Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. TANSTAAFL. Who first coined that acronym? Wiki doesn't know. "Uses of the phrase dating back to the 1930s and 1940s have been found, but the phrase's first appearance is unknown." I'm sure whoever coined it stole it from someone else.
Nevertheless, I do know who popularized it. My favorite author Robert A. Heinlein in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (My favorite book by the way. And a great read for all you rational anarchists out there. I have an extra copy I will loan to a person who promises to read it.)
But that's all an aside.
What that first article really got me thinking about was a utopia where all the opportunity costs are clearly displayed on the products we can buy. Imagine it was expressed in some meaningful way. Like cigarettes wouldn't just cost the $9 dollars or so (Frankly I don't know how much a pack costs) but you would also see the 28 mins you loose from your lifespan from smoking the pack (quick Google search turned up: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/9703.php). A used book on Amazon would cost $3.00 + 2hr 35mins. Think of the iPhone app store. Tiny Wings now costs $0.99 + 72hrs (Okay I play a lot of Tiny Wings). Facebook now would be required to display the REAL cost of social networking which would probably add up to quite a sum.
Obviously this could never be. But it got me thinking about (as Zach put it) the OC in an interesting way.
Jumping around again. After my roommate Erik started getting into his Sustainability class (Garrett is also in this class. Maybe he'll have some input.) we started talking about efficiency and the OC. I was confused by the point of the project. I asked how the class was going to decide what things were worth it for the community to provide for itself when the economy is vastly more efficient at providing goods. I pointed out that specialization and trade is more efficient than trying to do everything for yourself. I wanted to know where the line is drawn and how they were defining sustainability. Does it mean a closed system? No external input? Only using the resources available within the community? Does it mean the community could survive on its own if it came to that, say if there was, I don't know, a zombie apocalypse? Are they aiming for a mixed system? Is the qualification simply that the community requires less external input than the other on campus housing options? Having just started the class Erik didn't know at the time.
I still believe that it is more efficient to rely on the economy for most goods and services. But that raises another question. Is our economy sustainable? For how long? Is our species sustainable? What should a government's role be in protecting the environment? Even if inefficient, should we do it on moral grounds?
I use the word 'moral' as Robert Heinlein defines it in Starship Troopers. One of his characters posits that humans have no "moral instinct." We are taught and conditioned into morality. According to Heinlein it is "an elaboration of the instinct to survive... ...The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual."
Pulling John Nash here (who I know little about, I'll admit. I just watched "A Beautiful Mind" so please call me on any misunderstanding I demonstrate here) what is best for the group is not simply what is best for the individual, but rather what is best for the individual and the group. Therefore, the final question is this: in an age of globalization, how can we instill global morality into the economy? Should we even try?