How the Middle Class Used To Be Affordable

The open market is vastly overrated.

In a previous era, we spent much if not most of our time in safe refuges, coves, and harbors.
We ventured into the open market as we felt it necessary, as a fisherman periodically ventures out from a placid bay into the rough and open sea.

In our own era we have never seen land. We live our lives adrift in the open market. We’ve never known safety from the merciless storms of vast aggregate demand.

So ubiquitous is our system of liquidity that we have forgotten that for most of the human experience, the open market has supplemented our livelihood. Only for a few merchants and nobles was it ever a mainstay.

We forget that any alternative exists.

And because of this we are blinded to the inherent disadvantages of our current system.

We fail to understand why it was that mere decades ago the people easily enjoyed a much higher standard of living, a now increasingly elusive “middle” class standard of living with less income.

We will easily find the answer if we understand an important principle:
Many basic human needs are satisfied much more efficiently outside the open market.

Money is an efficient means of doing business with strangers.

But doing business with strangers is very different than collaborating with those we know.

A stranger knows nothing of our reputation, has no pre-existing obligation or relationship to us, has no incentive to help us without a cash incentive. Enlisting their help is not easy.

Let’s consider the price of some very basic life needs on the open market.

A roof over one’s head = at least $700 per month if we factor in utilities or about $50 per night at a hotel. About $8400 a year for the most modest of accommodations!

Sex = $50 minimum-hundreds or even thousands of dollars a pop depending on the service provider.
Or 5-10 dollars a pop to pay cover charges to get into clubs. 5-10 dollars a pop for overpriced drinks once inside the clubs. Hundreds of dollars for fashionable clothes to wear to the club.

Basic childcare = Hundreds of dollars per month, thousands of dollars a year.

Home-cooked meals = Private chefs cost a small fortune. They are accessories of the wealthy.

When one is totally exposed to the open market one requires a bare minimum of about $20,000 just to live a subsistence lifestyle one minor accident away from strife and privation.

On the open market, all these basic necessities are incredibly expensive.
Just staying alive costs nearly as much as a high end college tuition.

And it is taken for granted in our culture that every year, we must pay our tuition in order to eat and avoid sleeping on the streets.

Our view of life is distorted.
These necessities are all services that friends, family, significant other can easily provide to one another for a fraction of the price or even for free!

It is by its very nature cost ineffective to rely on strangers for these needs!

A stranger who provides a roof or a meal is exposed to the caprices of a thousand customers. The price of their service is determined not by the courteous and upright, but by the most troublesome and dishonest among us.

Purchasing a bed to crash in for 8 hours at a motel in no small thing.

-Because we are unknowns, we are paying for the risk we represent to the owner.
-Thus we pay for any damage, wear or tear we inflict in advance regardless of whether we inflict it or not.
-The price includes the damage caused by the most disruptive and destructive customers.

Most of the money we pay isn’t for the room or the bed we sleep in!

The major expense of purchasing these services from a stranger is compensation for the inconvenience inflicted on the stranger.

If one refrains from approaching a stranger in the first place. Most of the trouble and expense vanishes.

Furthermore, a pre-existing relationship allows multiple means of remuneration for services provided without relying on liquid capital at all! It is in the interests of someone we know to help us. They know we will help them in turn!

The pre-existing relationship provides a haven from the savage free-for-all that is the open market!

How did people several decades ago enjoy lives of luxury by present standards with less liquid capital and fewer wage earners?

The typical answers in most mainstream political and economic columns:
-Strong economic growth
-Better job market
-Traditional values etc. bla bla bla.

All of these were relevant factors, but none of them was the decisive factor.

In the now nostalgic 1950s-1960s, Western society happened upon a certain balance between the personal market and the open market that worked particularly well.

All the processes that led to our present dystopian age were already in progress, but at that point:

-Services most efficiently handled by the personal market remained mostly personal.

-Meanwhile, a whole slough of services that had been stagnant at the personal level was being transferred to the open market.
As a result, the economy was rapidly becoming more efficient. New liquid capital was constantly being created and it was flowing like water.
The result was an exciting era of growth and progress.

Sadly, the result of this trend was the eventual transfer of nearly every human need to the open market whether or not it belonged there.

The result has been the social strife, economic stagnation, systemic decay, and widespread social distrust that now defines our precarious lives.

