I’ve been reading The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith. I’m not sure why. Some people like reading fiction, and I’m supposed to be one of them because I went to school to, you know, write fiction. And I’m writing fiction, again. Which is nice. And I’m teaching fiction again, which is nice. But there is something important to me about Economics. The movement of materials. We’ve been tricked. Somewhere, somehow, we’ve been told that Economics isn’t sexy. I’m not talking about fucking business. Tons of people go to school for that crap. Economics is not the same as Business. Business is the study of how to smash down your foot upon the poorest of people for the most profit. Economics is the study of the movement of capital. It’s like saying that the study of the human species (Economics) and watching porn all day (Business) is the same thing.
The Affluent Society is complicated, and I’d be lying if I said I understood all of it. However, there is one passage in the book that has stuck with me, and allowed me to understand some of the other passages that follow it.
[Adam Smith said that] “A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more; otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation.” But this obviously was not much. On the contrary, although Adam Smith is rarely identified with the idea, this was one of the beginnings of perhaps the most influential and certainly the most despairing dictum in the history of social comment, the notion that the income of the masses of the people—all who in one way or another worked for a living, whether in industry or agriculture—could not for very long rise very far above the minimum level necessary for the survival of the race. It is the immortal iron law which, as stiffened by (David) Ricardo and refashioned by (Karl) Marx, became the chief weapon in the eventual ideological assault on capitalism.
A passage that follows:
As it was left by (Thomas Robert) Malthus and Ricardo, the economic prospect for the ordinary individual was remarkably dull. His normal expectation was to live on the edge of starvation. Anything better was abnormal. Progress would enhance the wealth of those who, generally speaking, were already rich but not that of the masses. Nothing could be done about it. And these are more than the casual conclusions of two men. They have claim to be considered the propositions on which modern economic thought was founded.
What bothers me when I read this is that there are entire schools of thought, people, thousands of people, who read and study economics and understand, completely, that at the heart of capitalism is inequality. You can say whatever you want about the Occupy Wall street movement. Call them young, confused punks. Call them idealistic children. Call them lazy communist. What you can’t call them is unneeded, because in the few short months that they’ve been around, they’ve done real work. Look at this graph from Ezra Klein’s excellent blog.
Here’s what else the blog has to say.
“Whatever the objectives of protesters involved in Occupy Wall Street, they have succeeded in engaging the country in a conversation about income inequality,” writes Dylan Byers at Ben Smith’s new and expanded blog. “A quick search of the news — including print articles, web stories and broadcast transcripts — via Nexis reveals a significant rise in the use of the term ‘income inequality,’ from less than 91 instances in the week before the occupation started to almost 500 instances last week.”
Economics, capital, money, wasn’t handed down from God. Man created this system. This system is broken. You can’t say that it’s right for one group of people to starve while another group of people are stuffing their faces. Yes, there is the idea that we have to work for what we have, and that people make decisions and that decision has consequences. It’s all part of the game. Yeah, and while most of us are honest and play the game by the rules, there are others, 1% of the players, who take a few pieces of the play money and put them under their butts while no one is looking. It’s not fair. You’re wrong if you say that it is.
UPDATE: The protesters in New York have went through some struggles today. The news for his is easy to find, but if you want first-hand reporting, you should go here to Josh Harkinson’s twitter feed (Reporter for Mother Jones). He was there through the whole thing. His reporting is beyond compelling.