The BoC’s “New Normal”: (S)low

Most probably future historians (assuming there are any) will look at the 2008 Great Market Meltdown as a landmark event in the fortunes of the Modern Era. The global economy has not really recovered from it, and, apparently, is not predicted to very soon. Slow to low to no growth is the “new normal” according to the Bank of Canada and the IMF.

Slow growth is the “new reality” according to the BoC. It’s a mixed blessing, and a mixed blessing is often just another way of saying “predicament” or “dilemma”.

Stagnating growth rates (or the decreasing rate of profit) were exactly what neo-liberalism and “free trade” were supposed to rectify, no? Yet, it seems to be doing the opposite. Nobody it seems can figure out why, but the solution chosen is just more of the same. If neo-liberalism isn’t working as promised and predicted, well then, the reason is that there’s not enough of it yet. More! More! and Encore!

Something’s wrong with the model, obviously. Something’s wrong with the thinking and the Grand Narrative. It’s being frustrated by something-we-know-not-what. The problem, suggests the deputy head of the BoC, is labour and productivity — the “usual suspects” whenever the rate of return and profit is inhibited. But meanwhile, back at the ranch, there isn’t even a mention of automation coming down the pipes. Is that the growth and productivity boost that the model is hoping for and relying upon — eliminating labour from the equation completely?

The model is, apparently, now running into self-contradiction as much as Keynesian economics earlier ran into self-contradiction (the dilemma of “stagflation”) — and that means, “vicious circle”. And I can’t help but reflect on whether the BoC’s prospectus for the global economy isn’t a description of Peter Pogany’s “chaotic transition” in effect.

For my part, slow growth, as the decrease in the rate of return on investment and pressure on profit margins, also means a decreasing rate of consumption of natural resources. At least, that seems to follow. It also seems to signal that the pace of economic globalisation has stalled, which is usually bad news for capitalism. Looks like the party’s over.

As usual, whenever there’s a problem of the declining rate of profit, labour is to blame. And the usual solution is to find ways to squeeze more wealth and productivity out of labour, or to get rid of it completely (and therewith, also, as a bonus whatever political influence or say labour might have in the order of things). There seems to be little other reason for “autonomous vehicles” or artificial intelligence except to salvage the general declining rate of profit.

The other possibility is that we’ve hit the “Limits to Growth” forecast earlier, and there are some signs that this is so and that climate change may be implicated in putting the brakes on further economic expansion. How’s this for a contradiction? — discovery of new oil supplies are at a 70 year low; runaway climate change is anticipated to occur within the next five years; the rate of consumption of oil is anticipated to increase by 2025 and not decrease (suggesting that the Paris accords on Climate Change were pretty much only a dog and pony show). The slowdown in the global economy might possibly suggest another possibility — that the cost of extraction of new energy sources now exceeds the reward, and is infringing on the general rate of growth which, if so, can be anticipated to become negative in the near future.

That’s my preferred interpretation for the slow-to-low-to-no growth decline — that the energy presently being expended to extract and produce an equivalent amount of energy is beginning to exceed the energy actually generated to drive the economy, resulting in a slowly accruing energy deficit that is beginning to impact on the rate of growth. That’s an explanation for the apparent self-contradictions of the neo-liberal model that makes sense to me.


18 responses to “The BoC’s “New Normal”: (S)low”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    As an interesting contrast to the Bank of Canada’s forecast for the global economy, today was also announced the Spirit Bear Forest Conservation Economy organised by the West Coast tribes.

    I don’t know much about this initiative yet, but a conservation economy is a great contrast to the model that the BoC subscribes to. It will be interesting to follow the tribes’ approach to conservation economy.

  2. davidm58 says :

    Good post. For the papers by Peter Pogany that specifically reference Jean Gebser (and the idea of “chaotic transition/havoc”), see my page here:

    And for a good companion piece to the Bloomberg story on the 70 year low of oil discovery, read this post (“Peak Oil by Any Other Name is Still Peak Oil”):

    • Scott Preston says :

      Reminds me to get back to finishing Rethinking the World, which I’m only about half-way through.

      • davidm58 says :

        Pogany is worth reading all the way through. What about Kealey’s Revisioning Environmental Ethics – have you finished that one yet?

