Useful Things: A Parable of 300 Years of Economic Development

The Great Ones built Machines. Magical Machines powered by steam and the energy which came from burning the compressed remains of ancient plants and creatures. But the Machines were hungry. The Great Ones fed large amounts of Raw Product into these hungry mechanical beasts, and then sold the Useful Things that the Machines spat out.

Soon the Great Cities grew and grew. And the soot from the fires that powered the Machines began to cover them. There came a time when there was not enough Raw Product to feed the ever-growing horde of Machines. The Great Ones sailed in ships to the unexplored lands across the sea.

There they found The Lesser Ones. The Lesser Ones did not have Machines, and they did not have guns. Their rivers were clear and their air was rich. But they had Raw Product by the ship-load. The Great Ones called these The Colonies

The Great Ones began to steal the Raw Product so abundant in the Colonies. They set up outposts to keep The Lesser Ones in order, and they built roads and rail lines by which Raw Product could be taken home to feed the Machines.

And many of the Lesser Ones were themselves made into Raw Product, and put in chains to be shipped to the lands of The Great Ones and other Colonies. There they became Man-Machines, forced to harvest yet more Raw Product.

All the while, inside the Colonies themselves, demand for Useful Product was being created by The Great Ones, so that more of it could be sold. All of this was because The Great Ones became obsessed with generating Great Profit – which could be used to build bigger and better machines, which spat out even shinier Useful Things. And these Useful Things could then be sold in greater numbers to make more Great Profits.

And so on.

Those who owned the Machines became richer than kings.

After a while, The Great Ones gave The Lesser Ones back their lands. By now, The Lesser Ones were ruled by The Global Economy, and guns were no longer needed. The Lesser Ones could now sell their Raw Product to the Great Ones for whatever price The Market Force dictated. (The Lesser Ones did not realise that The Market Force prices were unfairly manipulated by The Great Ones). The Global Economy became the new occupying force, and Lesser Ones did not rebel against it, for fear they would be left out of it.

And so it is now. The Machines have hybridized with The Global Economy to create a nearly intangible juggernaut which demands to be fed consumers, which eats the environment remorselessly and which polarizes mankind.

Mercifully, it contains within it the seeds of its own demise. For the environment is finite, and cannot bear the demands of ever-increasing greed. And people can not abide superficial, exploited existences for very much longer.


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