Goat Fiddling

CHF-5-back-smallDo I have free will?

Or, am I manipulated, steered and peer-pressurised to conform to a clichéd view of what I should be?

Is the beard I am cultivating on my chin a result of my own desire to see how it looks, what it feels like or, is it a result of the current trend in Hollywood and elsewhere for men to look more facially hairy?

I like to think it’s the former, I chose to do it, but its most likely a result of  subliminal messaging driven by current fashions.

My unconscious brain probably saw Bradley Cooper or some other Hollywood A-list male with a beard and said to itself; he looks good. I want to look like him. Now, my conscious brain knows full well this is an unrealistic ambition so I would imagine there was a bit of back and forth discussions inside my head. And after a few weeks of subliminal unconscious negotiations they struck a deal.

And thus I started sprouting salt and pepper hairs on my face.

I still believe its because I made the choice to stop shaving and see how it looks and feels because I am a man. And I can. But really its because voices in my head told me to do it and those voices were instructed by Hollywood. Today or tomorrow I will see a Gillette advert, pay it no attention at all and in a month or so the beard will be gone, probably.

Is this free will? Is any decision I take driven by my own desire? Or am I just a pawn in a great big global chess game? Being moved around by some cloaked men from a Dan Brown novel chanting and doing vile things to goats as they determine fashions, oil prices or who’s going to host the next world cup.

The current state of my life is the summation of all the decisions I have made since my parents stopped making them on my behalf. So this would be about 29 years of ‘free will’ decisions I have made.  Some good, some bad and I accept the consequences of these decisions. No one is to blame other than myself.

If I do A and the outcome is B and I don’t like B I recognise no one told me to do A in the first place – in fact some might have tried to persuade me otherwise. I might kick myself and wallow in self-induced pity afterwards but fundamentally its my own fault B happened. Well unless A was the decision my mum took to dress me in brown corduroy flares finished off with a cream coloured train print shirt. In this instance Iam a victim. The resulting grainy photograph (B) was nothing I chose to do – I blame my mum 100%.

So I guess I am exercising free will within the parameters set by society and the hooded goat fiddlers.

I do what I want to do within the boundaries of the law, the prevailing fashions and the current acceptable norms of society; I work, I pay tax, I shop, I recycle, I vote, I blog, I drive fast between speed cameras, I clear down my internet cache daily and I try to be a good citizen of the world.

The recent announcement by the Swiss National Bank to stop propping up the value of the Swiss Franc is a good example of a before and after of an interventionist policy. In simple terms a couple of years ago there was a real danger of the Swiss franc being seriously overvalued, people were buying francs by the wheelbarrow load as the other currencies around the world started to collapse. Like gold it was seen as a safe haven. All this activity, following normal supply and demand rules, had the effect of increasing the value of the franc in relation to other currencies. The SNB stepped in and said they would artificially keep the exchange rate of 1.2 to the Euro. An overvalued franc would seriously impact the competitiveness of Swiss exports. They would buy Euros to force the exchange rate to the artificial level.

Last week they stopped doing this and the result was, to quote one reporter, carnage.

The value of the franc soared, the cost of a holiday in this small alpine idyll rose by 30% and bespectacled watchmakers wept, quietly. There were losers and of course there were winners. If I got paid in CHF and spent all my money in Germany I would, overnight, have received a 30% pay rise. But I don’t, and I didn’t.

Should governments, banks and other more shadowy folks intervene to keep things like this happening though? Was the decision by the SNB a few years ago the right thing or should we just let free market forces drive everything in the world?

Like Thatcher I am a big supporter of letting the market to decide. Human beings are motivated animals, we want things. We want more. We want money and the profit motive is probably the single biggest motivator in the world. Yes we want to protect the vulnerable in society, yes we want to make sure the Polar bears still have a habitat in the future but I would argue not at the expense of the profit motive.

Take for example, if someone was to ask everyone in the world if they would prefer to receive $1,000 or alternatively we could guarantee global warming would stop in 50 years from now what would the world decide? Call me pessimistic but I’m pretty certain we would still be discussing emission restrictions in 2065.

So in this instance I would say letting the market decide would probably not be the right approach. I like polar bears.

But where should we draw the line? Should we have bailed out the banks eight years ago or should we have let them collapse and live with the inevitable run which would have occurred as everyone desperately tried to withdraw their savings? Should we just let the world and the markets get on with things and wait and see where it all ends up?

I don’t think so. I like the fact we invest in things like space exploration, air safety, global warming and other things which are either really cool or will have long term positive consequences for the world, or society. I doubt very much the markets would decide it would be a good thing to land a spaceship on a comet but I am very glad we did, just cos.

I do think however when it comes to economics we should just let the markets get on with it. If the world determined the Swiss franc was the place to be then the world should be allowed to buy them without any state intervention. Of course this will have implications but eventually the balance will return – it always does. My free will and my determination to pursue the profit motive will make it so.

The decision last week and the resulting sharp foreign exchange movement was simply a catch up to the reality outside. The Swiss franc took the red pill and it was just a mathematical certainty where it would go given the other global currencies were not being propped up, or down as it was in this case.

The market deciding most things would simply be a combination of everyone exercising their individual free will and I think this would be a fair representation of what the majority of the world really wants.

Lets protect the important things and let the rest be decided unfettered by intervention. Of course, what’s important would be fiercely contested but I like this in principle, a sort of economic-Darwinism.

Yes there would be winners and losers but isn’t this just a reflection of the realities of the world? Not sure what the implications would be for the cohort of society who choose not to contribute, hippies and other variants of smelly dreadlocked types. Perhaps they might actually have to get a job….

Anyway, I am exercising my free will writing this blog. No one told me to do it, no one asked me to do it but I am doing it anyway.

No one sneakily crept up behind me and subliminally whispered in my ear to write this.

At least I don’t think they did, but then what the hell do I know?

After all I’m the one who’s still trying to look like Bradley Cooper…