Mark Twain said, “Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.” Take that same statement and instead of, “Civilization” place the phrase, “The bases of our contemporary economy,” and we have, “The bases of our contemporary economy is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.” It sounds paradoxical, but as you think about it, it provides a succinct and apt definition of our economy as it presently operates.
The Science of Economics proceeds from the basic assumption that there exists certain economic necessaries for human beings to survive: food, shelter, and clothing. In our society, we purchase those basic necessaries by selling our labor and being compensated with currency in the form of dollars, which we exchange for our necessaries. It has been our economic history that when our economic necessaries have been satisfied we turn our attention toward purchasing comfort and convenience items, then if the dollars are there, we purchase luxury items and sundry other superfluous items. In today’s “free market,” advertising, propaganda economic field, businesses have learned to convolute the distinction between necessaries and unnecessaries, by using the the same advertising and propaganda techniques with both necessaries and unnecessaries. Those techniques cloud the minds of we the consumer to the point of confusion. We are lured by the continuous mental visions and corresponding audio projected before our eyes and ears twisting our minds into believing that the unnecessaries are really necessaries. If something is advertised seductively, and if it appeals to our cultivated tastes of profit and/or pleasure, we the consumer will believe it and act on that belief. As we consumers become hooked on the advertising lures caste out by businesses; we are then released and allowed to swim “freely” in the waters of the free markets. It is only on such an convoluted economic system and its practices that our economy based on capital investment for profit can hope to achieve the market expansion necessary to reap continuous profits and pay a return for the capital investor.
It may seem obvious that because of the advertising and propaganda intentions of businesses, we their consumers are also their victims, and we are to some extent. That is the condition that gives rise to the consumer’s axiom, “Buyer beware!” This is also where donkey economics comes into play. Remember the Disney movie, “Pinoccio,” the scene where Pinoccio meets the wolf for the second time? The wolf seduces Pinoccio into changing his course of going to school luring him with the thought of Pleasure Island. Pleasure Island is a carnival like place where all of one’s desires for pleasure and the fulfillment of one’s passions can be satisfied immediately and without payment. Pinoccio succumbs to the temptation; enters the giant doors of Pleasure Island through his own volition. As Pinoccio and the other boys are frolicking with their every desire and passion, they are slowly morphing into donkeys. When the donkey transformation process is completed the donkeys are loaded on to trucks now to be used at the bidding of the wolf and his cohorts.
This story of Pinoccio, the Wolf, and Pleasure Island works as an apt metaphor for the operations of our current economy: business, its motives and practices is represented by the Wolf, Pinoccio represents us the consumer, and Pleasure Island represents the field of all business products and services available. Business, like the Wolf have ulterior intentions when communicating with us the consumer. When the American Indians first interacted with the White Man they always felt that the White Man spoke one way, but their intentions were different: “White Man speaks with forked tongue.” It is true that businesses do supply, we the consumer, with life’s necessaries, but with their greedy ambition of getting more and more of “market share” they bend their means of achieving their greater share to the lowest moral level. While advertising themselves with the highest regard for we their consumer on one side of their mouths, the other side of their mouths are whispering, ‘this manipulation tactic will bring those weak minded consumers to our front doors in droves.’ I am old enough to remember when McDonald ‘s first came into my community back in the early 50s. Some of my friends and I went to try their hamburgers. We all agreed that they were not good and our consensus came from the fact that they compared badly to what our mothers cooked. Do you believe that if McDonald’s didn’t spend 60% or more of their revenue on advertising that their hamburger business would have lasted this long? Businesses have the sweetest position possible, economically speaking. They make the products, control the price of labor, control purchasing power by setting product price, extend credit and extract interest as another revenue stream, and finally if they are big enough are subsidized by government even though they use the poorest judgement and bring their company to the brink of disaster: think about the current “subprime mortgage” crisis, stock market crash in the ’90’s, Enron, in Minnesota the rape and pillaging of Northwest Airlines, etc., etc. As an ordinary citizen how would you like to have that kind of economic control and security?
Yet despite of the rigging of the market place towards business motives, we the consumer, willingly accept this disadvantage. We like Pinoccio, put aside our discernment, to free-wheel in the field of business products (Pleasure Island) immediately satisfying our product desires and passions. Now not only do we need food, shelter, clothing, but also surround-sound T.V.’s, cell phones, ipods, blackberries, auto, home, life, health insurance,more,more,more, ad infinitum. Business motives and their ambitions feed off we the consumer’s pride and lust, and we the consumer’s pride and lust feed off business’s motives and ambitions. This implicit contract is silently accepted and sealed. The cycle is completed. The unnecessary becomes the necessary, and the “rat race” is created and fed.
What is the overall benefit gained from our producing more, getting more, and spending more economy? The United States is the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world. It leads the the world with its political and military strength, and its economic influence. We her citizens, have access to a wide range of products and resources, and have a constitutional right and an opportunity to use them. Yet, (here comes our donkey morphing part) when all our power, wealth, and influence is measured again qualities of life such as, peace of mind, balance, harmony, and joy we are found to be severely lacking. While we proclaim our superior economic “standard of living” far and wide, we allow vice under every form to flourish in every city and community. While we advise other countries to follow our principles of living, we consume a quarter of all the world’s resources, yet we represent only about one-twentieth of the worlds population. While we are mentally absorbed in inventing new, cheap products or reworking old products to make them cheaper, our waste of resources is vast enough for entire countries to use and live well. While we shop in a pet store, and become frustrated over which kind of dog food to purchase, people all over the world are starving to death. In our country 37 million citizens are living in poverty. While we indulge ourselves on every level possible, the air and water the whole world breaths and drinks is being polluted by those businesses providing the means for our gratifications. While we measure our Gross National Product in the zillions of dollars, our rate of murders and suicides is among the highest in the world. While we look great and powerful from the outside, we are corroded on the inside. We have become self-seeking and self-satisfying, and in turn have become slaves to our own vices and to foolish social and economic customs. This a form of mental slavery of the most destructive kind. A word of warning, the collapse of the Mighty Roman Empire was initiated by the enemy within, the foes of its own household and not by the enemy outside. A last word from Thoreau, “We are all sculptors and painters, and our our material is our own flesh and bones. Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man features, any meanness or sensuality to imbrute him.”