The Economy of Abundance #3
Material Saturation: The Most Important Concept for Understanding the Economy of Abundance
[Why the Depression of 2008 was so different from the 1930s]
Copyright 2012, John Manimas Medeiros
Projected installments #4 - #7, April - July, at end of this document.
My family elders told me when I was a child that nobody said anything bad about poor people during the Great Depression of the 1930s, because everyone was poor. Of course it was not literally everyone, but it was known that the cause of unemployment was the financial corruption of investors who kept trying to make money out of nothing. The same thing happened in 2007-2008, but the damage was far less due to all of the socially responsible programs, or "socialism," that had been put in place to cushion the middle class when the economy gets sick. Social Security protects our elders, which is certainly a family value. For adults to care for their parents and grandparents is a tradition in Western Civilization that is so old it probably dates back to pre-history. Such a high percentage of the people believe it is right for our elders to be protected from the suffering and embarrassment of extreme poverty, we created the Social Security System so that everyone who worked for at least ten years would have some minimal income when they retired. We also have a planned retirement age, though it is not mandatory, so that people who can no longer work productively, or who want to retire, can leave their employment position and open it up for younger, more energetic and more productive workers. It is a logical program, and those who oppose it have some kind of mental problem. Opposition to social security for the elderly is totally irrational and has to be based on some form of mistaken understanding of our social values and how our economy works. Having elders with money to pay their bills helps everyone, all of those who sell the products and services that our elders need during their twilight years.
There is much more to be compared between the Great Depression of the 1930s and our less destructive depression of 2008-2012. I remember a teacher telling me that one of the main problems in the 1930s was that industries had produced too many goods and people did not have the money to buy them. That made some sense to me at the time, but having learned so much more about economics, and life, since then, I can see that the problem was much more complicated back then, and still is now. If goods are sitting in stores and warehouses and the people are not buying, the explanation for why the people are not buying should not be based on easy assumptions. There are several possible explanations, and some or all may apply.
Why are people not buying?
1) Over production and under consumption: It could be true that manufacturers have made too many of their products. But that refers to a rather straightforward business problem that has been addressed with better business practices and precise market-measurement technologies. In the 1930s, businesses had inventories, and many towns and cities had an inventory tax that was payable once a year. Many may still have such a tax. This was and still is one of the main motivations for retail price cuts and discounted sales. Whether there is a local inventory tax or not, businesses lose money maintaining an inventory that is not moving. Anyone who makes even superficial observations of the American distribution system cannot help but notice that keeping products moving, from factory to store to consumer, as quickly as possible, is the name of the game. Modern business machines keep track of sales and inventories, what stocks need to be replenished, what is selling faster than expected, or slower than expected, when a fad is developing, or losing steam. Knowing how much of a product is likely to sell is an extremely valuable piece of business intelligence. Precision in the process of making only what will sell is the key to clean profits. Having too much of a product is a miscalculation that can reduce profits painfully, because whether a business sells all that they have produced, or only half, the operating expenses are nearly the same. So, inventory that is not moving is deadly for profits. In conclusion, over production can still occur, and it may have occurred in the 1930s, but, over production is one side of a coin. And the other side is under consumption, which simply means people are not buying what is available. We still need more information in order to be sure we know all the reasons why people are not buying.
2) Unemployment and poverty: We generally assume the reason consumers are not buying is because they do not have the discretionary disposable income -- they do not have the money to spend. This applies of course to a good or popular product that normally sells at a predictable sales volume. This kind of problem rarely applies to basic human needs, such as food, rent, mortgage or electric power and home heating. The costs of the basic necessities must be met, and the reduction of household income does not usually cause the elimination of such payments, but may involve downward adjustments or changes in the level or type of service. In the case of food, we all know that menus can be changed to accommodate a smaller food budget. We are all familiar with the concept of substituting rice or macaroni and cheese and peanut-butter sandwiches in place of steak, shrimp, and expensive restaurant meals. Paying less for food does not necessarily seriously reduce nutritional value. In fact, nutritional science teaches us that many of the least expensive foods, such as fresh vegetables and whole grains that need to be prepared at home, are the most nutritious. The real economic problem that is driven by unemployment and poverty is that consumers do not have money to spend on all of the goods and services that are not basic necessities but which contribute to a vigorous commerce when people do have extra money to spend -- discretionary funds -- after basic necessities are fully and comfortably paid for. The list of consumer goods that people will buy in the United States -- an economy of abundance -- is extremely long and varied, so long as people have the money to spend. We need to take a good look, a very close look, at what occurs "normally" and what occurs when the family income is drastically reduced by unemployment or any other economic event that triggers relative poverty. There are a few basic principles involved that function as the laws of the economic community, but they are so obvious we often forget them, and we do not usually think about these principles in a way that enables us to question them or analyze them.
