Politics

February 4th, 2016

“Politics is about forming character, to cultivate virtues of citizens.
Only by living in a polis and participating in political life,
do we realize ourselves as human beings.”
(Aristotle, philosopher)

What would Aristotle think and say today?

Where is the honorable government?

Do all eligible citizens participate in the development and creation of laws?

How do we define participation?

Who decides upon eligibility?

Do our children, who are going to be stuck with our public debt, get to vote?

Of course they don’t, which may just be the reason, why politicians feel safe procrastinating. After all, future generations can’t vote them out of office today.

But isn’t gambling with our children’s future immoral?

We live in a world in which an Eight-Grader builds a braille printer with Legos, launches a company, but isn’t allowed to vote. If “no taxation without representation” means anything at all, it means to find a juster way to include today’s minors in the political process.

Intergenerational equity really is a farce at times.

“Well I called my congressman and he said quote: “I’d like
to help you son, but you’re too young to vote.””
(Eddie Cochran: “Summertime Blues” released in 1958)

Furthermore, we often wonder why the laws created to protect us and the public good effectively from being deceived and exploited aren’t being enforced by our elected representatives.

Isn’t this one of the many reasons, why we are paying taxes?

Some would sarcastically argue that you can only legislate what you truly understand. Others, that our elected representatives are preoccupied with accumulating personal power.

“Opportunity makes a thief.”

“The Few assume to be deputies, but they are
often only the despoilers of the Many.”
(Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, philosopher)

“90% of the politicians give the other 10% a bad name.”
(Henry Kissinger, diplomat and political scientist)

In 1979, the economist Milton Friedman asked, whether it was really true that political self-interest was somehow nobler than economic self-interest. He also wondered, where we would find the angels, as he called them, who would organize society for us.

“What’s morally wrong cannot be politically right.”
(William Ewart Gladstone, statesman)

Some claim that our elected representatives and government can’t solve structural problems and offer a future-oriented perspective, because thinking in legislative periods is far too short-sighted. They therefore propose longer legislative periods. I’m not convinced. Attitude matters, rather than the time period.

What about one-term elections, so politicians wouldn’t have to worry about re-elections and could focus on what needs to be done today instead?

“A politician thinks of the next election,
a statesman thinks of the next generation.”
(William Ewart Gladstone, statesman)

“Politicians are always realistically maneuvering for the next election.
They are obsolete as fundamental problem-solvers.”
(Richard Buckminster Fuller, philosopher)

It is true that democracy only works when everyone participates. But we don’t.

“L’état, c’est moi” claimed Louis XIV. Well, he’s long gone, but he had plenty of successors. In a democracy, “l’état, c’est nous”, but only if we fight and exert our rights.

What are our rights?

Shouldn’t we think about that rather than leaving it to others?

Would forcing us to do so be – well – undemocratic?

The unfortunate consequence being that in our so-called democratic system, ten people with one million dollars each have more influence than one million people with ten dollars each.

Money doesn’t rule the world, the few that have a lot of it do.

And when those few talk, our democracy often walks.

In a democracy, justice shouldn’t be something that citizens have to be able to afford. We shouldn’t need expensive lawyers, tax consultants etc. to force our government to give us what is rightfully ours.

Things become extremely scary, once one single variable, be it business, religion or anything else, starts dominating political life.

“When money meets political power, it is similar to a
match meeting an explosive – waiting to go off.”
(Jack Ma, entrepreneur)

Where is the honorable citizen?

Why don’t we hold our elected representatives accountable?

Aren’t they our employees?

Why don’t we insist that they enforce existing laws designed to protect us?

“The fools did not realize that their ruler could not have given them what
they were receiving without first having taken it from them.”
(Étienne de La Boétie, judge and writer)

“How can it happen that so many men sometimes suffer under a single
tyrant, who has no other power than the power they gave him.”
(Étienne de La Boétie, judge and writer)

“Whoever can supply the masses with illusions is easily their master.”
(Gustave Le Bon, social psychologist)

“To some degree it matters who’s in office, but it matters more
how much pressure they’re under from the public.”
(Noam Chomsky, philosopher and political commentator)

“The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to
the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.”
(Charles de Montesquieu, political philosopher)

Organizational failure is a combination of bad leadership and bad followership. In other words, no honorable government without honorable citizens.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
(Edmund Burke, philosopher)

Could it be that we, the people, don’t want our politicians to solve structural problems, when the solution comes with a price-tag attached to it?

Would generation bargain hunter vote for a politician, if s/he asked us to live within our means and stop consuming so much?

Probably not.

Do we prefer fairy tale tellers?

If so, who is to blame?

And “cui bono”?

“A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.”
(Napoléon, military and political leader)

And what about voter turnout?

Looking at it in numerous democracies around the world leaves me wondering, whether voting should become compulsory, as oxymoronic as it may sound in a democracy.

The result of the last German elections illustrates this. The present grand coalition received an absolute majority of 67.2%, but only of those who voted. Actually, the people didn’t vote for that coalition, as this is not possible. They voted for two political parties that decided to form a coalition, but only after the elections.

Voters equal the total population minus the foreigners minus the minors minus the non-voters. Looking at the actual numbers reveals that only 37% of the total population voted for the two political parties that decided to form a grand coalition after the elections. 63%, which is almost two-thirds, didn’t, either because they weren’t allowed to or because they didn’t want to.

What does this tell us about democratic legitimation?

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics
is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
(Plato, philosopher)

Democracy does not mean having to put up with everything. We must resist and defend ourselves more often. After all, it’s our system.

Only s/he who votes, can vote out. No vote, no choice, no freedom.

By the way, the rise of left- and right-wing parties in Europe is mostly due to the public’s growing frustration with the political mainstream, which lacks vision, courage and whose main purpose is to stay in power.

We don’t trust our representatives anymore.

We don’t trust the political system anymore.

Divide et impera

February 3rd, 2016

What makes us so exploitable?

Why is Caesar’s strategy of “divide et impera” still so effective?

Well, Caesar may have coined the phrase, but the strategy is a lot older than that. Just remember the Tower of Babel (Book of Genesis of the Tanakh), which is often used to explain the origin of languages. Let’s shed a worldly light on this tale and move it to the 21st Century. Imagine a united humanity speaking one language with one goal: Develop a tool to check what is “going on up there”, to check what our chosen leaders are doing.

What would happen, if we were to actually do this?

Would the ruling elite respond by creating a communication breakdown and dispersing us? Or, in modern terms, would they delete our accounts and not rank us?

Would they use the strategy of “divide et impera” again?

Would they get away with it?

Think about it.

Are we gutless? Lazy? Gullible? Vain?

“Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas.”
(The Bible: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”)

“It is said that Mithridates trained himself to drink poison. Like him,
we learn to swallow, and not to find bitter, the venom of servitude.”
(Étienne de La Boétie, judge and writer)

I personally find the increasing cowardice, laziness, gullibility and vanity to be quite disturbing.

Should they be considered offenses though?

Can we be forced to be courageous, energetic, wise or humble against our own will?

Do we need more laws protecting us from ourselves?

Who would enforce those laws? Other people, aka elected representatives? Algorithms?

The writing has been on the walls everywhere for a long time.

Why don’t we open our eyes to read and act?

Don’t we want to know the truth?

“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble,
it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.”
(Mark Twain, author)

What happened to the honorable merchant?

A very popular question.

But what happened to the honorable customer?

Isn’t ethical behavior everyone’s responsibility?

Would a Hippocratic Oath for each and everyone of us be too much to ask?

Would it change anything?

The problem is not that we are dumb and don’t understand, the problem is that all too often we simply don’t care, or choose to look away. Information is not as asymmetric as it used to be and “caveat emptor” is not as valid as it used to be.

Isn’t it about time to introduce “caveat vendor” and mean it too?

Fast food is a good example. The way I see it, “Happy meal” sounds rather cynical, considering the fact that some fast food CEO’s make 1.000 times more than their average worker. Unhealthy in more ways than one. Not only that, but junk food would be a lot more expensive, if all costs – direct and indirect, present and future – were factored in. Happy meals are being subsidized.

