Friday, October 17, 2008

Cultural Strip Mining


Until we figure out a way to leave the planet and find new worlds to take dominion over, we live in a closed system and are playing in a zero-sum game. The problem with Capitalism is not one of regulation or individual self interest, enlightened or not. Capitalism requires growth -- it can not exist as we know it without growth. You can't grow forever in a closed system -- it's a physical law.

In a zero-sum game, there is a finite amount of resources to work with. To make something you have to take something from somewhere else. New things are just rearrangements of old things at best (recycle) -- and when the old stuff can no longer be used, it gets dumped in the same house we live in forever.

If you look at our history, you will see that our initial growth came from the exploitation of both natural and human resources. That's actually what capital is -- stuff. Stuff tends to get used up after a few centuries, so we mostly just concentrate on exploiting people now -- we call it productivity.

Since Capitalism does not capable of seeing the long term, (I think this is implied in the concept of enlightened SELF-interest) It misses the point of zero-sum and is not really capable of making the best of it and accommodating reality.

When a coal mine owner levels a mountain for financial gain -- that's capitalism. When it counts it's money without including the cost of cleaning up and making the land productive again -- that's capitalism. Short sighted and incapable of seeing the long term picture of grand kids living in the trash dump of used prosperity.

When Walmart gets tax breaks and doesn't pay for health care for it's low wage workers -- that's capitalism. When the towns they live in lose high wage Safeway clerks and family businesses -- that's also capitalism. In school I remember the breakthrough of Henry Ford came through both the assembly line and doubling the wages of his employees. Low wage employees make lost cost consumers in the long run. When you put low and wage and cost together -- you get poor.

If we lived on a generational spaceship to another star, I'm sure we wouldn't eat all the food the first generation and leave only shit pancakes for the rest of the campers. But maybe we would.

I've been thinking that now that we've grown up a bit, we might want to modify our form of capitalism to include a longer term risk/reward model. Call it Social Capitalism by adding input from people that are paid to see a bigger picture -- enlightened group-interest folk.

When Walmart wants to build in a community, they want to make money -- they are not in business to make a safer, smarter, healthier community -- they are there for the money. Maybe as part of the process, they could be asked questions about increased infrastructure costs for bigger hospitals and sewage. Maybe they can share part of the load for better education in the community, or increased social programs for people without a defined benefit retirement plan -- god knows the retirement plan they have consists of working until you drop.

We could look at why communities allow tax breaks and just how we want to fund cities and counties -- right now in California they depend on sales tax -- the state has taken all their property taxes away. (The law is -- States have all the rights and cities have what the state allows them to have.)

Maybe it's time to ask what's good for us as a community, instead of allowing businesses and government to dictate via an out of date free market model.

When Milton wrote about the 'Marketplace of ideas,' he was framing the form -- the ideal. When John Stewart Mill pointed out a few years later that allowing actual human beings to practice enlightened self-interest on an uncomprehending public was to talk crazy of an epic scale.

Think of it as non-secular tithing -- for selfish bastards that live without the fear of a god that can actually touch. I don't think you can legislate morality -- bu at the same time everyone should be expected to contribute to the common good. That's what the commons mean -- the place we all share and enjoy, or hate, together. Since we all shake off our mortal coils eventually --these things we hold in common are what we leave to our children and our children's children.

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