Thursday, November 12, 2009

Capitalism, God, and Greed Part IV

Herbert Schlossberg argues similarly, "Consuming capital is perhaps the clearest sign that greed has come to dominate our economic life. That is the moral meaning of such phenomena as pollution and the transformation of farming into a mining operation through the depletion of the topsoil and the draining of the underground reservoirs. A decline in wealth ought to mean that consumption diminishes, but a moral failure prevents that from happening. Instead, a way is found to continue consumption at its former levels: living on capital. Thus the capital stock is raided. Roads, bridges, and buildings deteriorate, long-term borrowing finances current consumption, and the individual base falls into obsolescence… We have hardly begun to pay for this in unemployment and reduced output. As more capital is destroyed by policies of taxation and inflation, people will remove it from uses that make it vulnerable. Saving will seem increasingly improvident, and more capital will either be consumed or placed into such unproductive forms as precious metals and collectibles. In any case, funds will not be available to build factories, schools, and barns. As the capital stock continues to be consumed, the pauperization process feeds upon itself. People persist in maintaining their standard of living through more capital consumption and currency depreciation. The system eventually collapses." (Idols pages 281-282)

Coming back to Wendell Berry again, he writes, "To have even the illusion of infinite quantity, we would have to sacrifice both flesh and spirit. It is an old story. Evil is offering us the world: "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." And we have only the old paradox for an answer: If we accept all on that condition, we lose all. What is new is the guise of the evil: a limitless technology, dependent upon a limitless morality, which is to say upon no morality at all. How did such a possibility become thinkable? It seems to me that in the assumption that we can live entirely apart from our way of making a living." (Unsettling of America pages 78-79)

The leading nations, America in the forefront, have abandoned all pretense of living within its means. Rather than recognizing the world has limited resources and limited productive capacity, we have chosen to live off the future of our children. Our money is no longer representative of capital accumulation, but of debt. This paradigm shift has led to a cataclysmic shift in consumption. Consumer goods—food, clothing, gasoline, electricity, etc. have all become far too inexpensive. The world is awash in money and credit leading to gross distortions in the supply and demand of virtually everything. By consuming our children's capital we have not only assumed massive debt, but we've tapped into the resources our children will one day lack.

Many fear that our children will be shackled with debt, as they must, because our debts are insurmountably large. Others believe we will default on the debts. Either option is unfortunate and potentially catastrophic. But perhaps the more frightening prospect is the legacy of capital destruction currently underway.

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