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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

April 14, 2004
Produce or die

The Right really has co-opted the debate in this country, and moved it farther to the right than most of us would have wanted, hasn't it? Take this "productivity" thing. When in the heck did we become about single-minded, mechanized "productivity" to the exclusion of everything else?

I mean, that is just so WWII, isn't it? In a time when pretty much all of the country's resources were actually needed to help wage a war against a powerful alliance of enemies, productivity was king. That's understandable.

News flash. That war was over a long time ago.

Why, in a year when people are dismissing a 2-1/2 year-old memo as "history" and witless idiots others are scoffing at Vietnam as "ancient history," are we still living in a World War II-model economy?

Me, I say it's the wrong tactic to be what the Right considers an "anti-business liberal.

What happened to the dream that living could be about more than stacking up shekels and that contemporary civilization could be good for more than burning fossil fuels and building better landfills?

One major wrong-turning was defining corporations as "people."

I categorically refuse to accept that IBM and Monsanto have a constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, okay? That's just stupid and I'm sick of hearing people try to defend it. A corporation is not a sentient entity and consequently has no capacity for happiness. A corporation is a legal fiction, an artificial construct created for a single purpose…to generate wealth. It has no "life" and can have no "liberty" except within very narrow boundaries.

I'm not saying that corporations shouldn't be entitled to legal protections. They should be. They just shouldn't be legally on a par with human beings.

There's an important nugget somewhere up there.

Probably that bit about "more to living than making a living." I'll have to think about it and post more later.

Right now, I'm scraping together something that pretends to be a well thought-out essay that I thought deeply about and worked on for several days. Because I said I'd do it and I don't like not living up to my commitments. I'd like to post a good faith effort, if nothing else. After all, if you have 30 minutes to spare one day, you might as well spend the time changing the world as playing computer games, right?

Posted by AnneZook at 02:40 PM


Comments

The old joke on the left is "economists don't know how to subtract." Productivity is all well and good, but our measure of productivity is so incredibly distorted that essentially destructive events or zero-sum transactions are measured as productive moments because money is moving around.

I'm a fan of the 'true cost' movement, trying to balance obvious fiscal productivity with environmental and resource limitations, quality of life subtractions, economic disparity adjustments, etc. I think it could, if we can make a good go at it, really change the way people look at their daily transactions, and that's where "the rubber meets the road" as the cliche goes.

And don't get me started on corporate personhood: the biggest mistake we ever made as a society is giving profit-making limited liability legal fictions any rights. Any. People have rights, communities have rights. But profit is not a right, and profit-making is not a right and corporations already contain liability protections which make me weep with envy (why can't I go broke like a company? Because I owe money to companies. Who's got more rights, here?): granting them "free speech" (i.e. influence peddling) or freedom from search and seizure (i.e. intense secrecy) and the right to enter agreements which limit the rights of individuals (sign a non-disclosure form lately?) is just absurd. Yeah, I'm a fan of the charter-revocation folks (death penalty for legal persons!), too: companies which violate the law should suffer sanctions more similar to felony imprisonment than traffic ticket fines.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at April 14, 2004 05:17 PM

Renewal, supposedly, can start either at the bottom or at the top. I think I've found a way for it to start at both.

I'd like you to consider reading the text for a "state of the union" address that I believe is imperative for this country of ours. To get to it, all you need do is click on the below enclosed U.R.L

http://www.bcvoice.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=205


By the way, the proprietors of the www.BCVoice.com website have provided a couple ways for you to leave your comments.

toodles

Posted by: A Alexander Stella at April 14, 2004 05:57 PM

As a free market capitalist I view corporations as a stake through the heart of both. The "invisible hand" is guided by risk. Risk is the justification for profit. Labor creates the product but the risk of capital hires the labor.

The creation of corporations limits the risk while not limiting the profit. I can't help but believe that business people would act a could deal differently if they knew that they could end of sleeping on steam grate if they made the wrong move.

Posted by: Bryan at April 14, 2004 06:44 PM

"When in the heck did we become about single-minded, mechanized "productivity" to the exclusion of everything else?"

It's always been a concern to economists, both those on the left and those on the right. However, less and less of America's productivity improvements come from "mechanization". The big era of mechanization was 1900 to 1973. During that time mechanical devices were substituted for human labor and large improvements in productivity were gained. Since the early 80s, an increasing and significant amount of productivity gain has come from process improvement - that is, figuring how work can be reengineered so that it is easier for workers to do (and thus less workers are needed to do it).

All new wealth comes from just two sources - people can work harder (longer hours, more days, more people) or productivity can improve. The only way that people can work less and still have their standard of living improve is through productivity gains. This is exactly what happened during the New Deal era, 1932 to 1968.

The new wealth created by productivity can be split up several ways. Generally, when unions are strong, much of the new wealth goes to the workers. When markets are competitive, much of the new wealth goes to consumers in the form of lower prices. And all the other times the new wealth goes to the corporations.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at April 14, 2004 09:27 PM

I disagree with everyone!

No, seriously. While I accept and understand how productivity can result in an increased standard of living for a society's members, my argument is that it has long since ceased to do so in this country.

We're doing very little good for our poor, we're not really using our resources to help any other country's poor to any huge extent.

In addition, many of the new products our "ingenuity" and "increased productivity" are making more readily available are completely unnecessary luxuries. ("Use it once and throw it away" toilet cleaner sponges? Give me a break.)

There has to be a limit. At some point, we need to focus on spreading the wealth we already have, rather than making the top 1% wealthier.

We need to reconsider what we prefer. A tiny, incremental increase in our standard of living (disposable window wipes!) or an extra hour, two hours, or four hours a week of personal time?

Speaking as someone who spent much of the last 15-20 years putting in from 50-70 hours a week at job after job (Always on salary, of course. I wasn't getting paid more.) let me say that in my opinion, life shouldn't be wasted that way. Fifteen years from now you're not going to remember or care about getting that project done 24 hours early, but if you take the afternoon off and organize a spontaneous game of volleyball in the park with a dozen strangers...you'll probably never forget that.

Forget getting super-rich. One person only needs so many computers or Jaguars or season tickets to their favorite sports team. Let's figure out how to spread what we have so everyone has a decent chance at economic security, and then let's focus on living.

Let's redefine the concept "wealth" to include quality of life.

Posted by: Anne at April 15, 2004 11:50 AM

Absolutely.

One of the interesting shifts in science fiction over the last fifty years has been the transition from the "everyone will be wealthy in the future due to increased productivity and labor-saving technology" to "a very small portion of the population will be very wealthy because they own the technology and a very small portion of the population will be working on the technology and an awful lot of the population will be dirt poor consumers of the products of that technology." Not everywhere, not everyone writes in this mode, but it's a clear trend.

Distribution matters.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at April 15, 2004 01:14 PM