This is an answer to TINSTAAFL and the Welfare State by Klaus Kastner Blog TINSTAAFL (there is no such thing as a free lunch)
Hello Mr. Kastner,
I will take up the invitation for discussion and decided to enter into it here.
Concerning this article I will start with following. While in social sciences other than economics the idea that there is something like a "primitive society" has long been discarded it is common to use it in economic circles.
It is a huge flaw of economics to still live in the chauvinistic terms of the 19th century scholars like Adam Smith. Especially if ,when looking closely, we find that our society is not a very bright one, but rather the most stupid wasteful society that probably ever was.
But this is just the beginning of what I will guess will be an interesting argument. My thesis is that the existing economic principles that rule our policies are there for no other reason as that there is something like a free lunch since about 150 years, oil.
The treasure in the cellar:
As you may already know after reading my blog, I do admire the teachings of Marvin Harris and his Cultural Materialism. If you follow the link to Marvin Harris you will read that there is significant reason to believe that Human culture is in fact largely defined by the amount of energy it has to its disposal.
Interestingly, what we call economics as a science today, established itself at a time when humans began to exploit the energy that is concentrated in fossil fuels. With exploiting this virtually free energy several things happened to our society simultaneously.
It started an extraordinary rise to all productivity that finally resulted in industrial society. Since the beginning of the industrial age population has risen exponentially worldwide. Also, the feudal system that dominated preindustrial societies came to an end. A new form of stratified society started to emerge.
The structural class of the industrial worker came into existence as productivity of agriculture and rural population raised simultaneously and led to a rural exodus. Urban metropolitan city sprawls like Victorian Age London grew to house this new class of laborers.
The rise of the capitalists
Almost free energy and rising efficiency also gave way to another new development. While in preindustrial societies, the number of people who could live just from holding money was severely limited by the low surplus that could be sustainably produced; the amount of surplus now available gave rise to another class, the capitalist.
The whole Idea of somebody living from the gains of his capital was abhorrent at all other ages. Even in the feudal system there was some kind of legitimacy to the ruling class (given by god and inheritance). The usurer is somebody shunned by virtually all societies predating the industrial age and by almost all religious and ethical believes.
The capitalist on the other hand, had to his side the economist. He was the high priest of the new believe system, that made "earning money by doing nothing", as something not only morally acceptable, but the ultimate goal of all strife in a society, where the individual was being reduced to an homo oeconomicus, a being that is only motivated by personal monetary gain.
Not surprisingly this new development led to the rise to several counter movements like anarchism, socialism and communism. I am not saying that the conflict between the haves and have nots, the debtors and the creditors has not been the basis of all revolutions at all ages. There is a significant difference in the struggles in the 19th and 20th century whatsoever.
It settled on a middle ground that allowed the capitalists not only to hold on to the wealth they have gathered, but also convinced the majority of the people that they also could benefit from the capitalist system. Main reason for this is (by the help of protestant religious believe) that a devious myth was invented. It is the myth of vertical social mobility (also called “the american dream”).
Why a myth? Social studies show that there is a huge disparity between actual social mobility and its perception. (i.e. this one). What this myth does is not only giving legitimacy for those who made it, it also suggests that the poor are poor because of their own fault. Propaganda (also called advertising or TV.) sees to it that this myth is always circulated in public space.
This myth alone is not enough to explain the meekness of the poor. Most of the time during the 19th and the 20th century, small concessions to the poor had to be made. It did not hurt the capitalists much, because due to the never before achieved “economic growth” in these times, the amount of surplus to be harvested ans shared, grew evermore.
Growth, as economic sciences defines it, is the growth of total production and services. As we have seen in Marvin Harris analysis, the amount goods and services produced is limited by the energy that is produced by a society. Only that this energy that drove our siciety has not been produced, it has been found as a treasure in the cellar. It virtually just needed to be picked up or pumped up from our earth’s crust.
There was a free lunch, but it is over:
This treasure has been wasted by the generations that found it. It has been used to provide the few that managed to rake in the harvest to live the free lunch. Contrary to the believe of many socialists, this free lunch has not been served by “the working class”, or not more or less than during the thousands of years before. The amount of energy people put into production of goods today is actually very minimal. This free lunch has been stolen from future generations.
So, economy, capitalism, industrial age, and the population we now are able to provide for, all of it is a result of the exploitation of fossil fuels and the riches of future generations. The generations that have thrived in the 20th century have left us with an unsolvable mess at our doorstep.
As obvious from reading my blog, I am convinced that the time of cheap oil has come to an end NOW and my arguments for that are very good. The political system, the whole believe system, all values we cherish seem to circle around the concept of growth. What if that growth has finally stopped, like for a very long time, if not forever?
Why, you asked me, do I have such a grim outlook on our future? Read part 2 for an answer to this question.