Monday, February 27, 2012

Living is not merely the act of being alive.

Consumption waste is a major topic in chapter 4 of the Darwin Economy. Simplified, Frank's argument is: competing individuals will over-consume in order to establish consumption hierarchies. The assumed problem with this is that the effort put into making a $12,000 umbrella stand could be spent innovating on something much more useful to the rest of society. But this desire for innovation is a questionable assumption. Many people need to buy rain coats. Why is it then that myself and many others do not buy the innovative new designs? Years spent formulating light breathable waterproof material and yet some still choose oiled cloth. A technology predating the middle ages. One should not assume innovation is good or bad, it is simply innovation.
Frank's relative consumption model assumes that everyone bases decisions off of a competitive, stratified society. This is true in some ways but false in others. Rather than over consuming to keep up with those around them a consumer may take the spartan approach. Warren Buffett could have a floating water fountain that follows him at all times, yet that doesn't change my opinion of my dry cabin. But I am not the average voter or policy maker.
We live in a society that teaches children to be "fair" and equitable. People on average do tend to value their happiness relative to others around them. This is where things get dangerous. Policy that is created to in reaction to the perception of equity inherently relies on the idea that innovation is good and should be shared with those who can use it. This idea will seem reasonable when applied to things such as medicines and health items but that leads to a great systemic problem: With a dogmatic reliance on innovation one can never appreciate what they have. Learning to eat right rather than taking vitamins, trying to stay healthy and away from dangers rather than relying on medical care. It seems that Frank would agree with this point when the logic is applied to luxury goods but not "quality of life" items such as health care. Perhaps I view my life as having higher quality when I forgo running water in order to afford certain luxuries.
For the majority (in a democratic society) to decide that healthcare is more important than art or music or any other luxury good is a death of culture. The opposite is also true. Individuals, not groups, must decide what the value judgement will be. I would not trade the risks and decisions I must make in order to extend my life.

To be free is to be human.

1 comment:

  1. Well put. Freedom means everything and people forget its importance and take it for granted.