Commercials: Not All Publicity is Good Publicity

Commercials: you’re likely to absorb hundreds of them per day, via media such as the TV, radio and internet. As I have written about in a previous article, the average person spends 1/24 of his life watching commercials on television. That’s a quite a lot, isn’t it? But I don’t want to focus on this act of wasting our lives by consuming useless material. I want to take a look at the effect of commercials, and of marketing in general, on the perception of a company’s brand. Most companies seem to believe that any publicity is good publicity. They seem to think that – no matter how bad a commercial might be – it’s always better to have a commercial than to have no commercial at all. But the question is: is this true?

When you’re watching television, and you see a commercial of a brand you’ve never heard of before, what will be the effect of this commercial on your perception of the brand? Marketers seem to think that they’ve increased your ‘awareness‘ of their brand, in the sense that – consciously or not – you now know about the brand‘s existence. And this might very well be true. But then the question would be: is all awareness good awareness? Or can awareness – as created by commercials – lead to a (more) negative (instead of positive) perception of the brand by the customer?

I believe it can. I believe that whenever people see terribly non-funny commercials (as there are plenty of) on television, they associate the brand promoted in the commercial with negative values such neediness, pity and lameness. I believe that the next time these people are in front of, for example, a supermarket they’ve just seen in an utterly non-funny (but intended to be funny) commercial, they will think to themselves: ‘Come on, I’m not going to support such a quasi-funny company’, and they’ll decide to skip the store. Even though these people might have entered the store if they hadn’t watched the commercial, or if the company wouldn’t have produced the commercial in the first place. But now they’ve got all kinds of negative associations with the brand, they decide to skip the store and go to another store – which might have less awareness but still more positive awareness than the supermarket of the commercial. And this goes not only for the supermarket-market, but for any other kind of market as well.

Customers usually don’t care about whether a brand is well-known – note that this doesn’t hold for clothing brands and other products that depend for their value to a large extent on marketing. We just want to buy a particular good or a particular service. And the only thing guiding us to a particular store is our perception of this brand/store. And if this perception is negative – which it very likely might be as a result of a bad commercial – you’d consciously avoid this store, and move to a next one. Even though the particular brand might have put a lot of money into its marketing efforts, they’re worse off than they would have been if they hadn’t launched the commercial.

Of course, marketing – including commercials on television and radio – can have a positive effect on a company’s brand and consequently on the sales of the company’s goods/services. But only if the company markets the relevant aspects of its brand, and not just launches a commercial for the sake of showing how ‘funny’ it is as a supermarket. Most people won’t appreciate that: the intelligent people might feel like they’re being treated like babies, and will therefore consciously avoid the brand, and the less intelligent people might not respond at all to this irrelevant kind of commercials.

If want to get people to your store (or make use of your service), you have to stay close to the product your selling, because that’s where customers are coming for or not coming for. Emphasize your low prices, your current actions/sales or your great service, and skip the bullshit. Then, and only then, can marketing attract – instead of scare away – customers.

But what do you think?

The Difference between What You Get and What You Earn

In economic theory, it is claimed that if a market would function perfectly, people would get for their products and services whatever it is they contribute in terms of value. And the same goes the other way: people would pay whatever they find a product or service worthy of. But when you take a look at the real world markets, and all the actors in these real world markets, this principle doesn’t seem to hold. Not at all.

I want to show this by giving one example. That of the banker, and the hacker.

A banker invents all kinds of ingenious derivative constructs, futures and other financial products in order to make money. The more complex the better. For if a product is complex, the layman doesn’t understand it. And if the layman doesn’t understand it, it is easy to lure him into what might seem to be an attractive deal, but which in fact is nothing but a ticking time bomb.

It is generally acknowledged that bankers, and especially the bankers referred to above, are at least partially responsible for the credit crisis we have experienced. It is safe to say that a lot of wealth has been lost during the crisis; people lost their homes, their jobs, and governments had to step in to save the day. In other words: these bankers have, at least over the last couple of years, made a negative contribution to the overall utility of society.

Why then do they get paid so much? Why then do they get a high positive utility for acting in a manner that ultimately decreases society’s utility? Although I am not interested in explaining this phenomenon in this post, one explanation could be that it seems like the bankers contribute a lot of happiness, because they (can) create a lot of money, and – in our capitalist society – money equals happiness. Hence the bankers create a lot of happiness.

