Economics of the Mustard Seed
The excess use of mustard scooped by its own tiny spoon and left unused on the side of dinner plates after a meal, made Coleman’s firm a very rich company. Mustard seed, one of the least grains, has in it ‘a property and spirit to hastily get up and spread’. But will the mustard leaf replace the sacred shamrock as an emblem of Ireland?
Recent high prices paid for land made poor men very rich, quickly. Subsequent revaluations of the same land made newly rich men very poor again, driving bankers up the wall and economists scratching their heads in confusion. For it seems indeed that the whole world’s been doing the same thing as Irish farmers and developers, but none with greater sophistication, which points to the matter of education, where the farmer and developer with little formal economic training could run absolute rings around greedy bankers and stuffy economists, whose limited abilities were bound to their own limited academic circles; and whereas the countryman will listen and learn both his mathematics and social mores ‘on the job’ so to speak, and will dine wholesomely at a ‘chipper’ with salt and a dash o’ vinegar to taste; which social networking tends to give him a nearly complete understanding of the complexities of everyday financial dealings ‘at the coalface’; and with a nose for impending doom (being part of the cause), he can sense a disaster on the horizon before the dawn of day. While politicians, economists and bankers still box each other’s ears about the rights and wrongs of the latest economic downturns and solutions thereto, others are already out and about plotting tomorrow’s world today.
Sean O’Casey provided the catch-cry in Juno and The Paycock – The whole worl’s in a state o’ chassis - and is so succinctly worded that it should merit him a posthumous Masters degree in economics. To this day, no economist of this era has come anywhere close to stating that reality of our affairs because Matters of Right Valuation were concealed.
Bearing the aforesaid in mind, a singular lesson is to be learned from an observation some 400 years ago. It is an extract from an essay on the fair and honest management in the affairs of State, written in 1625 by Sir Francis Bacon. As a young man he was a knave, once having urged his friend Lord Essex to go on a fool’s errand to sort out Ireland. Essex came to Ballymore Eustace in 1599, but his visit was unsuccessful. On his return to England, he unwisely turned his head on the Queen, was accused of treason, convicted by Bacon, and beheaded in 1601. In his old age, Bacon wrote a further series of essays on morals, anachronisms really, of his own former conduct.
Nevertheless, the lessons of the 17th century essay are stark reminders to our 21st century ‘managers’ about their own morals, ethics and precepts. The essay….
Of the True Greatnesse of Kingdomes and Estates. The Speech of Themistocles the Athenian, which was Haughtie and Arrogant, in taking so much to Himself, had been a Grave and Wise observation and Censure, applied at large to others. Desired at a Feast to touch a Lute, he said: He could not fiddle, but yet he could make a small Towne, a great Citty. These Words (helped a little with a Metaphore) may express two differing Abilities, in those that deale in Businesse of Estate. For if a true survey be taken, of Counsellours and Statesmen, there may be found (though rarely) those, which can make a Small State Great, and yet cannot fiddle: As on the other side, there will be found a great many, that can fiddle very cunningly, but yet are so farre from being able, to make a Small State Great, as their Gift lieth the other way; To bring a Great and Flourishing Estate to Ruine and Decay. And certainly, those Degenerate Arts and Shifts, whereby many Counsellours and Governours, gaine both Favour with their Masters, and Estimation with the Vulgar, deserve no better Name then Fidling; Being Things, rather pleasing for the time, and gracefull to themselves onely, then tending to the Weale and Advancement of the State, which they serve. There are also (no doubt) Counsellours and Governours, which may be held sufficient, (Negotije pares) Able to mannage Afairs, and to keep them from Precipices, and manifest inconveniences; which nevertheless, are farre from the Abilitie, to raise and Amplifie an Estate, in Power, Means, and Fortune. But be the worke-men what they may be, let us speake of the Worke; That is; The true Greatnesse of Kingdomes and Estates; and the Meanes thereof. An Argument, fit for Great and Mightie Princes, to have in their hand; To the end, that neither by Over-measuring their forces, they leese themselves in vaine Enterprises; Nor on the other side, by undervaluing them, they descend to Fearfull and Pusillanimous Counsells.The Greatnesse of an Estate in Bulke and Territorie, doth fall under Measure; And the Greatnesse of Finances and Revenew doth fall under Computation. The Population may appeare by Musters; And the Number and Greatnesse of Cities and Townes, by Cards and maps. But yet there is not any Thing amongst Civill Affairs, more subject to Errour, then the right valuation, and true judgement, concerning the Power and Forces of an Estate. The Kingdome of Heaven is compared, not to any great Kernel or Nut, but to a Graine of Mustard–seed; which is one of the least Graines, but hath in it a Propertie and Spirit, hastily to get up and spread. So are there States, great in Terrirorie, and yet not apt to enlarge, or Command; And some, that have but a small Dimension of Stemme, and yet apt to be the Foundations of Great Monarchies.’ Michael Ward.