Desire & Scarcity (was Re: Desire under the Elms)

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon Jan 31 10:28:08 PST 2000

>>> Max Sawicky <sawicky at> 01/29/00 08:24PM >>>

cb: . . . Nonetheless, on the original point, there is not scarcity in the sense that RIGHT NOW there exist sufficient use-values to meet everybody's basic needs. Contra your original statement,

mbs: if everybody is those in the U.S., there is plenty to satisfy all 'basic needs' (reasonably defined). Include the rest of the world and I don't think so.


CB: At this point of the discussion we had confined ourselves to the U.S. only.


. . .Further, there is "rationing" now. Socialization of the means of production/elimination of classes would not require more rationing than now. &&&&&&&&&&&

mbs: right. there is rationing in all economies. never said otherwise.


CB: Was not I who introduced the concept of rationing here. You did as somekind of barrier to socialization.


I agree that scarcity in the sense of basic needs originates in politics and not in productive capacity or potential.


CB: This is all I wanted to get at the origin of this exchange.


It might be noted that raising incomes of those outside the relatively prosperous capitalist- industrial core will not be done by much redistribution of income, but by changing capital flows and institutional fetters on growth in low-income places.

No politics premised on getting U.S. families to sacrifice much for Third World development has a snowball's chance in hell.


CB: For now. But all those other people won't go away, and the U.S. will not be able to enforce its superiority forever. So, the Americans would be wise to look ahead so that the shift does not come about violently.


Look at it this way. U.S. GDP is less than $9 trillion. Divide that up among 270 million, you get $33,333 per capita. Total public spending is roughly 30% of GDP, or $9,999 per head. Suppose we somehow scraped together 10% of GDP -- the equivalent of almost the total cost of all state & local government in the U.S. That's $900 billion. Divide it up among just a billion people. That's $900 bucks.


CB: Universal basic human needs must be redefined closer to what they were in the European socialist communties. The equitable, sustainable, universal , joyful standard of living is not at the U.S. level . The U.S. population must be gradually weaned from its addiction to an "undesirably" (ha ha) excess commodity fetishism. We actually can be happy with less stuff, but higher quality stuff, in the sense that peoples with less aggregate energy capture and mass of material culture have been very happy (many desires fulfilled, let alone needs fulfilled). There is sort of an illusion of necessity in a large percentage of the American lifestyle.

Median household income is in the neighborhood of $40K, which most would think of as a relatively austere approximation of 'basic needs.' A huge contribution from the U.S. doesn't come anywhere near filling the gap between subsistence income and our version of 'basic needs' for the rest of the world's people.

What's really in question is how these other countries will be able to grow.


CB: There must be a drastic change in the satisfaction Americans are able to derive from a radically , qualitatively different standard of living.

I'm not talking barracks socialism here either. Our lives can be gentily fulfilling, our stomachs full with less hardware. A sort of qualitative miniaturization of our whole modern basic kit. Not ditching all the hi tech, but losing the commodity fat. A lean and kind, smart and fine life - for the whole species.


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