Friday, September 19, 2008

The Green[back]house Effect

The language of economics is traversed by and indeed represented and performed through figures of speech, analogies, metaphors, allegories. One of the figurative sets of economic-speak refers to money in various temperature states. On the one hand you can 'have' frozen assets, like an investment property that is tied into long-term lease agreements so that it is impossible to sell until the lease is completed. At the other end of the temperature scale you can have liquid assets and liquidity - cash.

But this frozen to liquid scale has a blind-spot: overheating, or what we might call thet Greenback effect. Being metaphor-curious I've sometimes wondered what the condition of capital or cash would be if you kept heating it. Heating liquids produces steam: useful for powering trains and other forms of energy but also capable of dissipating into the atmosphere. Is the steam stage of money equivalent to hyperinflation: where money is devalued so rapidly that you'd be better off burning it for heat?

Economic journalists and politicians employ figures of speech and narratives in order to explain what has, is and will happen; to persuade and convince us of what action and attitudes we should take. Describing the financial system as a body that gets sick positions government as doctors and enables the metaphors of economic illness to talk in terms of curable diseases like influenza. Economies can also be described as cars and machines: capable of mobility, of acceleration and government as the driver or mechanic - touching the brakes, fine-tuning the engine, changing the oil, pulling the levers, reading the dashboard indicators.

Talking and writing the economy, whether global, national, regional, local, household or even the self, as body and machine are powerful rationalities for techniques of government: for the conduct of (economic) conduct. But what if we talked of the government of the economy using the tropes and language of ecology? What if overheating an economy wasn't taken to conjure up a car engine driven too hard or with a burst radiator, but taken to connect into the overheating that is the greenhouse effect? To think on this global scale over a slower and longer time-frame might change the way we approach governing the economy: to think in terms of a long duration and globally.

Any other thoughts? What sort of work is circulating on these lines of thinking that I'm sure I'm yet to read?

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