We have learned the hard way that mere subsistence in the tumultuous open market is more expensive than prosperity in the personal realm.

‘Socialism’ Is Inevitable In 1st World Societies

Whenever I see complaints about the “nanny state” or lines such as:
“It’s not the role of government to intervene in our lives/free enterprise/families etc.”

I realize am seeing the words of people who have totally failed to understand where social change has taken us.
I don’t necessarily disagree with their stance. I don’t want impersonal state bureaucracies running my life either. I don’t want to just be a number in the system.
But I understand that our personal preferences are irrelevant here.

These “big government” critics hold close the values of a past citizenry that relied primarily on community and the family for support, sustenance, and employment.

In our present society, however, the traditional family has effectively ceased to exist as a defining institution. Adults live in the world as atomized “individuals” moving wherever their jobs send them. Their lives regularly carry them hundreds of miles away from friends and family and effectively uproot any new friendships they might form.
Next-door neighbors often don’t even know one another or otherwise have minimal contact.

Each ethnic group and economic class within each ethnic group live in separate worlds.

In particular, members of the lesser nobility sequester themselves in gated communities and only shop in upscale stores. They do not suffer themselves to be seen by their inferiors.

Little sense of social unity or collective responsibility exists.

Everyone does what they want without regard for any community or shared purpose.

The result: a jungle defined by zero sum competition.

Under these circumstances, society can only continue to exist so long as some ponderous leviathan keeps order.

Thus modern mass industrial societies are inevitably pulled towards a ‘socialist’ system whether the citizenry likes it or not.

In a society that fails to maintain its own clan and family support networks, the government has no choice but to step in. Otherwise there’s millions of excluded, hungry people who are going to going to have bread riots in the streets.
An atomized society cannot exist without some kind of welfare program to keep the ‘losers’ of relentless zero sum gaming placated for another month.

If people are unwilling, unable, too busy to take care of aging family members, the government has to step in and confiscate enough of the society’s wealth to ensure that grandma doesn’t live her last years in a cardboard box.

When traditional systems of social shaming break down because of general social anonymity, criminals cannot be discouraged by the mere disapproval of others or antiquated humiliation punishments such as tarring and feathering.
When millions of dysfunctional single parent ‘families’ fail to socialize their children and churn out bumper crops of criminals…
If the people can’t keep lawbreakers in check or control their own children the state has to step in and do it for them.
Millions of people get locked up in publicly funded prisons.

In a society in which everyone must work just to pay the bills, schools become daycares run at public expense. Otherwise millions of aimless youths would swarm the streets.

When the wealthy classes forswear their responsibilities to the society that gave them their wealth. The government has no choice but to chase them down and extract a pound of flesh just to keep their paradise playgrounds protected from the underclasses for another day.

We can’t just “have it all” in real life.
Those who endlessly decry ‘socialism’ have failed to understand:
In a society where we want complete ‘freedom’ without caring about the consequences, someone has to clean up after us.
And they can’t do that for free.

Could An Ancient Slave Driver Provide Better Healthcare Than Your Modern Doctor?

Builds Upon: Epigenetic Effects of Malnutrition? ,
The System Gets What It Selects For

For a savvy buyer of horses in the 19th century, looking at the teeth was like reading rings on a tree stump. Though the horse might have been treated well in preparation for market, all the seasons of scarcity and abuse before would be evident.
The outer hair and skin can be tweaked, trimmed, polished, and flattered in countless ways.
The teeth however, reveal age, diet, an entire life history.

The 19th century horse buyer probably didn’t fully understand all the exact reasons why examining the mouth was so important.
But the incentives were correctly aligned: he had a direct self interest in purchasing the best horse possible.
Let’s suppose this man who bought the horse also ran a stagecoach business in which his horses were worked every day.
It was in his interests to keep his profit margins up by taking care of his money-generating horses as best as possible.

Now let’s consider a similar type of professional whose specialty is members of his own species: a slave driver.
Let’s take an overseer from the Ancient Mediterannean, the American South… you get the idea.
Obviously if the market was saturated in the aftermath of a conquest, slaves were probably treated brutally and worked to death with little care for their livelihood.
But let’s assume we’re looking at some time period where the supply of slaves was mainly determined by the slow human rate of human reproduction and their value was high.

