The economy – is stupid!

by Lothar Luken
Just had a crash, wrote off two cars. Now where’s my medal for stimulating the economy? Two replacement cars have been bought; one driver seen by a doctor; an assessor coming to inspect the wreckage; state keeps motor tax for the old cars; insurance (UK-based!) pays scrapper for wreck crushing. Nice stimulus package – according to official theory.

My unofficial theory, though, sees a two-car loss to mankind and a lot of stupid extra- work and phone calls. But official policy gives you a premium for scrapping your 10-year-old car – even if in perfect working order. That’s to support our trusted friends, the car dealers… So bankrupt islanders overcome their lack of finance by destroying valuable vehicles to replace them with new ones they have to import! Why not do this for chainsaws and lawn mowers to boost the hardware trade… or dump all fridges… or blow up all bridges…

Yes, that would create jobs! Which means: we all have to work more on average just to replace what was there. Why is that good? Because every economic activity lets a few people cream off some profit. And as they typically aren’t much into paying taxes, that profit will not pay for schools and roads and hospitals but for essentials like fourth homes, helicopters and yachts.

We grew up with a lot of propaganda as to the necessity of all that labour – how it makes life so much easier and better. Fact is that most ‘primitive’ peoples do just a few hours of work – and that in unpolluted natural environments. Yes, there are many useful things we’ve invented that make life safer, more predictable and varied. But we’ve also added nuclear weapons, drug cartels, arms trade, fast ‘food’, strip mining and other highly profitable activities. And on the way we’ve been burdened by nuclear waste, slums, addiction, obesity, toxic dumps and global warming – for which society at large will have to pay the price.

Have you ever considered city centres full of office blocks – where millions ‘work’ without producing anything tangible or edible or beautiful? But they’ve all got their salaries and can buy stuff others produce. Propaganda has taken note: banks and insurances don’t call what they provide ‘services’ any more – they’re now selling us ‘products’… Which gets us to the advertising industry which has penetrated our entire world now – billboards, junk mail, TV ads, pop ups on web pages, ads on the back of cinema tickets and the nozzles at petrol pumps – even spots interrupting movies. The irony is that we are paying for this superfluous hype: with every product we purchase we pay for our own manipulation. They’ve even got us to pay more for designer labels (their higher price of course just representing the cost of ‘branding’) and have us display their logos – and instead of being paid for running around as billboards for famous ‘labels’ we pay them extra… Brainwashed teens pester parents to buy runners only from specific brands – you couldn’t be seen in any others… So Asian sweat shops press some more kids into assembly lines and here the poor mums and dads end up working three jobs to make ends meet. And they vegetate in trailer parks – and will never dwell in a villa by the sea nor in the communal house of a tribe.

And all the while this insane process of capitalist accumulation of riches and poverty is using up the planet’s resources, destroying our natural base, poisoning air, water and soil and has even succeeded in de-icing the North Pole. All of this, of course mere ‘externalities’ which will never feature in any corporate quarterly report. Nor do the 100 million children who starve to death every year. Or the species we’ve made extinct.

Our problems have grown out of proportion with the new ideology of ‘greed is good’ – where crashed cars are on the positive side of the balance sheet, where we have become used to be called ‘consumers’. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to be seen as ‘producers’, people who’re proud of what they create – not of what they’ve just bought on the overdraft of their credit cards?? Everyone in hock to the banks, the state to the IMF etc., the USA to China – and humankind to a future of depleted resources on a ravaged planet…

But the immediate reality for us privileged citizens of Western civilization is still only one of relative unease. As long as we can get African states with stark malnutrition to grow flowers that are flown to our cities, we’re doing al-right. In Ireland, recently crashed from the top of the world’s economic pile to the indebted debris at its bottom, we still get Mercedes and BMW ads and sold-out concerts where the average ticket costs €100.

In November, a local radio station did their morning show from NAMA’s Maritime in Bantry. As my daughter is a fan and I was attracted by their offer of free food, we went to see her radio stars and got our four star continental breakfast courtesy of Red FM. We were the only poor people there – no queues of emaciated children in rags, no tired mothers shivering in the cold, no downtrodden crowds desperate for some warmth, some grub, some creature comfort. Just us and a few posh hotel guests under a slowly revolving fan that hasn’t really been hit – yet.

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