on paradoxes of our time


In this previous post, my friend Ron wrote, and I think it needs further discussion

One man’s sheer waste is another man’s treasure. That’s the beauty of the free market: everyone votes with their wallet.

and I am sure among other things, he knows about information asymmetry or planned obsolescence or even protectionism  that many countries, including the US do.

And while it would be argued that what one find as waste another would find as treasure, this argument doesn’t rule out the fact there is so much waste being produced and that the energies involved would be used in producing more useful stuff.

For as long as I can remember, and that’s a really long time, there was no Halloween celebrations here. In the last few years, some parents have been forced to buy costumes for their children and maybe for themselves, money that would be spent in other useful ventures but thanks to ads and TV shows, it is being spent on useless, from where I sit, expenses.

So while Ron would like to praise the free market, I would be careful to do so. It depends on deception and in some cases, government help to keep afloat.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

61 thoughts on “on paradoxes of our time

  1. Peter says:

    Here in Australia most of us have been trying to avoid embracing Halloween, despite the efforts of the media and retailers who are actively embracing it.

    This October I received a note in my letter box from some folk looking to encourage a local celebration, They said if you want to participate put an orange balloon on your letter box. I did not do so, and surveyed the neighbourhood and estimated around a 5% adoption rate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jim- says:

    Here in the US we call that propping quantitive easing—pouring billions into the big corporations to keep them afloat, and when the stock rebound, stiff the American people. Sounds fair?

    Like

  3. I dress up in a Hannibal Lector outfit EVERY Saturday night! So, my friend, don’t tell me Halloween costumes are “wasteful.” Why, I’d hardly be able to keep my secret identity safe whilst eating christian babies if not for my Hannibal Lector mask! So, THERE! 🙂

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  4. john zande says:

    Halloween is trying to seep in here. We resist.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I do admit that I like halloween, but it has gotten ridiculous here in the US. But I’m a cosplayer anyway, so dressing up is something I do when I want.

    Like

  6. judyt54 says:

    When I was a kid, we lived in Massachusetts. Halloween was a pure grab and greed holiday, but kids generally made their own costumes (daddy’s coat and mama’s lipstick) and only the very rich kids wore boughten costumes.
    The actual spirit (if that’s what it is) of the night has been subsumed by commercialism and parties. And beyond that, fear of germs, fear of razorblades in apples (how does one get a razor blade in an apple without it showing, hm?), fear of everything.

    Beyond that, I agree with the recycling effort that so many of us embrace. But the throwaway people are winning. I recycle wood, cardboard, paper, old fabric, we are both hoarders with the catch phrase, ‘don’t throw that out, I might be able to use it later”, and the local landfills are rigid about recycling.

    People are lazy. It’s that simple.

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  7. renudepride says:

    The so-called and misnamed “free market” is anything but free. It imposes government sanctions and eliminates an ideal freedom of choice. Anything to enrich the upper echelon of society and further indenture the workers. Naked hugs!

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  8. The “free market” is a purposeful myth. It doesn’t exist. Nothing is free, and no market is fair.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      There is no fair trade and free market is just a dream nothing else

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ron says:

      The free market is an economic system based on supply and demand with little or no government control. While it’s true that all western nations operate under a mixed-market economy in which certain industries are publicly owned or regulated, the vast majority of economic transactions take place in a fairly unfettered market. The price you negotiate for a haircut or someone to cut your lawn is between you and the seller.

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      • In theory, not in practice. Markets which are unfettered by government control are manipulated by the control of powerful corporations and super-wealthy individuals. I could rattle off scores of examples, but why bother? Everyone knows the game is rigged.

        Personally, I prefer public control of markets instead of private control because at least I can vote for my political representatives. I have no voice in business unless I’m a major stockholder, a major supplier, or a major purchaser of their products – and I am none of these.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ron says:

          As I stated in my comment on the other thread, free markets grant you the option to vote with your wallet. If you don’t like dealing with a particular company, you can boycott it and do business with a competitor, or start a competing business. And according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 29.6 million small businesses account for 99.9% of all firms and 62% of all new jobs in the USA — so you have a lot of choices unless you live in a remote local.

          https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/advocacy/SB-FAQ-2017-WEB.pdf

          As to government control, large corporations usually favour government regulations and frequently lobby for legislation that squeezes out their competitors so they can protect and strengthen their monolpoly interests

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          • “… vote with your wallet.” Sure, and it’ll have absolutely no effect unless you can get a whole lot of other consumers to join you. Good luck with that.

