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Paradox of Plenty   (week of May 4, 2007)

Entries posted in order received

Dorothy S.:

This is regard to paradox of plenty 1. In college I wrote a paper about hunger in America for a nutrition course. In my research I found an organization in Washington state (maybe Oregon) which trained the poor in home gardening. They supplied basic gardening tools, seeds, soil, hands on training and educational materials. It began with the rural poor and expanded to inner cities where they helpe convert abandoned lots to gardens. A study showed that those in the program relied less on government help, had better health, had less criminal acitivity and many were able to rise out of poverty with their new skills (i.e. found jobs on farms, grew extra and sold it, etc.). Such a simple concept that has many other benefits outside of the obvious nutritional one.

Also, I'm am firmly against genetic engineering in our food supply. I saw a program on the green channel last year about the dangers of genetic engineering and it truely opened my eyes to its dangers and most importantly to how powerful corporations like Monsanto really are. It sickens me how our politicians are so easily swayed by corporations into basically raping our ecosystem. I think the program was called Fed Up! and you can get it in a library.

Bill M.:

"Fine. Let's stipulate those points. But there is another reason which won't make it onto the pages of the Wall Street Journal: the paradox of consumerism. The more you rely on acquisitions to fuel happiness, the less happiness you actually experience."

So true. Experiences is what I am in it for. I would not trade being at the homebirths of my 3 children for all of Donald Trump's "worldy possesions". Nor would I trade any of my epic surfing days. Though I came into the Grateful Dead (GD) scence relatively late (1978) live music also fills my memories of which I would not trade for any material possesion. In 1983 while doing the East Coast fall GD tour thing rumor had been circulating that the boys had been sound checking St. Stephen. At the Charolette show you could hear little teases of the tune in "space". Since the GD hadn't cracked out St Stephen since '77 it was potentially earth shaking stuff. (the grail).

Anyway, on 10/11/83 we were at MSG and there was just this vibe in the air. Something magic. The show was really good as it progressed in to the drums / space segement. Towards the end of "space" the riffs of a St. Stephen were becoming quite evident and as Jerry and Phil fully commited to pulling it off the 20K+ people at the show were blown away. I to this day remember looking at the faces of everyone I could see and to see the sheer joy (and huge smiles) that everyone had going. I still get goose bumps thinking about it our listening to the show. Another one I shall take to the grave!

......So I was a consumer to buy the ticket but I was seeking experience not material gain. Maybe that is what the folks miss in the pursuit of happiness. Spend your cash on things that will further your experiences of being here.


I can see why your readers are not gripped by it, because the postings are quite abstract, but in fact its an important topic. My own example is the car. We have been watching old documentary movies from the Edwardian era, pre WWI, broadcast by the BBC.

What struck me was the streets, thronged with people walking, cycling, lined with shops. Public space was available. Trains and trams ran everywhere.

Now, not to be nostalgic about Edwardian England which was hell if you were not in the top 5%.

But if you consider the result of moving mass transport to the car, which is certainly the result of affluence in that the amount of energy and materials consumed is enormously greater than that old infrastructure of trains, trams and pony traps, we got a lot of things that actually lowered the quality of life. The streets became unwalkable because of traffic and fumes. Country roads became unwalkable and impossible to cycle on. Shops vanished into supermarkets and huge parking lots. Train prices rose and buses vanished so you have to drive whether you want to or not.

In London we ended up with traffic jams and congestion charging. We kill, in the UK alone, 3,000 people a year on the roads, and we seriously injure 20,000 plus. And we are not travelling any faster in England than we did 100 years ago. Nor are we travelling as peacefully, in this sort of inferno of alternate bursts of speeding traffic and traffic jams.

A modest car costs several thousand a year. There is plenty, because most can afford cars. But there is also not plenty, because this money is no longer a discretionary spend, its a necessity, and the real costs of shopping and travelling as a percentage of income have actually risen. Not to mention the fact that the car has wrecked our immediate surroundings, that we live in, so we have also lost there. To recreate the peace and quiet we grew up in, we spend still more of our formerly discretionary income.

The truly paradoxical thing is that having plenty, in this case plenty of materials and energy, does not necessarily increase the quality of life, because the accomodations we all have to make in order for us to use the plenty are themselves detrimental to why we wanted the things in the first place. As the people of New York found, when they allowed Robert Moses to drive his urban expressways through the old comfortable blue collar neighborhoods, and reduce them to ugly dangerous slums.

Harun I.:

This weeks posts have been great. As I read today your topic for the week has had a somewhat cold reception. Perhaps this is because many find it easier to gaze without than within. What you describe in today's post has been a problem in human psychology since man was man.

Vernon Howard writes in the Power of Psycho-Pictography:
The Confused Conqueror

King Pyrrhus of Epirus was asked by his friend, Cineas, 'Sir, if you conquer Rome, what will you do next?'
Pyrrhus replied, 'Sicily is nearby, and will be easy to take.'
'And what will you do after Sicily?' Cineas asked.
'Then we will pass over to Africa and plunder Carthage.'
'And after Carthage?' 'After Carthage we will conquer Greece and Macedon.'
Cineas inquired, 'What do you expect as reward from all these victories?'
'Then, said Pyrrhus, 'we can sit down and enjoy ourselves.'
'Can we not,' suggested Cineas, 'enjoy ourselves now?'