An individual or family can enjoy the economy of abundance only if they have money to spend.
An individual or family is expected to obtain money by employment, by working, by being an employee who receives a paycheck and benefits in exchange for labor.
Significant reductions in family disposable income, meaning that people have less money to spend on all non-necessities, has the powerful effect of reducing commerce in general and slowing down the entire economic process. One analogy or metaphor would be that of a circus that travels from town to town on a circus train. If there is a town where no one has the money to pay for a ticket to the circus, the train doesn't stop at that town. In towns where only a few people can afford to buy tickets, the circus may be smaller, with fewer performances, or may stay in town for a shorter visit. Less money means less circus. But we need to go beyond the metaphor and look at the actual details. We need to keep in mind that we are asking why people are spending less money, and what it is that they are not buying that they normally would buy. We also need to examine the commercial process, which includes such factors as product quality, wear time, durability, replacement patterns, storage, disposal and recycling, and the impact of repetitive patterns in commercial behavior, meaning what do people buy over and over again, and why, and how often. Much of what we are discussing here may seem obvious, or even trivial, but looking with new eyes can cause us to see something that we have not seen before -- the new perplexing problems that are created by an economy of abundance.
3) The rise of materialism and material saturation:
Look back at the original purpose of machines and the idea that the industrialization process has been successful. We have therefore reached a point in the development of human civilization where our technology has significantly reduced the quantity of human labor required to meet both our basic needs and our additional wishes. We have been motivated in part by materialism, our natural desire to have the things and the social life that we desire. This materialism can be felt and expressed in ways that are entirely compatible with positive religious or moral values, such as in patterns of, generosity, love, creativity and cooperation. Materialism can also be felt and expressed as anxiety, selfishness, acquisitiveness, greed, dissatisfaction, or a loss of belonging and identity. Those whom we recognize as our great teachers, from many cultures, repeatedly endeavor to advise us that material possessions, or wealth, is not in itself harmful but being attached to material possessions is harmful. It is not the property itself that causes the harm to the human soul and human society, but the attachment to things rather than to principles and people.
Therefore, for better and for worse, with moments of positive and liberating enjoyment of our material wealth as well as moments of destructive and dysfunctional attachment, we do live in an economy of abundance and that means we are often, or nearly always, living in a state of material saturation. It is my perception, and my intention to focus further here, on what I mean by "material saturation," the evidence in support of this concept, and a straightforward argument that this is in fact a new and extremely important economic condition. Our economic science must now adjust to this new reality. The economic concepts of the past, of how economic processes unfold, are no longer adequate. We need to learn how to live in an economy of abundance, in a society where material saturation is not only possible, but has already occurred for many people, and is potentially destructive of our dreams of the good life, and of the greatest good for the greatest number.
4) Material saturation: When people have too much of nearly everything:
Here I have fun writing directly from my own life experience, which is similar to the life experience of many Americans: fast food, ubiquitous stores, food advertising, ubiquitous advertising, selling more by stimulating desires or addictions, all producing excessive possessions, many of which are stored in an attic, garage, or self-storage unit. This was and is the rise of material abundance in the second half of the twentieth century. It also was the continuation of American pragmatism and American materialism on the grand scale. Then following a gigantic mortgage and securities scam, and severe unemployment of 14% -- and in some areas 20% or more, such as for ethnic minorities -- there is a surprising reduction in commerce, a surprising period of people with no earned income and no health insurance measurably reducing their shopping and buying from 2008 to 2012. There is during this period a substantial reduction of demand for goods and services among the middle class. Why? Because they don't need to buy anything -- they already have too much. The traditional economists had all sorts of tripping over their own words with their non-explanations as to why people were not buying. Their best explanation was "no money, no sales." But that was not the true story or the whole story. The true story is that people had backup, and plenty of excess junk toys to keep themselves going even with drastically reduced income.