By whom?

Take a guess.

Slavery, transparency and “personal” data

February 2nd, 2016

Slavery means treating people like commodities to be bought and sold. For the philosopher Aristotle, slavery was perfectly normal, as he thought that some people simply lacked the ability to think correctly. He called them “living tools”, fit only for physical labor and dependent on others telling them what to do.

Today, physical labor is not as valuable as it used to be, but our personal data has become very useful and valuable for many data companies. As the name indicates, they wouldn’t exist without it. Whereas we don’t buy and sell human beings in most parts of the world anymore, there is a growing global market for our personal data.

If Aristotle were alive today, he’d most probably conclude from observing human consumerist behavior that many are still not able to think correctly for themselves and continue to rely on others to tell them what to do.

I don’t know, whether he would still call them “living tools”, may be “living fools” would be more appropriate. We are masters of suppression. We ignore what we don’t want to see and hear.

Must we be forced to see, hear and face facts and truth?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most ignorant one of all?

“For our improvement we need a mirror.”
(Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher)

Technological progress also means that we don’t have to be put in iron chains anymore. Mental chains are a lot more efficient and subtle. And as long as we don’t think, we won’t feel them.

“It’s difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”
(Voltaire, philosopher)

We are being spied out, exploited, sedated and incapacitated and are letting it happen. If you’re not spied upon in today’s world, you are totally irrelevant. That is the sad truth.

“What would you do, if you were accused of a
murder you had not committed …. yet?”
(Minority Report, 2002)

Do we really wish to turn into digital data slaves, one-dimensional morons, willing to accept that the only good citizen-customer is the fully transparent voter-consumer, who obeys, i.e. does/consumes what s/he is being told?

“You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”
(Borg Queen)

Total transparency resulting in total predictability is definitely not the icing on humanity’s cake. Killing privacy and creating a market inhabited by totally predictable humans controlled by a few – presumably unpredictable ones – would be an enslaved market, an enslaved world.

It would not be a human world.

It would be a dangerous world.

“The future can be seen. Murder can be prevented. The guilty
punished before the crime is committed. The system is perfect.
It’s never wrong. Until it comes after you.”
(Minority Report, 2002)

Just imagine living in a glass house without paying any rent. Imagine that this glass house is located on a busy street in a big town. Unless you’re an exhibitionist, you probably wouldn’t be amused. As a matter of fact, you wouldn’t move in to start with.

Now imagine that everything said inside the glass house could be heard outside. Imagine your landlord recording everything you say and do and selling that information to advertisers. Imagine these advertisers then putting up ads all around your glass house and everywhere you go.

Inconceivable offline, but common practice online.

Last but not least, imagine moving around your glass house without any clothes on. You’d be arrested in no time. Putting all of your private, personal information on public display online is welcome. Doing the same with your private parts is not, neither on- nor off-line.

Isn’t that hypocritical?

About time to throw some stones, wouldn’t you agree?

Of course, data itself is not the problem and the misuse that we are currently experiencing doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use data at all to help solve big problems.

“Abusus non tollit usum.”

But we do have to address the problem of how data is increasingly being gathered, stolen, exploited, traded, used, shared and – unfortunately – given away. Nowadays, chances are that someone will have sold our mind – its content that is – before we have a chance to lose it.

I’m not a native speaker, but “sharing with” and “turning over to” don’t mean the same thing, or do they?

It goes without saying that real sharing existed in the “good old days” too. But as far as I can remember, it used to be a lot more personal and valuable. And it involved a lot more trust than it does nowadays. For example, we didn’t just lend our highly cherished vinyl LP’s to just anyone. First, we made sure that we could trust the person, as well as her record player of course.

While we are very slowly starting to realize that our personal data is a valuable currency, we remain rather clueless about a fair exchange rate. Not only that, but there is no central authority, something like a Central Bank, issuing or controlling the supply of this new currency either.

Speaking of banks, some claim that yesterday, it was true that whoever controlled a nation’s money, didn’t have to care about who made the laws.

Could it be that today, whoever controls a nation’s data doesn’t have to care about who makes the laws?

Could it be that tomorrow, whatever controls a nation’s data doesn’t have to care about who makes the laws?

And what about the future of nation states, governments and national laws, if – thanks to technology – this data is increasingly “owned” by transnational corporations?

“Our business is not based on having information about you. You’re not
our product. Our products are these and these, and this watch, and
Macs and so forth. And so we run a very different company. I
think everybody has to ask, how do companies make their
money? Follow the money. And if they’re making
money mainly by collecting gobs of personal
data, I think you have a right to be worried.”
(Tim Cook, CEO Apple Inc.)

Instead of treating us like products, Apple’s CEO says that his company prefers to sell us great products. It sounds like a laudable strategy.

Can we really trust Apple?

How can we be sure?

Data, privacy and freedom

February 1st, 2016

Today, we live in a totally commercialized and increasingly data-driven world. As we have seen, doing increasingly means consuming in the Age of Consumerism. Thanks to technology, corporations are able to siphon off our personal data more and more – often without us noticing – in order to sell us even more. By doing so, they are obviously invading our privacy.

“A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an
online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.
But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience
shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.”
(Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc.)

Just consider the company Palantir, which specializes in “data analysis” and was recently valued at $ 20 billion.

Did you know that the CIA is one of its investors?

Are we naive enough to not only believe, but also follow those false prophets, who tell us that privacy is a “thing” of the past? Or something for old people (I’ve actually heard someone say that)?

Makes me wonder, whether we’ll ever reach peak BS.

“I hate victims, who respect their executioners.”
(Jean Paul Sartre, philosopher)

Face it, social networks are also surveillance networks, the social element being the bait to lure data suppliers and guinea pigs, also know as users.

Isn’t the term “social media” an oxymoron?

From whitewashing to greenwashing to socialwashing: Social Media = SM = Surveillance Media.

More data leads to more ads, which in turn leads to more consumption, i.e. coughing up more money, resulting in even more data, ads and consumption. A vicious circle for many, but not for all.

Why do we really complain about those collecting our data and selling it?

Because we value our privacy or because we want a piece of the cake?

Why are we not complaining about those eager to buy our data?

If we could, would we buy personal data of a potential employer or a potential partner?

No, privacy is not dead, far from it. There is just no room for it in the business models of many corporations today. But business models are not sacrosanct.

Privacy is not primarily the right to be forgotten, it’s the right to be left alone in the first place. It is about human dignity and it is a fundamental human right, even though numerous governments and corporations seem to disagree. Giving up our privacy would mean opening Pandora’s box, as other human rights would disappear sooner or later as well.

Not long, before free societies became a thing of the past too.

But are we really living in a free society?

Are we free?

What is freedom?

Absolute freedom does, of course, not exist. There is a difference between “everything is possible” and “anything goes”. We can’t do whatever we want. And we can’t let others do everything they want and get away with it either. There must be rules defining how we live together. A very simple one is that one person’s freedom ends, where another person’s freedom starts. Freedom is always a combination of rights and responsibilities. We like the rights, the responsibilities not so much.

“A hero is someone, who understands the responsibility
that comes with his freedom.”
(Bob Dylan, musician)

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves
responsibility and most people are frightened of responsibility.”
(Sigmund Freud, neurologist)

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those,
who falsely believe they are free.”
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, writer and statesman)

“There can be no freedom without the freedom to fail.”
(Erich Fromm, social psychologist)

Surveillance doesn’t liberate us. As a matter of fact, surveillance in the name of freedom is an oxymoron. It means the return to feudalism, in this case techno-feudalism to be precise. Once corporations as well as governments know everything about us, a modern form of slavery will follow.

“We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other
reason that only freedom can make security secure.”
(Karl Popper, philosopher of science and professor)

Isn’t a government spying on its citizens in a democracy the same as employees spying on their employers?

A digital humanism matters in an increasingly digitized world. Data protection and digital freedom must be fundamental rights, fundamental global human rights. Otherwise freedom will die in the digital empire.

“Data must be owned by its subject, rather than
corporations, advertisers and analysts.”
(Sir Tim Berners-Lee, computer scientist)

“The real road to serfdom is to be persuaded that the declarations of
democracy we have inherited are no longer relevant to a digital
future. These have been inscribed in our souls, and if we leave
them behind – we abandon the best part of ourselves.”
(Shoshana Zuboff, professor)

Say “No” to the data “Peeping Tom’s”!

Long-term, ethical thinking

January 30th, 2016

How long-term is our thinking, when contemplating a purchase?

How long-term is our thinking when contemplating any decision?

“Out of sight, out of mind.”
(Proverb)

Consider Pareto’s principle, whereby 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Let’s apply this principle to our purchases. It means that 80% of the time, we are only using 20% of the products or services purchased.

Just about right, isn’t it?

Pareto’s principle explains, why we are easily bored and unsatisfied with many of our purchases. The fact that we hardly ever use them, proves that we didn’t really need them in the first place. But we usually refuse to admit that. Looks like Theodore Levitt was wrong.

The unfortunate consequence being that we buy even more – often useless – stuff. And in a free market economy, we will be sold useless stuff, as long as we are happy to buy it.

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t
have to impress people we don’t like.”
(Dave Ramsey, financial author)

Sometimes, we really are a sad lot.

Or are we simply inept at factoring in all costs, direct and indirect, present and future?

Do we suffer from an inherent denial of reality?

Don’t we know what we really want?

Don’t we know what’s best for us in the long-run?

Don’t we want to know?

Do we ever consider the overall consequences of our decisions?

Do we think ethically?

Do we care about the price others have to pay so that we can enjoy (?) our habits?

Money has no empathy, but we should.

For example, do we think about the water footprint of a hamburger before eating it?

In case you didn’t know, it’s 2.400 liters for a 150 gram hamburger. By the way, the water footprint of one cotton T-shirt is 2.000 liters and that of one pair of leather shoes is 8.000 liters.

Do we think about the working conditions in Bangladesh and elsewhere before buying that piece of clothing?

Do we think about the fact that we are currently using 1.5 times the world’s resource capacity?

Intergenerational equity anyone?

Let’s revisit the Pareto principle for a moment:

What if we were to cut our purchases by those 80% that we hardly ever use and spent more on the remaining 20% that we use a lot?

That way, we might actually improve conditions all the way down the supply chain and get better quality products in return as well. We would actually get a better deal!

However, this would conflict with the policy of planned obsolescence, a popular policy to produce goods that become obsolete quickly, hence calling for rapid replacement.

When we’re still young and grow physically, obsolescence is normal. Products, in particular clothes, become obsolete, simply because we outgrow them. Once grown up, obsolescence continues, because permanent economic growth is deemed to be an irrefutable necessity.

A sarcastic person would argue that the major difference between planned obsolescence and a planned economy is that the cycles in planned obsolescence are a lot shorter than 5 years.

This reminds me of my first car, a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle, a yellow bug without any gimmicks. No power windows, no power mirrors, no remote keyless entry, no speed control, no automatic temperature control, no beverage holders, no heated seats, no navigation system, no airbags, no rain sensing wipers, no low tire pressure control, no traction control, no ABS etc.

Not only that. My Beetle never sent any personal data of mine to anyone, because it didn’t record any to start with.

And my Beetle never broke down, was never recalled and just did what it was supposed to do: provide a reliable means of transport. All year long!

There was a time, when basic quality and reliability were affordable and gimmicks were expensive. Nowadays, gimmicks are becoming cheaper and cheaper, whereas quality and reliability are becoming increasingly expensive.

Are quality workmanship and planned obsolescence irreconcilable goals?

What is so aspirational about a system that relies on uselessness and waste as important drivers for continuous growth?

Are values, principles, character, conscience, ethics, ideals, integrity, standards and a sense of honor nothing but old-fashioned parameters standing in the way of progress?

Can there be no progress without economic growth?

How do we define progress??

Growth, ROI and ROE

January 29th, 2016

To understand modern economic theory, we only have to understand one word and that is “growth”. The capitalist model with its unilateral focus on growth has lead to mass production, consumerism, waste, pollution and destruction. It won’t solve our problems in a human way. Pricing products and/or services is obviously not enough, we have to put a value to them and that includes factoring in all costs, direct and indirect, present and future. In other words, external costs must be internalized, not only for the sake of transparency.

