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Some Non-Essentials in the Economy

"We amuse ourselves to death" remarked Neil Postman. Almost the whole entertainment industry and much of the hospitality and travel industries depend on our desire for ever more amusement. Is the surfeit of amusement unnecessary and even harmful? The 2019 Covid-19 pandemic suggests so.

A truck carries biscuits made in Glasgow to London, and a truck carries biscuits made in London to Glasgow. Is that really necessary? 600 miles of unnecessary fuel consumption and climate change emissions, and two whole driver shifts, wasted on something not necessary>?

Yet another business meeting or conference just because someone expects it. Is that really necessary? [Note Spree]

Jim Radford, author and singer of the famous song, The Shores of Normandy and the youngest person to take part in the Normandy Landings in 1944, tells how he was serving on a ship with sophisticated, new guns that could shoot accurately beyond the horizon, and wondered whether it would not have been better to have spent a fraction of the huge funds spent on them had been spent on preventing the need for them, e.g. with better negotiation.

And, perhaps to cap it all, is David Graeber's account of Kurt's "bullshit job", in which he works for a sub-sub-sub-contractor to the German Military. His job is to help soldiers move offices. Instead of the soldier carrying his computer and other chattels 5 meters along the corridor to another office, Kurt is called to do this for him, often having to hire a car to drive 100-500 km and fifteen forms have to be signed in the process. A bullshit job is one where "if the position were eliminated, it would make no discernible difference in the world. Likely as not, things would improve" [p.2]. As Graeber remarks [p.6], "Contemporary capitalism seems riddled with such jobs."

But, politicians tell us, they all boost 'the economy'. I believe that much of 'the economy' is unnecessary, non-essential and useless - and even harmful. I searched for discourse on non-essentials in the economy and found none or almost none. The economic-growth-at-all-costs seems to preclude even discussing the possibility of non-essentials. We should have discussed this in the fields of economics and politics etc. for ages, then we might have some ready-made theories. But since we have not, and it is now urgent that we act, I have suggested that we use aspects to help us at least think about the worst cases so we can take action.

This page tries to open a door to discussion.

About The Economy

'The economy' (GDP, money-flow) expresses money-enabled human functioning, of which some is Good, some is Harmful and some is Useless of Non-essential. Arguably, the economy should be shrunken to prune off the Harmful, especially when it is non-essential. Much that is Non-essential is also Harmful. This page introduces a list of things that are to some extent non-essential.

Non-essentials / Useless, defined 15 September 2020. Two definitions. Defined, in human functioning, as functioning that we could do without and remain healthy, happy, etc. Defined for 'the economy', as jobs or financial transfers, the main purpose of which is to shift money from others to self, more than providing important benefit. See above re benefit. # Most competition is of this kind. # Note: it may be objected that sometimes there is a crucial good that emerges from the non-essential, for example keeping certain people in subsistence, but I would counter that such crucial good can often be obtained otherwise.

Non-essentials 15 September 2020. Be warned: If you seek a job in a non-essential then do not complain if your job suddenly disappears when a pandemic occurs.

Discussion / research: To what extent are non-essentials good and to be welcomed, and to what extent are they to be resisted? e.g. Much in aesthetics (including e.g. hospitality, fun, art and even sport) is non-essential.

Implications of GHU (differentiating Good, Harmful, Useless) 15 September 2020. We should invest in Good rather than merely in trying to maintain the value of our money against inflation or to receive a return for ourselves.

Discussion / Research: But is there a danger that we will lose out? Maybe, but the self-giving ethical aspect of reality actually works. How far does it work? Look at history to study the relationship between ethicality and longevity.

Bloated economy 18 February 2021. An economy in which far too much is due to non-essentials and depends on non-essentials. As in the human body, bloating is unhealthy and should be shrunk and then prevented. Our economies and lives and societies will be healthier if we get cut off the bloat.

Discussion / research: In what ways is bloat unhealthy in the economy?

Discretionary wealth 18 February 2021. How much does discretionary wealth enable, foster and encourage the purchasing of non-essentials, and thus bloat the economy?

Discussion / research: Study discretionary wealth with that in mind. In both rich and poor, not just the rich alone. Is there a surfeit of non-essentials among the well-off that is unhealthy.

