Barry Brooks durable at
Sat Mar 22 13:41:42 MST 2003

I wrote this for the PKT list, but I hope
some Marxism list members will find it of interest.


Whether it's Veblen's sabotage, tight
money, low confidence,
mal-distribution, or regulation
economists have plenty of explanations
as to why we produce less than we
could. There may not be agreement about
what is slowing the growth of
consumption, but the chorus sings
together, "we want more."

The notion that our scarcity is due to
shortages of labor and productive
capacity has little support among
economists. Today, the various factors
which sabotage the economy are seen as
technical and political. And, it seems
that scholars have substantial
agreement about the factors, if not as
to the proper weight to be assigned to

Veblen's estimate that half of the
price of consumer goods goes to pay for
"salesmanship" is to the point that
the economy is labor inefficient. This
implies that labor efficiency is so low
that if those workers (salespeople)
were released from their unproductive
work and put to work actually producing
something the economy would be able to
produce more. Yet, as he says, the
need for profit means that producers
will always restrain production enough
to cause unemployment and scarcity.
With or without the inefficiency of
sales, or any other kind of economic
sabotage, scarcity is fundamental to
profit. Eliminate all other forms of
sabotage and the business planners will
just have plan to put the slack back
into the economy to avoid unprofitable

Of course the euthanasia of the renter
class due to low interest rates could
change the nature of the profit game,
but one might as well talk of
revolution. Perhaps, willy-nilly, our
guardians will soon make revolution
against themselves. Surely tighter
money will be needed.

The selfish desire for more and more
seems beyond question in our corrupt
society. Greed is almost a virtue and
pride is not even one of the 700 deadly
sins. It's off the chart. Economists
have been working hard to overcome the
limits to production, which more and
more are seen as technical, rather than
political or moral. The limits to
growth are not yet taken seriously by
politically sensitive economists who
are still trying to help business find
ways to produce even more, that is to
reduce sabotage.

We have a new need for sabotage, namely
resource scarcity. We must not forget
the limits to growth in our plans and
our studies. It is a fundamental fact
that can't not be ignored by honest
people. We want more and we can't
imagine any way to get more except by
stimulation of consumption? Hey guys!
Perishables aside, what we have is what
we produce minus what we throw in the
trash (consume). Consumption is always
part of a subtaction from what we have.

If one wants more it would be foolish
to advocate more consumption. Rather,
in a world limited by resources rather
than productive capacity one might be
expected to advocate conservation.
Conservation can be measured by the
reduction of production. That means a
shrinking economy, but it doesn't mean
scarcity. When demand is reduced by
reduced need rather than by poverty a
slowing economy is a sign of success
and security.

The needs of the world's poor could be
met without problem if resources
weren't being wasted on wasteful
consumption. Poor people don't need
very much. The limits to growth are not
impinging on our capacity to care for
the poor. The problems relating to
poverty, and the problems with
hyper-active growth economics, are
mostly political. It's time to admit
that more consumption in the developed
world is not the way to anything except
future scarcity. Yet, Ignoring the limits
to growth has become a habit of economic
thought as sung by the chorus.

If economics is going to be useful
rather than harmful it must help to
find economic systems which can provide
enough for everyone without
squandering scarce resources in
hyper-active busy-ness. Resource
conservation will take its place along
side the older and more respectable
forms of sabotage. The assumption
that we need to produce more is standing
in the way of seeing we need to produce


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