Luckily, there are also people who do the exact opposite: they don’t get paid anything while making lots of people happy. They are the modern day equivalent of Robin Hood. An example would be the people contributing content to Wikipedia. But also the people behind Popcorn Time; a digital platform at which you can stream pretty much any movie, and all for free. These people make very many people happy – an exception would be the film distributors of course – but don’t get paid anything. Even though, in contract to the banker, their net contribution to society’s utility is positive.

Although we don’t pay the Wikipedia guys and Popcorn Time geeks in terms of money, we can pay them in terms of a currency that is even more valuable: gratefulness and respect. Something the bankers cannot count on. Because after all: there is a difference between what you get, and what you earn.

But what do you think?

Why the High Taxation on Cigarettes is Unjustified

According to a survey held by the British Action on Smoking and Health (the ASH, for short), 20 percent of the British adults smoke. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I believe that the act of smoking isn’t intrinsically good or bad; it is something that each person should decide for himself. However, what I do believe is valuable in its own right is human autonomy. By autonomy I mean ‘the right each person has to decide for himself how to live his life without unjustified intervention from external parties‘. And it is this latter point I want to draw attention to.

According to the ASH, in 2012, 77 percent of the price of a pack of cigarettes consisted of tax. Multiply that by the number of cigarette packs sold, and you get an amount of £10,5 billion raised through tobacco taxation. This is six times as much as the spending by the the National Health Service (the NHS) on tobacco related diseases; these were ‘merely’ £1,7 billion. So the question that comes to mind is: what justifies the £8,8 billion that remains after subtracting the NHS costs from the money raised through tobacco taxation?

The ASH claims that the inequality between the two numbers is no issue, for ‘tobacco tax is not, and never has been, a down payment on the cost of dealing with ill health caused by smoking’. But what then is the purpose of this tax? The ASH claims that the high level of tobacco tax in Britain serves two purposes: (1) to reduce smoking through the price incentive, and (2) to raise taxes from a source that has little impact on the economy. The latter point has been scrutinized extensively by economists, and I don’t think I can add anything to that discussion. So let’s focus on the first point: the aim of reducing smoking through the price incentive.

By making this claim, the ASH implicitly assumes that it is within the government set of rights to reduce smoking among its citizens. But is it? One can justify tobacco taxation on the grounds of the (health care) costs incurred by the non-smoking part of society. But, as we have seen, this amount by no means adds up to the taxes levied on tobacco. I believe this question (‘But is it?’) directs us towards the fundamental question of where the boundaries lie between justified government intervention and morally objectionable behaviour. One could say that, as I believe, it is one thing (and justified) to prevent non-smokers from being financially hurt by the actions of smokers, but that it is a completely different thing (and not justified) to promote non-smoking values among citizens, merely for the sake of – what appear to be – paternalistic motives.

As with any government intervention, the benefits of the intervention should be weighed against its costs. Presumed that there might be an intrinsic value in having a non-smoking society – a point the ASH doesn’t provide any argument for – the costs of violating what might be an intrinsically valuable human right (autonomy, that is) should be included in the calculation as well. And until this has been done, the question of whether the £10,5 billion in tobacco taxation is justified remains open for debate.

But what do you think?

Flipping the Hierarchy of the Sciences

There are different sciences, and each one is ‘appreciated’ for its own unique contribution to our collective knowledge pool. But some sciences are appreciated just a little more than others. Whether it be the social sciences that are regarded as the most complex and developed sciences, as Auguste Comte believed, or the natural sciences as being the ones coming closest to the ‘objective truth’, as people in our society – implicitly or explicitly – seem to presume: there’s always a certain hierarchy in our perception of the sciences.

It’s understandable why – at least in our society – the natural sciences are regarded to be ‘better’ or ‘more scientific’ than those ‘subjective’ social sciences. The natural sciences – physics, chemistry etc. – are related to Western industrialism and the inventions (steam engine, electricity, televisions etc.) it brought forth. And since natural sciences –> inventions –> money, and since money is good, the natural sciences are good too. At least better than the social sciences, for the latter won’t make us millionaires. But even though such hierarchies are understandable, they might have some negative implications for the manner in which the ‘lower’ sciences are being looked upon. They might, for example, lose their ‘scientific status’, and hence the respect that comes with this status. But there’s a remarkably easy way to solve this problem.

