Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Riff on Modern Capitalism

During most of human evolution, we lived by hunting and gathering.  Our daily activities were focused almost entirely on getting enough food to survive today and tomorrow.  Around 10 thousand years ago, we started replacing hunting and gathering with agriculture and animal husbandry.  Along the way, we no doubt began engaging in trading and bartering.  But the pursuit of today's bread and meat remained the central part of our daily existence.  By now, in industrial and post-industrial society, the actual production of food has become an activity which most people in developed - and increasingly in developing -  societies do not directly participate.  Instead, we earn our daily bread - and much else we now find essential for "modern life" - through buying and selling, earning and spending.

Production is now just one small part of the process of sustaining human life and society in the modern world.  People must buy and must be encouraged to buy.  Advertising is essential in this process so we get bombarded constantly with it.  All of life can seem built around being incessantly offered opportunities to spend our money.  If people stop buying - perhaps because they cannot earn - then selling becomes difficult, production may falter and more people end up not earning.

As production becomes more remote from the actual consumption processes - buying/selling, earning/spending - that feed us, space has grown for some to profit mightily from satisfying and creating needs.  This is not always bad.  The Internet and iDevices vastly open space for human interaction and productivity.  But the space for profit has become quite big and indeed can be thought of as a kind of petri dish for growth of a "tumor" - the mythical "job creator" - in the middle of the human enterprise.

The problem is how to even conceptualize a way of organizing our society around some other way of life.  We can't really all return to hunting and gathering.  Making and trading also cannot sustain our seven billion.  For each according to his needs and from each according to her ability would rely even more on an "invisible hand" than our current capitalist system as no mere human hand could sort out all our needs and capabilities. 

For now there seems no good answer other than trying to reduce the size of the tumor.

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