            “… large corporations usually favor government regulations…” Huh? What planet do you live on? Big Business and their neoliberal allies in politics (i.e. Republicans and corporate Democrats) are constantly screaming against government regulations! They do it so routinely that it has become a mantra among conservatives and libertarians. When Trump took office, what did he do? Repeal much of the Dodd-Frank restrictions on Wall Street and deregulated just about every major industry he could from coal and oil to education and healthcare – that’s what!

            Give me a break, Ron. Get real here. I have no patience for ideological nonsense.

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          • Ron says:

            Congratulations on tearing down your strawman. Care to address the point raised in the the part of the quote you left out?

            I’ll repeat it for your convenience:

            ” . . . and frequently lobby for legislation that squeezes out their competitors so they can protect and strengthen their monolpoly interests.”

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          • Yes, that does occur. But, it wasn’t necessary for me to address it because you mischaracterized Big Business’ attitude toward government regulation so egregiously. They despise regulatory constraint with every fiber of their being. What compels them to exploit it for competitive advantage – through monetary mechanisms (i.e. campaign donations, issue advocacy, lobbying, etc.) – is the pragmatic realization that democratic government does exist and it’s better for them to corporatize it rather than to fight it.

            However, libertarian and neoliberal (i.e. Big Business) activists are constantly working to undermine and circumvent democratic governance in all manner of ways – albeit for different reasons. Libertarians cling to the fanciful notion that a utopia will emerge if we just absolve government or at least severely constrict it. Neoliberals know that the libertarian pipe-dream will never be, but are eager to utilize that sentiment to subordinate democracy under a de facto corporate hierarchy.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ron says:

            Once again, you put words in my mouth and flail against your strawman. It’s not a mischaracterization to point out that large corporations frequently lobby for legislation (quotas, tarriffs, tax credits, grants, subsidies, patents, copyrights, etc.) to advantage themselves.

            Mr. Bezos just secured $2.2 billion in tax susidies for Amazon from politicians in three different states — a move that grants him advantages to the detriment of others. And your statist talking points won’t change that fact or the fact that the more government meddles in economic affairs, the worse things become for everyone.

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          • Spoken like a true plutocrat. I’d suggest another propaganda scheme because the one you’re using is falling on deaf ears.

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          • Ron says:

            I’ll take your ad hominem as a tacit concession to having no valid counterargument to the points I raised.

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        • makagutu says:

          The goal of anarchist communism is to transfer control of the results of our effort and their ownership to the workers

          Liked by 1 person

      • Barry says:

        Fair negotiation requires that it be conducted in good faith and that both sides be of equal strength. That might apply to hair cutting or lawn mowing, but less likely when seeking a job, or purchasing an insurance policy.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Ron says:

          This has gotten way off topic. I was addressing a singular point in Mak’s previous post regarding Kropotkin’s opinion on producing “useful” stuff. My question was: who gets to decide these things? (i.e. who decides what constitutes sheer waste?)

          I suggested that such decisions be left up to the individual via the free market. That is to say, if you think Halloween celebrations are frivolous expenditures, don’t buy any.

          On your point: successful negotiation only requires that both parties reach a settlement on terms they can both agree to. If that’s not possible, the only recourse is to break off the talks and walk away.

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          • Barry says:

            It depends what you mean by “agree to”. Do you seriously believe that anyone would really agree to work under a zero hour contract if they had any other option. It’s either that or nothing. It’s known as exploitation, and a truly free market would be absolutely rife with it.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ron says:

            Agree to means grant consent. And I’m not sure why you deem zero hour contracts exploitation when a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey reports that:

            “On average 65% of zero-hours workers say they are satisfied with their work–life balance compared with 58% of all employees.”

            https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/zero-hours-contracts_2013-myth-reality_tcm18-10710.pdf

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          • Barry says:

            That most certainly has not been the case in Aotearoa New Zealand. Some workers could go for weeks without work and pay. They lived a hand to mouth existence and because they were technically employed they were not eligible for assistance. No one can live like that especislly when they have cbildren. The coalition government has put a stop to the practice because it was so exploitative.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ron says:

            HAving children while living hand to mouth (or payday to payday) indicates poor financial planning. And as far as I know, employment contracts are entered into freely — i.e., no employer points a gun to your head and demands you come work for them. So if you’re disastified with your current employer, it’s time to seek out another. Or better yet, start your own business. Then you too can partake in the benefits of ‘expoiting’ others. 🙂

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          • Barry says:

            Poor financial planning? a better description might be “between a rock and a hard place. The threat of unemployment and/or being evicted from a home is a very substantial weapon.

            Seeking an alternative job and then locating one, and actually gaining it are not the same thing. Also, not all skills are transferable to self employment, and if one has no other resources that his/her specific skill getting established is well near impossible. In this country only 1 in 10 start up businesses survive 5 years. Half fail within 12 months. Not exactly encouraging odds.