        • Scott Preston says :

          No, haven’t finished Kealey yet. But I have to. I also bought a copy for a professor friend of mine and taunted him that I was going to test him for retention and comprehension. Now he’s taunting me about it. My detour into Plotinus was a little overlong, because then I tried to trace any influence of Plotinus on alchemy.

  3. Leo says :

    Hi Scott, David,

    This may be a little off-topic for this particular post, however I can’t find the original post to which it more properly relates unfortunately – it was one where we were discussing the relationship between the adequacy of ‘intentional proposals’ to patterns in the world flux, if that helps to jog memories

    Anyhoo, I have a question that I’m hoping you can shed some light on regarding Gebser’s use of the term ‘structures’ to describe the different types of consciousness he identifies in EPO. I’m wondering whether you see him as using the term phenomenologically, i.e. to describe the phenomenological first-person experience in terms of the characteristics of its form / structure, or whether he uses it more conceptually as a type of metaphor, or perhaps a combination of both?

    It occurs to me that this question may also bear some relation to Castanada’s notion of ‘losing the human form’.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I think of structures as “grammars”, as I discussed earlier. This is, I think, Gebser’s meaning, because one of his books (not translated as yet) is der Grammatische Spiegel or “The Grammatical Mirror” in translation. It’s a very short book, perhaps not all that crucial to Gebser studies, but it does emphasise his own “grammatical method” (much like Rosenstock-Huessy) and the notion of structures as grammars.

      This makes complete sense because the key to understanding the “structures” is their different representations of the experience of space and time (or lack of it), and grammar is that organisation of spaces and times in terms of tenses, persons of grammar, and so on. Grammars are, in effect, maps of how things and events are perceived to relate to one another in space or in time. Grammar, in that sense, has a magical function — the command of spaces and times, or the legislation and regulation of how things and events are to relate to one another.

      Yes, I do believe that “losing the human form” has much to do with getting to the roots of grammar — the suspension of the grammatical mirror, as it were. Yoganada once remarked that “enlightenment” was the same as arriving at the place where language arises, and Rosenstock-Huessy put it this way: “God is the power that makes men speak”.

      Since it is becoming more realistic to define the human as “homo grammaticus” (the speaking animal or grammatical animal) it can be appreciated that “losing the human form” has some connection with the pre-grammatical. In Castaneda, this is called “stopping the world” or what Buddhists call “stopping the wheel of space and time” which is equivaent to stopping the Monkey Mind. “Letting go” as the practice of stopping the monkey mind, is very much connected with getting to the root of things beyond, before, or behind “grammatical man”, and in that sense “losing the human form”.

      • Leo says :

        Thanks Scott – that really helps to clarify a few things for me. Perhaps also ‘The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao’ also points to the correct relationship between the EPO and grammar?

        The notion of ‘representation’ is interesting, and this is where the I think the link to intentional proposals may lie. It seems to me that representations are often thought of by many as somewhat like Hulmes ‘faded copies’, i.e. literally re-presentations by means of memory of actual ‘external’ sensory experiences. However, it seems clear that representations (as concepts) are more than ‘faded copies’. They also actively structure ongoing present perception, although this organising activity is usually missed by us, hence what we perceive is actually a reflection of our own unconcious representations. I think you discussed this recently in terms of the way that enlightenment notions of perspective have sunk into the unconscious, yet continue to exert an enormous influence as the foundation of the mental-rational structure.

        I came across this passage from David Bohm yesterday which expresses this active nature of knowledge pretty succinctly: ‘the generally prevailing impression that the “self” actually has an identity can, in fact, be seen to arise in the automatic and habitual function of metaphysical thought. This function is such as to project the content of metaphysics into our overall experience as an illusion of percieved reality, actual feeling and universal truth. What is needed is, then, an attention that is not limited to the shapes determined by metaphysical thought.’

        What this appears to point to for me is the need for a closer examination of the representations / image-schemas that underlie our current mainstream narratives, and close attention to what representations / image-schemas may help to move people away from fragmented worldviews towards recognising wholeness. The straight line appears to be one such image, underpinning as it does notions of progress (the image-schema associated with Arlie Hothschilds deep-story exemplies this pretty well). Gregory Bateson’s work reframes such straight-lines as arcs of feedback loops, which as I consider it now seems an interesting way to build on existing concepts whilst simultaneously shifting them towards a more holisitic perception.

