"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Most Wealth is Wasted in Modern Society

Of the massive 15 trillion dollar per year US economy there is undoubtedly some millions that comprise the fake plant industry.  
Fake plants serve to accentuate the soullessness of your typical office or waiting area with a parody of nature.  The materials and labor that goes into them serves no essential purpose nor does it make anyone happier.  What then is the point?

Why not just have fake plant makers stay at home with basic income if they’re wasting time and resources?  The system works by most people being forced to sell their labor(not everyone can be entrepeneurs) so they have food to eat and rent for their landlords. Why do we assume all labor must be good when every other living thing rests when it can?

The other side of this equation is consumerism that operates on the Keynesian assumption that all economic activity is worthwhile, and the more of it the better, no matter what.  And if you ever doubt it, you’re a commie or worse, a socialist!
This encourages an economy based on make-work that gets people a paycheck so they can buy more stuff without anything of value getting done.

So if I were emperor I might outlaw the manufacture of fake plants.  Maybe there’d be a black market for them and maybe fake plant dealers from time to time would get a whipping in the public square or get pilloried and pelted with rotten eggs and tomatoes.  

At the very least it would make fake plants more expensive and lower quality so fewer people would bother.  Being  a worthless “good” that no one really likes, there would be no Al Capone of fake plants.

Growing up in the 90s, I saw the social order of consumerism at its absolute peak.  Even people of modest means lived in decent-sized houses and their garages were invariably full to bursting with thousands of dollars worth of frivolous toys they never used.
I remember getting taken to house parties with my parents and seeing whole collections of the brand new DVDs worth hundreds of dollars that just sat there in glass cabinets, never removed from their plastic in houses that were so fastidiously clean, they didn’t even seem lived in.

I would get a feeling of dread and black depression in the pit of my stomach.  I could sense it was signs of sickness and decay though I couldn’t articulate or explain, even if someone in the smugly triumphalist 90s would have listened to such talk.

I reflect on my childhood and remember how most people given more money than they need to live just blow it all on stupid fads and status signalling anyway and are just as miserable and greedy as they were before.

Actually I perceived a thinly veiled cynicism, viciousness, and jadedness pervading most everything, even in other kids, who would’ve slit a throat for more Abercrombie and Fitch apparel. There were no loyalties or values, just things.

I remember those times as the worst and darkest of my life even though I spent my 20s perilously close to going completely broke as I had to teach myself the laws of real world survival from scratch after getting a worthless degree.

For all the pain it has caused, I actually think the challenges of the 21st century have forced people to reflect again on what is really important in life—and discredited the corrupt 1960s cultural revolution.  In some ways, it would have been the true nightmare if that on-paper prosperity had gone on forever.

Giving the commoners excessive wealth through the labor market or by welfare is like inflating the college degree or home loan markets.

The trouble in understanding this lies in enlightenment delusions of “perfectly rational” human behavior.  Or in other words assuming that people will always strive to improve their situations in a stricly pragmatic material sense.

In reality, beyond getting basic necessities met, most people just care about attracting desirable mates, making friends, and starting families.  
Humans as social animals are hardwired to compete for social prestige by any means necessary.

Like many other animals we see in the wild, human males try to build bowers and put on courtship displays to impress females.  Females spend most of their time and money acquiring accessories and grooming their plumage to impress the best bower builders.

As the level of wealth rises in society, the bowers get bigger and the accessories get more elaborate.  The dark side of this is if you don’t jump on the fad wagon and compete with the Joneses, you get left behind or even cast out from society.

Eventually you have a society where social signalling with more expensive houses, cars, and credentials puts all the wealth in the world straight down the toilet.

Human status is relative to what other people have and that’s why those who say “But US poorz is better off than African Kingz cuz they’re fat and they’ve got microwave ovens.” are full of crap—and they know it.

So if I were emperor, I would put restrictions on what kinds of houses are legal to build.  No more oversized houses with shoddy architecture and cheap materials that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

I would insist on durable materials suitable for the climate at reasonable prices that are large enough to do what’s necessary, especially anywhere near the cities where land is scarce.  It wouldn’t even take that long to phase out the current generation of houses that are considered “old” after 30 years.

There would be no more luxury cars for commoners.  No more hummers and pickup trucks on the road(unless you live off-road, have a farm, or a small business).  Excessively big vehicles just force everyone else to get bigger, more expensive cars if they want to survive a collision and consume ridiculous amounts of gas.  For 99% of people it makes more sense to rent a uhaul for the day if they need to move some stuff.

The credential factory universities wouldn’t get free money anymore and would have to answer directly to market forces.  They would probably just go back to being a socialization service for the upper middle class and up.

I would also abolish all employment laws concerning race and sex, granting peoples complete freedom of association.

I would make it legal to use IQ tests or other aptitude tests for employment to make a huge chunk of the bloated credential economy obsolete overnight.

I’m sure some who read this will choke with indignation at this “infringement of individual property rights” etc. etc. But I really see it as more mundane than that.  No different than rules against business owners burning down their competitors’ shops or building codes that limit how high or prominent signs can be.

