Sunday, July 23, 2017

The economics of waste


There is no particular reason to believe that Charles H. Smith is a Veblen scholar or that he has even read The Theory of the Leisure Class (TOLC). Nevertheless, if someone had been assigned to summarize TOLC, the following would rate an A+ because these are exactly the points Veblen was trying to make. For example, Veblen includes a whole chapter on why the Leisure Classes believe that waste enhances their status, entitled Conspicuous Waste.

This essay is short and sweet, and the reader isn't required to learn a bunch of arcane terms as is the case with a reading of TOLC. Several times in my life I have been asked to "translate" TOLC into modern English. Because I am terrible at such tasks, I have begged off. But I DO think it is a good idea. And however Smith came to write the following, it will be an excellent substitute until someone actually reworks Veblen's classic.

EARTH'S ECONOMY GLORIFIES WASTE, EXPLOITATION, DEBT, EXPEDIENCY AND MAGICAL THINKING

CHARLES HUGH SMITH, July 16, 2017

Humanity appears to default to magical thinking when faced with untenable situations that demand systemic change.

How would extraterrestrial anthropologists characterize Earth's dominant socio-economic system? It's not difficult to imagine their dismaying report:

"Earth's economy glorifies waste. Its economists rejoice when a product is disposed as waste and replaced with a new product. This waste is perversely labeled 'growth.'

Aimless wandering that consumes fossil fuels is likewise rejoiced as 'growth.'

The stripping of the planet's oceans for a few favored species of edible fish is also considered 'growth' as the process of destroying the ocean ecosystem generates sales of the desired seafood.

Even more perversely, the resulting shortages are also causes of rejoicing by the planet's elites, as their ability to purchase the now-scarce resources boosts their social status and grandiose sense of self-worth.

This glorification of waste is the same dynamic that destroyed the civilization on Zork.

Earth's economy also glorifies exploitation, as this maximizes profits, which appears to be the planetary equivalent of a secular religion that everyone believes as a Natural Law.

Thus slavery and monopoly are highly valued as the most reliable sources of profits. If ethical concerns limit the actual ownership of humans, Earth's economy incentivizes feudal arrangements that share characteristics of servitude and bondage. In the current era, the favored mechanisms are over-indebtedness (debt-serfdom) and taxation by the state, which extracts approximately 40% of all labor via threat of imprisonment.

Earth's elites exhibit a pathological preference for micro-managing the commoners via criminalizing much of everyday life and imposing extremely harsh punishments for any dissent or resistance to elite domination.

This is the same dynamic that doomed planetary civilizations in the Blug system.

Earth's economy is currently dependent on depleting fossil fuels and borrowing from the future to fund consumption in the present, i.e. debt. Rather than face the reality that this is not sustainable and pursue other arrangements, Earth's elites have chosen expediency, responding to the inevitable crises caused by depletion and dependence on debt with expedient but ultimately destructive policies that paper over the crises but at the cost of generating greater crises in the next iteration.

Humanity appears to default to magical thinking when faced with untenable situations that demand systemic change. This is eerily parallel to the now-lost civilization of Frum.

It seems Earth's dominant species has selected the most destructive policies and mindsets to glorify and worship. Earth's current civilization is doomed, with near-zero prospects for the necessary transition to a more sustainable, less exploitive arrangement.

Earth's decline is a tragi-comedy, much like the one on Ononon that entertained our home planet audiences for a time." more

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