Monday, January 24, 2005

The Error of Capitalism

Here I am, reading yet more from Danial Quinn, and I find myself thinking about the fundamental difference in worldview between Capitalists and Socialists (in the either-or fashion), and finding myself forced to re-examine my own position on the matter... and at the same time coming closer to finding the "third way" beyond, not between, the two extremes.

Basically, what Quinn said was this:

the knowledge that every single action God might take--no matter what it is, no matter how large or small--is good for one but evil for another
This got me thinking about the notion that every bit of wealth one gains is a loss for another. Very simply put, many people have the unconcious notion that wealth is always gained at the expense of another, and thus you can identify the wealthy as some kind of cheat, by default. You may not know the exact mechanism by which they cheated, nor do you have to: because wealth is a static thing, a gain by one is a loss by another, and thus the wealthy are all scoundrels who cheat others out of their fair share.

On the other end is the Capitalist, who recognizes that trade isn't about one cheating another out of their share, but rather about this equation: one person has more of item A than he wants but less of item B, while a second person has more of item B than he wants but less of item A. The two trade A for B, and both are enriched by it. Even if the first is smarter than the second and gets a better deal than the second, both have more than he began with at the beginning. Had the trade never occured, the second person may not have ended up with relatively less than the first, but he also wouldn't have as much of item A as he wants, and far too much of B. So, trade is good, and wealth is simply the result of being better at making such transactions.

The thing is, I am coming to recognize that there *is* a reservoir from which all this extra stuff comes from. Human labor transforms natural resources into commodities—things that people can eat or use. In the case of things we can eat in particular, the natural resource in question is animals and plants. Hunter A may have more meat than he needs, farmer B may have more grain than he needs. They may trade meat for grain, and in the end, both have a better meal than he would have had otherwise, but the wealth wasn't created by the trade. It was created through the death of another living creature.

Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the death of other living creatures. All creatures live off material that was once the living tissue of another creature—yes, even the green plants, which draw nutrients from the soil, by-products of the action of bacteria feeding on the remains of another living thing. Humans are no different, nor should we think we can be otherwise. As long as we continue to exist, we will subsist of the death of other creatures.

The question to be raised is, what happens when we run out of living creatures to kill? For the herdsman kills more than he needs, in order to trade with the farmer and feed his children. The farmer plants more than he needs, in order to trade with the hunter and feed his children. As generations go by, there are more and more people, but where did the things that make up their bodies come from? They came from other creatures.

This is fine, as long as we live in a balance with the rest of the ecological community. But this is not how we are living. Our population continually grows at the expense of the rest of the ecological community. This doesn't seem to be a problem, until one realizes that if we keep growing, eventually, we'll reach a point where we are eating more than the ecological community can replace. We have already gotten to this point; this is why species go extinct at the rate they do.

Even this wouldn't be a problem, if all we were doing was replacing grass and deer and trees with wheat and cows, but the thing is, we're now converting areas to farmland and pasture that simply cannot support this sort of thing for very long. Eventually, farmers *do* ruin their land. Eventually, the soil becomes totally leeched, and formerly productive land becomes wasteland. This is as true in the developed world as it is in the developing world, though, if I understand correctly, it happens even faster in tropical regions. Cut down the rainforest, and you end up with a thin topsoil that blows away in the wind, leaving a worthless wasteland.

So what will happen when we finally run out of other species to eat? Why, we'll have to eat each other. I sincerely doubt this will be conducive to an enjoyable lifestyle, particularly if we set upon one another with the same gusto we set upon other species. While one can imagine "recycling" becoming our typical death ritual (eating those who pass away from natural causes), I can easily imagine death gangs being set up to "harvest" less economically productive humans to feed the more economically productive ones—the rich will feed upon the poor in a very literal sense.

Ugh, this is yet another "True Ramble" on my part—where the heck was I going with this?

Oh yeah, the whole Capitalist Worldview vs. Socialist Worldview thing. Basically, so long as we continue to think of the resources of Earth as being essentially infinite, we will eventually reach a point where we have run out of resources. The Socialist is locked in an earlier time when our exploitation of resources was limited, and thus wealth was typically gained at the expense of other human beings. But now, we are much better at extracting wealth from the Earth itself, and now it is not the Poor that suffer and the hands of the rich, it is Everything (including the poor, though the burden on them is less than it was in the past). Even the poor of this country live better than the wealthiest during the middle ages (they didn't have air conditioning, for example), but it is other species that suffer as a result of our opulance. Now, I don't really believe in "animal rights," but I do believe that the ultimate result of doing this completely thoughtlessly is that, one day, we're going to find ourselves without any natural resources to exploit. Then, we will starve.

The question is, what does one do about it?

(BTW, if anyone has a problem with the irregular pattern of my posts, the "non-weeklyness" of the Ramble, drop me a line. If I have any actual readers, I'll try to regularlize it again, rather than simply treating this as a repository of my thoughts.)

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