Now let’s pretend for a moment that we’re an overseer.

Not only does our boss have a certain amount of work he wants done, we’re in direct competition with other overseers even if we’re meeting all the quotas. If the people we’re responsible for are sick and unproductive, the master isn’t likely to listen to our excuses if someone else consistently outperforms us.

All the incentives point to finding out what works, no matter what it takes.
If there isn’t any obvious way to meet our goals, we have to find a way.

Thus for anything short of advanced surgery, I’ve often wondered:
If I became ill, might a taskmaster do a better job of restoring me to health than a modern MD?
After all, a doctor doesn’t lose their job if they fail to solve the problem. They can just chalk it up to ‘natural causes’ and move on to the next patient.

—————–

1.
I’m not suggesting that the doctor is wrong or that he’s performed any kind of
malpractice.
Rather, beyond a certain level of inconvenience and difficulty, he will let nature take its course. The incentives for him to perform well are relatively weak.

The overseer doesn’t have this option. He’s forced to find clever ways to prevent natural causes from taking an undesirable course.

2.
The overseer has an opportunity to observe and interact with his subjects across a period of time. He can get to know all the important patterns and try out different solutions.

Meanwhile, a doctor usually gets called in when possibly preventable problems have snowballed into an emergency situation. There’s little time for experimentation. The doctor is forced to rely on a set of procedures taught to him by his guild. The patient is a stranger. He often has to make decisions with very little knowledge of the patient’s personal history.

3.
A modern doctor usually just has to patch people up well enough that they can work a desk job. Short cut medications that result in drowsiness and lethargy are acceptable solutions.

The taskmaster has to get his sick people back to physical labor at 100% capacity as quickly as possible.

4.
A doctor’s job is done when his treatments have been applied.

The taskmaster has to always be looking ways to sharpen his game. Even when his charges
are in perfect health and behaving well, it still behooves him to look for ways to get an
edge over his competitors. Always room to improve.

——————-

It’s occurred to me that in the dark recesses of historical libraries there must be
elaborate texts on the health and care of slaves. If we were to dig up some of these documents, might we not find valuable knowledge?

Previously, I mentioned a curious dentist who noticed an important pattern during his worldwide travels: that crooked teeth and poorly formed skeletal structure correlated with nutrient poor modern diets and especially with a lack of vitamins A and K.

Ought we to be surprised, then if an overseer from thousands of years ago looked into the mouths of modern children with braces and retainers and recognized instantly both the nature of the problem and how it could have been prevented?
Though the overseer would not have the remotest clue what a vitamin is, perhaps self interest might have pushed him to acquire an understanding of human health and physiology in some ways beyond that of modern health professionals.

If we were to compile the knowledge of ancient taskmasters into a modern health book, hide the nature of the original sources by publishing it under a single nondescript pseudonym, give it a faddish title, furnish it with a charismatic spokesperson… might it be a bestseller? A bestseller that would crash overnight if fans ever discovered where all that useful information really came from?

Food Commodities vs. Food Products

Builds Upon: Supermarkets, the Illusion of Overchoice,
The Absolute Value of Material Goods,
Objective Cheapness

Every brand has a company behind it that has obtained some resources and made them into a ‘product.’
We tend to buy these products without asking ourselves:

-Has the company added value to the resources they started with?
-No change?
-Have they actually degraded the useful value of the initial resources?

Consider prepackaged salad greens and pre-sliced produce sold at a 300-400% markup from the base commodity even though only minimal value has been added by saving the customer a few minutes of time.
The moment a mushroom gets sliced up and wrapped in plastic, it stops being a mushroom. It becomes a ‘product.’

How far removed is a breakfast cereal from the grains it was made of? The price tag is very telling.
If we compare a pound of puffed rice to a pound of rice the difference is enormous. The cereal is likely 300-400% more expensive.
Thus, the cereal ought to return 3-4 times the value of the rice, right?

In fact, the high heat processes used to make the cereal have destroyed most of the nourishing value of the original rice!

The pre-packaged produce and the cereal are colossal ripoffs.
The price includes:

-extra packaging

-extra processing

-extra middlemen who must take their cut.

-advertising

-a longer logistics chain (food also going to be less fresh)

-consumer demand from emotional attachments to the brand and its advertising

-demand from lack of critical thinking about costs and benefits.(Effectively a market share of others’ failure to look after their best interests!)

