Eve, Adam and the Market; or
How neither jobs nor the market can be reformed
by J.S. Larochelle, January 2005
"The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom,
but to set a limit to infinite error."
-- Bertolt Brecht, "The Life of Galileo" --
"What we want is a little money"
-- Sojourner Truth --
I use money to buy food, shelter and the other things I need to stay alive. Given that fewer and fewer of us have any direct access to land and water to feed and shelter ourselves, it's accurate to say it's money "alone" that prevents most of us from being killed by poverty.
For example, millions of people in Africa and elsewhere desperately need money to buy medicines; yet, because of the "rules" of the market economy, pharmaceutical companies will only "exchange" their products with those people who have enough money to buy them.
Of course, it's understandable that some people are opposed to the use of money and want to abolish it and the capitalist market altogether. After all, we live in grotesquely unjust world where some people accumulate billions of dollars--while most people live to one degree or another in poverty.
What makes this situation so horrific today is that vast numbers of people don't even have enough money to buy food and the other necessities that exist and sit on store shelves. As the Canadian author Linda McQuaig so aptly put it: "Under the market system, there is a demand for a product if a lot of people want it--but that demand counts for nothing if those people have no money. If they lack money, their demand essentially doesn't exist" ("All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust and the New Capitalism," 2001).
In this regard, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: "We have come to the point where we must make the nonproducer a consumer or we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of consumer goods. ... We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other (Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? 1967).
In response to King's demand for either full employment or a guaranteed income, some people would argue that "capitalism can't be reformed" and demand that the "workers must seize the means of production." But if the workers were to do this without abolishing money, post-capitalist society would still be divided into "paid workers" and "unpaid non-workers"--unless everyone became a paid worker from cradle to grave.
Capitalists divide society into producers and non-producers and insist that only "productive people" can have enough money to buy the "best" goods and services. Of course, this means that "non-producers" are forced to beg for welfare or charity.
How would this be any different if the workers seized the means of production and didn't make everyone an equal worker--regardless of age or ability to work? Moreover, if the workers said that after the revolution the "best" food, housing, medicine etc would be given "free" to all babies, young children, their home-care givers, and to elders, the disabled and anyone who can't work, then what would be the point of continuing to use money?
Furthermore, if a post-capitalist society continued to use money to "reward" some people for producing "more" than others then this would simply mirror capitalism where producers have more money than non-producers.
Surely one huge problem with abolishing money is that it would be impossible for the vast numbers of people living in big cities to be self-sufficient in their material and energy needs. And if billions of people were to simultaneously try to occupy land that had all the resources necessary for self-sufficiency there would be a global land-grab crisis.
After all, wouldn't "everyone" want to move to geographic locations where there was plenty of fresh water, fertile soil, building materials and fuel? Wouldn't most people want to live in places with warm climates to avoid having to use energy just to keep warm?
In addition, wouldn't abolishing money as the means of economic exchange without "first" agreeing to a global consensus to equally share all the world's materials and energy lead to people ruthlessly competing to control those lands rich in fresh water and other natural resources?
Given the world's current warlike state, and a long history of brutal imperialist wars, is it not reasonable to say that competing for land and water would result in many more wars? But capitalist marketers must firmly believe that "competing" is the only "scientific" and thus the only "just" way to determine who wins jobs to have money and who wins markets to sell products.
Shouldn't those of us who oppose the capitalist market and the existence of mass poverty at least vigorously question the presumption that there's a "scientific law" that compels us to compete with each other to win jobs, money and our "market share"?
When I was growing up, I couldn't believe that the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei's "new ideas" would have led to him being interrogated by the Catholic Inquisition, which convicted him of heresy and imprisoned him until his death in 1642.
As a child, I just couldn't understand what difference it made how the solar system works--one way or the other. Why would some people become so angered by ideas opposed to theirs that they would demand people recant or face torture and even burning at the stake?
Later on, I began to understand that "certain ideas" are the basis of political power--so if they were proven false, "certain people" would lose their power. The trouble being that when people lose their power they also lose access to the money they need to stay alive.
In fact, there's good evidence that the "market economic system" is nothing more than ideas that powerful men living in Europe "made up" to ensure that they didn't end up poor and homeless. In 1776, the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith wrote down these ideas in his "marketers' bible" titled: "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations."
To get right to the point, Smith, who was a university professor who never married, wrote about the market as if everyone were an adult male free to go where they wanted and to produce and sell whatever products they fancied. But from this perspective, the market is essentially an extension of the Judeo-Christian belief that God created Adam as a fully-grown adult, then Eve as an afterthought.
As the Bible story goes Eve ate the apple then they were both banished from the Garden of Eden and Adam was forced to find a job as a farmer--and then in the "trades." One famous passage from Smith's bible goes: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
The illogic here is that Smith blithely ignored the fact that if the "unproductive" mothers weren't producing babies there would soon be no new market to whom the butchers, brewers and bakers could sell their surplus goods. And given that God was said to have made Eve subject to Adam's fatherly rule, the economists didn't even bother to ask how the market served Eve's self-interest or the children's.
Common sense alone should prove to any reasonable person that if the world's "unpaid" mothers didn't produce an ongoing supply of equally "unpaid" babies then the people who have "paid" jobs would soon go belly up while drowning in that tidal wave of consumer goods.
As a woman who grew up as a slave in the United States, Sojourner Truth had first hand experience of doing "unpaid work" both as a slave and mother. A few years after the "Emancipation Proclamation" was said to have ended "official" slavery, Truth said: "I suppose I am about the only colored woman that goes about to speak for the rights of colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked. What we want is a little money" (First Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association, May 9, 1867).
Over a century later vast numbers of women and children are still enslaved by poverty because they are not paid money for the essential work they do producing the human species. But many people now have full-time, well-paid jobs as professional market economists who "earn" six figure salaries as university professors, government employees and such.
From this perspective, clearly "market economics" is a religion and the economists are the "high priests" paid to ensure that no one commits economic heresies--such as pointing out that babies, children, mothers and many others can't compete with healthy, able-bodied and childless adults to "win" jobs and money in the market.
If the economists were to admit that "just" the innocent babies and children--and maybe their mothers--needed a guaranteed income, it would be a blow to the science of the market. After all, what sort of "science" starves babies, children and mothers--but pays economic pundits very well to sit day after day and write morality tales about how "those bad welfare moms" must find jobs and produce economic growth if they want to escape poverty?
In his book "God is Red: A Native View of Spirituality," Native American author Vine Deloria Jr. wrote: "...we stand but a few dry years from ecological disasters that we cannot begin to fathom. ... We may well become one of the few species in this vast universe that has permanently ruined our home. Future explorers from other planets will walk this earthly wasteland and marvel at our stupidity and wonder why we could not accept the reality of our own finitude" (1992).
Of course, if we accepted "limits" to production and consumption then it would be proof that selling "more" products in the market is not the solution to poverty. As such, we would at least have to consider implementing a universal guaranteed income before world war breaks out to force all world citizens to compete in the market for jobs and die in poverty if they end up on the losing end of the stick.
J.S. Larochelle is a BC writer who has been writing on Guaranteed Livable Income since 2000.