Plastic, plastic everywhere
47 minutes ago
Let’s step away for a moment from the game of arbitrary tokens we call "money," and look at the economy from a thermodynamic perspective, as a system for producing goods and services by applying energy to an assortment of raw materials. Until the coming of the industrial revolution, the vast majority of the energy that went into human economic systems went from sunlight to crops to human and animal muscle, which produced and distributed goods and services. The industrial revolution transformed that equation adding torrents of cheap abundant fossil fuel energy to the annual income from photosynthesis. Only a small fraction of the labor force and other resources had to be diverted from food production to bring this flood of energy into the economic equation, and only a small fraction of fossil fuels had to be cycled back into the fossil fuel extraction process; the rest of the labor force, other resources, and all that additional energy from fossil fuels could be poured into the rest of the economy, producing goods and services in unparalleled amounts.
Physicist Ilya Prigogine has shown by way of intricate equations that the flow of energy through a system increases the complexity of the system. If any further evidence was needed to back up his claims, the history of the world’s industrial economies provides it. The three centuries that followed the development of the first functional steam engines saw economic complexity, measured by the creation of new job categories, soar to a level almost unimaginably greater than any previous civilization had achieved. The bonanza of wealth produced by adding fossil fuel energy to the sun’s annual contribution spread throughout the industrial economies, and the ways and means by which money sprayed outwards from the pockets of coal magnates and oil barons quickly became institutionalized.
Governments, businesses, and societies ballooned in complexity, creating niches for entire ecosystems of office fauna to do tasks the presidents and tycoons of the nineteenth century had accomplished with a tiny fraction of the personnel; workloads obeyed Parkinson’s Law—"work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion"—and everyone found that it was easier to add more staff to get a job done than to get the existing staff to do it themselves. The result, in most industrial societies, is an economy in which only a small fraction of the labor force actually has anything directly to do with the production of goods and services, while the rest are kept busy managing the sprawling social and economic machinery that has come into being to organize, finance, manage, staff, market, advertise, sell, analyze, tax, regulate, review, praise, and denounce the production of goods and services.
What seems to have been lost sight of, though, is that this immense superstructure all rests on the same foundation as any other economy, the use of energy to convert raw materials into goods and services. More to the point, it depends on a certain level of surplus that can be produced in this way, and that depends in turn on being able to add plenty of fossil fuel energy to the economic system without having to divert too large a fraction of the labor force, resource base, and energy supply into the extraction of fossil fuels. Some sense of the difference made by fossil fuels can be measured by comparing the economies of the industrial age to those of societies that, by any other standard, were near the upper end of human social complexity—Tokugawa Japan and Renaissance Italy are the ones that come to mind. Urban, literate, and highly cultured, each of these societies had the resources to support extraordinary artistic, literary, and intellectual creativity. Still, they did this with economies vastly simpler than anything you’ll find in a modern industrial society.
The division of the labor force among economic roles makes a good measure of the difference. In both societies, the largest economic sector, employing around fifty per cent of the adult population (nearly all adult women and most elderly people of both sexes), was the household economy; a good half of the total economic value produced in each society came out of the kitchen gardens, spindles, looms, and other economic facilities associated with households. Another thirty per cent or so of the population in each society, including most of the adult men, was engaged full time in farming and other forms of direct food production; maybe ten per cent of the adult population worked in the skilled trades; and the remaining ten per cent or so was divided between religious professionals, military professionals, artists and performers, aristocrats, and merchants who lived by buying and selling goods produced by others.
To combat this threat, Rick refused to back down from those who wish to destroy America. Rick Santorum understands that those who wish to destroy America do so because they hate everything we are – a land of freedom, a land of prosperity, a land of equality. Rick knows that backing down to the Jihadists means that we are only putting our foundational principles at greater risk. As an elected representative, Rick knew that his greatest responsibility was to protect the freedoms we enjoy – and we should not apologize for holding true to these principles.
Man experiences the world’s order in three levels. The first is inert matter and the empirical or “brute” facts about the world which it embodies. Matter qua matter has neither purpose nor higher meaning; it is raw material which man subjects to his will. The second level is that of subjective will. Man is aware of himself as a being with desires, goals, and opinions, in sum as one who assigns value. As an assigner of values, he can “color” his world with meaning, finding a thing good or bad, useful or harmful, beautiful or ugly. The level of subjective will is also the level at which we encounter the liberal version of morality. Man recognizes that other sentient beings also assign desires and fears, values and disvalues to the things in the world. He realizes that the subjective valuations of others are in some objective sense “equal” to his own and entitled to the same respect.
