My Op-Ed in the Charleston Gazette, today March 9, 2015
In 1956, WVU engineering students were required to take an introductory economics class. Proudly packing slide rules, hanging like six-shooters from our belts, we trooped over to the building that was untouched by the sweat of our difficult engineering classes.
I was a mediocre engineering student, but did know how to memorize and regurgitate. That led to the only A in that economics class of mostly liberal arts majors. I still remember with pride when one of the “smart” girls, used to getting straight As, told me that nobody got an A in that class. I couldn’t resist bragging that there was one A.
The only thing I remember from economics class was that banks could double their money just as soon as you gave it to them. Their books show the dollars you deposit as in your account and also in the account to whom it is loaned. Someone told me that banks can now quadruple your deposit with certain creative devices. Recent news reports show how banks can break laws and deceive the public with the result being huge bonuses for the “evil doers.”
Economics looks to me like the study of how much stuff there is and who gets it. If so, then some day there will be no economic system, because stuff will be used up. No system is needed to figure out who gets stuff that no longer exists.
Capitalism is called an economic “system.” Capitalism is an “un-system,” it is buy low and sell high, produce low cost goods to sell at high prices, buyer beware, a sucker is born every minute, and cheat when you can. Capitalists care about the next quarter but not the future. They don’t pull the curtain back and let you take a peek at what will happen when stuff runs out.
Like our bodies, stuff will not run out all at once. Coal, oil, natural gas, metals, top soil, fish, forests, and everything else will get used up on a staggered schedule. Sort of like my knees going first, then the lower back chimes in and arthritis moves back and forth.
My wife, a retired bank senior vice-president, claims that over the long haul the stock market will recover from a plunge, mainly because it always has—sort of like infinite prosperity. There is no way to know if the market will always recover just because it always has. When stuff runs out or gets close enough in its uneven way, the stock market won’t recover because it is based on buying and selling stuff.
A friend said that our problems will be solved by technology that hasn’t been invented yet. How can technology replace the functions, including aesthetics, of the hundreds of mountains, streams and critters therein, that have been blown apart and smothered for coal? Or how will valleys, filled with our daily garbage, be restored? Eventually new technology won’t be possible because it is made from stuff. Some day enough stuff will be used up and there will be no economic “system.” Human population will decrease to a level that can be supported by the remaining stuff.
Stuff is subject to a physics concept called entropy, which says the universe will gradually wind down and everything will go from order to disorder. An example of entropy is when coal is burned–heat, light, gases and ash are produced and can’t be put back together.
To slow down accelerated entropy, humans will have to realize that nothing is forever, that all stuff is finite. Mountain top removal strip mining, fracking and Black Friday, make it seem unlikely that humans are up to the task.