When I was a teen, I remember walking by houses where I knew the occupants were a small family, and I would see four or five vehicles parked in the drive. This was not a party night or visitors. This was the usual, including on a Saturday morning. The household had five vehicles. Between 1950 and 2000, with the rise of the supermarket and department store, then the malls and the warehouse stores, along with the restaurant on every corner, or three restaurants on every corner, people just had easy access to all of the products that the industry of America and the world could stamp out with mechanized production and cheap power. I recall that when I was a young child, a favorite type of toy in the department stores (Woolworth's) was a tin monkey or tin car that you wound up and it performed its action for a few seconds. These were from Japan and people used to make fun of products from Japan, because they were cheap and tinny and did not reflect any great technical competence. But that was because they were recovering from the devastation of World War II, including being the only country in the world to have two atomic bombs dropped on them. Twenty years later I would buy my first Toyota, for $1,800, and it was the best car for sale anywhere in the world at an affordable price. Soon after I noticed manufactured power tools from China, not terribly well designed, looking a lot like old style American power tools, but not quite as precise. I guessed that the Chinese were making them with old machine tools. Then again, ten and twenty years later we started to get the hurricane of everything made in China, my clothing, my footwear, my power tools, my hand tools. And then the electronics revolution: televisions, cd players, computers, phones, desktop printers, faxes, and on and on and Americans began to wonder just how much we could buy. There was no need for us to need everything we bought. I remember the stores having such glamorous luxuries at the checkouts as "nutty putty" "slime" and "stickle balls" or whatever they were called. Everything that used to be made of wood, sinew, and leather was now coming out in the newer versions made of polystyrene, nylon and one synthetic rubber or another. It was raining plastic and it has not stopped raining yet. So what did Americans do with all this stuff when it was a year old or there was a new model just out? Sell it to your neighbors in a yard sale. Put it in the attic, or in the garage, or in the shed. Even the shed is now made of plastic and sold at the building supply super warehouse store. Everything is available, nearby, for a price. Everyone has a car and is happy to drive a few miles to get to the latest warehouse store to buy whatever is for sale. It is sometimes said that America's most common hobby is gardening, but if we count what people spend the most time on, then the most common American hobbies are driving and spending money.
The tradition of the family treasures in the attic transformed into a new tradition of junk in the garage, and in the yard, and in the rows of rented tin garages that we call "self storage" facilities. Here we have arrived at the ultimate achievement of American commercial materialism, because now we don't have to need or even use the things that we buy. We can just buy them, sort of use them for a few days, or a few weeks, and then pay rent for a commercial storage facility to store the things that we don't need. We don't need to have them, but we need to buy them, and we have to do something with them but they are too good to throw away. We might need them in the future.
One might say, and I am saying it, that our economic science that worships growth has now bumped up against the reality of material saturation and the economy of abundance. The new practice of industry and distribution and supply and demand is that the demand is made to adjust to the excessive supply. Buying things is no longer a pleasure and a personal choice; it is a patriotic duty. The economic principle that the industrialists insist cannot be questioned, the authoritarian economic doctrine is that "growth" must occur in order for an economic system to be healthy. And "growth" means people have to by more things, things that they have never bought before and more of the things that they have bought in the past. And they have to buy them faster. This is the outcome of success for the industrial and technological revolutions: we have abundance. And, we no longer have the problem of scarcity, starvation, deprivation. We have a new problem. We do not know how to live buried in abundance. Remember the jokes about Starbucks? You can be buying a coffee drink at a Starbucks café and actually see another Starbucks store a few doors away. All of the fast food chain stores are everywhere. No human being should have to have the experience of being hungry and required to wait five minutes before they can stuff their mouth with the warm and soft flavor of a fat-fried dead animal and a sweet cheap drug. Soda, chips, pizza, sandwiches. Ready and waiting on every corner. The gas station became a comfort station. No one should have to go anywhere without seeing food that needs to be eaten as soon as possible.
