It never ceases to amaze me how certain old hacked arguments serve as fundamental excuses to do or say more than the the consequence bears. To me in the end it all represents nothing much more than uneconomic thinking - a kind of rationality that appreciates reason, but cannot stand the fact that everything isn't always reasonable. It is, I imagine, at the very least some measure of healthy hope and faith in mankind, but often more resembles religious devotion of the intolerant sort.
There are two arguments I have in mind at the moment, the first being oddly placed as a point against today's Republicans. This is that the fact that slaves held in America were counted as 3/5 of a person indicates a fundamental flaw with the Constitution. I don't really mean to go much into that debate, but I have recently been reminded that the Bill of Rights was not ratified until the end of 1791. That was two years after the Constitution itself was adopted, superceding the Articles of Confederation which had been authored in 1777 and enacted in 1781. So the very essence of what we consider our freedom, the right of free speech, our First Amendment right wasn't manifest until 15 and a half years after the beginning of the Revolution, a violent rebellion which itself could be counted as begun with the murder of Attucks in 1770.
Did it take 21 years for America to recognize the right of free speech? No. It took the process that long to officially ratify that which they held in their hearts for all that time.
But the central argument I wish to counter is the idea that American consumption make us immoral when it in fact employs the world. You should by now be familiar with the anti-American syllogism which begins, America has only 5% of the world's population but consumes... and then some multiple of that 5% and the subsequent admonishments for us to cut back, repent and beg the global south for forgiveness. Except that the global south are doing their best to supply us with what we desire, and so earn their fortunes.
That is the sum essence of my argument, easily refutable if one cares to I imagine. But it does honestly puzzle me to determine how the American standard of living does such presumed damage to the standards of living elsewhere on the planet. I've paid attention to one commodity it can be said we rather hoard and gulp at absurd volumes and that is chocolate. You'll scarcely find any American who is abashed by their desire and few who would think that giving up chocolate will 'save the planet' and 'help the developing world'. But there is no other crop I can think of whose production is more worthy of the sorts of environmentalist alarms we hear applied to all of our 'excess' appetites. World cocoa production is an increasingly expensive proposition, supply struggles to meet demand, comes from Third World countries like Cote DIvoire and Cameroon, is controlled by wealthy families with names like Ghirardelli, Mars and Hershey and multinational conglomerates like Nestle. What's not to protest?
But if Americans suddenly stopped eating chocolate, would they stop being so 'evil'? If Americans stopped buying second cars or expensive cell phones or different clothing for every season of the year, who would be better off? If Nike stopped making shoes in China, what would those Chinese do? Who is going to pay to re-educate the shoe factory worker? Who is going to find out what Americans are going to buy so much of next that it employs people on the other side of the globe?
I am often amazed at the arrangements that make it possible to build something made from raw materials in one country, assembled in another and shipped as product to a third. Yes, a preponderance of that global traffic ends up at Walmart, Sears and Target. There's surely a pile of it here in my house. I'm affluent. I buy stuff I want but don't need. I'm upper middle class. I signify about the brand and the quality rather than be satified by the function. I'm wasteful. I replace rather than repair. This is a cultural thing. It generates surplus work. I certainly could save, I could stop my conspicuous and constant consumption of multiple streams of household goods and services. I could go downscale, and often plan ways to do so. But I'll take down a lot of folks with me, and so would you if you stopped buying.
The difference between December and January in the IT business is often budgetary and often holiday related, both are cultural. They way people buy consulting services up in the domain where we bill like surgeons and attorneys often depends on conventions of lumping several hundreds of thousands of dollars together into non-trivial decision packages for funding projects. The demand is out there but the supply waits for the word 'go'. It's more reliable than fishing, but just as frustrating. There is nothing, and then within a week or two, there is everything all at once. We all wait for demand to speak up. We watch with anticipatory fever as it digs into its pocket and produces the moola. We sit around by the phone waiting for his minions to tell us when he's ready to bargain with us for what we do. We stand on the corner waiting to flag him down.
But what if he decides to just stay home and watch TV? What if he decides to sit on his zillions and just play golf with his friends instead of fund our fabulous idea? What if he decides that he's trying to cut down all the time we've been learning to bake cake?
Human appetites are predictable. What do we want? We want everything and we want more of it. We demand. And in demanding, we create reasons for others (who are ourselves) to make themselves useful. In the honest exchange is a circle of life. It is economical. It goes to the core of why we do things, the choices we make and our convoluted decisions. Our demands are real, and they form the essence of human necessity. It is the call that cannot be ignored and the service that cannot be refused. It is our way to satisfaction. It cannot be arbitrarily branded as evil simply because of the fractions of who demands and who supplies and from whence these human actions come. The only righteousness supply and demand require is an honest exchange and a fair price.