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economics is not the answer, but what is?

January 5, 2013

Relationships in my family of origin are transitive, but they are also transactional. And I’ve been trying to ‘buy my way’ into acceptance.

Overall, in the abstract (if there is such a thing), I hate capitalism. I think it’s evil. I hate how many useful metaphors derive from capitalism or economics.

But when I look at my contextual life, economics in a certain sense makes my life work, in ways that weren’t possible without economics. In these fraught days of climate change, many people suggest we would all be better off, the planet would be better off, if we just returned to living in small family groups, and depending on each other, like in the ‘good old days’ before the Industrial Revolution. Well, if that happens, I’ll be dead in short order. Or I’ll just wish I was.

In the good old days, if your family couldn’t or wouldn’t provide for you, about your only other options were your neighbors, and maybe your church. In the first case, you need to be broadly likable; in the second, you need conventional religious beliefs. So I’m 0 for 2.

Economics isn’t perfect, of course, since it still requires that you have currency available to you. Not necessarily money. Reputation maybe, skills (especially those in demand), other assets.

But if you have currency, you can purchase services or goods.

In my family of origin, there were plenty of transactions, but for me personally, very little money changed hands. My father, as I said, was scrupulous about paying me when I worked for him in a professional capacity. Everything else was a grey area. To actually reach the day when something long promised would be delivered into my hands, and it would be what I was promised, didn’t happen very often. And required prodigious amounts of effort, over long spans of time. Yet might get yanked out from under me at any moment. I would have preferred economics: I pay, you deliver, and if you don’t give me what we agreed on, I have options for redress. Except that I would’ve needed local currency, and as far as I can tell, that was . . . hmm, influence? Persuasive ability?

It was probably power, of some sort. Whatever it was, I didn’t have it. I couldn’t even get any. But that didn’t stop me from spending hours and days trying to figure out what I could do that would give me better outcomes.

Which brings me to the present. My grand idea of a few weeks ago, sparked by the water quality conference, was to write a smartphone app. I have done a tiny bit of programming, but I don’t know any of the languages involved. I don’t even own a smart phone! (Hell, I don’t own a cell phone. I hate talking on the phone!) I’ve now read one very long book on the subject. There is clearly way more involved than I even imagined. And all of it, as far as I can tell, would be tedious in the extreme, not to mention costly in money and time. Now, there is a built-in market for my particular idea, so presumably I could make some money with it. But would I break even? App sales, like a great many other phenomena, follow a power law distribution: a very few do very well; a few more do moderately well; everyone else makes almost no money.

My particular idea has a certain nobility about it. And after I published my last blog post, I suddenly realized that nobility is the draw, because it gives me the illusion that I can buy acceptance. If I go through this long and involved process, it wouldn’t be for the money, it would be seeking, approval, I guess. See, I have good ideas, therefore I count, therefore I matter.

Because I can’t say ‘I matter because people love me’, like my mother would, because that’s not true. I can’t say I matter because I have influence or power or status, because none of those are true either.

What do I have that is worth anything? That’s the crux, isn’t it? I can’t just ‘be me’, I have to own something. And it has to be something others want, so it likely has to be scarce. Which is what capitalism is all about.

How can capitalism screw me coming and going?

I must have a blindspot here somewhere.

In any case, I don’t actually want to spend months turning myself into a software developer. The more I read the listserv I’m on for copy editors, the more I think, that’s not a good fit for me either.

Spouse laughs at my chagrin at how a bunch of people I’m connected to on LinkedIn have endorsed me for everything but writing. Including editing! Of course, he thinks LinkedIn is stupid, and is never going to help me do anything. He’s never on it himself. (He did say he would endorse me for writing, but then he forgot.)

I think I’m a good writer. But I think I’m a good person, too, yet that’s never seemed to amount to much.

Oh look! another existential crisis. My favorite. Time for a late lunch, and a break from all this.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Siderea permalink
    January 5, 2013 21:03

    What do I have that is worth anything? That’s the crux, isn’t it? I can’t just ‘be me’, I have to own something. And it has to be something others want, so it likely has to be scarce. Which is what capitalism is all about.

    How can capitalism screw me coming and going?

    I must have a blindspot here somewhere.

    No, not really. I think your only issue is conflating all exchange for capitalism.

    It is true that one must bring something of value to society, or to a community, to be included as a full member within it. That exchange might not happen within a market economy where value is expressed in currency. It can take place in informal and unaccounted barter, a system of mutual material support among people who care for one another As you note, the nice thing about currency is that it bridges the personal gulf and allows trade with neutral or potentially hostile parties, and as such greatly assists domestic fugitives such as us.

    • January 5, 2013 21:28

      Thank you for getting what I’m struggling to understand. I have another friend who thinks I’m too invested in figuring out what I have to offer, since in their opinion, a psychologically-healthy person ‘feels complete’ in themselves and shouldn’t care what others think. With that friend in mind, I decided maybe there’s a liminal space where psychology and sociology and who-knows-what-else come together, and that’s what I’m talking about, not just ‘how to happy’. But I’m not sure we ever got on the same page.

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