So I read most of Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Enconomics”, as was suggested by an irate commenteer two months ago. He guaranteed that it would change my thinking, though my thinking had already changed quite a lot in the year between when I posted the entry and when he posted the comment. Nonetheless, it certainly did change my thinking. After reading the first few chapters, it was quite clear to me that free market economics was both inevitable and correct. However, my core idea that communistic sharing should be present also remains. How to reconsile the two?
The classic description of ecnomics is in dealing with “scarce resources”. Sowell defines “scarce resources” simply as what occurs when the sum of everyone’s wants is greater than what exists. This is perhaps the most insightful portion of the book, trivial as it may be. So the way to create communistic sharing (in a subportion of society) is to make the resources in question abundant. “Oh, is that all?” Despite appearances, it is in fact something that can happen.
For example, let’s look at the ubiquitous case of emergent communism: open source software. The reason that open sourcers don’t care about money is because it is basically free to copy software. Sure, there is a scarcity in what software *does*, but there is no scarcity in who has it. When you give a program you have to someone else, you don’t lose the ability to use it. This is the also cause of the gigantic black market (er, non-market) in software piracy. The cost of copying software is entirely artificial, and as economics usually tells us (thank you Sowell), artificial constraints have a tendency to totally break in a free market.
However, to make resources abound that aren’t inherently abundant, we have to look at the other side of the equation. Instead of increasing the amount of resources, which takes much research effort, we reduce the sum of everyone’s wants. So the kind of change that will make communism emerge is a very deep social one. It’s unlikely that any amount of advertizing would change the minds of the people to such an extent. Instead, we should trust Marx that it is an inevitable change (after a society has matured through capitalism) and not try to force it, because we’ve seen where that leads.
I’m convinced that capitalism will never entirely pass. The other day I bought a nice M-Audio sound interface. The market for that product is probably 10,000 people or less. Communism would never support the production of such a product, but it is indeed a contribution to society given that you accept recorded music as a social virtue.
Instead of the glorious vision of “starting a movement” and whatnot, I’ll simply let the ideas slowly sink their way into my head. This is the total opposite of the “American Dream” of becoming a millionaire and living in a mansion. It’s about learning to be satisfied with being moderately comfortable (or if the world’s population doesn’t eventually decrease, being satisfied with being quite uncomfortable). Once most people are satisfied with a small amount of some submarket instead of always wanting to have the most or the best, then communistic values will emerge in that submarket.
But I think I can count on my great6 grandson to be the first in my family to see whether this is actually the direction society is heading.