Inert fact and subjective valuation do not exhaust our experience of order; each of us recognizes that the world is “weighted” with meanings which seem to exist prior to and independently of anyone’s will. For example, one can see the distinction between the three orders in the relationship between a mother and her child. On the level of empirical facts, there is the fact that this baby is the offspring of that woman, there is the inability of human young to care for themselves, and there are the many facts about the woman, such as her ability to nurse, which are relevant to child rearing. On the level of subjectivity, there are the feelings of the mother and child towards one another. Finally, there are the stations of mother and child, the un-chosen context which gives meaning to their acts toward each other and the standard by which they are judged. All cultures recognize a duty for mothers to nurture their offspring, and a duty for children to honor and obey their mothers. The nature of these stations cannot be derived by mere logic from any set of empirical facts. On the level of empirical fact, one cannot even surmise a basic fact like that the purpose of the uterus is reproduction, but only that it can be used for this purpose. Objective meaning belongs to an entirely different and higher order of intelligibility. In fact, it is the idea of the station of motherhood which allows a woman to make sense of the many empirical facts of her femininity. Nor does the station of motherhood derive from subjective desires; neither the mother nor the child nor both together have the authority to dissolve the bond between them. Of course, a woman may neglect or abuse her child, but even so she doesn’t escape the context of her maternal station; she just fulfills it poorly, making herself a bad mother.
The first market in which we operate is the gift economy of family and the community. We are first called into being by the ready-made community of the family, and from this community we receive a variety of gifts. Our being, to be sure, but also the gift of our name, our family, our language, our first moral perceptions, our first experiences of love and belonging, and so forth. This economy of grace (gifts) is the primary economy, and all other economic and social activity must be judged from the standpoint of how will it serves the family. Without this check, there is really no way to know whether the economy “works” in any concrete sense. A fully monetized economy erodes the gift economy of the family upon which the whole social order depends. Beyond this family economy, there are economies of community service, economies of political activity (in which votes are the medium of exchange), religious economies, and so forth. All of these depend on the economy of production and exchange (note both terms), and hence are checked by that economy, even as they provide checks for the exchange and production economies.Mr. Médaille does not talk about the gift of the environment (or natural resources), but Pope Benedict XVI does in Caritas in Veritate (CNA Article). This can be combined with an understanding of the primary, secondary, and tertiary economies as outlined by John Michael Greer, building upon the work of EF Schumacher. The primary economy is indeed a gift of God, but we should also understand our family and other people as gifts from God as well, whom we should aid in seeking perfection. (The gift of non-rational creation is instrumental to the perfection of humanity.) As mutually dependent animals, we rely first of all upon communication in order to bring about perfection upon others. In a real community, in which people share bonds, culture, and history, they are given to one another and can come to recognize this - there is very little "choice" in the matter. This is in contrast to our megapoleis which have more the form of voluntary associations or "intentional communities" if anything at all.
There is reason to think that it should so apply. One rioter told a journalist that his compatriots were fed up with being broke all the time and that he knew people who had absolutely nothing. It is worth pondering what lies behind these words. It is obvious that the rioter considered being broke not merely unpleasant, as we all would, but unjust and anomalous, for it was these qualities that justified the rioting in his mind and led him to suggest that the riots were restitution. Leave aside the Micawberish point that one can be broke on any income whatever if one’s desires fail to align with one’s financial possibilities; it is again obvious that the rioter believed that he had a right not to be broke and that this right was being violated. When he said that he knew people with “nothing,” he did not mean that he knew homeless, starving people left on the street without clothes to wear or shoes on their feet; none of the rioters was like this, and many looked only too fit for law-abiding citizens’ comfort. Nor did he mean people without hot and cold running water, electricity, a television, a cell phone, health care, and access to schooling. People had a right to such things, and yet they could have them all and still have “nothing,” in his meaning of the word. Somehow, people had a right to something beyond this irreducible “nothing” because this “nothing” was a justification for rioting. So people have a right to more than they have a right to; in other words, they have a right to everything.
Tangible benefits, on this view, come not as the result of work, effort, and self-discipline: they come as of right. This inflated doctrine of rights has turned into a cargo cult as primitive as that in New Guinea, where the natives thought, after a laden airplane crashed in the jungle, that consumer goods dropped from the sky. Apparently, all that is necessary for people like the rioters to live at a higher standard of living, equal to that of others, is for the government to decree it as their right—a right already inscribed in their hearts and minds.
This doctrine originated not with the rioters but with politicians, social philosophers, and journalists. You need only read Henry Mayhew’s nineteenth-century account of the laboring poor in London to realize that the notion of having rights to tangible benefits was once unknown to the population, even during severe hardship. But the politicians, social philosophers, and journalists transformed things evidently desirable in themselves—decent housing, for example—into rights that nothing, including the behavior of the rights holders, could abrogate. It clearly never occurred to the well-meaning discoverers of these “rights” that their propagation might influence the human personality, at least of that part of the population destined to become increasingly dependent on exercising them; and it required only an admixture of egalitarianism to complete the dialectic of ingratitude and resentment.