Back To Square One

I think it may be time to start all over again. From the beginning. Back to square one and all that. Refresh your memories.

Because … 37%? Damn. Really? That’s it? That’s how many registered voters cast a vote in the last election. Remember that? And now we’re sliding down the rabbit hole of another presidential election.

So… I didn’t want to have to do this, but apparently it’s time. Basic stuff. Foundation stuff that can be built on over the next months.

Let’s start with money. Money is a big topic right now in pundit land, money in government, money in Super PACs, money some have and others don’t.

There are really two theories to economics. I know, some of you think there are more, but there aren’t.

Theory One says everyone competes for a slice of the pie. If I own three quarters of the pie, you guys can fight for the other one quarter. Good luck. Or you can fight me for some of my pie. Again, good luck, Jane, you ignorant slut.

Theory Two says that if we just make the pie larger, then everyone can have a piece. That’s the American Dream in action. We grow the economy, the pie gets larger, and everyone shares in the goodies that lie within.

All other so-called economic theories are just a refinement on these two.

Both theories operate side by side, actually.

In 1996 Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff wrote a book and named this Co-opetition. The general idea is that you have to keep growing the pie so that more people can fight over their little bit of it, and they try to use game theory to show you how to do that.   It’s a pretty good explanation of how all this works in the modern world. But there’s a problem.

What happens when you run out of flour?

The world population is now 7.2 billion people. By the year 2050 it will be 9.6 billion. To give you an idea of the scope of that, imagine multiplying the current population of the US by 30. That’s the number of additional people in the world population by 2050. Each and every one of those people wants (and each and every one of those unborn children will want) the same thing. They want the same thing you want. They want the best life that it is possible to have. They want what they see in American magazines, on American TV, and in all advertising. They want the good life.

Imagine 9.6 billion people wanting a Subaru Outback, a 2500 square foot house, three square meals a day, and the best college education possible; piles of toys under the tree, a barbecue on the deck, and a 50 inch LCD 3D screen in the den.

No, of course you can’t imagine that. Not many people can and there lies a part of the problem. But that would be one BIG damn pie!

But you can imagine this: It’s bigger pie-making time, only there isn’t enough flour left for a bigger pie, and the kitchen is filled with the smoke of countless pies made without cleaning the oven. Well, let them eat cake, right?

The mentality that built this country, that expanded it across the continent by consuming its vast resources at breakneck speed, can’t be sustained worldwide. Resources are limited. It’s been quite a while since we’ve heard a great deal about limited resources. That will change in the years ahead. It will start with water. It’s already started with water.

Now, there are a few exceptions to my statement that we all want the same thing. Most of those exceptions live in the Middle East and parts of Africa. They are not at all anxious to have all these material things. Their religion is different from our religion and it tells them that different things are important. So, of course, we are at war with these people. They think we are trying to shove our way of life down their throats, because, well, we are.   Sooner or later they’ll have to be just like the rest of us and only want the better things in life, to assume the economic equivalent of the missionary position. We will insist on that. We always have. It expands markets. Or they’ll be dead.

Now, if you are smarter than a fifth grader you will realize that if those billions of people who have not yet achieved the “good life” are going to achieve anything like it AND if the resources are limited AND if you have most of them, you are going to have to give some up. That means that in order for their quality of life to improve, your quality of life will have to decline. That’s Theory One. At some point you can’t make the pie any bigger. If someone gets more, someone else gets less… or you get rid of some of those hungry mouths. Theory Two is now off the table. We killed that.   (Or we are killing it, depending on your temporal point of view.)

And we killed it (are killing it) in a number of ways. One way we killed it was by not allowing the entire population to share in the ever-enlarging pie in the first place. The more people you have making the pie bigger, the bigger it gets faster. Income disparity figures are widely available and talked about endlessly in the media, but few people understand what it really portends. (And the conversation we are having is pretty local right now.) In America we have been operating more on Theory One for some time now and we haven’t really hit the resources problem yet, just the greed problem. And the greed problem seems to make very little sense to most of us. The very wealthy wouldn’t have to give up very much to make the very poor better off. Why do they fight so hard to protect their huge slice of the pie? Is it really just greed?

