Note to Self: A society that encourages extravagance is a society that encourages extra vagrants!
This thought occurred to me a while back, but I feel moved to write about it in more detail now. When I think about what extravagance is, I think of a lifestyle that consists of the consumption of goods and services that require an inordinate amount of resources to create experiences which provide the utmost in comfort. Because of the resource demands of extravagance, only a distinct minority of people are allowed by society to experience it. The social criterion which decides who gets to live in extravagance is simply a variation on the Golden Rule: Those with the gold (money), rule (can live in extravagance).
The fact that relatively few can experience extravagance points to a key principle that underlies the economic system which allows extravagance to exist in the first place: Value varies with scarcity. This principle is what gives gold, a relatively rare metal, great value while water has very little value because it is relatively plentiful. It is this principle that places great value on the services of medical doctors and little value on common laborers, given that the former tends to make a lot of money and the latter makes little money (not to mention that there are a lot of common laborers and relatively few doctors).
Even the currency used in the economic system is (in theory) limited so that it can be in alignment with the idea that the more scarce something is, the more valuable it is. Thus, if a currency is to maintain its value, it must be limited in supply by the issuer of the currency. An unlimited or infinite supply of a currency would force the value of that currency to plummet to nothing. This is why if every American was a millionaire, the value of the dollar would be a lot lower than it is now. So, because a society has a limited supply of its currency, the existence of a rich person in that society implies the existence of several poor people and vice versa.
Because one’s economic status (how much money he has) is tied to a person’s value to society, those who are deemed to be most valuable to society are most deserving to not only survive, but to thrive. On the other hand, those who are deemed to be the least valuable to society are least deserving of survival. It is those least deserving that we call vagrants because they have no income and cannot afford a home. Hence, a society that insists on having an economic system where value varies with scarcity will, of necessity, have few wealthy people and many poor people in order to balance out the money supply. It is impossible to maintain economic equality in such a society because doing so would either eliminate economic activity or else violate the principle of value varying with scarcity.
So, a society that insists on having an economic system where value varies with scarcity will, of necessity, not value human life in general because some lives are deemed valuable and some are not. This is anti-democratic because democracy, by definition, values all people equally. Not only is such a society anti-democratic, it also is unable to experience true abundance. It goes without saying that those who live in poverty do not experience abundance, but neither do the so-called wealthy or middle-class because the focus of each member of society is on scarcity, which means that one can never have enough, especially when one’s survival is tied to this sense of scarcity! This encourages competition and conflict as “every man for himself” becomes the underlying modus operandi in society.
As someone who was born in the USA, I certainly am aware of the “American Dream”. But the economic component of this dream is based on the old economic scarcity paradigm. As a result, anyone who achieves the American Dream does so (unwittingly) at the expense of fellow Americans! Not only that, but given that the USA is the wealthiest nation in the world and continues to take action (military or otherwise) to maintain its wealth, it guarantees that some nations in the world will remain dirt poor. Thus, the American Dream turns out to be much of the rest of the world’s nightmare!
If a society were to value life and each individual, not only would it be more democratic, it would experience true abundance. Because all individuals would be deemed as precious, no person’s survival would be threatened by society and in fact, society would be interested in seeing to it that each person thrives so that she will be able to easily give her gift to society. Thus, society reaps the benefits of supporting each of its members. The environment would not be stressed or degraded because nobody would be motivated to consume resources (as they are now), but instead be motivated to share resources in order to preserve environmental health. Conflicts would be minimized because cooperation would be naturally encouraged (Why re-invent the wheel when it is already freely available to everyone?).
When each individual embraces the principles of abundance in each moment of her day-to-day life, society can easily move from a scarcity-based economic system that encourages consumption and competition to an abundance-based system that encourages conservation and cooperation. This may take some practice (and courage!), since old habits are hard to break, but it is quite possible. The details of the process of embracing abundance are likely to be unique to each individual. So, use your God-given creative abilities and dare to “think outside the box” as you have fun in this process. Above all, share your experiences with others. After all, sharing is one of the most important components of living in abundance!