Wednesday, February 04, 2015

When I was in college, my favorite professor, Professor Peterson in the sociology department, one time remarked in class that all of the news was just entertainment, including the front page. He argued that asides from the business section, everything in the paper, from politics to sports, was reportage after the fact. That if you wanted to know what was going to happen in the future, reading the business section was the only way way to do so. Dutifully I've tried to look at the business section over the years since, reading what I can and applying my limited understanding of economics to what this or that merger means. Naturally I don't get very far on my own, and rely on the commentators to think for me about what's going to happen in the future. 

Last night while making dinner I was listening to the Diane Rehm show. They were talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between twelve countries, including the United States. I'm not going to get into the details, the pros and cons (it's said to be bad for labor, but good for stabilizing the dollar, and other economic abstractions), but one thing struck me about the still in progress agreement: the people involved have been working on this since 2005. That's ten years of negotiation, which is a long time to work on anything. Ten years of work requires a tremendous amount of stability and financial investment, and a huge number of people and communicators and economists and analysts and regulators and lawyers and business interests and politicians. That is to say, because of the amount of money at stake for something like this, a lot of long term planning goes into it. 

Here is my point: work on this scale, the ten or twenty year scale, is different than the scale that most of us work on, i.e. planning by the month, or if we're lucky, the year. The price of wool from Peru imported into the United States, as decided by trade agreements such as these, impacts what kind of clothes people will wear, and in turn, the trends and cultural commentary that follow from these trends. Much of the time we talk about cultural shifts, i.e. shifts in attitudes, but I wonder how much our attitudes are influenced by the materials we have access to. All this a kind of "determinist" view (i.e. there's nothing we can do about it on a large scale), but I think this is essentially what Professor Peterson was talking about. More generally, I don't think people think much about the future, beyond our narrow interests. And in terms of the material constraints of time and money, we don't often have the resources to imagine and enact the other ways that things could be. I'm not alone in noticing this trend. At any rate, I need to go to work. See you.