As we reach the end of 2008, the magic of money and the market place is quickly losing its luster. The following essay was first posted here in 2001. It seems more relevant today. From the SynEARTH Archives.
What is so wrong with just making money?
Timothy Wilken, MD
Making money is not the same as creating life support. Elsewhere I have defined mutual life support to be synergic wealth. Money was defined as neutral wealth. We humans are an interdependent species. We meet our needs by making exchanges in the marketplace. Supply and demand often determines the value of things that we need. High demand raises the value of a particular good, as does low supply. It is scarcity that gives everything its maximum value.
The laws of supply and demand were originally formulated by Adam Smith before the invention of advertising. Advertising is a powerful tool designed to create demand. This tool is a constant and insideous companion to modern life. It is enormously effective at creating demand. You can’t watch television, listen to radio, read a magazine, or even drive on the public highways without being bombarded with advertising. This prolific advertising creates a strong demand for products and services that have little or no benefit to humankind.
Most of this advertising created demand is for our wants not for our needs. Wants and needs are not the same.
I want a Mercedes, but I need transportation.
I want a gold Rolex, but I need to know the time.
I want Gucci loafers, but I only need shoes.
I want a million dollar architectually designed home, but I only need safe, comfortable housing.
Our present culture is dominated by the idea that more is always better than less–that expensive is always better than inexpensive. Two phrases in common use today encapsulate this attitude: “The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.” and “He who dies with the most toys wins!”
Scientists have discovered that Nature is always seeking more for less–always seeking maximum efficiency in all that she does. R. Buckminster Fuller called this principle of seeking more for less the “dymaxion” way.
This is of course simply another way of stating the “Principle of Least Action”. In science the most elegant solution is the one that explains the most with the fewest variables. A synergic culture will be dominated by the dymaxion ideal. The best will be that which accomplishes the most with the least.
Doing more with less will makes more available to help others. Helping others so that you are helped in return is the operating basis of synergic culture. There our human wants will move towards congruence with our human needs.
But, back to the present world, today’s wants are not only more than we need, but they often are not even good for us.
I want a cigarette, but what I need is to relax.
I want a drink of alcohol, but what I need in to reduce the stress in my life.
I want an extra dessert, but what I need is more love in my life.
Much of what we want is not helpful for us and often times even harmful. But the laws of supply and demand respond as well to human wants as they do to human needs.
Those products most demanded whether for wants or needs are considered valuable. And it is the possession of valuable things that is the usually definition of wealth. This means in today’s world many harmful things are valuable–cocaine is very valuable, and possession of a ton of cocaine would make me wealthy.
In a synergic science, we make a major distinction between creating mutual life support or synergic wealth and just making money which is neutral wealth.
Synergic wealth is more than just what humans want or value. Synergic wealth is that which supports mutual human life. Synergic Wealth is defined as life itself and that which promotes human well being generally–that which satisfies the human needs of self and other–that which promotes mutual survival and makes life meaningful for self and other.
While money is considered wealth in our present neutral society, even here it is not really wealth. Money is a symbolic tool that can be used to represent real wealth. It was originally invented as a mechanism to protect real wealth. This distinction has been lost in our modern world. Today there is no distinction between money and real wealth.
Most of the activities found in today’s neutral cultures have as their only purpose the making of money. As R. Buckminster Fuller explains:
“Those who have learned how to make money with money–which money can never be anything but a medium of wealth exchanging–have now completely severed money from its constant functional identity with real wealth . . . About 90 percent of all U.S.A. employment is engaged in tasks producing no life-support wealth.”
If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. How can you tell if you are helping the human condition or simply making it worse?
You must ask yourself, am I creating real wealth with my actions and my leverage or am I just making money to purchase the life support I need? Do my actions and leverage create life support–that which promotes human well being–that which satisfies human needs–that which promotes both human survival and human meaning? Do I create the real wealth necessary to support myself and my family, or do I live off the real wealth created by others.
