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To stop aggression we need to explain how to end oil dependence.
by Barry Brooks
30 September 2002 13:36 UTC
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To WSN,

Given the common tendency to ignore plans to end our dependence
on oil, our oil dependence seems necessary to most many people.
There is no choice except to grab more oil.

Give this assumption the choice between running out of oil in
this generation and going to war seems easy.  We need war to
continue our lives.  Aggression is always wrong, but it is not
without reason if we believe we have no other choice.

But, we have other choices. Here's one proposal explaining how
we can end our oil dependence:

Consider a simple example of the production of some item,
produced at a constant rate, which will face a predictable
consumption after some period of use.

That item will accumulate until the predictable consumption
begins.   After that period, production will just provide the
replacements needed to maintain the previous accumulation.

The accumulation will grow until the 

Goods in service = rate of production * life span of the goods

To have more wealth we need to increase the goods in service,
but it would be best if it could be done with a low rate of
production.  That is assuming that we ought to slow the rate of
production when possible for sustainability.  In many cases
production can be cut without a loss of use-value by simply
making items last longer.

Why can't we take advantage of increased durability to conserve?
Because our goal is not to have more wealth.  Our goal is just
to stay busy and consume more of everything.   We have made
income the enemy of wealth. We have the wrong goal.

Isn't the best measure of economic success giving people what
they want?  They want the goods, and don't care about the rate
of production in itself. Smart people already value durability
and try to buy more durable products.  They want to fill their
own demand. They want to sate all their needs using all possible
methods, and the value of durability is not a new idea to them.

What is missing is significant support for any policy intended
to cut consumption, because the goal of economic policy is still
to increase the rate of production.  The need to make jobs has
been seen as more important than conservation.  But, we are
changing.  The importance of conservation is beginning to be
accepted, and the importance of making jobs for humans is in
doubt when automated machines can do so much of our work.

Let's change our goal from producing at a high rate to having a
lot of goods in service.  When we make our goal to have more
goods in service we will be trying to satiate all markets, to
create a condition of widespread wealth. But, if the economy
actually delivers the goods it conflicts with the goal of
producing however much might be needed to create full
employment. If people have everything they want they would not
bother to buy more.  If we already have what we want we will be
unemployed.

People need income.  But, how can we make enough jobs without a
high rate of production?  If durability combines with automation
production related jobs could virtually vanish. Could the
service economy make enough jobs to replace the lost production
jobs?

Most services within the economy can be automated, so they are
unlikely to be an effective replacement. The service jobs
outside of the economy are harder to automate, but they aren't a
source of income.

One idea is to shift all unpaid work into the paid economy.
Perhaps we could pay our parents for raising us.  We could
eliminate volunteer work. Maybe all kinds of personal caring
should be paid. Some one might invent a love meter. We could
revive the oldest profession. I don't think we want to go very
far in that direction.

We need some way to increase the amount of unpaid work that gets
done.  In today's economy people are much more motivated to do
paid work.  Some people even wish mothers could gain the respect
of a job.  This bias toward paid work has hurt the parts of
society that need unpaid workers.

The people in any functional service economy would need some
access to the income related to production. Trading household
labor services with a neighbor will not give either party access
to food made in the production economy.  That little service
economy is disconnected from the land and capital roots of
wealth.

Who gets paid by the roots of wealth, land and capital?  If we
accept the demise of wages and turn to the service economy then
at least part of that service economy must service those who own
the means of production and the land.  The wages of the few
servants of the few rich would somehow have to be so large that
the rest of the population could live on trickle down from the
servants of the servants and so on as flea's fleas.  But, how
many servants do a few rich people need?  How long are the
chains of fleas.

Because there is so much work in caring for others, and all
kinds of stewardship, the unpaid service economy may keep us
busy, but it will not provide a replacement for the income lost
due to conservation and automation.  Where can we turn for some
way to distribute income in an economy that has few paid jobs,
too few to go around?  Capitalism already has the answer. It is
unearned income.

If all work were automated there would be no wages.  All income
would be rents or profits.  That's where increases in
productivity will take us, at the limit no wages would be
available. As technology improves wages can fall to very low
levels. It's easy to see the progress that business has made in
ridding itself of expensive workers.  As that process cuts the
need for human labor we need find a better way to adjust than
stimulating further increases in consumption.

If wages are going to be reduced by automation and conservation
maybe we should provide a variable unearned income.  The amount
of unearned income people receive could be adjusted downward to
motivate more work and keep wages from rising.  The unearned
income could be increased when wages fall.

Your car has a throttle.  Its purpose is to reduce the engine's
output below the maximum possible so you don't go too fast.  We
need throttles when our cars have powerful engines and we are
driving in town. Maybe the economy needs a throttle too, maybe
even brakes. Isn't it possible to produce too much with today's
technology and population?

Barry Brooks




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