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Tag Archives: capitalism

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.

The Cancer of Consumer Capitalism

The United States is the wealthiest nation on Earth, perhaps even in the history of the world.  Yet if we go to the nearest grocery store we can see an endless flow of haggard, overworked people trying to make ends meet.  The culture of the US is one of lonely “individualism” with most people locked in desperate competition with each other, to the extent they interact with their fellow man at all in any meaningful way.  Despite  all the new clothes, cars, and houses, fewer people have children or see a worthwhile future every year.
The US is the ultimate example of how the way a society uses and stores wealth is more important than how much wealth it has.

The cause of America’s contradictions is its holy ideology of consumer capitalism, the ideas of the 18th century enlightenment with its worship of the rational individual, of Bentham, Marx, Smith taken down a slippery slope to their ultimate absurdity.
What we end up with is an entire society based around the principle that more is always better.
There are no questions of mission or purpose.  There are only hundreds of millions of rational interchangeable agents making decisions of pleasure and pain every day.  Whether the outcome is optimal or even desirable at all, is a question that cannot even be framed.
We are told relentlessly that it is the best of all possible systems and that the invisible hand always knows what’s really best for us.

If we read about 15 minutes of history common sense makes it clear that societies are organisms that compete and cooperate in complex ecosystems. Individual humans are rather like cells in these social bodies.  What one person does affects everyone else.  A society made of purely self-interested people is a body riddled with cancer cells.  Rapacious enlightened individuals, like cancer cells hungrily guzzle all the glucose they desire for a time, until the host expires, or in its weakened state is killed by an opportunistic rival.  Then the rational cancer that thought itself God unceremoniously dies along with the body.
Enduring societies have to consider the good of the body first.  For if it dies, all the concerns of the cells are rendered moot.
The insistence of consumerism on everlasting growth is to prescribe cancer as the remedy.

Nothing grows forever and ultimately lives within its finite bounds.  Working within these limits is the mandate of living things.
Resilient natural systems make the most of scarce resources while our system is devoted to getting as little benefit as possible from even the most unimaginable abundance.
A wasteful system like this one assumes the good times never end.  It has no goals and simply burns up what it gets.
A resilient system has set goals that it tries to achieve as effectively as possible with as little energy as possible.  Then it shores itself up against times of scarcity and disaster.  What energy isn’t spent supports rest and leisure, the reward for a job well done.

Living in a consumerist society is to live on a treadmill.  Since there is no purpose there are no tasks to be done, only endless work that can never be complete.  Worse, the work must be endless or else the entire system collapses overnight.  Millions of people live lives of desperate dependance on jobs they hate stuck most of the time with people they despise so they do not starve, become involuntary celibates, and become disowned by their fair-weather friends and family.  It’s a special kind of hell that favors the insane and this is what we think is normal.  It is a comfort that this sort of depraved system cannot last.

See Also: 
Lack of A Long Term is the Problem With Capitalism

Competition Between Societies: Desert Plants vs. Garden Plants

Civilization is Natural

Strategic Laziness

Our universe tends towards entropy and chaos.  As complexity of organization increases, resistance rises exponentially, like trying to force two opposing magnets together. (It’s always megafauna, T Rex or Mammoths that go extinct, not E. coli)  Looking at the natural world here on earth it’s quickly clear that every living thing expends as little energy as possible to persist.  Lions with full stomachs sleep most of the time, desert toads hibernate for years in between rains, birds with no predators lose the ability to fly over time. Nothing works harder than it must.  The more complex and energy-intensive the solution, the harder it is to sustain.

Trouble arises, though, when you’re a flightless, fearless dodo perfectly well adapted to your environment and suddenly humans show up. Or likewise, you’re a fit dinosaur species but prove unable to cope with a nuclear winter caused by asteroid impact possibly combining with volcanic eruptions to form a perfect disaster.  Evolution alone can’t plan ahead or anticipate rare catastrophic events.  This is why I think some living things have been pushed towards higher levels of awareness despite its massive costs, so they can be strategically lazy spending as little effort as possible while avoiding the dangers of only responding to constant, familiar stressors.

