Thursday, February 21, 2013

Harmless and Useful

I haven't thought this through, but it occurs to me that the modern malaise is rooted in the fact that you can only "earn a living" by doing something that someone will pay you for.

That is, you can't earn a living by cleaning up your local park (unless you're hired by the city to do it), or any number of other perfectly useful things. So people who could just "get to work" at something useful, to everyone, instead seek employment doing something entirely useless or even harmful, like making commercials or selling drugs, simply because there's a "market" there, i.e., a point at which labor is exchanged for money.

This attitude has even been taken up at the institutional level. So schools and hospitals and prisons (as ever, especially in the U.S., but the attitude can be seen everywhere) are trying to conceive of their activities in terms of the "income" they generate instead of the contribution they make to society.

I thought about this when reading Graham Peterson's comment on this OrgTheory post. I completely agree that legalizing drugs will solve a lot of problems. But it will also put a lot of people "out of work", police officers, prison wardens, drug dealers among them. They will all have to find other things to do, simply to make a living.

Some can of course go into the legal drug trade, but it's really not the same kind of profile.

The only solution, to my mind, is the age-old one of just handing out a proper living wage by printing up federal bank notes. Let no-one be forced to do something useless or harmful just to get by. Then let them overcome their boredom, not by consuming useless trinkets (produced by people who are making useless shit to get by), but by looking around their environment and seeing if anything needs fixing.

Perhaps I'm naive in thinking that people turn to crime mainly out of economic need. Perhaps some people would look around and immediately try to put together a private army and go kick some ass to get other people's stuff, rather than doing some useful community improvement project.*

I suppose that's something for the police to keep an eye on when they're not busting street pushers. In any case, I'm definitely one of these people who would be perfectly harmless and entirely useful even if I didn't have to worry about getting paid all the time. I think there are many like me.

*Or at least confining themselves to loafing. Consider: 1% of the American population is in jail. Surely it would cost society less if they just sat around on their porches sipping beer all day?

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