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08 February 2009

The common people as commons

People who appeal to the laws of economics with visible glee also
love conjuring up derivations illustrating what they call the
tragedy of the commons. The punch line is that there ain't no such
thing as a free goods, and the theorem being derived is that
so-called free goods or public goods are an inherently flawed
concept thanks to the free rider problem. It is always with
magnificent glee that free market fundamentalists announce that
human nature is inherently selfish.

People who see the world through commoners' eyes are basically
bimodal economic actors. They are worker/consumers. They typically
earn their daily bread one place and pay for it in numerous places.
This is, of course, an improvement over the “company store”
concept, which featured monopsony and monopoly all under one roof.
To the worker/consumer, to the proverbial common man or woman, it
goes without saying that some things figure prominently on the radar
screen. One of these things is the uncanny link in the business news
between mass layoffs and increases in share price.

It would seem that from the commanding heights of management, the
worker/consumers working in one's own firm are the glaring
cost center, while the worker/consumers in the consumer marketplace
as a whole are ultimately the only profit center, even in
business-to-business business. Perhaps everyone's interests would be
advanced by the development of an ethos that regards the commoners
as a commons, with the implied understanding that mass layoff events
are akin to someone pissing in the well.

Public policymakers are absolutely duty-bound to advance the idea
that all of us have a vested interest in full employment. In this
spirit, we need a much less dumbed-down definition of full
employment. I want to see employment-to-population ratio replace the
hedonic indexing that incorporates social fictions such as
“discouraged workers.”

Calling for a general boycott

General boycott is to boycott as general strike is to strike. The
strike weapon packs little punch in a relatively high wage country
such as the United States. The American worker/consumer qua
worker is expendable. The American worker/consumer qua
consumer is apparently a large part of what's propping up the global
economy. The global business community appears to be boycotting
American labor, and probably “developed world” labor in

The self-respecting thing for developed world citizens to do at a
time like this is voluntary austerity. Draw an aggressive line
between luxuries and necessities. Make a competitive sport of doing
without. Undertake the advanced study of the art and science of
cheap living. This should help begin to address our
way-above-average carbon footprint, as well as giving the business
and political classes a taste of their own medicine in the form of
spending cuts.

Consumer debt is another means of social control which must be
challenged. Much better to discharge the debt ASAP and get the
monkey off one's back than to enable GDP addiction. The goal should
be to tank the GDP. Be sure to turn off the light before you leave
the room.

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