Mr. Howard goes on to discuss the lesson:

Cineas had grasped a fundamental fact about true living. He saw the necessity of living within the only time zone in existence -- the present moment. Man blunders endlessly by trying to escape into a future time, in trying to feel thrilled instead of wishing to feel right. It never occurs to him to inquire of himself, 'Now that I've won, what have I won?'

Self-excellence begins when we glimpse how we have been unknowingly working against our true interests.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden:

"The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience which alone can make leisure fruitful."

And many in America find themselves in a predicament warned about in the Bible Proverbs 22:7: the rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

That people rolled over and went back to sleep on these important posts speaks volumes.

As a trader, IMHO, one must trade because one loves to trade and not because of the love of money. Money is just a way of keeping score.

Robert S.:

Contrary to your statement, I've quite enjoyed your Paradox of Plenty. I regularly tell my wife that I aspire to own nothing. I know I will have 'made it' when that day comes. I hate owning stuff. It's a burden and I do my best to limit acquisitions. My focus is on mind, body and spirit. Haven't bought a TV since 1994. I still have the floor sample sofa my wife and I purchased in 1991 while I was in grad school. Basically, I'm a cheap bastard when it comes to material items.

But, I'll go overboard for the acquisition of memories. To me, there's no greater day than one spent outside exercising followed by an evening with the toes in the sand, watching the sun set and enjoying a Negra Modelo. We will be in Hawaii in 27 days doing just that. Wife's doing a half-ironman in Kona. Afterward, we'll spend a week in Maui. I may not leave if I can find a decent shack in Hana! (How about that for a paradox? Owning nothing on a small slice of paradise requires a lot of hard work and years toiling within the consumer madhouse.) Keep up the entertaining good work!

John B.:

Your thinking on the subject has not gone un-noticed, you are wise beyond those with their head's in the sand re: the impending economic disaster. I recalled a verse I once read and felt it appropriate.

He who knows not,
And knows that he knows not, Is a fool----shun him.
He who knows not,
And knows that he knows not,
Is a child----teach him
He who knows,
And knows not that he knows,v Is asleep----wake him.
He who knows, v And knows that he knows,
Is wise----follow him.


I too see it. It is a red pill blue pill thing. We have seem to lost our way (purpose). I am sure as an author you have heard of Joseph Campbell. He had an excellent series of interviews with Bill Moyers called The Power of Myth. At the core of our consiousness we do not seem to be able to find our way. This is conflicting with our subconscious.

I think that we all have a center compass and the further we get from it the more we our in conflict. Inherently in all of us we know if we are doing something right or wrong if we just take a second to feel it and filter out the noise.

Take road rage for instance. The urge to strike out almost immediately tells me it was not a random accident but a rage just simmering below the surface that even some of the people do not even know is there. We have to dig way down to the root cause and see things for what they are.

Consumerism is told that it will make us happy if we just get that next new item.

I enjoy this blog because you are good at filtering out the noise. Keep up the good work.

Matt L.:

I have appreciated your theme this week. Perhaps the grim nature of the cycles you examine is a spirit killer for some of your readers. But to these problematic cycles and potentially dour responses, let us give them greater imagination so that we can find ways to overcome such pernicious cycles.

What I’ve been kicking around in my head all week is the relating roles that credit, fiat money, and over-consumption play with each other.

What if there was no credit? Or more appropriately, what if banks were only allowed to lend that which they actually possessed? Suppose that no one was allowed to create “Credit” and “money” out of thin air, the way the reserve system currently does. What effects would this have on consumption? What effect would this have on inflation? What effect would this have on the natural allocation of resources that should potentially take place in a free market? Could it tame the resource exploitation cycle by limiting the available “Money” that chases after speculative profits in new ventures? Could it prevent the over extension the consumer who, forced to live within his means, would realize that, “hey the car is still running, why do I need a new one?” Could it kill the beast of hyper marketing to create artificial demand because, hey there’s no artificial money to feed the artificial demand?

I agree that, as structured right now, there is no market incentive for the preservation of resources or capital (Human or otherwise). But I can also envision a world where informed consumers co-creators, an honest fourth estate, and other various factors punish the exploiters as only a free market can and should. There are also many concomitant cultural changes that will take place of course. And perhaps we don’t all see this reality right now, but all things begin in the imagination. And this vision exists in my imagination already. Let us all imagine and ponder bigger and better cultural trends. Let it incubate in the minds of the many until its power is manifest. This is the only way.

And as a final thought, the market will punish this credit bubble and resources exploitation. Although we may call this the market of life and nature. It is only a matter of time. And we have all been complicit to some extent. We do get both the governments and markets we deserve. And we will only deserve better when think better. I think your website is part of the solution. Keep writing, even when the email slows.
Cheryl A.:

Today's topic really struck home. I grew up on the Philadelphia main line back in the 50's and 60's. It is an area where one can find many fancy homes, cars and clothes. And for many years, I assumed that such things would bring me happiness.

However, several years ago, my husband and I moved to a rural area in another state that was significantly different from where I was raised. I quickly learned from people of modest means that happiness can't be obtained from material objects.

Since then, we have downsized our home (small townhouse), purchase very few gadgets, and made many other changes in our lives. The thing that gives us the greatest happiness is spending time together. And spending quality time together is inconsistent with spending money on junk, since the latter involves a lot of negative energy.

I can now say that I am truly happy!

I should add that it isn't that I can't afford to purchase an abundance of consumer goods (my husband and I are both professionals), I have just learned that the important things in life can't be bought.

Thank you, readers, for such thoughtful contributions.

For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit my weblog.


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