When we analyze our present world, we discover that most individuals in today’s world do not create the real wealth that supports them and their families. They live off the productivity of others. These are not obvious criminals or thieves. Most of them are completely ignorant of their unknowing participation in the plundering of their fellow humans. They are busy making money which in today’s world is easily exchanged for life support–real wealth.
If as Fuller tells us 90% of employed Americans are engaged in tasks that make money, but produce no real wealth, what are these Amercans doing?
Some of those making money, but producing no real wealth are involved in making products to satisfy human wants. In 1947 Buckminster Fuller coined the term Obnoxico to represent a fictious private-enterprise corporation whose only purpose was to exploit the “wants” of humanity to make money. As Fuller explains:
“In my theoretical Obnoxico’s catalog the number-one item suggested that on the last day that your baby wears diapers you very carefully remove them, repin them empty, and stuff them full of tissue paper in just the shape in which they were when last occupied by your baby. You pack this assembly carefully into a strong corrugated-paperboard container and send it to Obnoxico, which will base-metallize the diapers, then gold- or silverplate them and send them back to you to be filled with ferns and hung in the back window of your car. The easily forecastable profits from this one item ran into millions of dollars per year.
“Somehow or other the theoretical Obnoxico concept has now twenty-five years later become a burgeoning reality. Private enterpriseis now building airports with ever-longer walkways and hotels with ever-increasing numbers of levels of ground-floor and basement arcades to accommodate the ever-more-swiftly multiplying Obnoxico stores. “Human beings traveling away from home with cash in their pockets, thinking fondly of those left behind or soon-to-be-joined loved ones, are hooked by the realistic statuettes of four-year-old girls and boys with upturned faces saying in a cartoon “balloon,” “What did you bring me, Daddy?”
“As the banking system pleads for more saving-account deposits (so that they can loan your money out to others at interest plus costs) the Obnoxico industry bleeds off an ever-greater percentage of all the potential savings as they are sentimentally or jokingly spent for acrylic toilet seats with dollar bills cast into the transparent plastic material, two teddy bears hugging an alligator, etc..”
Look around today, and you will find no shortage of products that fit in with Fuller’s concept of “Obnoxico”. Television, radio, and our sunday newspapers are filled with ads for these silly products that are of little or no value to humanity. Those creating these obnoxious products are simply seeking to earn their livings by making money.
They are unaware that making money is not the same as creating life support.
Some of those making money, but creating no life support are engaged in selling products and services to satisfy human wants. Recall human wants are not human needs. Advertising is the creation of human wants so that individuals will buy products they don’t need so that others can make money.
In today’s great market, which is the very hallmark of our neutral society, enormous amounts of money and effort are spent in advertising to create human wants where none exist. When you really need something, do you require someone to inform you that you need it. I don’t think so. If you need something, you will automatically go and look for it.
Wants now are a very different case. I don’t know I want something until I see or hear an advertisement for it. It is estimated that $170, 000, 000, 000 is spent annually on advertising to generate demand for products and services that we almost never need. And the entire cost of all advertising is added on to the price of the products and services we are being urged to buy. As David Shenk explains:
“In 1971 the average American was targeted by at least 560 daily advertising messages. Twenty years later, that number had risen sixfold, to 3,000 messages per day. More than 1,000 telemarketing companies employ 4 million Americans, and generate $650 billion in annual sales. Today’s commercial messages have crept into every nook and cranny of our lives–onto our jackets, ties, hats, shirts, and wristbands; onto bikes, benches, cars, trucks, even tennis nets; onto banners trailing behind planes, hanging above sporting and concert events and now, in smaller form, bordering Internet Web pages; onto the sides of blimps hovering in the sky. Magazine ads now communicate not only through color and text but also through smell and even sound.”
