Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Not So Fast, Buddy

He began by complaining about the potential of an increased national minimum wage; said that it would cost a lot of jobs. When pointed out that experience has shown otherwise, it didn't faze him. He said that a high minimum wage prevented him from hiring a couple/three college kids over the summer. When I argued that raising the minimum only feeds inflation and that what we needed was, not an increase in the minimum, but a severe decrease of the maximum, he wasn't so sure that would work. “I'd just stop creating jobs,” he said.

It's a common mantra: if there wasn't the incentive of wealth, most people would sit around doing nothing; at least that's what they tell me. If they couldn't make a bunch of money, they wouldn't do it. Furthermore, they argue, that if it weren't for the incentive of money, most of the comforts of today wouldn't be here; people would stop creating. Our modern society is here thanks to capitalism. The alternative, they suggest, is Stalinist communism; which, they further suggest, is pretty much what's happening in Europe, and look at Greece. Quite how that all gets put together is somewhat mysterious.

It raising many interesting questions, not the least of which being, is it only a disparity in income which makes people creative? Isn't that what's being argued, that the opportunity to make a bunch of money is the spur to creativity? It's not just be able to lead the good life and being happy with everyone else leading the good life, too. “Leading the good life” implies someone is leading the bad life, or, at the very least, the average, everyday life. “Leading the good life” knows that there's not a Mercedes and a home in the Hamptons for everyone.

Just imagine for a moment if everyone had the same access to everything, the same trips to the Alps, the same enrollment in Harvard, the same sailboat. Would there be anything wrong with that? No room for all those sailboats and everyone at Harvard, huh? But if in a perfect world everyone had the same access to all resources, would that bother the rich who now have access to limited resources? Is it important for the rich to have something that everyone else doesn't have? Is it important to have higher status and privilege than others? I would guess so.

Then the question becomes, are all—or, at least, most—advances in modern civilizations—ours, say—created by people wanting to have higher than average status; and, if having higher than average status wasn't possible, would people stop being creative? A lot of people think so.

I think back to Ugak. You remember Ugak; he's the guy who around two-and-a-half million years ago, give or take a million, discovered that, not only did this particular kind of rock make a sharp edge when it broke, you could control how the rock broke; which started a whole industry of people whacking on rocks to make cutting edges. Wasn't that handy? But, you know? I don't remember Ugak getting anything special for that discovery other than the fine robe his wife made him. Thank God, she had good teeth.

And when Mugapup figured out how to make needles out of cactus spines, no one had a special dinner in her honor, that I recall. We really should have done something.

So, I'm wondering, when did it start that people had to get special status or they wouldn't share their discoveries? I know, I know, everyone wants the best cut of meat; but when did we decide that some people would only get leftovers and some people wouldn't get any meat at all? When we start that?

And remember when everyone simply lived in their own house, their own wigwam, their own yurt? When did it start that, once you got your house together, someone else owned it and you had to give them stuff all the time in order to live in your house? When did we think that was a good idea?

Not to mention, remember that rock pile from which we get all those groovy rocks that break so nicely? When did we say someone could “own” every rock that came out of that pile and we'd have to give them some of our stuff if we wanted one of those rocks? Was that such a good idea? How come they get to decide who gets a rock or not? Or how come they horde all the good rocks and give us the tailings? Who thought this was a good way to do things?

When did we decided we were no longer one big family and we'd better stick together? When did we decide that it was all right if some people were less family than others?

I will grant that rampant capitalism feeding an unbridled consumerism has shaped the world we live in. I'm not sure we're leading the best possible life we could be leading as a species, thanks to that consumerism/capitalism, but there is a lot of luxury out there. The fact that massive amounts of our resources have been given away for the creation of those luxury items to such an extent that much of our species lives in dire poverty doesn't seem to get accounted for when enumerating the benefits of capitalism. The fact that the next iteration of the iPhone is more important to us than ending slavery speaks volumes about our culture. Would it hurt us if those people who make continually altered products that we simply have to have, weren't inspired to keep on doing it? Do we think that science and advancement of the species has only happened under capitalism and would cease if capitalism ceased? Are we that naïve?

Poor us.

Yet, as the wife of my conversation partner chimed in, equitable resource distribution “will never happen.” The implication being, I suppose, that, if will never happen, why bother? Ah, yes, I think, and universal cessation of violence will never happen, either, so let's forget about that, too. And, yes, we may never end slavery, so we might as well buy a few. One, at least, would be handy.

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