we are all traders

I was listening to Principles of Economics on Librivox recently and was delighted to hear this little gem:

Man cannot create material things. In the mental and moral world indeed he may produce new ideas; but when he is said to produce material things, he really only produces utilities; or in other words, his efforts and sacrifices result in changing the form or arrangement of matter to adapt it better for the satisfaction of wants. All that he can do in the physical world is either to readjust matter so as to make it more useful, as when he makes a log of wood into a table; or to put it in the way of being made more useful by nature, as when he puts seed where the forces of nature will make it burst out into life.

It is sometimes said that traders do not produce: that while the cabinet-maker produces furniture, the furniture-dealer merely sells what is already produced. But there is no scientific foundation for this distinction. They both produce utilities, and neither of them can do more: the furniture-dealer moves and rearranges matter so as to make it more serviceable than it was before, and the carpenter does nothing more. The sailor or the railway-man who carries coal above ground produces it, just as much as the miner who carries it underground; the dealer in fish helps to move on fish from where it is of comparatively little use to where it is of greater use, and the fisherman does no more.

– Principles of Economics, by Alfred Marshall (public domain)

The full text is available here.

(cross-posted at freedom is love — crazy new blog idea?)

civilized war

In Star Trek: A Taste of Armageddon, the crew of the enterprise find themselves on a planet which claims to be in a state of war, but there are no clear signs of it. No explosions, no battered bodies, nothing.

As it turns out, the “war” is taking place on computer systems a la war games. When the computer simulation deems that an area has been “hit”, all inhabitants of that area report to disintegration chambers to meet their fate.

The local inhabitants claim that this is much more civilized than the wars that used to take place, and they accept it as a part of life in their modern society. However, the war has been going on for a very long time and it continues to take millions of lives.

Captain Kirk, being an outsider, has a different perspective. He notes that the bombs of war, the destructive power of all-out real war, the fear induced by the pain and the threat of pain; these things are what make it real, and make it worth avoiding. When it’s whitewashed, it’s too easy to just continue on with the war.

Rewind a couple of centuries, and bop out of fiction. 21st century America has been at war for years now. It sure doesn’t feel like it to me. Sure, I pay some taxes, and once in a while when I check the news I hear some vague things about US drones flying over Afghanistan or Iraq.

Drones. This is war at it’s cleanest so far, at least for us Americans. We don’t even have to send a real person anywhere near the place we want to bomb now. War is so cheap, so easy that we hardly even notice it happening.

How many armchair fox-news watching neocons do you think would still be pro-war if the abstraction was removed? If our guys were going over there and dying in the same numbers as we’re killing with our drones?

Or God forbid if we were being bombed by Afghani drones? How long would that situation last?

Perhaps we need some visitors from outer space to come break their prime directive and set us straight :).

the unknown

I revel in the unknown
I seek it out
because infinity lives there
and she takes me for a ride

up! like on a rocket!

then whizzing by the marketplace
I barely notice
the people tiny like ants
hanging out in the known

boring! I think
until I lose focus and start to fall
and catch myself, grinning
at my contradictions