This barrage of 3000 messages a day is not to sell us any thing that we really need. We don’t need advertising to urge us to meet our human needs. We may benefit from a directory, i.e. the Yellow Pages of the telephone book, or a catalogue of available products, but we certainly don’t require a constant bombardment of messages telling us where to get out needs met.
The purpose of advertising is to make money, not to create life support.
And it is very effective at making money by generating enormous demand for unneeded products and services to satisfy artificially created human wants.
Advertising injures humanity
Even, if we were somehow wise enough to ignore advertising and never purchased a single unneeded product or service, advertising would still be very damaging to the quality of our lives.
It intrudes into every facet of modern life, wastes so much of our precious time, and disrupts the very fabric of our lives.
Imagine a world without advertising. Imagine a world where magazines, newspapers, radio, and television contain no advertising. Take a few minutes to really imagine it.
It would be wonderful.
Some of those making money, but creating no life support are speculating in currencies, commodities, and of course the stock and bond markets. Speculators buy low and sell high. They do not invest in anything. They are seeking to gain a momentary price advantage and realize a quick profit. Their only interest is making money.
Today’s markets are such a large part of our political-economic world that most living humans assume they have always existed. This is of course not true as Hazel Henderson explains:
“Until the sixteenth century the notion of purely economic phenomena, isolated from the fabric of life, did not exist. Nor was there a national system of markets. That, too, is a relatively recent phenomena which originated in seventeenth century England.
“Of course markets have existed since the Stone Age, but they were based on barter, not cash, and so they were bound to be local. The motive of individual gain from economic activities was generally absent. The very idea of profit, let alone interest, was either inconceivable or banned.”
Day traders are new breed of speculator emerging in the current American stock market. These individuals are drawing a lot of attention by buying and selling stocks many times a day. They hold on to their purchases sometimes for only a few minutes to a few hours again seeking to buy low and sell high.
Collectively, all these speculators are having a large effect on the global economy. Henderson explains:
“Regulators and central bankers were forced into collective action on a crisis basis after the 1994-95 Mexican peso crisis, since none could defend their currencies, even in concert. Central bankers’ policies are defeated each day by the collective action of currency traders staging “bear raids” on weak currencies at will. U.S. treasury Secretary Robert Tubinand and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan’s efforts to coordinate thirteen countries’ central banks to boost the dollar prior to the June 1995 Economic Summit meeting between the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, France, and Japan and later efforts gave only short-lived warning to currency traders–at a cost to their respective taxpayers of over $2 billion each. Increasingly, central banks will have to shift from managing domestic money supply to focusing on global aggregates. No longer is it only developing countries that are swamped by waves of hot money washing across thier borders. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the total stock of financial assets traded in global capital markets will increase from $35 trillion in 1992 to $83 trillion in 2000.”
Speculators do not create life support. They are only making money. And all the money they make through this process is at the expense of life support created by someone else. Speculators do not really invest in anything. But what about the Stock Market? Surely, this is a place where real investment takes place in companies that are creating life support.
It depends of course on whether I invest in a company creating products and services that support life, or I invest in a company just making money by creating products and services to satisfy human wants. But let us suppose, I do invest in a company creating life support then surely my investment is contributing to the creation of life support. The following description is found on the internet at the Financial Forecast Center.
How the Stock Market works
“It all starts when a company wants to raise money to invest in something they think will be profitable, such as a new manufacturing process, more production capacity, or a new product. The company can do this a number of ways, but the two most popular are to borrow the money or sell part of the company. Borrowing the money is usually done by issuing a “bond” which is a promise to repay the borrowed money with interest.
“The next most popular way for a company to get money is to sell “stock” in the company. This is essentially selling a bit of the company in return for a promise of getting a split of the profits when there are profits to split. Stocks are also called “equity” because the owner of the stock has equity, or part ownership, of the company.