A clear basic duty of those who control the guys with guns is to keep competition at all levels of society within healthy limits so they in turn can compete with other groups of guys with guns.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we take away those building codes.  Overnight, restaurants would build ever larger, taller, more brightly flashing signs and decoration to get attention even as the quality of the burgers they’re selling plummets.

This is exactly what happens when a population has no rules of social competition.  It simply escalates out of control until the most fabulously wealthy society in history is mired in crushing debt and most people are living paycheck to paycheck.

The core problem is that we actually idolize the social order of endless escalation that is destroying us.  Like countless empires before us that squandered their inheritance, we will find ourselves suddenly vulnerable to barbarian incursions from every side and our ability to unite, fight, and trust in our fellow man utterly extinguished in the endless war of all against all that we worship.

Until we rethink our basic assumptions about wealth and human nature, we are like Tantalus doomed to be thirsty and hungry though surrounded by all the wealth of the world, satisfaction always just out of reach.

Perhaps, we may even begin to dream of heresies—would living in a basic mudbrick house and a basic car be bad if we didn’t have to worry about basics of life like healthcare?
If you can’t buy a McMansion or lame crap like fake plants, and you don’t have to worry about becoming a debt slave for life if you trip once on a flight of stairs or slip in the shower, suddenly the unthinkable might occur.  The urge to get more money even if it destroys your entire society, might just diminish and economic activity become limited to where it does the most good.

13 responses to “Most Wealth is Wasted in Modern Society

  1. pibcola March 24, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    > Growing up in the 90s, I saw the social order of consumerism at its absolute peak. Even people of modest means lived in decent-sized houses and their garages were invariably full to bursting with thousands of dollars worth of frivolous toys they never used.

    > I remember getting taken to house parties with my parents and seeing whole collections of the brand new DVDs worth hundreds of dollars that just sat there in glass cabinets, never removed from their plastic in houses that were so fastidiously clean, they didn’t even seem lived in.

    > I would get a feeling of dread and black depression in the pit of my stomach. I could sense it was signs of sickness and decay though I couldn’t articulate or explain, even if someone in the smugly triumphalist 90s would have listened to such talk.

    Had a similar feeling seeing a friends single car garage filled to the brim (could only walk in via a tiny path carved out in the middle) with useless holiday decorations, sports paraphernalia, single purpose doodads etc etc. Seein’ my friend’s father struggle to dig through the junk just left a similar feeling of ‘dread and black depression in the pit of my stomach’ that I couldn’t describe the reasoning behind at the time.

    And like you noted, this frivolousness was the case for virtually all adults in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Some people were just more organized/cleaner than others.

    Even at that time shopping was considered a hobby by many middle/upper class women!?! Can you imagine any SWPLs listing shopping as a hobby in the current year?

    • Giovanni Dannato March 24, 2017 at 10:01 pm

      If you ever read Watership Down, the whole experience was kind of like the one warren the rabbits arrive at where the local rabbits are fat and prosperous yet they can smell death in the air and know in their guts something is terribly wrong.

  2. pibcola March 24, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    Has any country spent excess wealth well after getting a basic infrastructure and basic welfare/social benefits in place? It seems mature economies have no idea where to place their bets. Excess social benefits/welfare just makes weak people. Excess science/research spending seems to best wasted mostly on cargo cult science where getting grants is the name of the game. Excess infrastructure spending is a nice idea, but ends up bein’ costly to maintain and often politically dangerous.

    • Giovanni Dannato March 25, 2017 at 12:14 am

      There’s no nation or empire yet in history that’s been able to meet the challenge of prosperity, just a vast graveyard of civilizations. Right there you have the biggest unsolved problem of our age, the unclaimed prize.
      We have advanced science, but our principles of social organization aren’t that essentially different than what we’d find in ancient Babylon.
      Or as authors like David Graeber or bloggers like Hipcrime Vocab(escapefromwisconsin) point out, in some ways Ancient Mesopotamians may have actually had better organization than we do. Having debt forgiveness jubilee years and stricter anti-monopoly laws regarding land ownership suggest that in some ways their society may have been more fair than ours.

      By the time of Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic, it was typical for a few people to own most of the land with a huge portion of the population literally slaves.

      Of course, I treat this as a theory since it wouldn’t be the first time people tried to turn past peoples into “noble savages.” Unlike hunter gatherers, there are no modern day bronze age city states for us to study in action.

      • Mycroft Jones March 25, 2017 at 5:11 am

        I don’t think the Babylonians had jubilee years, debt forgiveness, etc. The Hebrews had those things, because they survived the collapse of several civilizations, Babylon included (Hittite, Egyptian, etc)

  3. Mycroft Jones March 25, 2017 at 5:10 am

    Sounds like you are describing a combination of Cuba and Japanese society. Good beginning. They do have strict social limits on social competition. Status is necessary to procure a mate and start a family. Limiting peoples mobility, and the speed of communication will go a long way. Limiting cell phones, limiting motor vehicles to 35 miles per hour, etc.

