When we have a system growing the money supply by eight percent every year, and only a 3–4 percent increase in population and productivity, we need to get creative about ways to absorb all this money. We must consume more next year than we did this year or we will consider our economy stagnant (instead of stable and balanced). So, we must create a culture that makes consuming a priority. That’s not too difficult because we are wired to seek pleasure.
Over the past few hundred years, we have steadily monetized nearly everything. There are many complex reasons why this trend evolved, and the push of the money supply is one of them. Ironically, we have monetized everything except that which is of greatest importance to our prosperity and survival: freely caring for each other and the common wealth. What we have not monetized, we neglect. The system slowly squeezes our time to give of ourselves to others and to our world.
When we monetize everything we lose out on the value of gift-giving. Strong and healthy bonds with family and community make for healthier people.
Monetize caring for each other
In 1970, as the money supply growth curve was in its slow and almost invisible slope, 49 percent of two-parent homes could afford a parent staying at home providing children with full time non-monetized homemaking – cooking, cleaning, child-care, gardening, chauffeuring, playtime supervision, home maintenance, homework support, spiritual welfare, community connection, entertainment, and recreation coordination.23
Those days are disappearing. By 2017 only 29 percent of children had a stay-at-home parent, slightly up from a dip to 23 percent in 1999. This is partly by choice; both parents often want to keep a career on track, or just enjoy their work outside the home more than home- making and FT parenting. But, it’s usually not a matter of choice, two working parents are an economic necessity.24
An economy in which one partner works without intersecting with the money system won’t cut it when you need to increase the amount of money moving around by 8 percent every year. So, as the exponential curve headed upward, so did the aspects of our lives that moved from the family, neighbor, friend gift exchange culture into the buy-it culture. Unpaid home cooking became processed food, take-out, and restaurant meals. Home parenting became childcare for workforce parents. Free playtime for kids became after school classes. Homework time and homework help became tutoring services. We’ve monetized caring for each other as much as we can.
We’ve expanded what people can claim and monetize. Many things once considered part of the common wealth now belong to individuals or corporations. For example, a tweak in a method of doing business, built upon hundreds of generations of creative thinking, can be owned and patented. Until the Supreme Court ruled against it, companies were even patenting existing genome sequences in humans and plants. Some companies have so many patents, managing them is a whole new business for attorneys.25
More monetizing of copyright & trademarks
When our country was young, copyright law granted an author of a chart, map or book the exclusive right to publish and sell for 14 years. The copyright could be renewed for another 14 years if the author was still living. But, newspaper writing, musical composition, and any other forms of writing were not protected, and so became part of the common wealth. Copyright law revisions in 1831, 1976, and 1998 broadened the definition of what could be copyrighted, and extended the length of copyright protection to 28 years, then to the life of the author plus 70 years for individuals, and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication. Today, even a single word or a color can be trademarked by a business.26
These extensions of copyright restrict public expression and keep music, poetry and literature from re-entering the non-monetized common wealth for a long time. And it keeps a lot of people busy checking for copyright infringement.
We’ve changed our thinking about the purpose of education, and there is a growing trend to privatize, monetize, and profitize it. Once we valued a broadly educated citizenry. Providing an education for all citizens was considered part of our responsibility and a commitment to our future. Outcomes were not tied to earning potential; we believed that having an education was good for the soul and the community.
Today, our policies say we value money-earning potential. If you’re not learning something that can make you money later in life, it’s not worth learning. This is the monetization of learning. It creates an insidious attitude; kids absorb that they’re supposed to get a reward or pay for any learning. Schools drop art, PE, music, drama, literature, and recess because they are not considered subjects that provide employers with value. Then teachers have to offer kids rewards – stars on charts and in some cases, toys or money – so they will maintain a focus on the limited, highly-structured, often-boring curriculum. This is as true for a culture as it is for an education; a rich trove of freely available music, recreational movement, literature, and time to enjoy them, enhances creativity and prosperity.
A narrow good employee focus is shortsighted. Dozens of studies find the arts and physical movement enhance learning math, language, and science; adults and children work better when they move, sing, relax, read books, and create freely.27 28 Schools are beginning to pay attention to these studies; movement and the arts are returning to some schools.
PRIVATIZATION & PRIVATE SPENDING
The US spends more than $620 billion on K-12 education each year.29 Wall Street appears to want as much of that money as it can get, and spending on education has been moving from the public sphere to the private marketplace. There appears to be a plan.
First cut public funding. This has been done. Cuts in funding public education over the past 50 years – from 13 percent to 70 percent depending on how you calculate – mean public education has deteriorated.30
Then take control of education by demanding standardized tests created by private enterprise and then sell curriculums to teach to the tests. Done. The Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban districts, found students take an average of 113 standardized tests between pre-K and 12th grade.31 Every one of those tests costs money to administer and is a way to increase spending and shift public education money into the private sector – while reducing the funding for the teaching the tests measure. Testing is a $4 billion market.32 Finland has the second most highly rated education outcomes in the world and it only gives one external standardized test to children when they are 15, a national Matriculation Examination. (The US is #14.)33
With the importance of tests, the increased competition for higher education, and declining school performances, parents who can afford it spend on tutoring, which is now a $7 billion industry, or pay for private schools, which often do not have to deal with the issues of children raised in poverty.34 In 2015–16, 10 percent of US students went to a private school, and 25 percent of US schools were private. In 2012, non-sectarian private schools cost $22,440 per student on average, roughly double the average of $11,762 that we spend on public schools.35
More spending on tests, more spending on curriculums, more spending on administration staff to capture the federal funding that requires meeting and documenting national standards.
