The economy is bad, and every politician running for office these days gets hard pressed to explain how they’re going to create jobs and raise wages. The problem with looking to campaigning politicians for answers to the world’s problems is they’re only going to tell you the answers that win them votes. So you can only expect to get the “Sunday school answers” from them that gloss over the hard, embarrassing roots of economic crises.
They’re never going to tell you the economy is bad because it’s fundamentally broken, and it’s not that the economy just all of a sudden broke after working properly for some time; it’s designed to eat its own tail. So, technically, it was successful at doing what it was designed to do.
If you don’t know how America’s economy works, here’s a quick introduction. Companies try to sell as much stuff as possible. They try to spend as little money as possible for the things they buy and charge as much money as possible for the things they sell.
On the surface, this formula may seem reasonable. Lots of companies have gone bankrupt because they made products that lasted forever, and once everyone bought one, the business couldn’t sell anymore. So companies have learned not to make things that last. They make products as cheap as possible not only because it guarantees them more sales after those things break, but cheap junk is also cheap to produce. So companies make a higher profit at both ends of their business model. Then they can make even more money if they constantly raise the price of everything for any reason that sounds remotely justifiable.
There’s no giant conspiracy behind this. The state of the economy was probably inevitable. Businesses that minimize expenses and maximize profit make more money than businesses that sell high-quality products at reasonable prices, and once a business has more money than their competitors they can buy all the advantages they need to put their competitors out of business. In a free (or even not so free) market only the most profitable businesses survive, but when the majority of businesses sell the cheapest products at the highest price you cross a tipping point where the economy just eats itself alive.
Mass consumerism is burning through all the world’s natural resources at a mind-boggling rate. This destroys the environment and raises the cost of goods as resources become more scarce. Instead of those resources being used to build a permanent world, they’re used to fill garbage dumps and pollute the eco-system. Then we have to divert more resources to managing these problems we’re creating. All the while the businesses we rely on to sell us the products to manage the problems we’re creating keep raising keep selling us cheaper and cheaper tools while their cost keeps going up for any reason that sounds remotely justifiable. So for every two steps, we take towards a stable economy and a clean environment we take one step back.
But that’s a best-case scenario. In the real world, we’re running as fast as we can towards an economic collapse by making everything as expensive as it can be. The more expensive everything gets, and the more often people have to repair the things they’ve already bought, the less people can buy, which means the less demand there will be for new products, which means unemployment will go up, which means people will have even less money to buy more products to justify more jobs. This is a straight-forward domino effect straight towards collapse.
But the cure sounds as bad as the disease. If everyone made products that lasted and sold them for reasonable prices then many businesses would go bankrupt, and the ones that survived would never make enough capital to expand significantly. This is a recipe for unemployment and ultimately… starvation.
However, unemployment is only a bad thing if the only reason people need jobs is to make as much money as possible because everything is expensive as possible and everything breaks. If people could survive for free (or next to free), then they wouldn’t need to work 40+ hours a week. We have the technology and skills to allow people to live for free if we would only use them.
Consider what you need to survive. You need a house, food, clothes, water, and electricity. How expensive is it to get those things? As it stands rent costs at least one-third of your wages. Food is grown in foreign countries, covered in toxic preservatives and shipped to foreign supermarkets that charge such high prices they can afford to have regular sales and still make money off of deeply discounted sale items. Your clothes are made in sweatshops in foreign countries and shipped to stores around the globe where their price tag is marked up thousands of times higher than they cost to produce. Utilities are largely run by private companies that charge as much money as they can while their executives live more luxuriously than any medieval king could ever dream of. When you lay it out like that, there’s obvious room for improvement in this system.
There are ways we can make housing, clothing, food, and utilities drastically cheaper. If we do that, the economy won’t make as much profit, but people won’t need to work for (or save) as much money to survive. Plus, if they don’t have to spend money on housing, food, clothing, and utilities then they’ll have more money to spend on job-creating products.
I’ll make a few suggestions how to lower costs on these expenses, but I’m not trying to convince you those are the right ideas as much as I’m trying to convince you that everyone (especially politicians) should be thinking and talking about lowering the cost of survival to improve our quality of living and our chances of survival.