Why is it so difficult to understand that we, the consumers and taxpayers, always wind up paying for these externalized costs one way or the other?

And if we don’t, our children most certainly will.

We would definitely be better off behaving like responsible customers/investors. Just like corporations, we have an ROI – and by that I don’t mean a Return on Ignorance – too. And we should also have an ROE, a Return on Ethics.

“Things only have the value that we give them.”
(Molière, playwright)

Who or what decides which products and services add real value and which ones don’t?

Companies? Algorithms?

Do these products and services solve real problems?

How many are pure divertissement, keeping us from focusing on what really matters?

Was the economist Theodore Levitt wrong, when he said that people didn’t want a quarter-inch drill, but a quarter-inch hole?

Cui bono?

On April 5, 2013, the actor Bill Murray posted this memorable tweet, which sums it up nicely:

“My iPhone has 2 million times the storage of the 1969 Apollo 11 spacecraft
computer. They went to the moon. I throw birds at pig houses.”

Sounds like “panem et circenses” 3.0 to me.

Speaking of smartphones, isn’t it rather strange that taking pictures with them is easier than making phone calls?

Faulty design?

Pure coincidence?

Dream on!

Instant gratification vs. thrill of anticipation

January 27th, 2016

Instant gratification, which has turned us into indiscriminate consumers, is the name of the game for generation bargain hunter. While our ancestors hunted for food in order to survive, we hunt for bargains nowadays, but not in order to survive. Strange kind of evolution. Incidentally, generation bargain hunter is also the one that always complains about short-termism in business and finance. How inconsistent.

“Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs
that the deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions.”
(Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer)

“I want it all, I want it all, I want it all and I want it now.”
(Queen: “I want it all” released in 1989)

“Since the 1970s, individuals, companies and the governments have
become increasingly and dangerously focused on the short term.”
(Paul Roberts, author)

Don’t we remember the thrill of anticipation?

The times when gratification was not just a click away?

Remember Winnie the Pooh?

““Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best …” and then he had to stop and think.
Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was
a moment just before you began to eat it which was even better
than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
(Alan Alexander Milne, author)

Anticipation is an integral and important part of the human experience, while instant gratification reduces its value. After a while, we become bored clicking for stuff that we don’t really need. Clicking, just like consuming, becomes a purpose in itself.

“There is no horror in the bang, only in the anticipation.”
(Alfred Hitchcock, film director and “Master of Suspense”)

Let’s be honest, is a clicked-through life without suspense really more exciting?

Is it rewarding?

Is it human?

Ultimately, corporations are the only ones to profit from this behavior. Their pile of cash grows while our and society’s pile of trash grows. And as long as we continue to behave like consumers, this will not change.

Status symbols

January 26th, 2016

“We are again confronted with one of the most vexing aspects of advanced
industrial civilization: the rational character of its irrationality. Its productivity
and efficiency, its capacity to increase and spread comforts, …the extent to which
this civilization transforms the object world into an extension of man’s mind and
body makes the very notion of alienation questionable. The people recognize
themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile,
hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which
ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is
anchored in the new seeds which it has produced.”

The philosopher and political theorist Herbert Marcuse wrote “One-Dimensional Man” – from which this excerpt is taken – back in 1964. Over 50 years later, some of the commodities, in which many obviously recognize themselves, may have changed, but the principle still applies. Which is probably why we call these commodities “status symbols”.

“If I am what I have and I lose what I have, who am I?”
(Erich Fromm, social psychologist)

Deals

January 25th, 2016

It’s obviously quite easy to lure and trap us with so-called deals.

Have we forgotten that a cheap deal is not necessarily a good deal?

“Pay me well, but let me buy cheap” just doesn’t work, especially in a globalized world. Not only that, but we don’t rely solely on money to pay for goods and services anymore. Today, we also pay with our personal data, often without realizing it, meaning that cheap winds up being not cheap at all. It’s funny, but when I was writing this, I had to think of my grandfather. He used to say that “if it’s cheap, it can’t be any good”.