-“convenience tax”: the penalty for buying in small individually packaged portions.

If we instead move towards the original commodity by buying a pound of rice, we cut useless corporate middlemen out of the picture, leaving only those who actually create value.
Furthermore, every additional middleman makes the system more complex. More complexity means more points of failure in which our food could be degraded or contaminated. This is a legitimate concern when these companies have little reason to care what they churn out so long as it doesn’t immediately poison consumers.

Not only do we deprive middlemen of opportunities to screw us,

-An entire factory devoted to degrading the resources it starts with is discouraged.

-A whole bloated army of parasitic advertisers, marketers, corporate lawyers misses out on a bit of its payday.

-We avoid purchasing a whole slough of intangible baggage associated with the brand name.

Only those who actually produce the food and bring it to market get our money!
Whenever we make a purchase we have an opportunity to cast a vote against the superfluous, the wasteful, the inefficient, and the incompetent!

Better still, as one approaches the original commodity, one is increasingly likely to be able to buy in bulk.
If one buys a 25 pound bag of rice of instead of a one pound bag, the price per pound is far less.
An added bonus: at popular stores with high merchandise turnover, the bulk items are often the freshest and highest quality.

Yet brands thrive because they are symbols of social belonging in industrialized cultures. One might be thought strange by one’s friends for bringing a dirt cheap 10 pound sack of in shell unsalted peanuts to a party. But it would be perfectly normal to show up with an overpriced little jar of brand name peanuts that have been cooked in cottonseed oil and coated with MSG.

Because of the critical importance of social belonging, companies with popular brands can not only charge more, they have less incentive to offer a quality product. It’s not the food people are after as much as it is the image.

As such, buying bulk food commodities is a form of arbitrage.
Not only are they higher in quality than processed brand name foods, there is less demand for them among the general populace.

Can we imagine one company marketing a sexy, exciting, cool potato for the younger generation and a steady dependable potato for baby boomers?
Advertising becomes much more difficult when it’s the same inglorious lumpy sack of russet-burbanks just sitting there.
You get what you see.
In this situation, corporations have much less room to boost their profit margins with deceptive practices and appeals to emotion. The item they’re trying to sell is nearly identical to what their competitors are bringing to market, thus their profit margins are kept to the market price just as employees’ wages are stuck to a market price.

When employers purchase our labor, they are our bosses.
When we purchase goods from our employers we are the bosses!
By failing to look after our best interests in the market place, we cede power to our employers and allow the equilibrium to shift in their favor. Can you imagine a company paying employees more than it has to simply because it’s too lazy to figure out the market price for labor?

Buying commodities first is a way of keeping the corporations on a short leash just as our corporate bosses keep us collared and leashed every minute of every working day.
In one action you oppose:
-A hollow post-industrial concept of atomized ‘individuality’.
-A shallow socialite marketplace in which chatty, flashy substance sells over form.
-Undeserved profit that actually undermines our power over our lives and actively subsidizes the cartels that run our government and decide whether or not we get to eat and keep a roof over our heads.

Perhaps, most significantly of all, by avoiding the name brand product, one secedes from a superficial, self-destructive, and hostile modern mass culture.

In an enlightened economy, I could easily imagine a business phenomenon that would push many other retailers out of the market, especially in hard times with low wages steadily losing their already meager purchasing power.
Imagine a supermarket that just had bins, barrels, and drums of commodities with no brands in sight.
No unnecessary packaging, bags, or plastic. Customers could just bring whatever containers they like from home. There could be cheap burlap sacks to sell to customers in case they don’t have anything suitable with them.

Beyond a critical mass impact on suppliers, no existing retail model could possibly compete with the low prices such a business could offer.
The only reason no such model exists is because too many customers have grown indolent in watching out for their best interests and don’t even recognize that they’re being systematically parasitized.
Even where the odd shopper might connect the dots, money cannot buy most goods in commodity form in industrialized countries. Nearly everything has been swarmed over by micropackaged brand scams that force the customer to pay more.

Epigenetic Effects of Malnutrition?

Some years ago, I heard a tale of prison violence. Or rather, I heard of a prison that become much less violent after a seemingly trivial change: a more nutritious diet.