5) Making people buy more:
Did I mention the "growth" principle that evolved naturally? In order for industry to continue growing, a good strategy is to find ways to make people buy more. Of course the most common tactic is to advertise and associate your product with sex or friendship or blatant happiness. You will be sexy and have lots of nice friends and you will be happy, if you buy this refrigerator. Obviously. Then came the chemical sell. Many people easily become addicted to sugar or salt, or both, and to certain flavors. Salty cheddar is good one, peanut butter flavor, and artificial fruit flavors. So just as plastic replaced wood and leather, plastic flavors replaced real foods. And it is not far from the truth to call them "plastic" flavors; they are usually manufactured from the raw materials of hydrocarbons the same as plastics. Then we have adding addictive chemicals to cigarettes. Food industries actually search for ingredients they add to processed foods to make them more or less addictive. Did you ever wonder why it is that people need to be persuaded to eat? Well, of course people do not need to be persuaded to eat, but they do need to be persuaded to eat more than necessary. And, we all know that Americans have been eating more than necessary for a long time. The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave has become the Land of the Fat and the Home of the Diabetic. This is the outcome of the economy of abundance. We celebrated our success in the 1980s when we heard about people waiting in long lines in the old Soviet Union to buy a head of cabbage or a pound of meat, while we wheeled our full shopping carts through the checkouts every other day. Yes, the United States of America has achieved a wonderful success story in terms of producing, obtaining, and distributing everything that people want for a price most can afford. So, what do we do now? The answers to this question are both frightening and philosophically profound. First, even with the economy of abundance, our distribution system and our economic and social justice are both far from perfect. Some people don't have money, and in the economy of abundance, if you don't have money you don't get to experience the abundance. The reality of poverty is far more intense when one does not have the goods that everyone else is swimming in.
6) Destructive reaction -- when the economic system is not working as expected:
When people can see that things are changing and they are under pressure to change their habits, they resist like writhing eels escaping from gripping hands. Because of our history, the United States of America has been able to promote and rely upon economic "growth" to drive commerce for the past three hundred years. Growth was the force behind the birth of the nation. A primitive continent, practically unoccupied by European standards, with an incredible abundance of natural resources, was available for the Europeans to rewrite the Christian Gospel in order to justify stealing and exploiting all of North America. And that is what the Americans did, and it was not all wrong. I am glad that the colonists saw that their occupation of North America, by means of continual manipulation and wars with the Native Americans, offered an opportunity to develop a continental nation (manifest destiny) with a democratic system of government, to stand in contrast to Europe's long and tortured history of religious and political authoritarianism. The persistence of Native American ideas and culture is a complex story. The American Constitution actually incorporates principles discovered by Benjamin Franklin and other Americans in the Iroquois Confederation. Americans have borrowed and stolen more from Native Americans than they remember. Americans are today constantly reminded that the Native Americans possessed a science of their own, a science based on great respect and reverence toward Nature. And that natural science, often referred to as "Native American religion" in order to belittle it, is now rising up to discredit and ridicule European science, which has led us to a condition where we are destroying our life support system and ourselves with our abundance of exotic and toxic manufactured chemicals and our streams of waste products that cannot be processed by microbes as easily as wood, leather and iron. Our abundance has become our burden. Through the industrial revolution, we do everything faster, and that includes producing vast quantities of broken, used and worn materials and products that are chemically resistant to decay. Therefore, even when we bury them under a thick layer of soil, they do not go away. The Earth is not a toilet. We are not able to flush our junk up a pipe to flow out into a cosmic septic system in space. Our problem was noticed in the 1960's, when it became clear that adding people to the planet was one of our main problems, because each new person added trash and pollutants, and made more demands for air, soil and water. But, the urgent need to control population was effectively resisted because of the ECONOMIC RELIGIOUS DOCTRINE CALLED "GROWTH" and