The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Relative value redux

It was such a beautiful sunset yesterday. Starting near the horizon, two contrails had querled into a wide, sweeping vee sketching the shafts of two enormous quills almost to the zenith, feathering the sky into great scalloped waves of cirrus and glowing nimbus.

Not all worth can be measured against money. I find sunsets worth stopping for.

If I were given to a purely capitalist frame of mind, I would have to measure the monetary cost of that sunset against whatever else I could have done with the time I chose to spend looking at it. Somehow, I suspect the sunset would cease to measure up.

All things in a purely capitalist society are measured in currency (or barter) against supply and demand. Without any further checks as to how either is to come about, demands having nothing whatsoever to do with survival needs can be artificially created prior to the product's existence. In fact, such creation is desirable: for it grants the creator of such a demand an initial monopoly of supply (and thus profit). In a free market no such monopoly can last long, though: and thus the major suppliers come under perpetual stress to create new demands for soon-to-come products.

Thus, in time, any purely capitalist society must inevitably must become a consumption society: as more and more products (or sometimes ways of marketing existing products) come into existence for the sole purpose of helping to fill a previously non-existent demand. This trend comes through even in something as seemingly basic as steepening technology curves: as each new innovation negates all that has gone before and eventually junks it. Even where the previous item may be perfectly adequate to the tasks for which it was intended, technological progress gradually eliminates access to outside compatabilities, forcing eventual replacement.

More new demands. More new products. More sales. More monetary profit. The overall monetary wealth of the society cannot but grow ... so long as demand can be sustained, or expanded. And yet: what is necessary for survival does not in itself increase. Left to itself, that demand would not -- could not! -- grow ... might even begin to decrease. And that, in a capitalist society, is anathema.

Why would anyone find it surprising that, parallel with the spread of capitalistic thought as the dominant 'ism in the world, global obesity too would rise?

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