Archive for October 27, 2011

Heavily Monetized Societies are Fragile

October 27, 2011 11 comments

The vast majority of people cannot see obvious problems because they seldom think through any given situation. The following is one of them-

A society which monetizes every human interaction and exchange is on a path of decay, collapse and death.

Now, this insight might come as a shock to many people living in so-called “developed” countries because they know of no other way to organize society. Indeed, many of those morons believe that even further monetization of human interactions and exchange will ensure more stability because of the ‘profit’ motive. But is that really the case? and what are the points of failure for a social system based on the idea of homo economicus?

The points of failure in societies that monetize every human interaction and exchange rise from two sets of linked problems.

1. Who sets the price for any item, service, interaction etc and how?

2. Can you avoid future retaliation from people who cannot afford something they desire?

Let us be clear about one thing- precise prices for things and services are seldom meant to facilitate social cohesion. Instead, they are usually set by one party such that the needy party is disadvantaged. The party that rips offs the other also makes an implicit assumption that its actions won’t come back to haunt or kill it in the future.

Most people will play nice in the face of mild to moderate ripoffs in a moderate percentage of total transactions. However, they will stop acting in good faith once the ripoffs are severe, widespread or start compromising the availability of fundamental needs. The pathways for satisfying fundamental needs such as water, food, shelter, medical care and sex have to be reasonably stable and any effort to change rules governing their access will always have negative repercussions, especially if one party in the transaction is seen as disingenuous. While we have no shortage of, or difficulty producing, any of the fundamental needs and most luxuries of life- we have many problems with distributing them.

Consider the following two examples-

A. Consider a person who is well-educated, had a well-paying occupation and a decent lifestyle for years. What would happen to this previously content person if he was repeatedly laid off for reasons beyond his control or had a serious illness affected his ability to work or get rehired for an equivalent pay. How would that affect his or her worldview? As many of you now, this is precisely what is now happening to a rapidly increasing number of people who used to be comfortably middle-class.

The reality is that in our heavily monetized era, a steady income from an unreliable external source is so highly linked to the necessities of life that even small disruptions in that flow of money can have all sorts of synergistic negative effects– from divorce, loss of house, child custody battles, outlook for future employment etc.

Have you ever asked yourself- Why should a person endure an inferior lifestyle for no personal fault? Some of you might say that ‘life is not fair’- but does a person who feels mistreated or wronged care about your CONServative and LIEbertarian point of view?

B. Now consider the fate of a guy born after 1970. He faces a similar set of problems whether he is in countries as diverse as Japan, Spain, Italy, Canada or the USA. Apart from the problems due to feminism jumping the shark, he also faces socio-economic deprivation due to circumstances beyond his control.

He has heard all the talk about waiting for the baby-boomers to retire, becoming more “responsible”, “educated” etc. But guess what- he is not becoming younger, his situation is not visibly improving nor is there any realistic chance it ever will. However unlike previous eras, he also lives in a culture where the family and extended family do not support and help each other like they used to. Moreover the social safety net, which was supposed to replace the security of familial ties, is being sucked dry by both older scumbags and bankster-types as we speak.

Which brings me to another rarely mentioned aspect of such societies-

Heavily monetized societies are also heavily atomized and not subject to the previously known patterns of individual behavior and system feedback.

That is a fancy way of saying that the atomized people in such societies are highly mistrustful, mercenary, paranoid and can only act ‘civilized’ as long they feel they are somewhat secure. The USA, and the west, appear to be stable despite the obvious long-term issues because we have been able to paper over the larger cracks through demography (baby-boomers), technology (cheap food, entertainment etc) and the pretense of an extensive social safety net. The social safety net, as it exists, has never been tested with anything beyond a small number of retirees and some poor people. The real test is coming up.. very soon and may have already started.

and this is where developments in communication technology over the last decade feed into the problem. By allowing people to find out more about the world around them from multiple independent sources and communicate with each other, it creates an environment where the world view of people evolves into something very different from any previous era. The result is a world with a lot of well-informed but passive-aggresive types whose behavior and responses to situations cannot be modeled or extrapolated from previous data sets thereby breaking down the ability of social control systems based on older assumptions and models of human behavior and responses.


See, their morals, their code… it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you, when the chips are down, these… these civilized people will eat each other. See, I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve. – Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)