the persistent myth that we can resolve any problem caused by technology with more technology. The traditional economic science, which caused bankers, investors and "economists" to writhe like trapped eels, persists like cancer in metastasis. All of the signs that we are killing ourselves with our own material abundance (global warming, poisoning of land and seas) are labeled as "political opinions" rather than accepted as crucial science, and our "economists," bought and paid for by those who refuse to change their habits of exploitative "growth," insist that we can continue to "grow" and continue to have material abundance with no environmental costs. They are insane. They are unhealthy. They are blindly selfish and destructive. What we really need to do is focus on an entirely new type of economic model, a model of "stability" in place of growth, an economic model where the population is stable, and does not go up, an economic model where people's needs are measurably fixed, and we no longer plan our commerce to sell more but to sell only what will be necessary. And, in fact, we now need to plan our commerce to sell less and less as we go forward, because we must reduce the waste load that we impose on the environment if we are to survive. This is the new economic problem that arises directly from the success of the industrial revolution. After mastering material abundance, we have to learn self-control. This is not well-received by those who profit from the old way of "growth," the old way of using advertising and addition to make people buy more of what they do not need. Imagine not the "ownership society," but instead the far more practical "rental society," where people can readily rent machines, such as cars and bicycles and power tools, when they need them, but do not need garages and storage sheds to store them. The "rental society" could dramatically reduce the waste and pollution load that we produce, because in a rental society, which is of course somewhat "socialist," every household would not need to own everything. Americans need to face the reality that the American way of life appears to be based upon the premise that every household must have everything that it might need readily available at home. That is why the United States has the worse public transportation system of all industrialized nations, because America insisted that everyone has to have their own private car transportation system, and that is why America is responsible for the threat that the human species will expire due to carbon dioxide and methane produced by the American system of "growth."
As was said earlier, this problem was foreseen in the 1960's. Biologists noticed that if you observe bacteria in a closed, enriched-medium petri dish (abundant food), the bacterial colony grows luxuriantly, until it poisons itself with its own toxic wastes, and then collapses to near total death of the colony. But of course, because God loves us or some other contrivance, our economists responded with that old time religion that says we are not biological beings, and we do not live in a closed system (planet Earth). That old time religion tells us that we do not need to live within limits. We can just keep on "growing." And this economic religion has brought us to the point, in 2012, when our society is committing a suicide that is painful to watch, inflicted by the tragically destructive process of politicizing science. As was done by the failing cultures of medieval Spain and the Soviet Union of the twentieth century, the Americans are discrediting inconvenient science and forcing it into the category of political opinion.
7) Continuing to follow the failed economic ideas:
Earn more money or get more money in order to fully enjoy the economy of abundance. In the economy of abundance, where everything can be bought, including luck, love and leisure time, such as in Las Vegas, no money means no life. Everything one could possibly desire is readily available for a price. One hears about it and sees pictures of it and sees the actual merchandise, securely displayed in a transparent plastic package, to remind us that if we are worthy and significant, we just need to spend our money to have whatever we want. There is a catch, though. Although some people inherit money or are just born with the skill of knowing how to accumulate money without great effort, the great majority of people must obtain money according to a precise but simple rule: work for it. In order to participate in the economy of abundance, one has to be employed and contribute labor to the productivity of the community. That is the age-old and accepted moral and social standard of economic membership: In order to eat, one must work. One who has labored and earned a paycheck is one who has a clear and clean right to participate in the wealth of the community. However, in order to clearly and accurately understand the meaning of participating in the productivity of the community we have to go back in time and take a scientific look at how every member of a tribal society participates in the productivity of the tribal community.