 The peacock’s tail is one of my favorite examples against the infallibility of nature.  It’s a natural pattern we see often in corporate, governmental, civilizational bloat.  All that sacred competition gets you something that maybe looks pretty but is a worse-than-useless burden sucking huge amounts of energy.  It teaches us that the patterns of civilizations and corporations are every bit as natural as the rippling of sand dunes.  Perhaps the most devastating doctrine of the enlightenment was to hubristically treat man and nature, not only as separate, but as opposites.

When I was about 12 years old, I was responsible for weeding the yard.  Trouble was, there were more seeds constantly blowing in from the desert and most of the lot was dirt and gravel that was perfect for them.  I well knew that even going over the whole yard with a hoe a couple times a week wouldn’t accomplish much.  In a few days, new sprouts were coming up everywhere.  In fact, killing everything just favored the worst sort of thorns that hugged the ground in choking vines, and dropped thousands of their sharp barbs that deflated basketballs and stuck in shoe soles by the dozens.
I noticed at the same time that a lot of the desert plants had pretty flowers, lacked thorns or sticky leaves, and had roots that were easy to pull up if I needed to.  I started what I then called “selective weeding” and let the desert weeds I liked flourish while punishing the thorn vines and the russian thistles that turn into tumbleweeds.
Before long, there was a colorful garden of desert flowers outside my bedroom window alive with the buzzing of bees.  The thorn plants were not even 1/10th of the problem they used to be once they had competition.
Of course my parents eventually asked me why I wasn’t doing my job.  I tried to explain what I was doing, but no one listens to a 7th grade kid trying to avoid work and I was told to take care of it.  So knowing full well what would happen next, I went out and uprooted my experiment.  Soon enough, the thorns were back in force despite our best efforts.
This was a formative experience that influenced my world view ever since.  I learned the futility of sustaining a vacuum against equilibrium.
I later saw the same problems I encountered doing childhood yard chores over and over again in 6000 years of failed human governments.  At some point there’s always well-intentioned policies that try to defy the equilibrium, end up favoring the thorns, and the rest is history.

I came to realize as I grew up in a frantically workaholic American society that nature in fact favors laziness.  An animal at leisure is well-fed and prosperous, a creature that must always work is failing at the game of survival.  It helped explain to me the widespread stress and misery of what should be by all rights a prosperous and happy land.  Constant labor tells us on a gut level that we are always on the brink of starvation, however many mansions and cars we may own.  Some of us become adrendaline junkies while others get ground down into burnouts that just go through the motions.  Whatever someone’s station, there’s just an interminable “job” never a tangible task that has a beginning and an end after which one enjoys the fruits of a job well done.  That I realized is the peculiar insanity of industrial civilization—a trap of Sisyphean futility most are stuck in until they’re dead.
As I approached adulthood I came to understand there was no luxury on earth greater than the power to simply do nothing.

The basic problem of modern civilization is that it favors extravagant solutions arrived at through extreme, specialized competition like the peacock’s tail.
A sense of minimalism, strategic laziness, yields simpler, more resilient, more adaptable solutions.  
Even when gatekeepers force peacock competition with a strategic bottleneck, the payoff for finding a low cost workaround or substitute is very high.