            This and this was the workers perspective before a law change in April 2018. Here is a summary of the employment law changes.

            You seem to believe that bargaining where one party can bargain from a position of power and the other not is “free” bargaining. It’s only free from the position of the one with the power. The weaker takes what he is given. That might be deemed a “free” market to you, but it’s certainly not what I consider a free and fair one.

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          • makagutu says:

            New start ups here I think have the same life expectancy or shorter

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ron says:

            Yes, poor financial planning. A cursory review of NZ household financial affairs reveals that:

            – 35% of Kiwis do not pay off their credit card in full every month
            – household debts increased steadily from 56% of income in 1991 to 163% of income in 2018
            – consumer debt servicing costs now consume around 50% of disposable income
            – 20% have nothing set aside for emergencies and 50% have under a $1000 in their rainy-day account

            And birthing children while underemployed or living beyond one’s means eventually leads to the poor house. Responsible adults take ownership of their actions and the consequences of their actions instead of making excuses and blaming others. The latter is exemplified in opening paragraphs of an article within your first link:

            When Gabriel Griffin signed his work contract with the new Wendy’s outlet in South Dunedin, he knew what he was signing.

            “I signed it because I wanted the money, and that’s why everyone else signed it as well. You sign it because you’re hard up, that’s it,” he said.

            But that does not mean he is happy about it.

            Mr. Griffin openly acknowleges he signed on willingly fully cognizant of what he was getting into, yet fails to take responsibility for his decisions or the defeatist attitude that feeds his unahappiness.

            And the union organizers may have one that particular battle, but they’re bound to lose the war. Because McDonald’s plans to install self-order kiosks and mobile order technology in all of its U.S. locations by the end of 2020, which means that full automation is bound to follow very soon.

            Meet “Flippy” — “the world’s first autonomous robotic kitchen assistant that can learn from its surroundings and acquire new skills over time”:

            https://misorobotics.com/flippy/

            As to whether or not you’re successful in life, Henry Ford observed:

            “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

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          • Barry says:

            “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” Nonsense. I thought I could work until I was at least 65 or perhaps 70, but I was wrong. Ill health forced me out of the labour market when I was 50, which meant I had no personal income for 15 years. I was fortunate to be in a position where I was able to make ends meet, but if I had become unemployable 5 years earlier, the outcome might have been entirely different.

            People make financial plans based on past and present experience. Anticipating the future is unreliable at best. The late 1980s and early 1990s was a period of major change in NZ, especially in the economy. No one could have anticipated a left wing political party would introduce reforms more liberal and laissez-faire than either Reaganomics or Thatchernomics (known here as Rogernomics). People in the lower socioeconomic ranks were severely affected. In some parts of the country, unemployment reached 25%. It was a time of rapid inflation. My mortgage increased from 4.0% to 25.5%. Fortunately I had no other debts at the time, but the interest alone on the mortgage rose to more than half my income. Inflation got as high as 20% at one time, but my wages increased by around 5%. You do the sums.

            So I had to use credit at times just to keep food on the table, and yes, I was unable to pay it off every month. Our children were coming up to their teen years, and you can’t simply return them when your circumstance change. You cope the best you can. If necessary you borrow from wherever you can to make ends meet, hoping that the current circumstance will change for the better. Sometimes the only choice was to borrow from loan sharks, or to go hungry and/or have your utilities disconnected, or worse and be evicted. For many, the circumstances continue to worsen, as the rise in the number of bankruptcies and mortgagee sales at the time illustrated. Not everyone is the creator of their own misfortune.

            Could I have foreseen any of the above? Hindsight is 20/20 vision, and while there were signs that the economic downturn of the 1980s would have an impact on NZ, no one, including the financial “experts” anticipated the real effect. Sure Rogernomics eventually improved the GDP, but the benefits were not evenly distributed. Those in the higher socio-economic groups were considerably better off, those in the middle were marginally worse off, and those at the bottom were considerably worse off.

            Let’s go through your statistics.
            35% do not pay off their credit card in full every month: A great many use a credit card to purchase only the necessities of life such as accommodation, food, utilities, insurance, health costs, and education for their children. Often it’s the only form of credit available. Which expenses do you suggest they abandon?
            Household debt has increased from 56% of income to 163% of income: Largely because cost of living has outstripped income, especially if you have a low income. Blame Rogernomics. When I first bought a house, its value was about four times my annual income. Today the average house price can be over twelve times your average income, depending depending on which part of the country you live.
            Consumer debt servicing costs now consume around 50% of disposable income: see previous comment.
            20% have nothing set aside for emergencies: you have to have money available to set aside. Also see next comment.
            50% have under a $1000 in their rainy-day account: If nearly every day is a rainy day, how long do you expect a rainy-day account to last?