Here are a few suggestions to stabilize our economy and our lives:
Taxpayers pay a lot of money to the government through the course of their lives under the assumed condition that their government will use that money to improve their quality of life. Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and similar social services are all swamped by people who are too poor and sick to survive. Half the problems those social services address could be solved if people had free housing, even if that “house” was nothing more than a cramped efficiency apartment. If it was free and guaranteed then everyone will have a better chance of building a secure, healthy life…and career.
Governments can claim eminent domain over property, and we can build extremely cheap, strong, eco-friendly buildings with sandbags. America certainly has enough prisoners to put to work filling sandbags. Once these are built, there’s no need to charge citizens extortionate fees or taxes to live there. If poor people can live there freely and securely then the cost/benefit analysis of doing drugs and committing crime will plummet with their stress level.
This isn’t giving the poor a handout. The poor pay more in taxes in their lifetime than it would cost to build sustainable sandbag houses for every person in the world three times over in sin taxes alone. Even if that’s not precisely true, the point the remains. Poor people pay taxes with the understanding that the government will use it to raise their quality of life. You can pay for houses for the poor with poor people’s own money if governments would just stop spending poor people’s taxes on such aggressive police and militaries who prey on civilians. And stop having the poor subsidies tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy.
I really want to beat this horse to death, because this is such a simple and obvious concept that it’s easy to take for granted, but it’s profoundly important. Governments exist to help the taxpayers who fund it. Nothing…nothing…nothing…nothing… in the world will help first-world taxpayers more today than having a free house. Setting up a system to provide everyone with a free house should have been one of the first things any government ever did. And with the technology we have today this is more possible than ever.
There’s no need to get rid of super farms altogether or ban international food shipments. They serve a purpose, but there’s no need for the world to rely solely on them for its food supply. You can grow food anywhere. You just need a place to grow it and someone who knows how to make it grow. If you grow it right next to you then you don’t have to ship it anywhere but your kitchen before you consume it. If governments build free housing complexes they could incorporate gardens and small strips of farm/ranch land into the layout. It would be inefficient to try to grow all your food there, but any amount you could grow onsite you don’t have to pay to import. If you can grow 30% of your food onsite then you can reduce your living expenses by 30% while creating local agriculture jobs for skilled and unskilled workers. That’ll also reduce food-shipping-related pollution and resource-consumption by 30%.
But this method wouldn’t work in suburbia because suburbia is so inefficiently designed. That’s not a reason to disregard urban agriculture. That’s a reason to abandon the suburban city model.
If we can’t clothe ourselves without forcing children to work in sweatshops then we should just walk around naked. But we don’t have to rely on sweatshops, and we don’t have to pay $90 for a shirt. There should be a global ban on importing sweatshop clothing. That doesn’t mean sweatshop workers should lose their jobs. That means factory workers should get paid a living wage and get to work under inhumane conditions. But that’s not going to happen as long as CEOs reserve the right to exploit their workers and have the incentive of being able to pocket as much of the company’s profits as they want. Cap executive pay and put a limit on how high the cost of products can be marked up. Make profit sharing mandatory. And finally, let an impartial, international health organization set health and safety standards for commercial merchandise. The only “negative” consequence these changes have to cause is stopping executives from being able to afford to live in utter, shameful luxury. As long as business executives can’t pass their costs off onto their workers or customers then everyone else will enjoy a higher quality of living while still being able to afford clothes, shoes, and all the other products we buy.
Technology exists for buildings to collect their own rainwater, process their own waste and generate their own electricity. If building standards required every building to be environmentally sustainable then there would be little need to pay for public utilities or their upkeep. Cities could still keep public utilities in a backup fashion instead of being the single point of failure that they are now. I’m not saying it’ll be easy to convert the world to using sustainable architecture/technology. I’m just saying, as long as we keep doing what we’re doing we should expect the same results.
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Predatory Capitalism Creates Poverty
Socialism and Communism
The Life of the Rich
The Life of the Poor
Oppression in the Workplace
Success and Retirement
The Housing Market
Healthcare in America
The Stock Market
Fixing the Economy
My Tweets About Economics