Disclaimer: This is not economics; this is human thought. I am a thoughtful person, and the principles expressed here are my personal tools for understanding my life and surroundings.
Economists are probably dismayed by my every sentence, thinking “Why doesn’t this fool apply the established methods of our profession? We worked this out long ago.” Apparently, I am not content with solutions worked out thus far. Working to fulfill the moral goals that I have set, I am expressing my values, not theoretical elegance.
Foundation – real wealth, FISH
Article 27 identified Humans’ Needs as the Fundamental Ingredients Sustaining Humans (FISH). They are more specific than the Four Freedoms of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which are freedom of speech and worship, freedom from want and fear. Comparable enumerations are found in the eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015 (approved in 2000) and the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (approved in 2016).
Daily we use our primary tools of progress in an economy that includes a free market. I ended article 23 declaring “I do not have a job; I have a rare privilege. I spend my day in reverent awe that industry, commerce and human intelligence have combined to produce this miracle for expressing my human emotions.” Our worldwide family is richly blessed by methods of working together (social contract) that we have already put into effect.
The FISH address consumption and production, the inseparable needs of life. (Yes, we have a fundamental need to see ourselves as productive!) Their relationship introduced in article 36 is developed in article 37 discussing economic adjustments following localized losses. The micro level is creating or losing one job or one house. Fortunately, there is a macro level that oversees the aggregate perspective, the collections of all houses and all jobs. This applies to all FISH: the human family realizes inescapable consumption needs and possesses sufficient production ability. We are happy to the extent that we keep the sides in balance, which we can do at the macro level.
The above introduction has meaning if we realize that wealth is not a number. Having a large bank account does not by itself sustain life. Wealth must be directed toward consumption and production. There must be human action to apply it to the Humans’ Needs. For example, a farmer must cultivate crops so there is a useful substance for money to buy. It is the goods and services, not money, that directly satisfy physical and mental needs. One hopes that money is not exchanged for things that satisfy nothing.
Tools – money, savings, debt
While money is not real wealth in the sense of sustaining life, it is a useful tool for trading the goods and services that do. There is another artificial tool that has developed for the smoothing out discussed in article 37. Accumulated savings and debt are instances of paper-trail tools for making commerce practical. As money is an instrument of exchange, savings and debt are instruments of exchange over time. The aggregate perspective above not only studies immediate consumption and production, it also views the flow. Stockpiling and substituting can be used to bridge the tight spots. The current pandemic makes clear the need for this kind of adjustment in the face of disruptions.
Paying current expenses with savings or debt is an unsustainable cash flow problem. Paying for increased productivity with savings, debt, or labor is expenditure that leads to real wealth increase. Investment returns wealth by increasing capacity, not by creating money.
Genuine stewardship (happiness) is assuring adequate production for a desirable level of consumption without injection of artificial needs. The first concern of public policy (social engagement) is applying real wealth to meeting universally the fundamental Humans’ Needs.
GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has been suggested as a measure of economic health. A high number is used to show that needs are being met by robust exchange of value. However, article 56 showed that GDP does not measure real wealth. Having more prisons, war, and natural disasters is not an indication of increased economic well-being. Meeting Humans’ Needs is a perpetual process not measured adequately by money. Meaning lies rather in the less well defined standard of quality of life.
Consider a simple evidence of economic complexity. My basic training is that I can stretch out my supply by consuming less. Normally, cutting out frivolous expenses assures sufficiency for the necessities. I am quite faithful to this imperative. My frugality works to the disadvantage of some people. I almost never eat food prepared outside my home and not by me. I almost never travel. I have discontinued concert and play attendance. I use numerous free software applications, the starter versions of programs for which bigger companies pay substantially.
While I love people in the hospitality and entertainment industries, among others, I cannot afford to indulge in their services. This makes it appear that frugal prudence slows down the economy. To that I say “bravo!” Once we have produced enough food and housing, we can slow down. Much of society has reached a frenetic pace that leads to overconsumption, waste accumulation, and environmental degradation. Humanity is depleting its own base.
So what about these wonderful people I do not employ? The question has great significance to someone who has been a piano tuner for more than 50 years. I am classified as “entertainment industry” although my work is a vital need, not an optional want, of my customers. Now that agriculture does not require the whole population as a work force to feed the whole population, we need to be creative about what the rest of us do without fueling the consumption frenzy. A free market without direction has not yet developed the distribution of the Humans’ Needs that keeps all the intermediate tasks meaningful. There are still people trying outlandish, unproductive gimmicks for getting money.
Consider junk food that does not nourish, cosmetics that do not beautify, planned obsolescence, non-durable trinkets, etc. These divert money away from durable projects, and people away from productive pursuits. Enticing people to spend for little or no value is a short-term antisocial cheat that detracts from real wealth and quality of life.
Even among genuine services, it is challenging to pay any attention to incidental life enrichments like piano tuning in the presence of people who lack food and housing. My sense of values is corrupt if I put my own income ahead of their most basic needs. Investors practice the same corruption if they accept profit distributions at the expense of laborers and the natural environment on which we all depend. To be human is to be guided by far higher orders.
Pursuit of progress
Mankind is not hopeless. Article 56 encouraged my goals for mankind. The review in today’s article is a launching pad for related specific studies. Recent articles have requested your feedback. By now this plea is serious. Some of you are trained to address today’s concerns. The discussion needs your input.
The FISH provide a pre-structure. They identify what we need to cover first: shared sufficiency for our human family. The next structure
might correlate people with processes. I can start that by suggesting a few connections that remediate the issues of throw-away people.
- There are people on “handicapped” status who receive financial support without engaging in supervised activity. They lack the benefit of formal employment. If they are not talented entrepreneurs, that deprives society of the skills they do have, and, more personally, deprives them of significant fulfillment they could achieve. For example, someone with mobility issues or injured limbs works from home or a sheltered environment by telephone, voice-activated equipment, or prosthetic appliances. Hours, assignments, and setting are customized to optimize performance.
- Learning disabled people are trained to specific manual garbage sorting tasks suited to their mental and physical abilities—jobs not considered practicable in the competitive market. They are financed by assistance funds that institutions are already paying. They provide occupational benefit to needy individuals and useful service to the community.
- Japan achieved recognition in senior care for encouraging people to retire into low-stress positions in schools. On their pension incomes, retirees were available to monitor playgrounds, provide encouragement to individual students, and assist teachers in simple ways. The pensioners and the community were better off when this became a societal norm.
- Part of the computer industry laid off workers who had been trained in Cobol while applying for work permits for foreign-educated graduates to fill positions in modern computer technology. Prudent planning would have assured perpetual in-service upgrading and retraining of the existing work force for the mutual benefit of the individual programmers and the companies.
In article 72 I encouraged new cosmological thinking. In this article I rephrase the call to action: Do not dismiss the higher orders simply because we have not realized them yet. Do not limit society to what we presently imagine. Remember, we are building a new world.
In the comments below, please enter at least one project that would enable otherwise discarded workers to accomplish something not yet achieved. Elaborate if you wish!