(Update: (1) 5/26/2011: Bloomberg article on unemployment statistics 5/21/2011 includes this commonly heard sentence: “Consistent gains in hiring are needed to sustain consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s largest economy.” (ergo: ‘The whole national/world system collapses if we don’t spend as ‘consumers’.) The statement gives evidence of the effective ‘law’ of current economic models, spoken or unspoken, we must spend. Truly, as many have observed, ‘economic health’ is based on a Ponzi scheme. (2) I use the word ‘entrepreneur’ below as it’s commonly used up to current times. I’m only now ‘cluing in’ to what is meant by ‘social entrepreneur‘ – a distinctly different and much needed definition! (3) A ‘strong’ argument against what I say below is “We can’t afford it – look at our national debt load”. The unspoken ‘rule’ is we’re not to ‘look at’ cost of war, or at cost of unregulated international financial manipulations; we’re not to look at the cost of slitting fish open to ‘harvest’ expensive caviar, etc…and we’re most especially ‘not to look at’ dynamics and national/global consequences of expansionist capitalism. Original 3/10/2011 post follows, -MA)
“… when people work longer they will consume more”.
What’s wrong with this statement? Statements like this are so common that they seldom trigger ‘alarms’ in our thoughts. We have blind, hypnotic, reverence for expansive corporate capitalism as unquestionable fundamental truth, as if it were a “law of physics”. Sentence by sentence, peppered throughout our conversations, on the street and in media, we make and hear statements of stunning ignorance. Very often these statements are fed us by “authority”, by ‘leaders’ (i.e. materially successful), and by people in policy making positions.
BBC radio (via internet, usually Radio4), broadcasts many such statements these days. (Internet is my news source; I listen to BBC; no advertising, and in contrast to other sources , as radio, BBC is less ‘vitriolic and clamorous’.)
This morning a BBC4 program focused on UK’s public sector union pension changes. One popular change is to raise retirement age – to keep people working longer. As we know, Britain isn’t unique in this discussion. The statement that sent me into instant blogging mode was made by an ‘economist expert’. He was asked about a problem when retirement is delayed. The question was: Won’t delayed retirement prevent new jobs opening for younger workers?
The authoritative, expert, answer was: (paraphrased – direct quote where underlined): “Economists consider the concern (that working longer reduces employment for youth) a fallacy; when people work longer they will consume more,” (thus helping to create new employment to provide all the ‘stuff’ these ‘working-longer’ elders will require). One ‘horror’ of the alternative, is if they retire, they’ll have more time, will do more of their own services, thus won’t buy as much ‘stuff’.
I repeat: “What’s wrong with this statement?” (What’s wrong with the picture, the ‘scenario,’ created by mentally imagining people’s working lives, based on everyone, all ages, busily employed, receiving paychecks, and spending.) What’s wrong with alternative scenarios; for instance, of retired people busily helping families and neighbors; volunteering talent and expertise, or busily becoming the artists, travelers, horticulturalists they held as ‘retirement promise’ throughout their working lives?
Here’s what is supported (and unsaid) by “work longer, consume more” thinking: “The primary function of most human beings is to balance personal life satisfaction with their role as cogs in our economic machinery”.
Also unspoken are qualifiers and elaborations: (“The machine role trumps when there is conflict between life-satisfaction birth-right, and role as cog in economic machine.” “It is most important that everyone participate working, needing, selling, and buying, … or ….”)
OR WHAT? What if we shifted toward very different social-economic organization?
Do we really believe human life, … (or other forms of life for that matter, but especially human, given our unique and astonishing cognitive capacity) … do we really believe each and every beautiful new-born child is “best suited as machine cog”? Is that what you feel about newborn humans?
Are we so crass as to feel “personally satisfied” while we use one another as machine cogs? Do we really believe there is no better way to understand, and nurture, human capacity, human potential, human promise?
Until we begin to “play with” (at least mentally explore) alternate philosophies and understandings of “the beauty of life, the potential of human capacity” we won’t escape our blind, hypnotic, cultural acceptance that “most people must be cogs, unique promise must be subjugated”. (For those fearful of Soviet style communism – read that statement again and explain the difference in common experience between role as ‘cog’ in a communist system and its corresponding role in a ‘corporate owned expansionist’ system!)
