Greengold’s Folly

“Elmer Greengold is a throwback to the days when people took
housekeeping seriously and political economy meant something.”

“Elmer Greengold is a pain in the ass.”

“Both are right,” laughs Elmer Greengold, himself, “I have a few
simple notions, which really aren’t so simple and I speak my mind.
We’re the world’s leading producer of consumer goods. We’re also
the world’s leading producer of consumer bads, not to mention bad
consumers. We emphasize the first and pretend the second doesn’t
exist. That’s really why we produce so many bad consumers, because
we have no good way of talking about consumer bads. We measure the
Gross National Product (GNP), but we don’t measure the Gross
National Problem (GNP). We need some sort of numbers for the Gross
National Numbness (GNN), that is, what we all feel, but won’t let
ourselves know we feel. I’m really talking about what I’ve come to
call the ‘shadow economy’. I can only tell you that it is orders
of magnitude greater than the barter economy. We don’t know what’s
going on in most of it. We need to get it on the books. It’s a
simple fact of life in a country as bureaucratized as ours that
accountability gets reduced to countability. Narrative just
doesn’t cut it any more. I’m just trying to count some things
we’ve never wanted to count or let count before. Of course it’s
crude, but so is any new kind of measurement. They laughed at me
when I first talked about this in Pittsburgh in 1967, but I was
just a graduate student then. I don’t think they’re laughing any
more. They’re not making steel and they don’t know what to make,
just what they want to buy, even though it doesn’t do them any
good. It doesn’t make them any happier. I really have become a
pain in the ass.”

Darwin Fenstermensch, formerly chief of research for the
Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, was candid and
compelling in his assessment of Elmer Greengold’s position. “No
one would be willing to listen to a word that Elmer has to say,
except for the fact that he’s a genius with a track record that is
virtually perfect. What you have to remember is that he personally
took us beyond econometrics, input-output analysis, that sort of
clumsy stuff into the current system of economystics. Without his
work, the government simply would not know how to cook its books.
The same is true for the multinationals. Nobody suspected the
power that he unleashed with his theory of sameness equations.
Now, when people hear that he’s got these supercomputers
hooked up and running darma derivatives and fourth order karma
integrals off streams of economic data and doing it in real time,
they start quaking in their boots. I’m talking about insiders
here, real pros, people who are in a position to know what they
have to lose. The bottom line is they don’t like change. I can’t
help comparing Elmer to Sakharov. He built it. Now he’s turned
against it. We’ve seen the Eastern bloc fall apart in our
lifetimes and, I think, the fear is that the Western bloc could
fall apart, too. Some people feel Elmer’s ideas are that
subversive. If anybody can get it to work, Elmer can. Don’t be
misled by the carrot top and the aw shucks beanpole geniality.
This man can really think.”

“It really is just a question of housekeeping,” says Elmer
Greengold. “We’ve let our dust devils get way out of hand. But
they’re our dust devils. The real purpose of civil society is to
offer citizens some form of indemnity for their lack of
immortality. That’s the bottom line. Now this indemnity does not
have to be exclusively material. We have to find a way to keep
track of how the material impacts on the non-material and vice versa.
For example, I’ve calculated a whole series of atman ozone
exchange factors to express what I see as the real issue about air
quality. Another question is, ‘Just how real are our children and
our children’s children and their children’s children?’ Of course,
the co-efficient of reality for future generations and its probable
rate of change effects the current calculus of consumer goods
versus consumer bads. We all know we’re committing economic
suicide. We’re very much in the position of the man who is on a
window ledge twenty stories up, only in his mind he doesn’t know
he’s way up there. We need to help him look into the abyss and
measure. That’s the application of economystics that the
industrialized nations’ sham governments, that is, their political
ones, and their real ones, that is, the multinational corporations,
fear the most. I don’t know what’s really in the future, but I
know a botched job when I see one. I’ve been part of botching it
and I think I should be entitled to try to be part of putting it
right. Economystics, properly understood, is not science. It
leads to real human values. It just tries to obfuscate them with
mathematics in order to make them seem more tangible and bearable.”

Elmer Greengold leaned back in his chair and laughed, “What’s so
funny about all this is there’s nothing funny about it. Groucho
and Harpo understood that much better than Karl. I’ve borrowed a
lot from Harpo. Of course, it helps to have red hair. Thank god,
political economy is back to some saner place where red stands
primarily for hair color.”

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