What Money Rewards, We Get More Of

In a tribe, status is determined by individual deeds and attributes.  Let’s imagine a tribe where the best hunter gets the best cuts of meat, the best women, the best of everything.  He enjoys the rewards of being the most effective at helping his society survive. The social order is kept strong.
In a nation of anonymous millions we require money as an abstract standin for tribal status and reputation.  It’s how we organize in economic groups far larger than our monkey instincts can handle.  If I walk into walmart and grab a bunch of bananas, there’s no way the cashier can know if letting me walk out of the store is a net benefit to society or if I have social value and credibility greater than the value of the bananas.  So we all default to money.
Money is a good behavior points system.  In 1st grade there were gold stars, as adults, there’s dollars.   Money measures how valuable we are to society.  How many dollars you have is how much every other holder of dollars wants you around.  If you can’t be valued enough in money points to survive, you’re effectively “voted off the island.”  Ideally, it’s equivalent to being exiled from a small tribe because you hurt the group or just didn’t contribute enough.  Because money is an abstract construct in place of the real thing, it is in practice naturally vulnerable to abuse.

If I can steal a dollar from someone and get away with it, society values me a dollar more for my ability to do it.  If I could get away with selling illegal drugs or human organs, I would be making big money enjoying society’s best luxuries while actually hurting the abstract mass tribe.  It would be the equivalent of a small tribe richly rewarding a traitor.
Or imagine someone who gets the best rewards merely by gaming the money system within the letter of the law.  Maybe he just shuffles around securities producing no value for others. Maybe he buys up drug patents and charges hundreds of dollars per pill to desperate dying patients. Or spends 4 decades grinding in a cubicle. It doesn’t matter how he gets money so long as gets it.  In a small tribe he’d be like a guy who just pretends to work all day yet gets the best rewards!  Worse, each dollar gives the traitor or  the scammer more gravitational pull, more votes over what shape society is to take.  Once the defector-parasites are powerful enough to reprogram society’s immune system in their own interests everything good is finally drained and used up.

Worst of all, seeing defectors rewarded destroys group morale.  Why work hard to do things the right way, when parasites get ahead?  When people see the unproductive are most successful they eventually will want to join them.  A society that rewards unproductive or harmful people doesn’t deserve anyone’s dedication or loyalty anyway.  Once athletes, entertainers, and financiers are in the top levels of the hierarchy, that society has lost its mandate of heaven.   In a small tribe where a traitor was rewarded best everyone would eventually become traitors.

 

Lack of a Long Term is the Problem With Capitalism

Unregulated capitalism knows no past or future, it concerns only the desires of the present.
The state must serve the role of investor to guide the self-destructive child that is the free market.
This means watching out for the long term interests of the society.
Even before American independence, free market greed set up a disaster as business owners chose to import slaves rather than pay to import labor.
They saved themselves money and time for awhile, but by so doing they sank to the degradation of keeping slaves and doomed their children and grandchildren to all the problems that came with having a captive population of millions, doomed hundreds of thousands of grandkids to perish in battle, and saddled an entire people with problems that still must be dealt with hundreds of years later.

Clearly those old planter aristocrats cared nothing for the future, had no use to care for anything beyond the day they died.
But why should a society have any regard for the needs of the reckless and greedy who plan to leave their mess for others to clean up?
Surely such fools surrender implicitly their freedoms in the same way as a murderer, who threatens his victims more immediately and more directly.
Surely they harm society in the long term as surely as a high IQ welfare mother helps society’s future.
A highly intelligent woman raising a large brood of kids makes her less able to work a job, but she more than makes up for her individual output of one lifetime by contributing several valuable lives who will bear quality offspring in turn.
A society that consumes her entire potential in the workforce, devouring the leisure time she needs for family and children cheerfully eats its seed corn, dooming future generations to poverty and suffering.
So too did an 18th century planter consume the seed corn of the crop that rightly belonged to his children by importing slaves.
So too does a modern business owner import temporary talent from every corner of the earth to avoid the temporary expense of training local people who will always be there and teach their craft to their children.

The murderer may kill a few people before he is caught, but the long-term evil doer may well leave behind problems that affect everyone after him forever.
Let’s imagine some finite resource is utterly consumed according to the supposedly holy and infallible forces of demand.  We may suppose that when the resource is still abundant, demand dictates it be used for the most mundane and frivolous purposes without a second thought even though it may run out forever by noon tomorrow.  The free market is by nature a stampede of lemmings.
Without firm guidance, the free market enshrined as God in America becomes a rampant cancer.
And many forget, that without the intervention of government, there are no markets, only loot and plunder.

