the moral overkill on all things relating to economics has picked up pace. Everyone now has values, moral of course, and not just accounting values: the chemicals company in the same way as the major bank, the supermarket round the corner, and the global corporation. Values is the term of choice for international purposes. Monks, philosophers and retired senior clergy advise managers and chief executives on ethical matters. It’s rare for any speech by business leaders, bankers, trade unionists, journalists, or politicians, or a symposium or company anniversary for that matter, to conclude without the classic We must re-establish real values!. This is clearly demonstrated on talk shows. Or when yet another (as always critical and thought-provoking) non-fiction book on an economic subject is presented somewhere over a nice glass of wine and savoury nibbles.

It was a cold February evening in one of the more recent financial crisis years. A large, rich, charitable foundation had invited the head of the business section of a large weekly newspaper to a public debate, along with its former editor-in-chief – both economic experts and both having just written books about the future of the economic system. They were critical and reflective as was the audience: state intervention versus regulation, market society versus market economy. The objective was to establish a new balance between work and capital, nature and production. A whole new way of thinking would be required: moving away from greed; a change in individual behaviour – but also from the top; incorporating barriers into financial operations; responsibility; welfare benefits; globalisation; welfare state exaggerations; in other words, a different kind of capitalism.

Got it?

And then one of the economic experts uttered yet another enlightening statement: Maybe you don’t even need to be an economist to understand the economic crisis.

What would a visiting alien have seen that evening? Two people on a stage in a large building with impressive architecture, in front of them