Of Wealth and Trade
I am anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, anti-materialist and generally opposed to any approach bearing resemblance to economic reductionism. As such, I oppose both classic Marxist analysis and liberal economic analysis. That does not mean I do not recognise the importance of material wealth, or even of trade. I simply do not believe that it determines human life, happiness or anything worthy enough to make trade or the perpetual quest for greater material wealth the basis of community.
To all the technocrats and economic deterministico-evolutionists out there, stop caring about hypothetical “progress” in the future so much. Many people are living miserable lives right now, and would be significantly better off with very little more. Yet, other people accaparate ludicrous amounts of resources mainly because they had the luck of being born at the right place at the right moment. Meritocracy through trade is a myth, given the existence of an elaborate, and easily abused, system of wealth accumulation.
What gives some the right to live in outlandish luxury while others simultaneously starve? Long-term effects are irrelevant in this case. As humans, and provided that we accept social individualist axioms, I would argue that we have an ethical obligation to prevent the sacrifice of some people’s lifetimes – or even part of them – for the sake of others. As much as humanly possible while not sacrificing our own lifetimes, that is.
As for trade, it is a significantly more difficult issue. It would be highly impractical to attempt to police all trade and punish someone for, say, trading a painting for his friend’s homemade pie. The ethical problems begin when your neighbour can live in a castle because his granddad won the loto, while you live in a slum because you’re the descendant of a people colonised centuries ago. Sure, social mobility is possible, but without proper wealth redistribution, it remains a highly marginal phenomena.
Both past and modern history have consistently shown that community-enforced (or in most cases State-enforced…) wealth redistribution is essential to modern de facto capitalism, as the absence of such mechanisms usually leads to public outrage, and in many cases to bloody revolutions. Capitalism devoid of proper wealth redistribution also correlates with a greater vulnerability of the People to authoritarian ideals, as they offer apparently simple answers to despair and misery.
Now, I do not inherently mind people living in castles. What I do mind, however, is that a great number of people live miserable lives while unused facilities and resources have seldom – if ever – been so abundant through human history, even in relation to the number of people alive. Nobody deserves misery, not even the less qualified and less educated of the world.