So a great state must protect its future investments from predation and in righteous ruthlessness crush those low souls who are willing to benefit now while incurring a net expense for everyone else later.

There are those who do not care what happens later — fine.  But by the principle of justice they cannot expect anyone to care about their problems, their property, or their freedoms, now or ever.

The problem of course is in the absence of philosopher kings, we fear the abuses of such a government more than we expect competence in its administrators.

North Korea Black Markets Could Take Over Economy, Undermine Kim Regime

“North Korean citizens, unable to count on a stable income or rationing, are moonlighting as security guards or coal haulers to make ends meet, eroding their allegiance to state authorities.

A South Korean research institute estimates that unauthorized economic activities, such as side businesses, account for 40-70 percent of citizens’ daily lives.

Experts say as much as 75 percent of the North Korean population does not depend on the state-owned economy at all.

The prevailing view is that the regime will lose more of its ruling power unless Kim Jong Un, who succeeded Kim Jong Il as North Korea’s new leader after his death on Dec. 17, reforms and opens up the economy…

At a shoe factory outside Pyongyang, only about 100 of the 750 employees report to the factory. Others buy materials, make shoes on their own and sell them in markets…

North Koreans at the dinner table used to talk about what Kim Il Sung, who founded the country, did and said. Today, they talk about how to make money instead.”

LINK

No Longer A Superpower: Why Venice Went Into Decline

“IN the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.

Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy.

The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.”

LINK

When Tang, A Drink For Astronauts, Was A Status Symbol In China

“The year I turned 16, a new product caught my eye. Fruit Treasure, as Tang was named for the Chinese market, instantly won everyone’s heart. Imagine real oranges condensed into a fine powder! Equally seductive was the TV commercial, which gave us a glimpse of a life that most families, including mine, could hardly afford. The kitchen was spacious and brightly lighted, whereas ours was a small cube …

The drink itself, steaming hot in an expensive-looking mug that was held between the child’s mittened hands, was a vivid orange…

Until this point, all commercials were short and boring, with catchy phrases like “Our Product Is Loved by People Around the World” flashing on screen. The Tang ad was a revolution in itself: the lifestyle it represented – a more healthful and richer one, a Western luxury – was just starting to become legitimate in China as it was beginning to embrace the West and its capitalism…

To add to my agony, our neighbor’s son brought over his first girlfriend, for whom he had just bought a bottle of Tang. He was five years older and a college sophomore; we had nothing in common and had not spoken more than 10 sentences. But this didn’t stop me from having a painful crush on him. The beautiful girlfriend opened the Tang in our flat and insisted that we all try it. When it was my turn to scoop some into a glass of water, the fine orange powder almost choked me to tears. It was the first time I had drunk Tang, and the taste was not like real oranges but stronger, as if it were made of the essence of all the oranges I had ever eaten.”

LINK

If shiny little bits of trash or a sugary, artificially flavored drink mix were made scarce and claimed to be desirable by the herd, especially its fertile female contingent, we must predict that everyone would scramble to get it.

This is why I’ve long considered measures of intrinsic value(of a good to an individual) to protect ourselves from the caprices of an insane and self-destructive mass society.

I recognize that the individual cannot be held truly distinct from society, not even close, but I keep my model simple.  It’s a basic method to clear away unwarranted hype and come out ahead of the crowd.

I’m supposing the boy in the story got a generous short term hypergamous payoff for following the fad and buying a can of orange flavored junk.
But guess what probably happened to his fawning groupies as soon as the Tang bubble popped?
We would see him left with a worthless powder for which he paid dearly and no long term or tactical gain to show for it.

Indeed, with that much less resources in his wallet, the less capital he has to impress the next round of herd females.  Worse, he was probably spending scarce funds his family needed to feed itself and pay for rent and education.

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