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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.

Market Demand Must Be Regulated

Society values pro basketball players who provide entertainment far more than trash collectors who perform a vital service. We may need garbage collectors more than professional athletes, but it’s easy to find people who can pick up trash, while elite athletes are scarce by definition.  In this case market supply and demand is a distortion of actual value.  We are ok with athletes being paid millions of dollars to play a game because we suppose demand is sacrosanct, almost a godly force we dare not question.  After all, we get paid what we’re worth, right?
Yet it’s illegal to buy cocaine or hire a hitman when there is undoubtedly demand for drugs and contract killing.   Alcohol and liquor sales are heavily taxed to try to curb demand.  Or what about medical treatments?  When a patient is in danger of death, the value of the next treatment is theoretically infinite.  So shouldn’t that next round of chemotherapy always cost everything the patient has left according to pure demand?  The state already can and does regulate demand—it’s not off limits.
So why then do we let a football player or a movie star walk away with millions of dollars when its obvious there’s no way their contribution however important can be that large?  When someone becomes a millionaire by throwing a ball around or playing make-believe on camera, the character and morale of the entire society is undermined.
What is the garbage man to think when society values a single movie star more than him dozens of times over?  His task is so important, society can’t do without him for even a week.  If movie studios were all shut down, it might be unpleasant news but people would get on with life.
So why not put a strict cap on the income of entertainers and their promoters?  They provide services that people want and seem to generally do more good than harm by helping to create a thriving culture, so it would make sense to allow them to earn a good living, but becoming multi-millionaires would be out of the question. Entertainment is wonderful to have but it is a luxury, not a mainstay.

Obviously, a big budget movie gets made and its star actors paid millions because hundreds of millions of people are willing to pay for movie tickets.  So I could see someone arguing that because demand exists, it should be allowed.  But this is not enough.  Otherwise we should also be willing to argue for the legalization of contract killing and robbery.  The pattern I see is that demand is allowed to express itself so long as it does more good than harm to society.  So now we have to decide if it is good for a society to pour billions of dollars of its wealth into a handful of entertainers.  Surely there’s a limit on the worth of entertainment when there’s other things that need to be done.
As individuals, we value recreational time playing video games, watching movies, or blogging.  Yet we have a time and money budget for our own entertainment.  Similarly, a society ought to have a wealth budget for its luxuries.  It may sound restrictive to limit what a pro athlete or day trader makes, yet we already accept sin taxes that curb and punish demand for cigarettes and booze.  Sin taxes already carry the implicit recognition that we are not rational economic agents.  We routinely make bad decisions.  So we’re given a push in the “right” direction by the state.  We can buy that bottle of vodka or pack of cigarettes, but we have to be willing to pay an extra fee that serves as both a disincentive and an indemnity to society.  By the same principle we could cap the price for event and movie tickets or the acceptable budget cities can spend on stadiums to prevent or at least limit the misappropriation of society’s very finite wealth.
It would also be interesting to examine financial “products” and examine which of them return equivalent or greater value to society and which are a net drain or even cause damage.

Limiting the size of luxury industries brings up a big issue though—what about all the people that would lose their jobs in movie studios, stadiums, and concert halls?  We ask this because we lose perspective of the big picture.  We go to work to provide value to others and then get compensated in proportion to our contributions.  Is it a net good to work at a stadium that cost the city’s tax payers billions of dollars to spend billions more on a luxury activity?  If there’s nothing more productive to do with someone, why shouldn’t society just give them a guaranteed minimum income until there’s something more useful to do?  Society comes out way ahead by just skipping the multi-billion dollar excuse to write a paycheck.  No activity at all is far more valuable than useless activity.  Just staying at home with some basic income, there is a small chance they may have the initiative to use their leisure time wisely and genuinely contribute to the good of the group.

We’ve been taught to think in a way that’s a distortion of Keynesian views.  Keynes suggested hiring people to do useless tasks as one way to stimulate a depressed economy.  Naturally, his prescription for emergency situations became the new normal, where making money is a good thing even if we’re building “useless pyramids” or paying people to dig a hole just to fill it in again.  The trouble is this becomes a philosophy of economic nihilism in which human activity is divorced from purpose and meaning.   People just want money and as long as no one is murdered outright, the means don’t matter much.  Strangely, it sounds almost heretical now to suggest that markets and the accumulation of wealth ought to serve a purpose—to benefit the group in which we participate—that money awarded for unproductive or under-productive activity damages the integrity of society.

The survival of human societies in this world is a serious business; against other societies, against the pitiless forces of nature, and never-ending internal pressures.  The elevation of frivolous things to the heights of accomplishment makes a mockery of the social order.  A society where people worship “celebrities” over inventors, leaders, and entrepreneurs has lost its way.  Such is a disaster of mob rule where the masses are allowed to determine who is great and who is low.  When the undeserving get the best rewards, cynicism spreads and loyalty erodes until one day a nimble challenger full of confidence arises and proves more than a match for a mighty opponent crippled by rot.
The market is a form of economic democracy—every purchase is a vote.  We have an electoral college and representatives in political democracy rather than a pure popular vote.  So popular demand on the market must also be subject to controls, to curb and prevent tragedies of the commons.  There already are rules such as monopoly prevention that implicitly acknowledge the market has a mission to fulfill.  It is not there for its own sake.   These principles just have to be extended until the market is re-animated with purpose as a healthy circulatory system.

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