“When a company is formed, or incorporated, it sets up a certain amount of stock, which is worth about as much as the paper it is printed on–stock in its infancy carries no real value outside of the company. When the original owner of the company needs to raise money, he has to find good natured people with money to burn and sell this stock person by person, one person at a time. A share of stock signifies the holder owns some fraction of the company and allows the owner to enjoy part of the profits of the company. The stock may have a “face value” given to it when the company was formed, but you couldn’t walk into a grocery store with $10 worth of this stock and buy a loaf of bread.
“As the company becomes even larger and needs to raise even more money (usually several hundred million dollars), the stock will be offered on the open market. This is when it gets interesting. An initial public offering is made of so many shares of stock at a predetermined price, say $15 a share. People who invest in the stock market usually read the Wall Street Journal looking for initial public offerings, or IPO’s. At the moment the stock is sold to a shareholder it is worth its selling price of $15 a share. Now, you could turn around and sell it for $15 dollars to someone else and then go buy a loaf of bread, if someone is willing to pay you $15 dollars for it. The stock has now gone from being held by a few owners of the company, who would have a hard time selling it, to being held by thousands of owners who could sell it more easily because it is now being traded at stock exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange or via the NASDAQ.
“Soon after trading hands a few time, the people buying the stock now determine the value of the stock by what they are willing to pay for it. Sometimes the price of a stock that sold for $15 a share at its initial public offering will drop like a rock. Other times, it will skyrocket. The value of the stock is set by many, many people trading it in a free market. And even though a person buying a share of stock may be a hundred times removed from the person originally buying the stock from the company at the IPO, that person still owns some teeny, tiny fraction of the company. I don’t know how they do it, but the company keeps track of all their stockholders, even if a person holds one share for a week.
“Sometimes the value of a share of stock is determined by crazes, such as the internet which tends to drive the price up quickly, but the price may also fall as quickly when the craze looses it “newness”. More often than not, the price of stock is set by how much profit the owner will receive, or dividend, and by the company’s current earnings and their prospects for future earnings. A company with little hope for the future will be frowned upon by the people wanting to buy their stock, and the buyer will not pay very much for it (its price usually doesn’t drop to $0 right away, as there are optimists and opportunist who will take a chance on disfavored stocks and will keep the price from falling to nothingness over night).
“It’s just like trading baseball cards. When stock is traded on the open market, the only reason it is worth so much is because there is someone out there willing to pay that much for it. No magic, no mystery.”
The stock market is really two different markets–the primary market for new shares and the secondary market for existing shares. The primary market is where companies offer new securities for sale to the public. When a company first joins the Stock Exchange their initial public offering is made offering new shares to the public. Also established companies listed on the Stock Exchange from time to time may issue additional new shares to raise additional money. It is this selling of new shares in this primary market that raises money for companies. Once the public has purchased these new shares, they are then free to turn around and trade these now existing shares as they like in the secondary market.
The proceeds from such trades goes entirely to the shareholder. Sales of existing shares in the secondary market does not raise money for the companies. Now the vast majority of stocks bought and sold every day are existing shares in this secondary market. Most investors are not seeking the small return that comes from dividends paid by the companies on the stocks they purchased, but rather hope that the market value of these shares will increase enough so that they will profit when they sell later.
Again, we have a case of buying low and selling high–we are just making money rather than creating life support. Buying and selling stock is almost completely divorced from the companies whose shares are purchased. The rise and fall of stock prices often have little or nothing to do with the real value or health of the companies themselves.
The stock market has become like a global casino. Will I get lucky. Will I buy low and sell high. Will I make money. There is no thought of creating life support.
Some of those making money, but creating no life support are dwelling in the cracks between the creators of life support. These cracks have been created by our adversary-neutral government.
Crack dwellers include the service industry that surrounds the Stock Market. You are not allowed to purchase stocks or bonds directly. You require a stock broker to be sure that you pay a commission everytime a trade is made. Commissions are paid with every buy and every sell.
The stock brokers are always winners regardless of whether the stocks go up or down. They make lots of money, but of course create no life support.