My first thought was that this seemed counterintuitive. I would have guessed that better nourished people are much more capable of being violent. So clearly there was an important principle at work that I had failed to understand.
Why would better food suddenly and dramatically cause a bunch of people with histories of violence to be less violent than before? Why with all these people crammed together, sharing the same space, would their habits ever change?

I think this problem must have simmered on a very far back burner until I started reading about epigenetics, the way environmental circumstances change how genes are expressed. I kept reading about all these creatures that undergo abrupt changes based on what is going on around them. Alpha males of various species go through visible physical changes to signal dominance as soon as they assume power. Certain hermaphroditic species change gender in response to their reproductive needs.

So why ought not human gene expression also be highly dependent on the circumstances of the environment? Surely this might explain the dramatic changes in behavior such as a sudden decrease in patterns of violent behavior.

After thinking about it a bit, I started to perceive patterns that seemed to make a lot more sense.

-What does a properly nourished person gain from behaving violently towards other people? Very little in proportion to the risks involved. Thus one might expect their body to shift hormones and activate instinctive protocols to discourage violence.

-If malnourished, perhaps the body perceives the threat of scarcity and starvation. Hormonal profile changes to encourage violent, selfish behavior. Instincts drive the individual to competition before cooperation.

Though few people actually starve in industrialized societies, millions starve for quality nutrients. Like a thirsty shipwreck survivor surrounded by ocean water, 1st world citizens often binge on empty calories only to find their cravings remain unabated.
Even in the midst of abundance, then, might their bodies perceive scarcity and shift survival strategy accordingly?
Might this help explain the seemingly illogical aggressive zero sum behavior that has become prevalent in industrialized nations?

When elderly people describe a more benevolent world in their youth, have they fallen victim to wishful nostalgia as we so often assume, or do they perceive very real epigenetic differences in the population?

Another thought in this vein: I’ve long been fascinated by the Weston A. Price foundation.
This is not to say I believe in or follow everything they say any more than I do a doctor’s advice just because of his big shot credentials…
But this organization’s analysis of diet, nutrition, and its link to the nature of human societies makes by far the most sense. The ever changing “food pyramid” promoted by “official” sources and the diet “plans” of profiteering health gurus are sad jokes in comparison to these people’s insights.

In their materials they make some important connections between malnutrition early in life and later developments.
It is already well known that children that are starved early on experience stunted growth, both physically and mentally.
But since Weston A. Price was a dentist, he looked at people’s teeth wherever in the world he went. He found that poorly formed teeth and facial structure had a high correlation with the prevalence of modern industrial diets, especially those in which children were deprived of vitamin A rich foods.

This really flipped a switch in my head: I’d grown up surrounded by kids with braces and retainers. It had always been just normal that some people genetically had bad teeth and mouths. No one thought about it.

Yet another aspect of my birth society was turned upside down when I realized that in fact the commonality of crooked teeth might not be normal, but an indicator of malnutrition on a societal, institutional level.
In my time teaching English in South Korea, I quickly saw why there is a prevalent stereotype of nearsighted, bucktoothed Asians. Because it’s true.
Their cuisine includes virtually no foods with vitamin A(Westerners at least have dairy) and both poor bone formation and poor eyesight are classic symptoms of vitamin A deficiency during childhood. Not only did my Korean students have crooked teeth, I’d roughly estimate about a quarter to a third of them were already wearing glasses before the age of 11. And I couldn’t tell how many were wearing contacts.

My point here: If childhood vitamin deficiency has permanent effects on the human body, might it also have permanent effects on an individual’s epigenetically determined behavioral predispositions. If so, might we have a better understanding why agricultural societies that rely on just a few monotonous or nutritionally incomplete staple foods tend to be tumultuous, violent, and selfish far beyond any level that makes sense?
In societies where even kings and millionaires might in some ways be malnourished, might they in part be acting out an instinctual protocol meant for conditions of scarcity?
If the bodies and subconscious instincts of most people perceived abundance, would rates of violence plummet just as in prisons and society as a whole become more cooperative in nature?

A final, and unpleasant speculation for this post:
Might people’s instinctual unfavorable reactions to ‘ugly’ people with poorly formed facial features and teeth go beyond reproductive strategy? Might it also be an inborn defense measure against those who are most likely to be predisposed to desperate measures?