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    Huxleyan Economics

    June 19, 2006 by Brandy Vencel

    Over Memorial Day weekend, Kim was kind enough to allow me to borrow her copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Si and I have been reading it aloud in the evenings, and we have finally finished. There is a lot to discuss when one considers a futuristic novel, but I don’t really want to do a series of reviews. I simply want to talk about the New World’s economic system {where consumption and indulgence literally make the world go ’round}, and explain how I think it resembles this modern world.

    First, a couple quotes from the book to set the stage:

     

    “We condition the masses to hate the country,” concluded the Director. “But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport.

    * * * * *

    “There isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant. And as for doing things…It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own.”

    “What about self-denial, then? If you had a God, you’d have a reason for self-denial.”

    “But industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.”

     

    The last couple on sentences, in particular, brought back to me vivid reminders of all of the economic reports that are so prevalent during Christmas shopping “season.” If sales are up and reaching new highs, everyone is happy. If sales are down, there is great cause to worry about the state of the economy. I have actually felt a sort of pressure from such reports, as if some sort of civic duty were performed when I consumed goods. Of course, I value frugality and a simple life too much to actually bow to such pressure, but it doesn’t mean the pressure isn’t felt.

    And though U.S. citizens are not formally conditioned in a neo-Pavlovian manner to engage in excessive consumption, I would say that marketing essentially accomplishes the same task. Think of all the money large corporations spend using advertising to convince customers that it is necessary to replace, for example, a perfectly good cell phone with one that has more bells and whistles and performs a wider range of functions. And this happens over and over, especially in the arena of electronics. One may not be programmed by the government to consume {as Huxley postulated}, but corporations aim to convince one to do so through enticement instead.

    Has this country built an enconomy that is dependent on self-indulgence? Does consumption make the US Economy keep running? Date-Dabitur author often mentions economic indicators in his posts. Here are a couple samples I thought worth tying into this conversation:

     

    [Here is a] great example of how “economic indicators” are misleading. When moms stay home with their children and take them to the garden center with them, the only contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are the purchased vegatables and the gas used to make the trip. But if these same mothers took jobs and put their children into daycare – ooops – I mean preschool – then just think of the growth in GDP. The measurable economic output will grow as the mothers pay for tuition and snappy new clothes, and grow even more as the preschools purchase schoolbuses and leashes. {Date-Dabitur}

    * * * * *

    For an interesting mental exercise in economics, consider an idyllic Shire where all the people help one another with their troubles, and no money changes hands when someone helps you fix your car, tends to you when you’re sick, helps you paint the house, brings you a meal, helps you get your plowing done, etc. In such a community there would be very little measurable economic output, only those things which were purchased from outsiders and sold to outsiders would go into the calculations for gross domestic product.

    But along comes an industrial revolution to our quaint little Shire, and with everyone being a full-time wage earner, they have little time to help each other out. As a result, everyone has to pay someone to repair their car, pay for home-health care, pay a professional painter, buy fast-food from a restaurant when you can’t cook, and hire contractors to plow your field. Since money is now changing hands for all these activities, gross domestic product increases dramatically. Economists would hail this as “remarkable growth.” But is anything being “produced” that wasn’t being produced before? No, the only change is that these things are being bought and sold rather than cooperatively done by families in the community. So next time you hear that “the economy is growing,” ask yourself what that really means. {Date-Dabitur}

     

    Here is where I began seeing some antithesis forming. On the one hand, there is consumption, indulgence, and money changing hands. On the other hand, there is production {in the sense that a person performs certain services for themselves rather than purchasing them–like mothering versus daycare}, self-denial, and generosity. The former leads to a measurable economy. The latter, however, is more likely to lead to community.

    It is important to note that, in Huxley’s world, there was no family and no church. There were no ties to bind the citizens one to another — other than their excessive promiscuity, which was a fleeting rather than permanent connection. And those who were able to rise above their conditioning felt quite alone {if they did not drug away their negative sensations}.

    In the postulated “Shire,” there might be a “lower” standard of living, in the sense that the citizens would be quite unlikely to own the “latest” gadget or gizmo. But there would be God and family, marriage and fidelity, permanently binding ties, and acts of service that are “free of charge” to those living within the community.

    Reminds me of something…

     

    And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. {Acts 4:33-35}

     

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