The problem with capitalism, as any fool know, is that it is an insatiable system that relies on satiable institutions and individuals.

Umm, the usual assumption is that while individual individual desires are indeed satiable (it is, much to the surprise of many, entirely possible to eat too much chocolate) the sum of individual desires is not. Even if we had sufficient chocolate, world peace, an end to poverty and a pony each there\’d still be some bastards complaining about not living forever….and if that complaint were fixed then it would be an insufficiency of orgasms, or of really good ones, or the lack of time when one is not being pressured to provide such or damnnit, that kitten is insufficiently cute.

So, if you\’re going to start your analysis of capitalism or any other human societal form of organisation from that completely batshit starting point, well, you\’re going to become something of a cropper with your conclusions, aren\’t you?

4 thoughts on “Eh?”

  1. He seems to be trying to say, that much of what we buy is purely in response to advertising that fans the flames of desires one didn’t know one had (such as for a £550 Louis Vuitton i-pod case made of red alligator skin, as seen while perusing GQ at the hairdresser’s today) or, as in the case of those diet books, a combination of wishful thinking and advertising that provokes guilt.

    He may have a point when it comes to cigarettes being sold to women – until the war a previously untargeted market ‘seduced’ by the association of cigarettes with emancipation and freedom, but tobacco is addictive, so quickly began to sell itself.

    Where he goes wrong is assuming people’s desire to buy ‘stuff’ now is any different than what was desired while walking through a souk or village market 100 or 500 or 1,000 years ago.

    Humans are always tempted by abundance, and shiny, beautiful, nice smelling, delicious and addictive things once we see them – even if not before – and we’ll buy consumer goods we shouldn’t, or can’t really afford *even* when there are taxes and legislation to discourage us.

    That’s why markets are such fun, and why there are people who’d actually buy a £550 i-pod case made of £5 worth of leather and 50p’s worth of labour, and why capitalism works.

  2. The point I’m making is that, materially speaking, people are satiable, whereas, materially speaking, capital is not.

    To solve this problem, material products start to be sold with the promise of serving immaterial, unsatiable desires, such as the ones (cultural, political, sexual, metaphysical) you give examples of. Advertising is what is employed to achieve this.

    I doubt you hold JM Keynes in very high regard, but he famously believed that by the end of the 20th century people would be working only a few hours a week, given the way in which productivity increases. He naively assumed that people’s needs would plateau, allowing their leisure time to expand, whereas the opposite has happened. You are welcome to reply ‘well obviously!’ but I find it less obvious and more interesting than that.

    Tim adds: “allowing their leisure time to expand, whereas the opposite has happened.” Eh? No, I don’t think people are yet materially satiated, but that comment of yours is just plain wrong. People do have more leisure now than they did 50/60 years ago. We all work much shorter hours now than they did then. (Add in unpaid work in hte household as well as paid work in hte workplace, of course, for we are comparing total work against leisure, aren’t we?)

    And nce en has anyone needed to use advertising to “create” sexual desires in human bings?

  3. ‘He naively assumed that people’s needs would plateau, allowing their leisure time to expand, whereas the opposite has happened.’

    Ha. To begin with, someone hasn’t ever tried to run a household without electricity – so sans washing machine, dishwasher, and hoover – or indoor plumbing – so no hot water, etc.

    That’s without staff to fetch and carry, of course. The life of the average woman, at least, is rather better off now than it was 100 years ago as regards leisure time.

    For a greater number of people than ever before, our needs *are* being met because we actually need very little – enough food to survive, shelter and warmth, conditions sanitary enough to prevent illness, enough of a sex drive to reproduce, not too many enemies.

    We *want* a lot – no limits there.;)

  4. Venture Creature

    It always amuses me that “induction of demand” is supposed to be a bad thing that makes us buy cars, handbags, bad clothes and other geegaws etc.

    Whereas if I am induced to buy Mozart CDs, concert tickets, improving evening classes in Marxian Economics , etc that is a good thing.

    I still remember a claim in an early Tibor Scitovsky book (The Joyless Economy) on economic psychology claiming satiation in squirrels’ choices between nuts and water (yes really). They measured time spent on each and showed that squirrels would only eat and drink so much – and felt this argued for satiable wants , but had neglected to consider a “total-time spent” budget line and what else the squirrels were up to. They only proved that squirrels had richer lives that the experimenters imaged. Once you considered their total time spent any evidence satiation went away – the squirrels just had to ascribe some value to other activities.

    While human ingenuity continues to find new ways to entertain human desire there is no real limit to value growth and no satiation of demand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *