Economics begins with the assumption that humans have needs and wants but not an infinite supply of things to fulfill those needs and wants. Almost all Cathedral-era politics can be summed up as a debate over whose needs and wants are most important, whose wants are fulfilled at the expense of others’ needs, and where to channel things to meet different peoples’ needs and wants.
Infinite needs and wants, but a finite supply to meet demand. The Marxist answer to this dilemma is to posit that needs and wants can be conditioned to match supply; wanting more than you need is a bourgeois bug that can be eradicated with the proper planning and policies—and given that the needs of so many people on the planet are hardly met at all, eradicating it is an urgent moral exigency.
Many Leftist policies essentially posit the same idea, which is why progressive SWPLs really like The Gods Must be Crazy and why economic debates with progs often involve, in their latter stages, someone’s pointing to the Bushmen of Africa as representatives of what society looks like (“so egalitarian!”) when no one wants more than they need or can reasonably attain. High time we learned from these noble savages. If people in the modern world can’t restrict their extraneous wants, then damn it all, the state had better start re-distributing shit so more needs are met across the board.
It might be easy not to want very much when you’re a low-IQ member of a population that never evolved beyond the hunter-gatherer stage. However, for those of us who learned to farm, build cities, and land on the moon, the cat’s out of the bag. Pandora’s box has been opened. Trying to recreate Economic Eden will only lead to social devolution; or, put in more concrete terms, jerry-rigging an economy that attempts to create parity across needs met by keeping people’s wants limned and contained through strict socialist policies will always result in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela (i.e., in food shortages, runaway inflation, a lack of qualified individuals to run industry, and sci/tech Wikipedia pages that look like this and this). You want to be the Bushmen? Prepare to give up civilization.
Alright. So unless we want bread lines and a mass exodus of entrepreneurs, we can’t keep extraneous “needs” and wants in check through massive redistribution policies; nor can we divy out basic needs to everyone because, as I said about the Pandora’s box, everyone wants more than basic needs. (Try imagining a political platform whose vision of a “social safety net” is a nothing more than a cot, a shower, and three daily servings of stew.)
So what’s another option for meeting needs across the board, then?
Post-scarcity is the other option, but it’s way out there. This line of thinking assumes that technology will at some point deliver an infinite supply of needs and wants to the billions of people inhabiting our little mote of stellar dust, even the ones who can’t contribute to or make ends meet in our high tech societies. This would be great fun if it happens. No more starvation, for starters. Fewer robberies—ghetto children can just print out iPhones if they want one. Everyone’s basic needs and all of their wants are met, and no one has to pay for any of it because there’s an infinite supply of [whatever it may be] thanks to technology. The world’s inhabitants will be free to pursue new space programs or sit around and masturbate, whichever they choose. No more children with bloated bellies because everyone gets what he needs; no more laboring for bourgeois wants because you can press a button and have them met, whatever they are.
I don’t know. Sounds a long way off to me. I think a more attainable version of a post-scarcity society cuts in another direction: sterilize all the people in need, replace the low-wage laborers with robots, and encourage high-IQ individuals to breed more.
Or is that the just the scotch talking?