More and more
We make and buy more to soak up the growing money supply. We can be creative and productive and raise the standard of living with good things – and bad things. Either for good or for bad, the more everyone spends the more newly created dollars can be absorbed into the economy. We measure this as our GDP and celebrate its growth.
We buy more food. Back in the 1950s most people ate their food in 3 meals – and that kept us healthy. Children might get a snack when they came home from school, but snacking during school rarely happened. Today the snack food industry is a $148 billion industry in the US, and sugary snacks – addicting and fattening – make up a third.36 Eating more means buying more. And eating more increases disease and the cost of healthcare. More cost soaks up more money, means more borrowing and is a boon to bankers.
We have created many appliances that free up our time and enrich our lives. None of us would have budgeted for a cell phone a few years back and now consider it a necessity.
However, we celebrate all increases in sales indiscriminately when we make growing the GDP our primary goal: we spend over $9.1 billion on Halloween – $2.7 billion on candy alone.37 This is more than we spend on the Environmental Protection Agency ($8.4 billion net in 2017).38 We play games about fear and monsters while minimizing protections against the real monsters destroying our lives. When we celebrate a growing GDP, we celebrate the sales that put toxic chemicals in our air, food, water and bodies. Then we celebrate that cancer care is a booming and expanding industry.
Spend more on bigger is another way to soak up money. So, we have been increasing the size of our plates, our homes, our closets, our storage, our cars, our bodies. A drive through any city will make this trend obvious. You can date houses by their size. In 1950 the average home size was 983 square feet, an average floor area per person of 292 square feet. In 2014 it is triple that size at 2,657 square feet, an average floor area of 1,046 square feet per person – not to mention the increasing enclaves of homes in the 5,000–10,000 square foot range.39 The bigger the house, the more materials it uses, the more energy it requires, the more it costs to furnish and maintain. Spending more on our homes absorbs money. And, it is a vicious circle – having more costly homes means working more and borrowing more.
The average size of the US dinner plate grew from 9” to 12” (sometimes larger in restaurants) – a 76 percent increase in size since 1960.40 We eat more on a bigger plate, and today the average daily calorie intake is 3,649.41 We have steadily been increasing our calorie intake. The average women needs 2000 and the average man 2500. Since 1980 the prevalence of obesity has almost doubled. The US has the highest level of age-standardized childhood obesity in the world at 13 percent.42 Obesity increases health care costs.
Our cars reached an average peak weight of 4,079 in 1976. After the oil shocks of the 1970’s, the average weight dropped to 3,202 pounds five years later. Then began a steady rise again. By 2005, the weight was back over 4,000 pounds. It has remained steady and the average car in 2016 weighed 4,035 pounds.43 While we’ve improved engine efficiency and reduced fuel consumption per pound of weight, it’s a little crazy to consume enough nonrenewable fuel to move 4,000 pounds of car to carry a 200 pound person to the grocery store. More weight. More fuel. More road wear. More spending.
The Guinness world record for longest lasting car is a 1966 Volvo that’s been on the road for 48 years travelling 3 million miles. So, we know well-built and well-cared for cars can go a long way. However, in 2014 the average age of vehicles on the road was 11.4 years. The good news is that we’re making cars last longer – that’s up from 8.9 years in 2000.44 We can have a total renewable energy vehicle that lasts 20 to 30 years when we put our mind to it.
Fire Station #6 in Livermore, California has a lightbulb made and first installed in 1901. It’s been burning for 117 years as of January 2018, and reached its million hours milestone in 2015.45 In the 1920s a global cartel of light manufacturers realized if they built lightbulbs that would last indefinitely, sales would be slow. In the name of standardizing, the cartel agreed to a limit of 1000 hours on the life of a bulb, and for decades they fined each other for going over this limit. The rest of the business world took note and the light bulb makers are credited with making planned obsolescence an admired and prevalent business strategy.
Almost 100 years later we’re running out of space for our mountains of garbage and waste from a century of planned obsolescence. We are beginning to see the reemergence of light bulbs that last a lifetime, so perhaps there is hope for a re-birth of the idea of making things well and making them to last.
Advertising pushes us to want new, shiny, and the latest. The upside is it pushes innovation. If a manufacturer must come up with a new phone every year, they make a better one. The downside is the waste ends up in landfills. Humans are natural-born creative thinkers so we can have the innovation without the excess when we choose.
But, there is a limit to how much more one person or one family can consume, so…Once we’ve increased our population as rapidly as we can and monetized as much as possible, and we’ve got everyone consuming at a high rate and the bankers still want to create more money to earn more profits, then what?