We imprison ourselves and all others by ignorant, mindless, acceptance that “it’s OK” to be a cog. We say: ‘most people have moments of pleasure throughout their working and retired lives’. We believe this is “balanced payoff“ for life as cogs. We don’t ask if there are alternatives to the machine that would serve us better.
“Earthly life promise fulfillment” (we accept, without question) is found by a few who ‘break through’ to relative economic security, (or benefit from legacy of same). For those living in abject poverty because of our economic system, (we accept, without question), “real” satisfaction is a post-death experience. (An experience variously described by different religious beliefs – heaven, nirvana, …).
I observe western populations and political voices insisting we must crack the whip. Ordinary working people discovered to “gain too much without enough risk”, are scapegoated, accused of ‘entitlement attitude’. Accusations of ‘entitlement’ are – it must be said – made by people who feel ‘entitled’ to judge these matters, very often, they actively protect their personal fortune entitlements with expensive and expansive lobby efforts. Effort is made to curtail gains. Effort to curtail is presently focused on public sector unions, but hardly likely to stop there.
How deep is our hypnosis. We assume all ‘free market’ ‘success’ is based in praise-worthy risk, and must not be curtailed. We assume that ‘service careers’, among all, are suspiciously without sufficient risk. Our conclusion: teachers, nurses, etc., don’t take “risks”, are a ‘drag on the buy/sell economy’, so don’t ‘deserve’ assorted benefits. (5/26/2011: We’re presently suggesting the same about anyone eligible for Medicare.)
My interests in this post are to point out our hypnotic thinking about our economic system, and how it works, and to re-think along the following lines:
The questions to ask are not “who’s taking economic risk to keep the machine going” vs “who’s not taking enough risk”. The questions to ask are “What kind of machine is this”, and “does it serve humanity or does humanity live to serve it?” (A bit of honesty while we’re on the topic : public servants at ‘ground level’ are statistically paid less than comparable-by-training for-profit employees. Angry insistence that they don’t take entrepreneurial risk, therefore are ‘leeches’ rather than offering service, therefore should have no right to negotiate, is punitive, an insane response emerging from economic stresses felt by all.)
“Why”, we should ask, “would a notion that working longer serves by allowing longer periods of consumption be considered human ideal? What about reasonable and fair compensation for service truly given? What about satisfying, even joyful, lives not caught as cogs in the machine (or not caught by concerns of machine owner/operators)? Is it possible to find our way to genuine change? Or – do we accept roles as cogs or owner/operators as realizing “humanity’s best“?
I love what I know of human spirit in many lands. But it’s worth a look at economic realities in emerging nations, to glimpse the future we’re setting up for the grandchildren. It is, after all, “entrepreneurial” to scramble about trash heaps in search of scraps to sell, pull rickshaws, and live in shantys – without access to clean water, quality food, affordable health care, affordable education, and so on. (Alternatively, we can look back to Charles Dickens – again, ‘entrepreneurial’ was the experience of ever so many before social reforms genuinely improved many lives.)
The entire package of dynamics at play among humans at all ‘economic levels’ with expansionist economics is ruinous to human promise. It has served ‘sort of’ to get us to where we are. We rightly recognize ‘communism’ did not work, but refuse to examine why. We refuse to separate its failings from cooperative-type policies and structures that have elsewhere served well (as in the Scandinavian experience.) We rightly admire Amish and other ‘cooperative community’ approaches to general human well-being, but we fear lack of choice in roles within those societies. Because we fear this single aspect, we refuse to ask if we can creatively borrow other aspects, such as cooperative models, from those societies. It’s illogical to assume “cooperative spirit” is always, without variation, “thoroughly entangled” with especially restrictive social structure.
Most dangerously for humanity’s genuine potential, we reject “nurturing inborn promise of each and all” as a mandate that could or should guide economic systems. We reject nurturing promise for newborns, (except our very own if we’re “OK” financially) and we carry the rejection across the years, through to anyone’s death.
“If they work longer, they will consume longer”. Indeed!! It leads to “dropping in ones traces”, first said about beasts of burden. Said by those who presumed their right to hold the whip.
A gathering of ordinary 9 year olds would do better than we ‘adult’s’ if asked to design a system of fairness and justice, with equal opportunity and access to essential resources for all. –MaggieAnn
(Choose from additional related posts: here, here, here, here, and here.)