People are used to thinking in terms of higher and lower, at which ‘higher’ is associated with ‘better’ and ‘lower’ with ‘worse’. This vertical manner of thinking might be a relic from the past, in which religion was very prominent and in which higher meant closer to heaven, and in which heaven was good. But whatever metaphor was responsible for the pyramid-structured hierarchies we tend to visualize in our heads, it’s a fact that it’s omnipresent in our conceptual frameworks.

But let me ask you something: what would happen if we would turn this vertical hierarchy on its side? If we would obtain a horizontal ‘hierarchy’? Would we then still have a hierarchy? Probably not, for the distinction between higher and lower ranks would have disappeared. It’s just left and right, with left – for example – being the social sciences and right the natural sciences – in case you order the sciences based on a criteria such as ‘nature dominance’. Or you could put the natural sciences on the left hand side and the social sciences on the right – in case the variable of choice would be something like ‘people dominance’. Whatever criteria you use for ordering the sciences, the hierarchy will have disappeared, and hence the negative consequences for a science appearing at the bottom of the ranking.

It’s a very easy change in ordering the sciences, but one who doesn’t entail the negative consequences of a vertical hierarchy.

But what do you think?

The Subjective Nature of Scarcity

‘Mum, I want an iPad too!’, ‘Really?! You’ve got tickets for Glastonbury? Aah…I envy you so much right now!’, ‘You’ve gotten a bonus of 150.000 dollars?! Jesus…well, believe me: in a couple of years from now, I’ve got that too.’

More opportunities and more possibilities create more wants and more needs. Hence it is very plausible that we – the ‘rich people in the West’ – have more unsatisfied desires than the ‘poor in Africa’, numerous of which are starving each day due to a lack of food. After all, we want an iPad, MacBook and iPhone; they only want some bread and water. Hence we are the ones having more unsatisfied needs, thus we are less satisfied than the poor in Africa. Poor old us: it isn’t easy being rich…

Scarcity is defined as the ‘insufficiency of amount or supply’ of a good/service. Note the word insufficiency in this definition, since it is this word that points to the root of the problem. Unlike things as ‘supply’ or ‘amount’ – that are quantifiable and hence (at least partially) measurable or objective – ‘sufficiency‘ is an intrinsically subjective judgement. And the problem with something being subjective, is that it is relative; its ‘value’ is determined by means of comparison to what is going on in one’s surroundings. And if you’re living in a rich environment, an environment in which iPads and MacBooks are within reach for everyone, then this environment is likely to make you want different (read: less basic) goods than you would have wanted if you’d been living in, let’s say, the poorest regions of Africa.

Capitalism is a train, and profit is perishable. Yesterday’s profit is not today’s profit. And it is today’s profit that counts. Standing still is falling behind; you have to keep moving in order to keep your balance. That is the system we’re living in and that is the system we’re constantly trying to prevent from collapsing. Not because we want to keep it on its feet, but because we have to: after all, we are part of the system too, and we have got to make sure that we keep on our feet.

Sure: you could be stubborn and decide not to take part in the ever-continuing rat-race called ‘the economy’. But what then? Where do you – and where can you – turn to? Nowhere, right? You need your money in order to stay alive: in order to satisfy your iPad-needs, your longings, desires and deepest fetish-like obsessions, you have to keep on producing and buying. We’re locked up in a prison: a prison we’re painfully dependent upon.

We could of course turn to communism, an economic system without money. By doing away with money, we might do away with the vicious circle of making each other more horny and horny for bigger and bigger goods. A horniness without an organism to mark the end point of our satisfaction-seeking journey. No money means no satiable goals – or at least no goals that are within financial reach. And no satiable goals would prevent us from having feelings of insufficiency. But communism…hmm…that doesn’t sound very attractive, does it? No: we’d rather keep on hoping for that Lamborghini.

But what do you think?

Swearing Bankers: Is That Going to Make any Difference?

Bankers want to make money. And that’s okay, right? Everyone wants to make money. But they should do so in an “ethical” way, right? They shouldn’t screw each and every customers just in order to gain some extra profit. No, they should be nice guys. They should respect the interests of their customers and not – for example – gamble with their savings and pensions. However, it is not always easy to respect the customers’ interests and make money at the same time. Sometimes it is just way easier to go straight for it; to take every (doubtful) opportunity to make money. And – as we have seen with the big crises that have occurred (or are still occurring) – “greed” can have negative effects on society. Governments need to step in with “their” tax money to save the day because, as they say, the banks are “too big too fail“. That is, it its much cheaper for the governments to pay “some” money to prevent the banks from collapsing, than to let the bank collapse.

It seems fair to say that banks keep us in an (economic) stranglehold; we can’t do anything but give into their wishes. They are like our big silly brother that holds the family fortune but likes to live the good life; buy drugs, drinks, smokes etc. So if you don’t watch him closely, the money will be gone (“Aaaaand it’s gone“, South Park, anyone?).

So what are we going to do? Just sit back and hope our silly brother won’t make any mistakes again? Or are we – somehow – trying to force him to act “wisely”, without violating the “rules of the free market”? Well, the first option seems kind of risky; so let’s try the second. What can we do? Well, as the Dutch government is trying, we can let the bankers swear to act nicely (link is in Dutch). Let the bankers put their hands on their hearts and say out loud: “we value our customers and we will do anything to prevent them from being hurt”. Well, isn’t that nice?

It it sure is. But will it work? Well, probably not. Because what will happen to the bankers if they don’t stick to “the oath”? Well, then the bank has to decide whether or not the banker is really capable of doing the “banking” job. Really….are we going to put the banks again in charge of what it means to do a good banking job? Then what has changed (again a Dutch link) compared to the situation before the bankers sworn to act nicely? Well, now the government has at least tried to make the bankers act nicely. Now, if they act evil again, it’s not the government fault anymore, right? They have done everything they could, right?

I think we all see that having bankers swear that they will act nicely will not make any difference. At least not without any legal consequences attached to not acting nicely. But the situation might be even worse than this. It might be that the situation after having the bankers sworn to act nicely is more “unethical” than the situation before. But why is that? Well, imagine a bank complying to the “bankers’ oath”. The bank is all acting “ethically” and respecting its customers. But then, suddenly, the bank goes bankrupt. Why is that? Well, the bank was the only bank really complying to the oath; the bigger and “smarter” banks did what they should do: make money no matter what it takes. So, by stimulating banks to act “ethically“, the government itself is acting unethical: they are promoting “unethical banks” (read: banks not complying to the oath) in continuing their greedy actions by weakening the competition of the “sweet” banks. That’s not really nice, is it?

So what’s the lesson we should learn from this state of affairs? Well, two things: first of all, governments that want to promote ethical behavior have to set firm rules – not just oaths without any legal repercussions – if they want to promote ethical banking behavior. And secondly, how can can we ever except companies – and especially banks – in a capitalistic society to act nicely if this acting nicely goes against their profit making interests? There aren’t charity organizations, are they?

But what do you think?

Financial Markets: Keeping Up the Illusion of Confidence

Financial markets are trading grounds on which not products but ‘packets of confidence‘ are exchanged. Do you dare to face the uncertainty, or do you rather pass the opportunity to some guy more manly than you? Who is the 21th century knight, galloping over the battlefield of fallen companies, always leaving just in time not to get hit by the sweeping sword of bankruptcy, but just long enough to receive the fortune and fame? Who has got the balls to take the risk? That’s the question.

A financial market is a special market. In contrast to ‘normal’ markets – markets at which tangible goods like tables or computers are traded, or services like car-washing and theater – this market is build on top of confidence, or at least the perception of it. Surely, through such things as valuation techniques, financial considerations play a more than average role in deciding whether or not to buy stocks, derivatives, obligations or other financial products. However, just as it is in science, there is always a leap of faith required to take the final step: no matter whether it is in jumping to the conclusion on the basis of data, or making the purchase of a stock based upon a ‘reasonable’ level of confidence. No absolute truths and absolute values exist.

Thus – given that confidence plays such an important role in financial markets – you might expect that regulators overseeing these markets will try to do anything in order to keep this fragile little entity up and running. Just like a friend might gloze over the truth in order to keep you – and therefore himself – happy, so a regulator might tell investors that everything is going according to plan; that there’s nothing to worry about. And although lying might be immoral – according to Kant’s Categorical Imperative at least – that’s exactly what he (the regulator) should do, right? If not, the whole house of cards will collapse; investors become (more) insecure and run away as fast as they can. So you need a Santa Claus kind of figure; someone who, above all, should be trustworthy; someone who, no matter how naughty you have been, will always be there to comfort you. Of course: it wouldn’t mind if he or she would have at least some understanding of financial markets, but that’s just only a bonus (you get it? That was a joke).

So, what would happen if, instead of Santa Claus, you would put a politician in charge of regulating the financial markets? A guy like, let’s say, Jeroen Dijsselbloem? A guy who says that, ‘If the banks can’t do it, then we’ll talk to their shareholders and bondholders, we’ll ask them to contribute in recapitalising the bank, and – if necessary – the uninsured deposit holders.’ Then shit is getting messy, right? The insecure investors, longing for a pat on the back, or at least a little sympathy, start running; like Forrest Gump, the investors get the sign to ‘Run, investors, run!’

Honesty is not appreciated in financial markets, so don’t even try it. Lie as hard as you can. Do everything to keep the rat-race going. Do all that is required to ‘restore the confidence in the financial markets‘; be the 21st century Machiavelli. Don’t listen to the crowd yelling that the banks must bleed for their sins. Just assure that they – the crowd – will get their money back. Illusion leads to confidence, and confidence is king. So lie as hard as you can mister regulators; Go for it!

But what do you think?

People Spend 1/6 of their Lives In Front Of the Television

The average person spends 4 to 5 hours a day in front of the television. That means that, in a 65-year period, the average person would have spent 9 years glued to the tube. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? But that’s not all, since there is – on average – 18 minutes of commercial airtime during an hour-long broadcasted television program. Thus, a simple calculation shows that the average person – given that he only watches commercial airtime – spends almost 2,5 years (!) of his life watching commercials on television. Add to that the Tel Sells of this world, and you’ll come to even more years of commercial television usage. So, let’s make this very clear: on a global scale, people are spending more than 1/6th of their lives in front of the television, and possibly more than 1/24th of their lives watching commercials on television.

Imagine what the world could be like if – instead of sitting in front of the television watching commercials – people would be doing something useful with their time: helping their neighbors, teaching their children, taking care of their garden etc. Then we would gain 1/24th of ‘extra’ human life, and even more if we would stop – or at least lessen – our television usage at all. We could in the time saved by not watching television (commercials) help people in Africa, think about what we’re going to do about global warning or play games with friends. We could, instead of watching people promote their books on television, actually read a book. That would surely be a better use of our time, wouldn’t it? Surely it can be pleasant to just relax and watch something on autopilot; to not think about anything for a while. To just let the ‘entertainment’ of television blow you away. But don’t you mind that – in this time that you’re ‘not thinking about anything’ – you’re in fact (unconsciously) being indoctrinated with thoughts and desires about deodorant, ice-cream, cars and beer? Don’t you mind being used as a puppet; companies using your precious time supporting their own wealth?

There are, as always, exceptions to the rule: there are documentaries broadcasted on television that might actually widen your perspective on the world, instead of narrowing it. Documentaries that actually teach you something and therefore might actually be worthy of your time. But – given that there are such documentaries – can’t we just watch them online, without having to suffer from any commercial breaks whatsoever? There are plenty of sites (Top Documentary Films and DocumentaryHeaven, to name only two) that provide you with such documentaries for free. And if you want to watch less educational programs (series etc.), there are equally many sites at which you can stream your favorite series for free. That might save you a lot of time watching commercials; time that can be used to watch more of your favorite series. However, as you might have noticed, many of such series – like Californication – are interwoven with implicit advertisement (Why does Hank Moody drive a Porsche? Why does he smoke Camel?). But that’s the price we’ve got to pay for entertainment.

But what do you think?

Longing for Dominance and Loving Dogs

Do you want people to obey you, or do you want them to be independent? Do you want people to nod and do as you say, or do you want people to be able to stand their ground? Do you want unconditional love, or do you value the whims of individuality? In other words: are you a dog-person, or are you a cat-person?

Each morning, afternoon and evening, millions of people are walking their dog: they are pulling the cord that connects them to their most loyal follower. They are yelling at the little creature like there is no tomorrow: ‘Max, don’t shit there!,’ ‘Sit! No, sit!’, ‘Listen to me!’. Why would you ever want a creature like that? To keep such a creature on a leash, while everything in nature screams that dogs aren’t meant to be kept on a leash. So why then do it?

You could also choose a cat, a night-walker, able to save his own ass in every situation. A creature whose nature it is to wander around through life, purposeless and autonomous. Not obeying anyone, just doing as he pleases. An entrepreneur following his instincts, grabbing each opportunity to satisfy his needs. Not interested in your validation, just in his own. Only caring about you in so far as you give him what he wants. The perfect citizen in this capitalistic constellation of ours.

Communism or capitalism. Dogs versus cats. Men is born to dominate: be it in communism or otherwise. We feel superior by watching others crave for our attention, hoping for us to come and rescue them. It makes us feel important. This is a universal need. That means that, if we can’t fulfill this need in our everyday working lives, we need to find different options for satisfying this need. We need to express our dominance in another way. We can do this by beating our wives, rebelling against society or by taking care of a creature that is fully dependent on us. A creature that, even if it wants to take shit, needs our approval to do so.

Do people with dogs have to compensate for something? For a feeling of powerlessness, disobedience, or any other sense of inferiority they experience in their daily lives? A need to execute their dominance, if not over human, then at least over an animal? ‘But he is so sweet,’ ‘He is always happy and wiggles his tail when I come home.’ That might be true, but do you want a creature longing for your validation? You don’t want a spouse that obeys you, no matter what you request, do you? Not if you can also have an independent soul, able to live a life on its own, even when you are not there to grant your permission.

Power structures are everywhere: even in our relation to our pets. Marx (and Darwin) would be jealous.

But what do you think?

The Difference between Economic- and Real Demand

Both of my grandfathers were farmers and so are two of my uncles. The other family members are all in some way related to the agricultural business. That’s how I – in one of our annual family gatherings – winded up in a discussion with my farmer-uncle about the current state of the agricultural business in Europe. He told me that the farmers – including himself – had to pay wholesalers – which are the parties farmers should be selling their crops to – for them to come and pick up their crops. So: instead of getting paid for cultivating their crops – which seems to be a pretty fair deal – farmers actually have to pay money for them to get rid of their unions, potatoes etc. That’s how low the prices of many crops are these days. And do you know why these prices are so low? Because there is no demand. I repeat: there is no demand. So while there are – as we speak – people are starving in Africa, our farmers have to pay money to get rid of their crops because there would be no demand. This is how far we have gotten in this 21th century of our human civilization.

But let’s take a closer look at the situation: why is there what seems to be a structural oversupply of certain crops? When asking this question to my uncle, he explained to me that the farmers kept on producing this much unions – for example – because they were hoping for some disaster to occur in a country abroad – like a flood in Russia or a drought in Spain – which would make the supply of unions drop, the prices rise and the revenues of Dutch farmers increase. It seems that the act of speculating has crossed the boundaries of the banking sector into the agricultural industry.

However, knowing the farmers’ motives for continuing the supply of unions is not in itself sufficient for coming to understand why there is this oversupply in “the West” and this starvation in Africa. After all, one cannot blame the farmers for trying to make a living, right? So maybe we should put the blame on the Africans. They are after all the ones that are too poor to help our farmers out, right? That’s true, but that is also very twisted. But where to put the blame then? Why is this economic game being played so far away from what we – the human species as a whole – seem to need?

Maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with the economic paradigm. With the economy as being the domain of the profit-maximizing individual. The domain in which the market takes care of itself. The domain of the exchange of goods and services in order for the overall utility of society to increase. Maybe the economic paradigm has lost touch with reality and with why it was invented in the first place: to help us human beings live together peacefully. And since no money equals no goods, and since people are not willing to provide their goods for free, the poor are screwed, right?