One of the common realities throughout the world, according to the field of knowledge that we call "anthropology," meaning the "study of humankind," there is no such thing as "unemployment" in a tribal or primitive society. For a member of a tribe or clan to be without employment would mean to be totally unoccupied, without activity, and makes no sense at all in a tribal or traditional society. Traditional societies are invariably either hunter and gatherer societies or agricultural societies. Everyone has their assigned labor or productive activity, and that personal assignment invariably grows out of both the gender and personal qualities or traits and strengths or gifts of each person. No one is assigned the role of leisure class or restricted to consumer. Everyone has work because the labor of everyone is always needed. One's first thought would be that the process of transformation from traditional society is long and complex, but upon careful examination anyone can see that the possibility of "unemployment," which in effect means exclusion from the economy, occurs only after the traditional society has begun to industrialize, or, after the traditional society uses science and technology to build machines to replace human labor and reduce the need for human labor. At first, with the few early machines, there is no obvious measure of human labor that is eliminated, because scarcity of food and other materials continues for a time, in the early stages of industrialization, because we are still subject to the uncontrolled factors of climate, weather, and disease. Later, however, such as was the situation in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so many people are employed in industry and commercial enterprises, it becomes possible to be "out of work." Those who used to own land and who had been able to produce their own food and clothing, now live in rented homes in towns and cities and they have no resources for self-support except when they are employed by someone else and receive money in order to buy what they need. This condition is the obvious and inescapable condition of the majority of citizens during the twentieth century. And the twentieth century is the period of human development, in the United States, when the common occurrence of "unemployment" gave rise to an excited, intense and agitated review of the fundamental principles of social and economic organization. Because people were unemployed, they had no money, and because they had no money, they had no life. They could no longer participate in the wealth of the community. The active statement of the community, or the nation, through the industrial employer, was "We do not need your labor; go away and take care of yourself someplace else." This seemed rational to the industrialist, and to the economists who are in the paid service of the industrialists, but it made no sense to the citizen employee and it makes no sense in terms of sustaining a rational society or a rational economy. If the actual condition of society is that one needs money to live, then the economic system CANNOT BE DESIGNED TO ALLOW SOME PEOPLE TO HAVE NO MONEY. The inescapable reality of the late stages of the industrial revolution, when we add the technological and electronic and communications revolutions, is the economy of abundance, where every member of society must have money in order to be a member of society. To be without money is the equivalent of being banished in a traditional society. To be without money communicates to the individual and household "We do not need your labor; you are not worthy of having money; you are no longer a member of society until you find another job and have money again so that you can again perform your sacred duty to buy things from your neighbors." The problem that the industrialized economic system creates is that the age-old principle that one must work in order to eat is rendered obsolete. Machines and industrial production have been devoted for centuries, at least three centuries, to reducing the need for human labor. Therefore, the success of the industrial corporation means that the employers have no obligation to employ anyone. They are free, in accordance with the principles of the alleged "free market," to dismiss employees. The immediate problem is that dismissed employees no longer have money and are no longer able to be consumers. Therein lies the conundrum: The success of the industrial revolution enables the industrial and commercial business employers to dismiss their employees, which seems good and essential for economic freedom, but at the same time that an employer dismisses employees the employer diminishes the consumer market for the abundance produced by the industrial system. The abundance of material goods is now an economic problem rather than a benefit for humanity. The goods and services available for sale are not moving. In the 1930s, my school teacher said the industries had "over-produced." In the second half of the twentieth century, economists said the cause of a "recession" (as in "recess" -- recess in buying) was the lower level of discretionary income in the households of unemployed or under-employed people. But in the beginning of the twenty-first century, we had some more information. It became clear that the problem was not simply over-production or under-consumption. Those explanations are based on the assumption that people do not have what they need and they are suffering from starvation or serious deprivation. This was not the case in 2008-2012. People who suddenly lost their employment still had enough food, shelter and clothing. They had vehicles they did not need. They had boats and barbecue grills and patio furniture and books and tables and chairs and silverware and lawn mowers in self-storage units. They had clothing and shoes that they stored in their closets and did not wear. They had old books and music discs and free music. They had extra old cell phones and old movies. They had twenty or thirty pounds