Government employees are fully supported by by tax dollars. The American government (federal, state, and local) consumed 44% of our national income in 1996. To the extent that government action does not help the people, and certainly in all instances where it hurts the people, this represents plunder–crack-dwellers. Our government wastes much of the national income it siezes in the name of the public good. As Hazel Henderson explains:
“As most U.S. citzens know, state and local governments in the United States are often the most corrupt, dominated by financial and corporate special interests. Local politicians almost routinely line their pockets, thanks to inside information on where airports, roads, and other projects are to be sited, allowing profits for politicians and their friends from real estate and construction deals.”
Accountants and attorneys spend many hours working in the cracks between the people and the government. They are living off the productivity of their clients–crack dwellers.
Before you buy a house a Title Search is legally required. Fees are charged for this service that is many times greater than its real value. Fuller told us that the Banking industry collected over $1 billion in 1978 just for transferring home-ownership deeds–crack-dwellers.
The entire Real Estate Industry is based on government licensed Realtors getting into the cracks between the buyer and seller and “earning” 12% of the selling price of the house–crack-dwellers.
Once a home is sold it must be financed and here again the banking industry charges “points” to originate the loan in addition to the prevailing interest of the moment–crack-dwellers.
Today’s health care system is full of crack-dwellers. Occupying the cracks between the providers and users of health care, some CEOs of today’s modern HMOs are “earning” as much as $400 million a year by denying needed health care to their members. As a practicing Physician, I now spend hours each week playing “may I help my patients” with clerks who know nothing of medicine but are instructed in blocking all requests for authorization–crack-dwellers.
Insurance clerks at some of our largest Health Insurance companies routinely throw away every third claim they receive on the basis that this practice will significantly delay payment, and if the insurance company is lucky as many as one third of providers will not rebill–crack-dwellers.
These are only a few examples. If you look around, you will discover that our adversary-neutral world makes cracks between every buyer and seller–between every producer and consumer.
Today many modern humans are living in the cracks “earning their livings” off the productivity of others.
What’s so wrong with wanting things?
Human wanting will survive a synergic revolution. In a synergic culture we humans will also want things that we may not need. But our wants won’t be artificially generated just so someone else can make money. This change will mean an end to unsolicited advertising.
Some would argue that this would mean an end to free television, or cheap newspapers. I would argue that commerical television, and newspapers full of adverstisments are neither free nor cheap. When we purchase any advertised product we are paying for our “free” televison and our “cheap” newspaper. And, this ignores all the time we waste being distracted by misdirected advertisements.
When humans have need for a product or service, they will take action to meet their needs. Clear and easily accessible information about all available products and services will be a part of synergic culture. However, advertising as we know it today will go the way of the dinosaur.
What’s wrong with just making money?
The money makers in today’s world are among the most respected and admired. The vast majority of humanity thinks there is nothing wrong with just making money since they are completely unaware of the difference between just making money and creating life support.
Of course the difference is that making money is making neutral wealth, but it is not creating synergic wealth. Those just making money are often the “winners” in the neutral-adversary reality of our modern world. But the price humanity pays for this minority to win is the necessity for the majority of living humans to lose.
Those who just make money still need life support. They get it by trading their Neutral wealth–money for Synergic wealth–life support. If as Fuller tells us 90% of Americans are just making money then only 10% of Americans are creating life support. No wonder the majority of humans are losing.
The truth is especially hard to believe if it requires that we take action–if it requires that we change. If humanity is to have a future, we must take action–we must change. If humanity is to have a future, we must believe the truth.
Read More on Ortegrity and on Sociocracy Read a Synergic Version of Robert’s Rules of Order Read the Synergic Future Series: 1) Beyond Property 2) Redefining Wealth 3) Synergic Wealth 4) Synergic Wealth II: Deepening Our Understanding 5) Trustegrities — Protecting the Future and 6) Synergic Guardians — Protecting the Future.