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I = S - M

The modern way of thinking about economics has been I = M - S Where I is the I as in me, M is what is 'mine' and S is what ...

4/10/15

The economy of use and the economy of more more more

It is good economics to keep what you use and give away what you don't use. It is bad economics to keep on piling up in our lives things that we don't use, under the precept of more more more. 

Wait a minute, says a neighbor. What about the good that I do to industry when I buy according to my means rather than according to what I will use. Admittedly my shiny black Cadillac sits in my garage all day, most of the year (I have two other cars for my daily use, another one for my wife, and an old one for my teenage daughter). But think of all the jobs created by the purchase of my Cadillac, all the materials used, all the skilled metal workers, leather workers, painters, organizers, advertisers, business people, bankers, sales people and even government workers who process my registration renewals each year. All these people and resources benefit from my action. Surely that is what economics teaches us?

And I say, you are confused for you do not distinguish between what is seen and what is not seen. You are basing your entire argument on the effects of your actions that are immediate and hence seen. However, good economics requires us to look at both effects, those that are seen as well as those that are not seen.

What is not seen is that your Cadillac sitting in your garage consists of fabulous resources of Mother Earth that are frozen by your action of non use. Mother Earth's resources are limited. You are holding ransom a good bit of her resources in the form and shape of that Cadillac. Had you not demanded that Cadillac, all the resources contained in it would have been available for use elsewhere. What is not seen is that you have driven up the price of the resources contained in your Cadillac by competing the resources used away from alternate uses. What is not seen is that even as you have captured and frozen some of Mother Earth's resources you have allowed less resources to be available elsewhere for others by your thoughtless act. 

My neighbor is silent. 

After a while he says, So my actions as well as non-actions have a profound effect upon Mother Earth. When I hoard things, fill up our house with shiny objects whose glitter lasts for less than a week after which they sit there gathering dust (there are many such 'gifts' in my children's rooms), I am causing great suffering upon Mother Earth. For I freeze her resources and make them unavailable to people elsewhere. If I only keep what I use I free up resources--magnificent life-sustaining resources, the original gift from Mother Earth--and make the world a better place.

I say, You have done well neighbor. But there is one more effect that is not seen. After you separate the things in your life into that which you use and that which you don't use, you go even further. You keep all that you use but you think of creative ways to give away that which you don't use. Can you find good homes for all that you don't use, people who would value and use the very things that you don't?

My neighbor laughs. We hug. And he starts looking for the perfect person somewhere in the world whom he could gift his Cadillac to, someone who would use it every single day.

Friends, it is no crime to own things! But only keep what you use and gift away creatively what you don't use. 

Gandhiji said that if you use something don't give it up. He added, "As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired." What a wonderful statement of the philosophy of the economy of use! 


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