of extra fat, or more, that could get them through at least one winter with only turnips and cabbage to eat. They were not deprived or starving by traditional standards, but they were deprived by post-industrial standards. Because they had no extra money, they could not participate in the wealth of the community -- go shopping. They felt excluded because they were excluded, because in the economy of abundance to have no money means to have no life. This is totally different from the economic reality that applied before the economy of abundance. Before 1900, an American who lived in a rural community and on a farm, which included the vast majority of the population, one did not need money in order to meet one's needs. People were self-sufficient because they could be self-sufficient on their own land. After the industrial revolution, even if you do own land you must have lots of money in order to be included in the flow of the economic system. No money really does mean no life. This is the new problem and the inescapable reality that we must address. We can no longer rely upon and sustain the principle that those who do not work cannot eat. We don't need to have everyone work. We have to invent another reason for people to have money. We will need, one way or another, to arrange for people to have money even though they are not working. We do this already with retirement. We do this already with "unemployment insurance." We need to go further in order to assure that everyone is automatically included in the economy, as is true in tribal society. We cannot say to anyone that they are no longer needed and they are no longer participating in the wealth of the community. In 2012, it is beginning to become more clear that when employers exercises their economic freedom to dismiss employees, an accumulation of such free businesses choices amounts to a hostile act against the functioning of the society. The "business community" is treated as though it is a separate entity that must have freedom, but the society itself does not have the power of free choice to assure that each law-abiding citizen has the money they must have in order to function as a self-sufficient and self-directed member of society. We may insist that we can dismiss individuals from participation in the productive labor that is required, but we cannot dismiss anyone from participating in the material abundance that was and has been a meaningful social and economic goal for the last two thousand years. We have to be very clear on what it means to be a member of society and a participant in the economy, because in the economy of abundance exclusion from the economic system is the equivalent of banishment from society. Exclude enough people and we shut down the conveyor belt of the material commerce that we do actually consider to be a necessary element of a real democracy. We do not believe that people who are starving or sick or cold or homeless are free.
8) Public education and economic strategies:
Is it not interesting that during this same period, the second half of the twentieth century, when we are agonizing over employment and unemployment, poverty and wealth, business and government, we are also agonizing over the purpose of publicly funded education. Education for what? is the question. Clearly, the economic crisis and struggling ideas about education in a democratic society are connected. We have seen the rise in home schooling, usually based upon parents' desire to shield their children from what they consider to be bad influences in the public school, or to exercise total control over one's children's religious indoctrination. We have also seen the continuing practice of establishing trade schools or vocational schools, where the curriculum places more emphasis on experiential learning and technical training. The vocational-technical school deliberately implements a school curriculum that implements technical training for specific types of industrial employment. There are industrial courses that provide machine shops, metal fabrication projects and house construction projects. Learning is measured not only by oral and written communication but through demonstration of technical skills. There are business courses that provide authentic business machines and a business office environment. Biology courses would include practice of child care skills. The standard American high school is also pressured to steer the curriculum toward practical job skills. The debate is constant, in the field of education and in the public arena, regarding the educational mission and methods recommended to have that mission focus on training for identified types of employment. While training children and youth to be productive employees is a worthwhile goal, there is the opposing argument that directing individual students toward specific vocational goals is risky for society as well as for the youth, who might be trained for a job that is too specific or that no longer exists at the time they graduate. There is also the reality that school time devoted to job training diminishes the role of the public school as the provider of education for life and for citizenship. Vocational schools diminish the goal of continuing the broad range of knowledge that prepares some students for higher education and gives all students a skill set suitable for a wide variety of economic roles. While vocational goals are appropriate, the practice of job-training at public expense creates the serious concern that school staff will be selecting the economic class each student will belong to. This difficulty in certainty as to whether the student chooses a vocational path, or it is chosen for them, has preserved the emphasis in the United States on the "American High School" model. Students of all economic backgrounds and ethnic heritage are offered the same curriculum on the basis of aptitude. Individual guidance serves as a form of non-directive assistance rather than as an economic role assignment from the community.