    Do you know why Britain ended slavery? I found out a month ago, someone sent me a link to the article. Turns out they were importing a bunch of African slaves. And they would quickly become free men. And what happened? A bunch of local men found themselves with a whole extra level of competition for women; British women were going black and not coming back. The fury and complaints led to various societal clampdowns on the importation of Africans, and eventually the outlawing of slavery. Which ameliorated the problem, but didn’t completely fix it. Arab potentates kept sending their sons to the West as ambassadors, and they kept spreading syphilis into the population to slake their depraved lusts.

    • Giovanni Dannato March 26, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      I feel like a social model is starting to come together. It’s a thrilling feeling. The commentary I’m getting helps a lot in figuring out what ideas are best and saves a lot of time.
      I feel like the terms “left” and “right” get thrown around too much. I’m interested in what works no matter who came up with it.

      The Amish seem to have done well regulating technology, putting their social organization first. Maybe some potential for more moderate programs in that mold as you suggest.
      One of the great lessons of modernity is most people have very little agency and cannot control themselves. This principle would be the basis for reinstating castes.
      Already, the root of much US dysfunction is that policies that work above 100 IQ simply won’t work at all below 90 or so.

      • Mycroft Jones March 26, 2017 at 11:28 pm

        True about most people have very little agency. It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire society to make a woman good. Limiting their travel and communication speed/ability makes them focus closer to home. A smartphone turns a good housewife into a slob/hoarder.

        The Amish were high-tech until 100 years ago. Then there was an incident with two women gossipping on a telephone, and someone listened in that shouldn’t have. The resulting inferno split the entire Amish nation in two, a split that persists to this day. After that they put the clamps on technology, carefully admitting only that which benefitted the entire community.

        The Japanese also seem to have some of this mindset, they’d rather make machinery and robots to care for their elderly than import cheap servants from outside. Very wise.

  4. EvolutionistX March 25, 2017 at 6:15 am

    I feel like fake plants deserve a bit of defense. I often decorate with paper flowers in the winter. I can’t really grow fresh flowers very well in the winter, and I don’t like the idea of importing flowers from the other side of the planet just so they can sit in a vase for a week before I throw them out, and the paper ones are fun to make and last indefinitely. Oh, and they don’t get dirt around. I love regular plants, really, I have a whole garden full of them, but they just don’t really work that well indoors. Certainly a fake plant is unnecessary, but as decorations go, I don’t really see how they are any more harmful than a painting.

    • Giovanni Dannato March 26, 2017 at 3:47 pm

      I’m being slightly outrageous with the fake plants. They were the first thing that popped into my head as mostly useless and symbolize the fakeness and mediocrity of cubicletopia.
      If I better understood finance, insurance, real estate, government work I bet I could point to whole industries that are an actual net negative. Government contractors that massively overcharge for everything? I considered divorce lawyers, but they are useful I suppose just like undertakers are. Not to mention they are flies around the corpse rather than the corpse itself.

      • myb6 March 30, 2017 at 5:50 pm

        My apologies, I can’t help but take the opportunity to put together a list.

        Finance: Fed printing rewards oligopolized intermediaries (Wall Street) and disproportionately benefits prior holders of whatever assets the Fed acquires (usually Treasuries).

        Real estate: zoning and its relatives mean that in important economic centers you’re now paying more for the residency permit than you are for the structure. Anti-discrimination law means the only way to defend yourself from competing behavioral norms is by out-pricing them, an inherently expensive method.

        Gov: let’s go through some major spending categories. Military: domestic needs and deterrence could be done for a fraction the cost. Medicare: keeping the elderly suffering longer. Medicaid: helping the unproductive reproduce. Education: overpriced mixture of real skill development and harmful indoctrination. Transport: dollar-basis could just be renamed freeways and arterials, at one point helped people escape social problems resulting from poor governance but tipped past cost-benefit logic decades ago. Police: expensive and failing attempt to mitigate social problems resulting from poor governance. OK I need to stop I’m getting depressed.

        Divorce lawyers are wolves not flies; they can lobby to encourage divorce, ie they have the ability to (at least help) kill the animal, not just consume a corpse.

      • Giovanni Dannato March 30, 2017 at 8:07 pm

        Don’t apologize, it’s a great list to start with. Comments like these give me ideas and tips on what to research next, saving me hours following a trail of quora questions and wikipedia articles.
        The Fed is an especially tough subject because people who know about it, like all economics and finance types use lots of wordy jargon even for simple concepts. People who think they know about it swamp the internet with endless conspiracy theories.

        I’d thought of the education one, added it to my “The Social Model So Far” on the top bar yesterday.
        I wrote awhile ago how for most people schooling is a waste of time beyond literacy and arithmetic.

        Good point about divorce lawyers being wolves. Groups with lobbies really are kind of like predators that follow the herd waiting to attack targets that are sick and weak.

  5. Sam J. March 29, 2017 at 2:31 am

    “…now people kill each other over stuff they used to throw away…”

    The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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