        • Leo says :

          …or perhaps more succinctly there is a great need to better understand the active role of grammar (in the sense that you use it above) in organising perception.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Yes, I would say that the Tao and the ever-present origin are the same.

          That’s a good quote from Bohm, although it probably leaves a few people scratching their heads about what he means by “metaphysical thought”. For Blake it was “Aristotle’s Analytics”, but I’\m sure Bohm is referring to Descartes’ metaphysical dualism and which is implicated also in Gebser’s critique of perspectivist consciousness (or “point-of-view” consciousness as I refer to it). That’s pretty much what Bohm is saying there — there’s something wrong with point-of-view consciousness.

          • Leo says :

            In the context that I quoted him Bohm wasn’t referring explicitly to Descartes, although I think it covers pretty much the same territory. He was describing the effect of ‘tacit metaphysical thought’ that assumes the world to be composed of separately existent things, of which the ‘self’ is one, thereby falsely dividing the world into external and internal, which I suppose is very close to Descartes Res Cogitans and Res Extensa.

            The connection with our earlier discussion for me is the notion that tacit thought actively shapes perception. In particular, self-as-object prevents one from perceiving the whole. As Bohm puts it, ‘a complex and very pervasive illusion is created, in which the divisions in the content of thought are projected into the experiencing of what is sensed as real and into the very act of perception, of truth, itself.’

            • Scott Preston says :

              That’s very consistent with Iain McGilchrist’s take on neurodynamics in The Master and his Emissary which, if you haven’t already read, I highly recommend that you do.

              Generally, the idea of “tacit thought” is connected with the intentionality of consciousness, as far as I can see, which in Phenomenology does actively shape perception. In other words, from the egoic perspective, there is indeed a “pre-destination” or “determinism” in perception connected with Heraclitus’s notion that “character is fate”. There’s a paradox here, one you might recognise from Castaneda’s work, that mastery of intent means surrender to intent, which is also connected with NIetzsche’s philosophy of amor fati — ie, “it is so because I willed it so” — and that is connected with Seth’s insistence that “you create the reality you know” — that is, through intentionality.

              That is to day, “intentionality” is the preserve of “the Master”, while what we normally call “will” is the preserve of the Emissary.

      • davidm58 says :

        Great question, Leo, and I like Scott’s response, which comes down to relationship: “Grammars are, in effect, maps of how things and events are perceived to relate to one another in space or in time. Grammar, in that sense, has a magical function — the command of spaces and times, or the legislation and regulation of how things and events are to relate to one another.”

        In EPO (p. 377), Gebser discusses structure also in terms of mathematics and physics, but it’s very much the same idea, where he quotes Arthur March who defines structure as “a system of constant relationships [which is termed a structure in mathematics]…” And this ‘structure’ consisting of relationships is set in contrast to things of ‘substance.’

        Here is the context, beginning on page 367 of EPO:

        “Anyone who is compelled to recognize the irrelevance of the dualisms can no longer employ a form of realization based on the concept of oppositions represented by thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Here the new physics ‘oversteps’ the bounds of the mental structure and is moving toward a mode of realization which, though not yet consciously, had begun to take shape in a four-dimensional and integral form.”

        “…The third and last datum to be adduced here has to do with the visibility or conceivability of the new ‘image of the world’ in physics that cannot be visualized; this brings us to our third point.

        The non-visualizable nature of the present-day world ‘image’ of physics is a fact which is repeatedly emphasized in physical research [replaced by a purely mathematical construct]…

        On the basis of the universal ‘quantum of action’ discovered by Planck’s we now know that the basic course of events is acausal, discontinuous, and indeterminate. Both the constancy and the sequential consistency which represent the basic laws of conceptual thought have become to a considerable degree illusory, at least in physics… ‘Today physics is no longer in a position to defend a strict determinism …the processes of nature do not cohere continuously as was previously believed but are interrupted by discontinuities through which we cannot trace the causality….[present day physics must concede that] ‘our intellect [is] inadequate to understand nature and consequently we are unable to reproduce its mechanism by means of a conceptual construct…’ – Arthur March.