While this debate in educational philosophy will continue, it is fair to view job-training, wherever it occurs, as a form of economic planning. And we can see that in the beginning of the twenty-first century, economic planning is fraught with the tension of uncertainty. We have dramatic and challenging technological and economic changes in the air. We are threatened with environmental self-destruction and with the difficulty, even under the best of circumstances, of making a transition from energy production by fossil hydrocarbon fuels to alternatives that we must identify and develop in order to survive. Unregulated population growth and the overwhelming generation of waste chemicals as well as deliberately manufactured chemicals threatens our water supply and the natural health of agricultural soils and food resources of rivers, lakes and seas. The interaction of economic questions and all of our educational issues is profound. Those who reject forecasts of environmental damage often accuse public educators and colleges of teaching environmentalism not as science but as a form of "liberal" political viewpoint. Science and technology are highly politicized in the United States today, and this social condition is tragically and cosmically dangerous. In the field of political science and government it is a truism that the politicization of science destroys states and nations. The politicization of science, due primarily to the entanglements with the Roman Catholic Church, was the destructive source of pervasive authoritarianism in Medieval times and the Spanish Inquisition that opposed the rise of scientific inquiry and freedom of thought. The politicization of science played a role in the English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 -- Spanish ship captains were political appointments while English ship captains were experienced sailors. It also played an obvious and massive role in the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1989. The Communist Party of the USSR had distorted much of Soviet science by forcing it to conform to political party doctrines. Amazingly, the Republican Party is doing this same thing in the United States today. And no nation, including the United States, has an effective defense against the destructiveness of this kind of cultural force. The only correction for the politicization of science is to restore the status of science as above politics and separate from politics and as the trusted source of factual information upon which policies are based. Proper respect for science while not worshipping science is the only reform that can save a nation or society from destroying itself through the process of bending science to fit the shapes of opinions and religious beliefs. And all of this "culture war" and social struggle impinges upon our economic science, the science of how we translate ideas about human commerce and marketplace transactions into justice in the real material world. Don't laugh about the fact that during this period, a rock and roll song that was very popular had the key lyric "You know that we are living in a material world and I am a material girl." The pop icon Madonna sang this to us, by us, and for us. (Material Girl 1985, Sire Records, lyrics by Peter Brown and Robert Rans.)
Our economic science from 2012 forward has to prepare us to live in the future, not in the twentieth century. In that future, the need for human labor will continue to be drastically diminished. Already, a household can buy many of their needs without leaving home, using the Internet and a credit card. What is in the future for malls and shopping centers? It is recommend that we "localize" so that we do not burn enormous quantities of hydrocarbon fuels and batter roads with our practice of shipping everything long distances. What jobs should our youth think about for their future self-support? How do we project the jobs of the future, and what are young people learning today besides how to push little buttons and interact with images on a screen? The economic laws and theories in our books are old and stale and do not apply to the new economic realities created by the inept combination of having our industrial revolution be both a great success (at generating material goods) and a cosmic failure (by generating enormous quantities of waste and environmental poisons). We cannot rely upon traditional moral sayings to tell us what to do. We need to keep in mind the social and economic benefits an individual member of a tribe is automatically entitled to, including a realistic economic role and a fair share in the harvest. The economic system of a nation needs to provide the same, or people will somehow, most likely through a traumatic and destructive process, reject the nation in order to revert to the security of tribal society. This is a scientific observation in the fields of political science, anthropology and sociology: when the larger organization, such as the state, fails, people do not necessarily sit and wait for the next bus; they join a tribe, gang, or revive the clan as their loyalty group and main source of membership (belonging) and security. Nations can fall apart much faster than people think, and economic failure is the most powerful accelerator.
Projected for following months:
The Economy of Abundance #4
The Missing Formula: A - Everyone Needs Money to Live
+ B - Everyone Needs to Work for Money
= C - Everyone Needs to Be Employed
Or: All of the employers employ all of the people all of the time.
The Economy of Abundance #5
The First Missing Economic Law: No One Benefits From Poverty.
The Economy of Abundance #6
The Second Missing Economic Law:
The Only Effective Way to Shut Down a Market is to Eliminate the Buyers
[Or: The "War on Drugs" always fails because the government invests
only in closing one seller at a time, which never changes the market
that continues to have buyers ready to buy and immediate
replacements for any of the sellers who are removed from the market.]
The Economy of Abundance # 7
The Secret Future and New Economic Law:
In the Economy of Abundance Work Performed is
No Longer the Effective Determinant for Compensation
or Participation in the Wealth of the Community.
[Or, the most successful nations in the immediate future
will be those that discard the pay-for-work model and
replace it with either pay for responsible citizenship or
pay for whatever set of social values that the society wants.]
Or, we have to re-define "work."
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