Have we also forgotten that a free deal is an illusion?

Facebook: “Sign up. It’s free and always will be.”

Do people actually still believe this?

Come to think of it, signing up might actually be free. What follows most certainly isn’t.

If everything were to be free, we’d not only receive everything for free, we’d have to give everything away for free as well. Needless to say that this logic is extremely unpopular.

Would we still be free, if everything were free?

How valuable will our personal data ultimately be, if we’re less an less inclined to pay for stuff?

How useful will we be as consumers?

How profitable will we be?

If the Roman poet Virgil were alive today, he’d probably exclaim “I fear geeks (without the “r”), even those bearing gifts”. It looks like the proposition “for free” has always magically incapacitated our ability to think clearly.

Haven’t you ever wondered what would happen, if zero price met zero tolerance?

This business model would be kaput.

There is another problem. The cheaper a product or service becomes, the more indiscriminately we use it and the less we value it. “Cheap” and “free of charge” increase waste and pollution. We often choose low prices over better quality in the short-run, but end up paying more in the long-run.

For example, do we value air and water fairly in most countries?

You’d think we would, as we can’t live without either. The sad reality is that, because we pay little for water and nothing for air, the value of both in a totally commercialized world is low, far too low, resulting in waste and pollution.

“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the value of things.”
(Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher)

Chris Lewicki, the president of the space mining firm Planetary Resource said that it costs nearly $2 billion per year to launch enough water – 6 tons per person – to sustain the six astronauts aboard the International Space Station: $ 2,000,000,000 for 6 persons in 1 year = $ 333,333,333.33 for 1 person in 1 year = $ 913,242.01 per person per day. A necessary investment, considering that the scientific research on the ISS is important.

But what about the 780 million people on Planet Earth lacking access to clean water?

What, i.e. how much, would it take to provide access to clean water for everyone?

Why is this not happening?

I just mentioned Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the biggest country worldwide with over 1.4 billion “users”.

When is the last time we thought about the energy needed to run the data centers enabling 1.4 billion “users” to “share” stuff for “free”?

The world would be a better place, if we’d behave responsibly.

Consumerism

January 22nd, 2016

Turbocharged by globalization, a massive influx of inventions has resulted in a myriad of new products and services, which have led us into the present Age of Consumerism. The temples of consumption have replaced Circus Maximus.

“People are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is in producing
more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves.”
(Erich Fromm, social psychologist)

In these temples of consumption, many have lost their orientation as well as their freedom. Having to live on credit in order to finance their consumption habits, they have effectively become addicted.

They have lost their freedom.

”Consumption works like a drug. Enough is always just beyond the horizon.”
(Tomas Sedlacek, economist)

”Debt is the slavery of the free.”
(Publilius Syrus, writer)

On one hand, I don’t like the word “consumer”, when used to describe human beings. Products consume, like a car that consumes fuel and oil for example. On the other hand, we are all too often happy to indiscriminately buy junk, the cheaper, the better. And for as long as we are happy to do that, we’ll be rightfully called consumers and treated accordingly.

Just one example to illustrate my point. Over the past few years, the food industry in Germany has been fined approximately one billion Euros by the German cartel office for price fixing. The consumers have been had several times in the process. Not only did they pay too much for the products in question, as a result, they paid more VAT on these products as well. Needless to say that they didn’t get to see one cent of the fines and will have to pay higher prices again sooner or later. Last but not least, they punish themselves even more by not boycotting these products.

So much for “homo economicus”. We actually behave more like “homo consumens”, although many will argue that “homo consumens” is an oxymoron.

Is consumption our reason for being?

We’ve managed to turn Christmas, a religious holiday, into the ultimate shopping frenzy. We buy and give, because the calendar and the ads tell us to. Nothing to be proud of, if you ask me.

A system that only thrives by manipulating people to consume more and more, often useless, stuff does not add societal value.

What is more important for the future of humanity: Societal or shareholder value?

And it is not just about cheap stuff. Luxuries turn into necessities over time as well, thereby creating new addictions.