We tend to think that people are stupid or uneducated or both if they think in ways that we consider illogical. And we do that because it is very easy to dismiss stupid people. No one has time for stupid people, and as Ron White has so eloquently said, “There ain’t no cure for stupid.”

What we forget is that logic is a tool that we use to solve problems and that what is logical in solving problem A may not be the logic needed to solve problem B.

Let’s jump way ahead and take the problem of global warming as an example.

If you accept the idea that there is still time to reverse the process enough to make a difference, then it is extremely illogical to continue to pollute the earth’s atmosphere. Even if man’s pollution is only a part of the reason the climate is warming, it is illogical to expand coal production and oil production and make the problem worse. It is illogical not to be going all out on solar and wind and geothermal options. Illogical and stupid! And yet, there are a great many people who want to expand oil exploration, not reduce it. They want to mine and export more coal not less. They oppose solar and wind energy expansion. They seem to be putting profit ahead of the welfare of the planet. They deny climate change is even happening in order to do that.

And these are the same people who are causing the income disparity problem, by the way.

Stupid, illogical people, right? Except that they aren’t. Look at these people. They didn’t get that rich by being stupid and illogical. They couldn’t have. These are people who have the best education that money can buy and, more importantly, they have access to the best brains in the world because they can afford to hire them!

There are two  ideas to look at which possibly explain this behavior. Neither one of them is pleasant to acknowledge.

Firstly, we are looking at climate change as the issue, but what if they are working on a different problem altogether? What if they DO understand that climate change is a fact, but what if they DON’T believe there is still time to reverse the process enough to make a difference? That changes the problem, doesn’t it? The problem is no longer how to save the planet. The problem now is “how do I best survive in the years ahead when the world is crumbling around me?” And a very logical answer to THAT problem is to gather all the resources you can as fast as you can for yourself.   That’s not stupid. It’s selfish and greedy, but not stupid. And selfish and greedy are ok with these people. They’ve always been selfish and greedy. And we’ve always let them be selfish and greedy.

While the survivalists look forward to the collapse of government and realize that for them, the best way to survive is to build a bunker, stockpile food and ammunition, train themselves to butcher wildlife, and stay as drunk as possible when not on watch, the corporate plutocracy amasses as much wealth as they can and since we are working with a pretty static pie, that wealth comes from the rest of us. Maybe they think they are going to build diaspora ships or something. Or, more likely, they just believe that no matter what, money will solve their problem.

The second explanation is quite complicated on one level and very straight-forward on a more basic one.   Simply put: you don’t need a planet to live on after Jesus comes back and takes you up to an eternal paradise. There are so many problems with that statement I winced just writing it, but it sums up the thinking of a great many people who have more influence in our country today than they should. These people claim not be interested in worldly things. Some are actively working to bring about their idea of the apocalypse.

And when the members of the corporate plutocracy are also the members of the organized evangelical right, there is no hope for logical action in the climate change fight or anything else for that matter. They aren’t looking at the same problems.

It is, of course MUCH more complicated than that.

But, and I cannot stress this enough as we stand here in the little square with the big one stenciled on it and eighteen months to go before what will probably be the most important election in this century, these two ideas are at the core of what we need to change in this country if we are to move forward.

We must stop thinking people who act in ways we find illogical are stupid bastards below our contempt and start figuring out what it is they are actually worrying about. And we must realize that anyone who thinks that things like climate change and resource depletion don’t matter because that’s not God’s plan is a much bigger threat to this country than ISIS.

It’s complicated; we only have a year and a half; and we have a whole lot to talk about. I’m back. Try to hold up your end.

Your Humble Servant,

The Willowbrook Curmudgeon

2 thoughts on “Back To Square One

  1. Pingback: Outliers | 47/78

  2. Roger, you have a great sense of humor! Probably didn’t intend for your readers to laugh, but you have so much common sense and a great way with words. The sentence that made me laugh the most was “well, we are”. Thanks for sharing! Now that I’ve left a reply, have to figure out what to do with it (not tech Davy).


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