If one were to follow what conventional economic theories teach, the market should create a balance between supply and demand that is satisfactory to both; and technical progress should help to make this happen. This is to forget an essential word in this reasoning: demand must be solvent in order to be taken into account in the search for this balance. A demand that comes from people who do not have the means to satisfy it, either by their income or by their vote, does not count.
Thus the market neglects to produce what is most useful to the poorest, but also what could be useful to future generations, who today have no purchasing power.
Similarly, the state does not encourage the production, by itself or by the market, of what might be necessary for the poorest voters, whose power to influence the vote is generally, for a thousand and one reasons (the dominant ideology, propaganda, the power of the lobbies) very much lower than their number. And it does so even less for future generations, who do not have the right to vote.
This is particularly true in the case of innovations: so many derisory innovations flood the market, consume insane amounts of fossil fuels, and are transported across the entire planet, without any real use.
So, for example, in clothing, with thousands of new items produced every week with no benefit to anyone other than waste and the exploitation of the children who produce them, without being able to go to school.
So too with food, with products that are each sweeter and fatter than the next, competing in their packaging and mixtures, bringing nothing but poisons to their consumers, and ruining the producers of the raw materials they use.
This is the case with a thousand and one applications on the Internet, video games and increasingly devastating virtual drugs.
While in many fields, many important innovations have been delayed because they reduce sources of profit; and nothing is done to improve the concrete life of people when it is not otherwise profitable:
For example, nothing is done in factories or construction sites to reduce the drudgery of work, unless its automation improves the profitability of capital and reduces the need for personnel.
Nor is anything being done by the banks to offer their customers a simple application that would allow everyone to know their annual expenses and income, and to be warned in case of a deficit. It seems that banks live off their customers’ mistakes.
Nor is anything being done to help everyone know how much greenhouse gas they produce, directly or indirectly.
Nor is anything being done to help disabled people around the world get the prostheses they need but cannot afford.
Yet all this could be done. We could, for example, imagine and implement techniques for agricultural production, animal slaughter, industrial production, building construction, public works, roads, packaging, etc., that would be much more economical in terms of employee effort, much less tedious and much less tiring. Companies claim that they do. This is far from being the case: no one works there if there is no solvent demand for it. Or if politics does not demand it.
We can regret it, but we cannot be satisfied with it.
To change this, we must first push basic research into these too-neglected directions: there are far fewer research laboratories in the world specialising in work fatigue, financial education or measuring the person’s ecological footprint than there are to study new uses for fossil fuels or artificial sugars. Indeed, basic research is increasingly influenced by the demands of private companies, which play a growing role in its funding.
What is not solvent must also be made solvent. For example, banks could be given tax or regulatory incentives to make personal financial management software available free of charge to all their customers. And industrial companies should be given tax or regulatory incentives to do everything possible to reduce the drudgery of their employees’ work.
Finally, everyone could be given a detailed analysis of what they do with their time. This would undoubtedly be a real revelation for many, and would change the course of many lives.
Painting: Fernand Léger, The Builders, 1952