- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Shuffling the deck.

Posted by: Farinata ( L'inferno ) on December 07, 1999 at 18:55:00:

In Reply to: Well chosen piece posted by Gee on December 07, 1999 at 18:28:49:

: : "Would you be willing to sacrifice two of them, and make them suffer so that the other one could go to school, and have a good life, in Recife? Could you love your children that way?"
: "No!"
: "Well, if you," I said, "a person of flesh and bones, could not commit an injustice like that -- how could God commit it? Could God really be the cause of these things?

: Certainly stirring, but the above passage conatins an important error which undermines what follows. The error of zero sum economics, that in order for one person to gain others must lose by some roughly equal amount. Evidently not true given a quick glance at world wide wealth creation. (ie for it to be true then the sum of global wealth would need to be now, what it was at mankinds start)

Clarify this, Gee, because it's not entirely true.

'Wealth' is an entirely subjective measure. Do you define 'wealth' as a physical thing or a mental thing?

If you are talking in purely physical terms, then 'wealth' (i.e. mineral and vegetable resource) has remained roughly constant since humanity's start; it has merely changed form. However, if you talk about 'wealth' in mental terms, then the definition is entirely subjective; and as such, depends on what you consider to be wealth; it depends from time to time and place to place. To speak in terms of 'wealth creation' is merely describing the 'talking up' of value; it's not the physical act of creating more resources; which is impossible in a closed system like Earth.

Take a deck of cards; deal yourself a hand. Decide they're crap, put them back into the deck and shuffle them again - you might get a better hand this time, but it doesn't mean you've created new cards; merely that you've converted the existing arrangement to suit your own needs more.

In the same way, there is not more energy or mineral wealth than there has ever been before; it has just been converted to a form more useful to the Western economies. The energy from non-renewable sources, once burned, is effectively lost to humanity.

In thermodynamic terms; in physical terms, the Earth is very definitely a zero-sum-gain system; and the whole human concept of 'wealth' as applied to cars becomes redundant as soon as the oil runs out.

What use is a luxury commodity made out of plastic if you can't power it? What use is land if it becomes too polluted to produce food?


Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup