Spirituality Is Bad For The Economy

Many people feel that spirituality is a taboo topic. Part of the reason for this is because it reminds people of death – questions of God and life’s meaning go hand-in-hand with questions about the afterlife. Therefore, talking about spirituality is bad because it reminds people that they will die one day. As this essay will show, this is only part of the reason.

The purpose of spirituality is to reduce suffering.

The objective of the Buddhist path is to achieve nirvana, the objective of the Hindu path is to achieve moksha and the purpose of the Western esoteric traditions is to achieve ataraxia. In all cases, this state of ultimate enlightenment offers a liberated existence independent of material acquisition, status anxiety, social anxiety or attachment to food, sex or power – a state in which one no longer suffers.

Buddha was motivated to end the suffering of all sentient beings, and his conception of the Eightfold Path was an attempt to teach how an individual could achieve this for themselves. He taught that happiness could not be found in the material, which was an illusion. Every person had to look within themselves.

Buddha is famous for advocating meditation as an avenue to enlightenment, but all true spiritual traditions teach that happiness (or at least an end to suffering) is found within. Analects 15:20 quotes Confucius as saying “The Superior Man seeks within himself. The inferior man seeks within others.” The Tao Te Ching, likewise, is replete with admonitions to find satisfaction in everyday life and not to strive for it.

Looking within is the secret to ending suffering. From society’s perspective, however, a dilemma lies therein.

In our society, the most important thing of all is money, and getting money requires jobs. In order for a job to exist, there has to be demand for goods and services. This demand comes from only one place: human dissatisfaction. Without human suffering, there could not be money. Therefore there must be human suffering.

Many people have never comprehended the fact that other people exist, and that they are conscious, and that this consciousness suffers just like one’s own does. These people act as if the world was a virtual reality game that only they were playing, and everyone else was just an NPC. In life they are as hungry ghosts, their insatiable appetites causing them to lurch from one instinct-fueled lust to the next.

In our culture, the dissatisfaction of these unfortunates has been channelled towards buying stuff. New clothes, new cars, new toys, new foods – and all of it greases the wheels of commerce. Consumerism is therefore powered by this dissatisfaction, by suffering. It follows that anything that stops people consuming is bad.

Spirituality, though, tends to have a profound effect on people’s consumption habits. Once a person starts to look within, they start asking questions like: did that most recent purchase really increase my happiness? Or did I get more happiness from the chance social encounter I had in town last week? Once a person starts thinking like this, their lives start to change profoundly.

When a person becomes skilled at meditation, it’s easy for them to feel a more powerful sense of satisfaction from meditating than from buying new stuff. Meditating is the ultimate activity in many ways, and one of the main ways is that it is anti-consumerist. The dissatisfaction that people feel in everyday life is assuaged by meditation. So people who are into meditating are seldom the same people who line up overnight for the next iPhone release.

It follows from all of this that the engine of consumerism runs on godlessness. The further a person is from God, they more they suffer, and the more they suffer the greater the volume of goods and services they consume. The ruthless logic of the markets has led to a horrific outcome: genuine spirituality has deliberately been attacked in order to power the capitalist machine.

People with genuine spiritual insight have been persecuted for thousands of years, but this has intensified in recent centuries according to the demands of capitalism. Witches have been burned at the stake and hippies – their cultural descendants – have also been attacked. True spiritual sacraments such as cannabis and psilocybin have been criminalised, those who grow or gather them locked in cages.

Worse, false spiritual traditions have been promoted to distract people from the true ones that would help them. There are hundreds of different Christian churches who teach that wealth is evidence of God’s grace, and hundreds of millions of other Abrahamists who mutilate the genitals of their children, persecute homosexuals and who consider women and non-believers to be subhumans.

This combination has obliterated the spiritual wealth of the masses. In doing so, however, it has caused the material wealth of the elites to overflow. Thus, it is perpetuated. Spirituality is bad for the economy, and that’s why it’s been suppressed.

We can hope that, in the coming years, the economy will be considered less important, and human suffering more important. At the least, we can hope that it will be remembered that the economy is a means for ending human suffering, and that human suffering is not a fuel that should power the economy.

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Why Is Rent-Seeking Legal?

Our legal system has many quirks and contradictions that defy easy explanation. It seems strange that doctors are allowed to mutilate the genitals of infant boys, yet they are not allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis products that would save lives. This article will discuss another activity of questionable morality: rent-seeking.

Rent-seeking is an attempt to increase one’s personal wealth without creating or producing any. It is the use of resources, such as land, to extract economic benefits (known as rents) from others without making any contribution to the overall economic good.

The most common form of rent-seeking today is found in residential property. There are some 625,000 rented houses in New Zealand today, and the average weekly rent is $390 a week for small houses and $525 for larger ones. Assuming an average rent of $480 per week, rents on residential property bring in some $15,600,000,000 every year in New Zealand alone.

Rent-seeking is correctly understood to be a form of parasitism. As with other forms of parasitism, rent-seeking is a net negative for the overall health of the system. Not only does it suck money away from the productive and gift it to the unproductive, it also incentivises anti-social behaviour. Economically, it disrupts market efficiencies, limits competition and creates artificially high barriers to entry for market participants.

Despite being a form of parasitism, rent-seeking is a long and honoured tradition in New Zealand. Many a fortune has been built in this country by taking advantage of people’s need for shelter from the elements. As a previous essay here has discussed, there’s nothing as profitable as human suffering, and being exposed to the elements is one of the worst kinds of suffering.

The beauty of rent-seeking is that it carries little risk. All you need to do is to own property and the Police will keep people away from it unless those people pay you money. As long as there are men willing to enforce other people’s claims to property in exchange for a wage (and there always will be), then owning some of that property is effectively a licence to print money.

In reality, there’s little difference between a landlord charging someone rent on the threat of throwing that person out into the street, and an armed robber charging someone their wallet on the threat of stabbing them in the guts. In both cases, the power to charge a fee or levy comes from the power to cause extreme physical suffering. Both are a form of extortion.

Given the apparent net harm of trying to extract wealth from the system instead of creating it, the question has to be asked: why is rent-seeking legal?

The main reason why rent-seeking is legal is simply because the rent-seekers make the laws. It was they who, way back in the day, invented Government by paying some weak-minded arse-lickers to defend their property against outsiders (this is all that Government is). Those arse-lickers bifurcated into the Police and security services (whose prime directive is to protect and serve property owners) and the Government (whose prime directive is to organise the protection of property owners).

At the end of the day, the Government is there to manage the affairs of the rich, and they don’t care if the poor are impacted adversely. People too poor to own property don’t have a seat at the table. This is the same reason why businesses were compensated directly in the form of wage subsidies, rather than workers being given a universal basic income – the wealthy take the lion’s share, the poor get the scraps.

This arrangement has created a great deal of resentment, however. Those forced to pay rent on threat of being thrown into the street don’t feel much less resentful about it than those forced to give up their wallet on threat of being stabbed. The fact that rent-seeking is socially accepted in our culture barely softens the blow. It still feels like a robbery.

As is usually the case for such abuses of power, this resentment has built to the point where it threatens to spill over.

The Sixth Labour Government has made it illegal to evict tenants from residential property for the next three months at least. Some groups of tenants have realised that, if they collectively refused to pay rent until the end of the coronavirus crisis, they could pretty much get away with it. There’s no way to enforce an eviction during the lockdown, so anyone who refuses to pay rent from now on can get at least three months of living rent-free.

Other people and places overseas have already declared rent strikes on account of that the coronavirus has made earning their usual income, and therefore paying their usual expenses, impossible. Housing Minister Megan Woods has said “there was also an obligation on tenants not to abuse the situation,” but it’s hard to see why, other than the possible threat of being blacklisted in the future.

The only reason why property owners can get tenants to pay them rent in the first place is because they have the power to force them to on threat of eviction. If that power is taken away, there’s little reason for those who had been coerced into paying rent to continue playing ball.

Perhaps the fairest outcome would be to continue to allow the extraction of rents, but to levy a 90% tax on incomes derived from it. An outcome similar to this was discussed in a previous article here that proposed the introduction of Georgist-style taxes on rent-seeking activity.

In short, rent-seeking is legal because it always has been, and because we’ve never questioned it. We’ve never been able to, because not only did the rent-seekers control the law enforcement forces but they also controlled the apparatus of propaganda, and these combined to normalise the practice. The legitimacy of rent-seeking doesn’t survive scrutiny, and there is a very real chance that it will be as illegal as armed robbery later this century.

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Diversity Is A Strength In Times Of Plenty, And A Weakness In Times Of Shortage

The Establishment and the mainstream media like to say that diversity is a strength. This opinion is aggressively rejected by most of the working class, who consider it a great weakness. The reality, as this essay will discuss, is that both sides are right – but only in the appropriate context.

Since the end of World War II, the West has enjoyed great prosperity. Our stockmarkets, factories, airports and seaports have all boomed from the ever-increasing demand. Most people felt like they were getting a good deal, or that, if they weren’t, they soon would. During this great age of plenty, diversity has generally caused more pleasure than pain.

In times of plenty, diversity is a strength. When the economy is growing, and no-one has to worry about competing with each other, then diversity means an enrichment of the everyday experience of life. It means new foods, new cultural displays, new ideas. It means an exciting, vibrant increase in novelty.

In times of shortage, however, diversity means something else.

Every community is divided along fracture lines – lines of race, gender, religion, age, education and cultural affinity. In good times, these fracture lines are papered over by wealth – people don’t need to fight if everyone has enough to meet their own needs. In bad times, these fracture lines are exposed and aggravated.

When times are tough, the community needs to pull together. A given community’s ability to pull together depends mostly on its level of solidarity, and that in turn depends mostly on the number and degree of commonalities that members of the community have with each other. After all, ‘commonality’ and ‘community’ have a similar etymology.

The presence of commonality means co-operation. Where commonalities exist, people are happy to help each other, because they know that this help will benefit a person like them. This knowledge assures them that the help will be reciprocated, and not just taken. They can count on getting helped in the future, and so feel like part of a society, a wider kinship group.

A lack of commonality means exploitation. The rule is that people are willing to exploit others to the degree that those others are different from them. The greater the number of fracture lines in a community or society, the greater the degree of exploitation that exists. As mentioned above, this is no big deal when the economy is expanding, because this means new niches open up for people to move into.

In times of shortage, however, diversity means that helping other people is helping people who aren’t your kin. The natural inclination, then, is to keep for yourself, to not share. The problem here is that people get desperate in times of shortage. When people are desperate, a refusal to share with them often leads to violence.

Diversity makes it much harder to settle the tensions that arise from shortages. Two people of the same culture can use their shared moral values to come to a mutual agreement. If they have a common language, they can talk their way to a mutual understanding. Absent these things, misunderstandings lead to flaring tempers.

Arriving at a mutual agreement in times of scarcity is much easier between two natives than between a native and an immigrant. Between two immigrants, as we see in the Woolworths toilet paper fight video linked above, there is a minimum of commonality, and this regularly ends in actions that are not made from a place of empathy.

If the COVID-19 pandemic does have a severe enough economic impact to cause widespread shortages, some people are going to be forced into making some terrible decisions – and much more terrible than what brand of toilet paper to buy because their preferred one is sold out.

Faced with two patients who can’t breathe, and only one ventilator, the medical staff dealing with the pandemic are going to be forced to make decisions as to who lives and who dies. There are already reports that Italian doctors have been forced to leave old people to die on account of that there aren’t enough beds in intensive care units. Increasing diversity means that some Italian doctors will have to decide whether an elderly native Italian or a younger immigrant gets the ICU bed.

More relevant to the average person are the hundreds of small decisions that they will have to make about questions that test their loyalties. Some people have been stockpiling hand sanitiser on account of that the sudden shortage of it has spiked the price. These price gouging actions have been heavily criticised, on the grounds that not only are they shamelessly opportunistic but they also prevent needy people from getting supplies.

But in a highly diverse society, the balance of rewards is different to what it would be in a more homogenous one. The more diverse society is, the less likely such actions are to harm a person who has something in common with you. All the profit from such actions, however, you keep for yourself. So why not use a pandemic as an opportunity to price gouge? If no-one from your kin group loses out, you might as well take advantage.

Proof for these suppositions come from the fact that neither supermarket fighting nor price-gouging is happening in nations with low levels of diversity. There are no videos of people fighting over toilet paper in places like South Korea, Taiwan or Japan – and there may never be. The absence of diversity in these places means they have enough in common for people to work together instead of chimping out.

All of these problems are just part of the regular course of empires. Empires burgeon, rise, stagnate, decay and fall. The increase in diversity usually comes after the stagnation phase, as the ruling class tries to squeeze out the maximum possible expansion by opening the borders. The current iteration of the West is somewhere between the decay and the fall stages. The nations to successfully respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, like South Korea and Japan, will be the leading nations of this century.

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How The Lack Of A Universal Basic Income Leaves Us Vulnerable To Pandemics

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold around the world, many people now realise that the economic foundations of our society are much more fragile than they had seemed. The disruption to global supply chains from the Wuhan coronavirus is just beginning to have an effect. As this essay will show, much of the pain that we will suffer this year could have been avoided if we had had a universal basic income.

Nothing gives a person more power over another group of people than that group’s desperation. The more desperate people are, the less money they will be willing to work for, and the shittier the workplace conditions they will be willing to accept. The ruling class doesn’t want to give up the power that widespread desperation and poverty give them. so they promote more of it.

The major argument against a UBI is that people need a certain level of coercion before they are willing to work. Without the threat of starvation or being kicked out of their house for not making their rent payments, people won’t do the amount of work that their rulers consider acceptable. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen is the logic.

Modern events like the COVID-19 pandemic show that this way of thinking has made our society much weaker than it needed to be.

A forestry exporter in Gisborne recently complained that the pandemic had halved the income of his business. Because Chinese workers are being kept at home to prevent further spread of the virus, there is no-one to unload the boats in the docks. This means that forestry exporters can’t send any product to China, and so have to shut down a large part of their operation.

Without income, this forestry exporter has found themselves needing to lay off staff. Getting laid off is a highly stressful event at the best of times – when it comes at the same time as your entire industry is shutting down because of a coronavirus pandemic, then one also has to deal with the fear of not being able to find new work. Those who fail at that will be forced to go into WINZ and run the usual gauntlet of getting accused of being a bludging, malingering piece of shit. It promises to be a tough time for many.

A great amount of stress is needlessly created as the result of the way our economic system is structured, and this is amplified beyond breaking point when a pandemic like our current one strikes. If we are intelligent, we will take this opportunity to restructure this system so as to make ourselves more resilient to the next mass medical shock.

A recent Stuff article reported that Jacinda Ardern and other high-ranking Labour ministers had generously agreed “in principle” to remove the one week standdown period for anyone losing their jobs as a result of the coronavirus. No-one really knows why beneficiaries are made to starve for a week before being granted money, but the fact that they are creates much unnecessary misery, sometimes leading to suicide.

Removing this standdown week is a good move, but it’s a tiny measure compared to the introduction of a UBI. That would remove an enormous amount of stress from the people whose jobs were vulnerable to pandemics that impacted China – a group that will always be sizable in New Zealand. Greatly reduced stress means, in cases of sudden employment shocks, a greatly reduced number of deaths from despair.

Some are expecting that COVID-19 will be particularly virulent in America, for reasons relating to their economy. The best way to combat the pandemic is to quarantine entire areas, as China has done. America is unwilling to do this, which means that they have relied on asking people who think that they might be infected to get themselves tested and then to self-isolate – a process that might take up to three weeks.

The problem is that most American workers can’t simply leave work for three weeks. For them, three weeks with no income means getting kicked out of their houses for not making rent payments. It means getting the car repossessed, it means going hungry, it means needing to beg for an overdraft extension or miss out on healthcare. It means an immense level of stress.

A UBI would take the majority of this stress away. The knowledge that losing one’s job would not result in starvation and destitution, but merely a temporary reduction to a Spartan lifestyle, would make the necessary adaptations much easier to make. Losing one’s job would no longer mean crisis time but merely scaling back operations for a while.

A UBI would also incentivise people to not spread diseases like coronavirus to others.

Workers who are in precarious financial situations will feel compelled to go to work even when they suspect themselves to have coronavirus, on account of that they need the money. This will inevitably lead to them infecting far more people than if they had self-isolated. So not only does the lack of a UBI mean an increase in stress, it makes epidemics like COVID-19 more likely to develop into pandemics.

If New Zealand had a UBI, people who suspected themselves to be infected in a pandemic could easily arrange with their employers to be off work for a few weeks, without getting fucked by cashflow problems. These cashflow problems currently make it all but impossible to follow medical advice to self-quarantine, which exposes the entire economy to a systemic danger.

COVID-19 might not be the world-ending pandemic that many had feared. But even if it isn’t, we are still vulnerable to such a thing in the future. The introduction of a universal basic income would, above its numerous other benefits, make the national economy much more resilient to a pandemic. As it is, the ability to self-isolate is almost a luxury – perfect conditions for disaster.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2019 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 and the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 are also available.

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