Progress as Consumption

"Why's it got to be built? It's a bypass. You've got to build bypasses . . ." And with that Douglas Adams describes all of human intelligence on the subject of "progress" and consumption. Growth and consumption and progress are all linked together in the corporate social model. You have to build, population has to grow, and all of this bulding and growing is somehow linked to the progress of humanity as a species. Nevermind the mountains of trash, the acres of abandoned buildings, or the mass of the population who can't keep up with progress and end up on welfare or homeless or living on the margins of society. That's the price of progress.

In a country where less than 1% of the population owns more of the nation's wealth than the bottom 95%, progress seems to be defined by pushing that statistic further apart. Anytime a politician questions the human and social cost of marginalizing the overwhelming majority of the population that politician will be accused of "social engineering."

Of course, social engineering is what every tax system, economic system, and government does. It is social engineering when you tax one set of activities and don't tax another. There is even more social engineering happening when you reward a set of activities with government handouts (think "oil"). In short, social engineering in a socialist society (like ours) increases taxes to restrict the activities it wants to discourage and reduces or eliminates taxes on the activites it wants to encourage. The dramatic difference between a theoretical capitalist society and a theoretical communist society (two imaginary social systems that have never been and will never be practically applied) is that Adam Smith's magical "invisible hand" or Marx's equally unlikely wisdom of the "worker state" corrects the steering of the social system. A short experience with big business will destroy any faith an intelligent person has in the brilliance of the invisible hand and any experinence in or with government employees will do equal damage to the hope that big government can do anything efficiently or intelligently.

So, we keep building bypasses, bigger and more expensive freeways, trinkets and useless gadgets, and (worst of all) adding to human population with the speed and intelligence of termites. The closest thing we have to a philosophy of population is that the population needs to increase because there need to be more young people in order to support the growing population of old people. Of course, this argument means that as the population increases and old people become more demanding and expensive even more babies have to be made to provide support. Obviously, this is an insanely selfish social system, but it's also stupid. When it comes to human reproduction, the smart multiply cautiously and the foolish reproduce like rats in a sinking ship. 

Only radical conservatives are dumb enough to believe that resources are endless. You have to be completely math-deficient to imagine that a finite planet can provide infinite resources. Fortunately for our economic system, there is no shortage of radical conseratives or math-phobes. (They are usually the same characters.) We are well-stocked with people who believe that they can possess "family values" and greedily use up all of the world's energy resources in a single generation. This is the basis of an idiocracy. 


What Can Business Do?

The wingnuts make a big deal out of the incompetence of government. Crazy Ronnie Wrinkles once said, "Government isn't the solution to the problem, government is the problem." He proceeded to prove, in that Republican fashion, that incompetent, corrupt government is definitely a problem. But Clinton proved that problem could be solved by replacing the incompetent fools with reasonably sentient human beings. We have had few such examples of competence or sentience from business.

Let's think about this uninformed, irrational claim, for a few moments. The wingnuts and little rich kids of the Republican Party want us to believe that everything should be deregulated because government does such a bad job. What do we replace government with, corporations?

Is there anyone dumb enough to want to put corporations in charge of their own water supply, planning the future and use of any of their natural resources, fire or police departments, or any nation-critical activity? Corporations have proven themselves to be over-priced, corrupt, and incompetent managers of the financial system, the military (both as fighters and as suppliers), prisons, transportation, the environment, social and healthcare services, and every other major human activity to which they've been allowed control and access. In the US, even the blame for many of government's big falures can end up pointing at the corporations the business chose to handle the task. Can you say, "Haliburton, Blackwater, General Dynamics, GE, Boeing, Lockheed, McDonald Douglas?” Feel free to insert [add-your-favorite corrupt and incompetent corporation] to that list. The reason humans invented government is because, historically, business has been an incompetent, corrupt, discriminatory, exclusionary, and expensive provider of critical services.

There is one thing corporations can do, make trinkets. Businesses can, also, manage the distribution of core consumer products efficiently without the "protection" of incorporation; food, clothing, housing, and transportation. The existence of corporations feeds the speculation economy; a useless, counterproductive cultural parasite that has been destructive since the beginning of civilization. Every time big, idle money has taken a piece of the pie, the pie has become inedible. Someone said, "I don't want to eliminate corporations. I just want to make them small enough that I can drown them in a bathtub." Exactly my sentiments. 

How Did We Get So Dumb?

The recent spate of gladiator arena construction in Minnesota (Gopher's Football stadiumTwin's stadium, Viking's stadium, and, now, a stadium for the minor league Saints and another UofM stadium for the godawful Gopher's baseball team) has made me begin to question the sanity of the traditionally staid, conservative (not neo-pseudo-conservative, but real conservative), rational Minnesotan. Our politicians are claiming these projects are "job creators," but at best those are short term jobs that will cost jobs in the long run as they will run up local taxes and distract our already-unfocused media from important issues.

That last item is a big deal, too. Sports are welfare for the media. Any idiot can babble about football, baseball, or any of the rest of boys-running-around-in-underwear activities. It takes talent, perseverance, insight, and more than a little courage to report on business and government. None of those qualities are required to jabber mindlessly about sports. (My wife's take on sports shows is, "Two drunks at a bar.") If you get everything wrong about the Vikings, it will have no effect whatsoever on anything that matters.

Even worse, we all know this and ignore it. Sports are a useful distraction, as long as we're not dedicating serious money to it. When a state or city's budget has a noticeable portion dedicated to useless distractions, that is a sign of decadence. When a substantial portion of the budget is donated to the 1% who own sports businesses, that is evidence of cultural decay. At the Minnesota level, it looks suspiciously like a complete cultural breakdown of values and we're beyond decay and into stinking sewage. As Lincoln suspected, you can fool some of the people all of the time and, today, some equals most.

In Minnesota, we're banging from one sports arena "investment" to the next while real jobs and investment are filtering out of the state and out of the country. The debt we're piling on to our children and the state's future is enormous and the value is minuscule. The non-sports economic "opportunities" presented by these stadiums are claimed to be concerts, corporate events, and a few local events. How a city the size of St. Paul/Minneapolis can support this many huge concert venues at a time when the music business is shriveling to non-existence is baffling. Obviously, this is bullshit marketing with no more basis in reality than the bond or derivative markets.

If an educated state like Minnesota is sinking itself in the mire of sports distraction, the Walmart states must be wallowing in this stupidity. As the Greek democracy was inbreeding itself into obscurity, the nation's rulers distracted the marching morons with the Olympics and various sports bullshit. When the Romans decided they had been successful for long enough, they gave their idle masses the gladiators entertainment. The Brits created "bowls" for  for bull baiting, cock fighting, amateur athletics, soccer, cricket, hockey, and polo. We are, obviously, the next empire to decay and fall and our sports distractions are every bit as idiotic as were those of our predecessors. In retrospect, professional football, baseball, basketball, golf, and the rest are going to look pretty hilarious to whoever takes our place on the international stage.

The only upside to the United States' decline will be that what's left of us will get to watch the next international superstar fail even quicker than we did. One of the key characteristics of evolution is that as resources become scarce the evolutionary process becomes more efficient. The Greek empire flourished and lasted for 400 to 600 years, depending on how you define those terms. The Roman empire had a 500 year run before being drained by human entropy. The Spanish, Portuguese, Brit, and Dutch empires were all good for about 250-300 years before they sucked the life out of themselves. We're about done at a little more than 200 years and all that's left is how we're going to draw the curtain on ourselves. Pro sports are the fungus all empires need to kick the rot into overdrive.