        ….[Gebser quotes A. March again]: ‘This is the standpoint arrived at by physics today: the objective essence of things consists of a structure, and not something of substance…If we analyze in depth the experiences on which our faith in the existence of a substantive electron rests nothing remains except a system of constant relationships [which is termed a structure in mathematics] so that we are required to accept these relationships and not the substantive particles as the true reality…’

        …Pascual Jordan has explained: ‘The marvelous discovery made by quantum-and wave mechanics is that the dubious realm of microphysical structures is amenable to mathematical description despite the impossibility of describing it in terms of the usual conception of reality; and such mathematical description, once we have become accustomed to it, turns out to be of surprising inner simplicity and transparent clarity.’ ”

        On page 378, Gebser writes (now referencing Werner Heisenberg):
        “The elementary particles lose their point-like character which we have given them by our previous habits of thought and can now be seen as structures. This has been a decisive step toward de-rigidifying thought.

        …In the realm of physics there is an emphasis on relationships, that is, on a partial aspect or secondary form of what we call the context or the synairetic completion. Yet time and again we catch a glimpse of a more encompassing context even in the statements and formulations of the physicists, as in the following remark of C.F. von Weizsacker: ‘The spirit – which encounters the mystery of its own origin in objective nature – experiences how pure being becomes, as it were, transparent…’ ”

        BTW, I’m currently reading the new book by Stephon Alexander, “The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe.” After reading the above section of EPO, when I saw this book title at the library, I had to pick it up. Not sure where he’s going with it all yet, but it’s an interesting read, and it does tie in to how the universe is structured by relationships, as expressed both by music (think Pythagoras’ ‘music of the spheres’) and mathematics.

        • Leo says :

          Thanks for this David. For me, one of the potential limitations of the concept of structure is that the representation it brings to mind can be one that is static, not capturing well the dynamic movement inherent in systems of relationship. As I’m reading Bohm at the moment I flicked to an earlier page where he describes how objects are now ‘considered to be more like a pattern of movement… brought into existence in space and time from a broader background or context and eventually dissolving back into it’. I find Prigogine’s ideas regarding dissipative structures to be useful in this respect, e.g. a whirlpool, which has a dynamic and relatively stable form, yet no indepent existence. What do you think?

          • davidm58 says :

            Yes, I agree that there is a danger in conceiving of ‘structure’ as being too static, and so it is helpful to bring in Bohm, Prigogine, and others, as you’re doing here. And yet it is also true, I believe, that structures tend to be more static and rigid than other patterns, and tend to change less frequently – this is why Gebser emphasizes severe pertubations required to change consciousness structures, resulting in a chaotic transition to the next structure.

            Scott, thanks for the link – fascinating article that supports Gebser’s emphasis on language, and related to PatternDynamics.

            And speaking of PatternDynamics (PD) – in PD, Structure is one of seven first order patterns. The Structure pattern is defined in PD as “the enduring frameworks that support the more dynamic and changeable aspects of a system.” It “signifies any relatively fixed aspects of a system that act as a skeleton or framework supporting other systemic processes.” Note the modifier “relatively fixed.” Structures can and should be changed on occasion, but when we attempt this intentionally, we should do so with great care and foresight.

            PD also names 7 second-order patterns under Structure (but also related in different ways to all of the other patterns. These second-order patterns are Boundary, Holon, Hierarchy, Network, Complexity, Holarchy, and Field. I’d say the Field pattern is the least rigid of the various structure-type patterns.

            Switching gears, and coming back to the idea that structures are often less rigid than we think, and coming back to the book The Jazz of Physics. The author Stephon Alexander quotes from memory an intro to a book he came across on Quantum Field Theory: “Quantum field theory, the unification between special relativity and quantum mechanics, states that all matter and its interactions are composed of harmonious vibrations of fields. One is left with the vision that the entire universe is a symphonic orchestra of those fields.”

            Alexander then goes on to outline his contention that sound waves generated by the early universe contributed to the eventual creation of large-scale structures in the universe. And what are these sound waves and structures other than interacting combinations of stable relationships (resonances) in space and time?

            “Pure, harmonic sine waves can be used to custom-make any complex waveform – pure magic.”

        • Scott Preston says :

          Here’s something you might find intriguing in relation to your PatternDynamics, which appeared in today’s Guardian. I would suggest there is a connection, and one that is also relevant for Gebser studies

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