But maybe there is a way for the market and ethics to converge. That is: maybe we should stop looking at money as being a universal instrument of valuation and start looking at the goods and services people worldwide have to offer. I can imagine that Africa – because of its climate – has the right conditions for growing agricultural products that are totally different from those being cultivated in the much colder regions of Europe. So why not focus ourselves upon producing and exchanging these goods? No money involved. Just trading the stuff each of the counties is capable of producing with stuff they are unable to produce. We should look for ways in which we – the countries of the world – might be able to complement each other. We have to – as a world – see which countries are – whether it is because of natural resources being present or because of beneficial geographical positioning – most capable of fulfilling a particular task and let each country focus upon performing that task. This is the only manner in which we can fully benefit from the differences that inevitably exist between countries, without ending up in an imbalanced economic situation like we are today. We have all got something to offer each other. That is what we have to realize.

Let’s make this more concrete. Let’s focus upon an example that shows the manner in which different countries could be able to use their regional advantages in creating value. Most of us do agree with the idea that fossil fuels are likely to be exhausted within a couple of decades, right? So that means that we have to switch to other energy sources. Sources like solar energy. And where is an extremely high amount of solar radiation waiting to be caught? A place in which unused space is abundant? Indeed: the African desert.

Think about it. Hereby we could make optimal use of the geographical differences between the world’s countries. In the West we could keep on having “old-school” food-producing farmers, while in Africa there would be an entire new group of “sun-farmers”. This development could turn the idea of what it means to be a farmer upside down. Both types of farmers are producing energy for us human beings. And each of them would focus its efforts on doing what it does best and exchanging these results with other countries.

Sounds good, right? The choice is yours: should we stick to the money-focused, profit-maximizing and individualistic approach currently being applied, or shall we start trying to obtain the most value from the differences that exist on the world and use these differences to create a fair and honest trading scheme.

What do you think?

The Link between Capitalism and Wanting to Kill your Neighbor

Let’s face it: we don’t know why we are here on this earth of ours. Biologists might say that we are here to procreate; economists might say that we are here to maximize profits; Christians might say that we are here to please God. However, on the level of humanity as a whole, no-one truly knows why we are here. And you know what? We will probably never figure it out, so we might just as well stop trying, right? Why don’t we focus all of our efforts on answering a question that we are actually capable of answering, such as the question: what should we do with our lives while we are here? Or more specifically: do we want to screw everyone around us, or do we want to look for another, more social option?

Let me tell you a short story. This morning I went to the grocery store, for which I had to cross the street. I saw a few cars driving up to the pedestrian crossing, so I decided to wait a second. When the cars had passed, I decided to give it a go. While I was half-way on the crossing, I saw – in the corner of my eye – a car approaching: quickly approaching. And even though the driver had plenty of time to slow down, he didn’t do so. Moreover, he accelerated and almost hit me while passing me by. While the driver passed me, I looked him in the eyes for a split second, and all I could see was a glance of utter indifference; a glance you would have when you accidentally drop your 5-year old phone on the ground. I shook my head and asked myself: ‘Is this the world we live in?’ So now I ask you: is this the world we live in? How come that we are  indifferent towards the life of others? Are we just hateful people?

We might very well be, but let’s try to find a different reason; an economic reason, for example. Let’s ask ourselves: what is the economic system we’re living in? There it is: capitalism! Capitalism is an economic system that fosters values such as individual value maximization, efficiency and competition. Those who are the most focused at maximizing their profits are the ones that are (regarded to be) the most successful. The capitalistic system has a tendency to create hatred towards the wealthy egocentric people living on the other side of town. Children are being urged to stand up for their property rights (‘That’s my ice-cream’) and not to trust strangers. And this indoctrination doesn’t stop with the dawn of adolescence. As a student being niggardly is a virtue; being free-handed is just stupid.

Socialism, on the other hand, is an economic system that is characterized by collective ownership of property. The value that your neighbor contributes to society benefits you just as much as his benefits him: his gain is your gain. This implies that it would be reasonable to help each other out. After all: why would you decide to cross the street if that would result in three other contributors to your wealth having to wait? Wouldn’t that – indirectly, via the ‘wallet of the state’ – harm yourself? It probably would, right? This observation makes values like camaraderie and cooperation being valued and fostered in a socialistic society. Growing up in a socialistic society will urge children not to stand up too firmly for their individual property rights, but rather to focus on the property rights of the collective. And, as you can imagine, this would create an entirely different (economical) world.

This article is not a plea for socialism per se. Nonetheless, if everyone could just be a little more social, the world wouldn’t stop turning, right?

But what do you think?