            I’ll give you an example:
            I have an acquaintance I’ll call Fred. Fred had limited education, but he was a hard worker. Two years ago his income before tax was around $40,000. He was married with 3 young children. He lived within his means: frugally. He ran afoul of his employer because he refused to “bend the truth” when communicating with customers. Eventually it lead to him being fired. Because he was fired for “misconduct” he was not eligible for a Looking For Work (unemployment) benefit. His “misconduct” meant he had a very hard time finding another job. By the time he found one, his rainy day fund had well and truly gone. The only job he could find was for 30 hours per week on the minimum wage in a nearby town. After income tax, the cost of getting to and from work, and paying rent, he had $120 per week to cover food, health, clothing, electricity, insurance, telecommunications, etc. Then last year his employment contract came up for renewal and was replaced with a zero hour contract.

            You can say that he willingly signed the contract, but let’s be realistic, what options did Fred have? It might not have been a physical gun at his head, but is was certainly a financial gun. Is being unemployed a realistic option when he had a family to support? He was “fortunate” enough to know when he would be required to work, and he was required to report to work at specific times, but there was no guarantee work would be available when he reported in. A return fare between home to work was almost as much as an hour’s wage (in fact more once tax was deducted from wages). And you’re telling me he shouldn’t be unhappy with his situation because he “chose” it?

            As for Gabriel Griffin, he was hard up. Do you really not know what that means? It means he’s struggling to make ends meet. Do you seriously think he had many options from which he could “freely” choose? It’s either sign the contract or have no job. People in his position have negligible bargaining power. You accept what is offered and get less than what you already have, or you get absolutely nothing. That’s not an enviable position to be in.

            Look, the “free market” for jobs is not the same as “Free market” for consumer goods. I can buy a 500g block of butter from one supermarket for $7.00, or travel a kilometre further and buy it from the only other supermarket in town for $6.99, or I could drive 40 minutes to a supermarket in a nearby city where I could buy it for $6.60, or (usually) choose not to buy butter at all. The same is not the case when looking for a job. I don’t have a choice of job A or, if I don’t like it, job B, or choose not to have a job at all. I’m one of a hundred plus applicants for a single job. If I actually get offered the job, I’ll take it on whatever terms they offer. If I don’t, one of the more than a hundred other applicants will. Not having a job is not a realistic nor a practical option.

            “Freedom” as you seem to understand it applies only if you already have the power and position to apply it. That’s not freedom nor equality as I (and everyone of my generation in NZ) was brought up to understand it. Before the reforms of the 1980s, we were a very socially mobile society – the socio-economic status of your parents was not a reliable indicator of what your socio-economic status will be. That is not the case today. If your parents are poor, then in all likelihood you’ll be poor too. Sure, there are exceptions, but either they are exceptional individuals or they are extremely lucky.

            Your belief that people who are struggling financially are entirely responsible for their own condition through poor financial planning reminds me of the thought processes of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.

            Liked by 1 person

          • makagutu says:

            There’s nothing to add here, Barry.

            Liked by 1 person

        • makagutu says:

          Or buying gasoline when OPEC or the US decide to cut production to up prices or something of the like

          Liked by 2 people

      • makagutu says:

        My friend, the example you give you know is frivolous.
        Vast majority of economic transactions take place in a controlled environment not unfettered market

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ron says:

          I don’t deny the government regulates commerce. Nonetheless, most of my transactions with others are still entirley voluntary. If I don’t like shopkeeper A, I can patronize shopkeeper B, C, D or E — or none. Which was my point to begin with.

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  9. Children would vehemently disagree about Halloween being useless. They get free candy. For adults, it’s a chance to go to parties with sexy costumes.

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  10. Ron says:

    Thanks for the extended post, but the relevant question remains: who gets to decide what’s frivolous and what’s not?

    For example:

    Tremendous amounts of time and money are spent on leisure activities (professional sports, movies, plays, concerts, amusement parks, fireworks, golfing, mountain climbing, skiing, vacation getaways, cable TV, video games, fine dining, parties, etc.) and other luxuries (large homes, automobiles, motorhomes, ATVs, boats, jet skis, vacation properties, consumer electronics, etc) — all of which could be deemed as irresponsible misappropriations of wealth and effort in light of the fact that people around the world are living in poverty and it could be directed towards humantitarian aid.

    Should we force people to forfeit these things for the sake of altruistic ideals?

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  11. […] Continuing with the discussion we begun on this post, Kropotkin argued that once the commune had provided food for every… […]

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