Killed by Homo Economicus
Our lives are based on an abstraction that forms the basis of the modern economic theory. Homo economicus model tells us that our total wants are insatiable, that we can make no value judgments and that whatever we desire must be normative. To ensure that the theory stands, however, we are bombarded with advertising.
Our hard-earned incomes pay for items whose advertisements promise to enhance our life quality. Most of these products live ephemerally, however, on their way to the landfill, or incinerator.
The Homo economicus abstraction is viciously attacking against nature through its inordinate consumption of energy, especially oil. The abstraction has driven our ecosystems (life support systems) to the verge of imminent collapse. The ‘experts’ assure us that the modern economic theory is the best there is. The theory is “carefully designed,” they tell us, but so was the Titanic.
E. F. Schumacher, in ‘Small is Beautiful,’ enumerated what he called the six leading ideas, a toolbox of ideas stemming from the nineteenth century by which the civilization interprets the world:
- Systemic application of the theory of evolution;
- Natural selection, which insures the survival of the fittest through competition;
- Suppression of spirituality, religion, philosophy, art and culture in favor of economic gains;
- Relativism, which denies all absolutes and negates the idea of truth in pragmatism;
- Positivism, which states that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge and such knowledge can only come through empirical sciences (i.e., positive affirmation of scientific theories via exact scientific observations);
- Freud’s theory of unconscious mind, unconscious desire and repression.
Freud on Taming Nature
Freud said, “Against the dreaded external world one can only defend oneself by some kind of turning away from it, if one intends to solve the task by oneself. There is, indeed, another and a better path: that of becoming a member of human community, and, with the help of a technique guided by science, going over to attack against nature and subjecting her to human will. [And if the technique guided by science fail to reverse the ‘marsification’ of Earth that it started in the first place, you can always hide behind more abstractions!]”
Not surprisingly, the economic model with its Freudian framework has created a throwaway culture of obese, indolent and dumbed down insatiable consumers who, consciously or unconsciously, serve the [perceived] interest of a small cabal of international gangsters. Meantime, the economic abstractions are committing many species, including humans, to extinction.
The Oil Addiction
In For the Common Good Herman Daly reminds us of Pimples Carson, a John Steinbeck’s protagonist in The Wayward Bus. Pimples “spent half of his income on doctors and salves whose advertisements promised to cure his acne, and the other half on candy bars and sugary pies whose advertisements told him that a workingman needs quick food energy. Thus Pimples Carson becomes the insatiable consumer, much to the benefit of the makers of candy bars and acne ointments but to his own personal detriment.”
Unfortunately, the ‘Pimples Carson syndrome’ has affected the entire developed world, much to the benefit of the cabal [whose interests do not coincide with the interest of 98 percent of Americans and most others elsewhere], but to the detriment of the ecosystems. The United States government spends half of it income (and the lives of many of its sons and daughters) on the military to ‘protect’ a fraction of its oil imports that come from the Middle East, and the other half on consuming more oil to make America even more dependent on foreign oil!
Ironically, the United States can reduce its oil consumption by at least more than the amount it imports from the Middle East, and could even become completely independent of all foreign oil imports, by promoting non-carbon renewable sources, and by curbing waste.
[Note: China, Japan, India, Brazil… continue to buy oil at prevailing market prices–averaged at about $55 per barrel in February 2007–without loosing a single citizen or killing an Iraqi.]
Drowning in Cheap Oil
After air and water, oil is arguably the most vital resource on Earth on which our lives have become dependent. Why is this most precious commodity trading at giveaway prices? Why and how are the oil pumping countries forced to underselling their lifeblood?
Oil is food. Our food system almost entirely depends on oil. To produce 1,000 kcal of food energy, the food production industry in the developed world uses up to 22,000 kcal almost entirely derived from cheap oil. [Typical figures for the energy markup for each 1,000 kcal of food from production until the food reaches our mouths include agricultural production, 2,800 kcal; transportation, up to 10,000kcal (depending on the country); food processing, 2,000 kcal; packaging material, 1,500 kcal; food retail, 1,200 kcal; advertising and commercial food service, 1,200 kcal; household storage and preparation, 3,300 kcal.]
Our weekly shopping basket includes items that would have flown more air miles than the average family fly in their lifetime! A 1kg (2.2lb) bag of New Zealand kiwifruit (in any of its cadmium, arsenic, lead, mercury… or organochlorine varieties) produces about 142kg (313lb) of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent gases) pollution flying to the US, or 188.7kg (416lb) of CO2e to Europe.
We use cheap oil to make more than 500,000 products: antiseptics, asphalt, battery cases, boats, cables, carpets, cars bodies, CDs, clothes, computers, containers, detergents, DVDs, fabrics, Fertilizers, glues, home appliances, insulation, medicines, office equipment, paints, pipes, plastics, printers, refrigerators, shoes, solvents, sports gears, tires, tools, toys, trash bags… The list covers more than two thousand pages.
We are told the market economy decides what is needed, and rejects what is not. If this is true, why must the market economy resort to blanket advertising, brainwashing its Homo economicus subjects by exposing them to 3,000 advertising messages each, day in day out?
Why must market economy rely on in-built redundancy features to sell more of the same products at the expense of wasting tremendous amounts of energy? Why does the free market economy’s supply and demand interplay suppress the price of oil (usually through gunboat diplomacy), fail to recognize oil as a finite commodity and refuse to internalize environmental cost of the oil gluttony? Why the Homo economicus subjects have to resort to military force to kill and maim hundreds of thousands of human beings so that they could feed their life-destroying addiction?
Our slaveholder, the car, is taking the food right out of our mouths. The late Ivan Illich, a renowned sociologist, reported in the 1970s that when the miles Americans drive are divided by the time spent in the car (sitting on congested roadways, driving, parking, and servicing) and paying for it, they average 5 mph-about twice slower than riding a bike. Today, the cars are getting fatter and running even slower.
Cheap oil has distorted the notion of creating ‘economic gains’ to such great extents that governments subsidize the industry to export and import the same product, often in similar quantities, within the same fiscal period. Country A exports Q tons of product P to country B, while it imports Q tons of the same product P from country B at the same time, with a net zero gain in commodity exchange for either country. However, the exchange produces about 9Q tons of CO2e pollution, nine times the weight of the commodity that was flown in either direction, for every 1,000 miles that the consignment is airborne.
No doubt, their economic model registers this Enronesque racketeering in phantom GDP as a rise in the national wealth for both countries, but to the detriment of our environment and at the expense of poor countries.
So how do the captains of industry, governments, economic gurus and the ‘Andersonian’ crooks who cook their books account for their misadventure? How does the economic model explain, justify or excuse the pillage of cheap oil that has driven the ecosystems to the verge of collapse? What happens when the reality of ecocide finally begins to sink in?
Ed Crane of Cato Institute wrote, “The history of mankind is a history of the subjugation and exploitation of a great majority of people by an elite few by what has been appropriately termed the ‘ruling class’. The ruling class has many manifestations. It can take the form of a religious orthodoxy, a monarchy, a dictatorship of the proletariat, outright fascism, or, in the case of the United States, corporate statism. In each instance the ruling class [more precisely, the cabal] relies on academics, scholars and ‘experts’ to legitimize and provide moral authority for its hegemony over the masses.”
Related Links: Poverty Index