Types of non-essentials:

All the employment and money-flow associated with any of these, it could be argued, is non-essential in the economy.

Discussion / research: Find out how much of each, but first find a way of measuring how much of each.

Question: Can we say More and Less Essential?

[RG argued that "essential" and "non-essential" are absolute words, and we cannot say "more" and "less" - as I was wanting to because I wanted to be able to make quantitative economic decisions. So that set me thinking.

1. Here is a transcript of a recording I made (File 210420_0193-Essentiality.WMA): "We have to differentiate what is more essential and what is less essential, what is essential and non-essential? Yes, there is a more and less, isn't there. There is a more and less essential - but it's not a numerical more; it's reasons for essentiality and non-essentiality. And perhaps the whole idea of essentiality is not helpful, because ultimately nothing is essential. We have to go back to responsibility. What is irresponsible, what is greedy, what is idolatrous?"

2. Here is me thinking that out in a bit more detail, step by step. The above can be useful as a short summary of the below.

Question: Is it appropriate to talk of "more" and "less" essential? Can we put a numerical measure on essentiality (as e.g. the Treasury might wish to do in deciding monetary budgets)?

My initial thinking is:

What Do We Do About Non-Essentials?

I do not believe that all non-essentials should be removed. Some might offer Good without Harm. Much in the aesthetic realm, of music, sport, leisure, fun, games, art, literature, opera, theatre, film, and even some scientific or mathetmatical explorations, might be non-essential and bring some good into our lives. But surely! my art and theatre should never take precedence over justice to others and the basic needs of others. Wisdom is needed here. But very much of non-essentials in the affluent cultures and nations of the world is Harmful. It is the Non-essentials that are Harmful that we should cut down on.

So, in trying to decide what to cut down on, perhaps the first thing is to look at what is Harmful and ask to what extent is it Non-essential or Useless? Target that first.

Discussion: Where Do We Divide Essential from Non-Essential?

Richard Gunton posed, on ThinkNet, the question about how we define "non-essential", and a discussion ensued, of which the following contains the main contributions. I have emboldened what I see as main issues within this, which deserve discussion.

For the discussion, see Understanding Non-Essentials in the Economy. It covers:

Understanding Surfeit

Briefly, to act wisely in reorientating economies, we must understand what leads to non-essentials. Examples:

The latter two especially influence the direction of our economic thinking and policy-making, towards either responsibility and generosity or biodiversity loss and climate crisis.

Examples of Non-Essentials


Graeber, D. 2018. Bullsh*t Jobs - The Rise of Pointless Work and What We Can Do About It. Penguin Books.

Postman N. 1986. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Shown-business. Heinemann, London.

To send comments, queries, suggestions please send an email to: xn
        at kgsvr net
- an email address made up as follows:

(I apologise that I have to make it a little complicated; it is because I don't want automated spamming systems to find the email and send junk that will swamp your genuine messages. Thank you for your understanding - as well as for your comments.

Notes and References

Each year, Microsoft Corporation hosts a spree in the USA at which maybe 25,000 people attend. In 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it went online, and only 800 people attended. The other 24,200 people thought it was non-essential.

Dasgupta P. 2021. The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review. HM Treasury, U.K.

Goudzwaard B. 1984. Idols of Our Time. IVP.

Graeber D. 2019. Bullshit Jobs - The Rise of Pointless Work and What We Can Do About It. Penguin.

Postnam, N. 1985. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

About This Page

This page, URL= 'http://abxn.org/discussion/non.essentials.html', is on-going work, designed to stimulate discussion on various topics, as part of Andrew Basden's pages that open up various things from one of the Christian perspectives. Contact details.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all the dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext in the style of classic HTML.

Created: 24 September 2020 Last updated: 1 October 2020 financial devices. 8 October 2020 Hospitality. 10 October 2020 intro to hospitality. 13 October 2020 new intro, Postman, and into heading. 27 October 2020 Bullshit jobs. 3 November 2020 Hubris of expansion. 2 December 2020 three types of non-essential; ref. Bit better on the 3 Bs; Jim Radford, Postman ref, new title, new .nav. 18 February 2021 introduced Discussion / research. 21 March 2021 a bit change. 5 April 2021 Made up one for christianthinking.space with discussion of what are non-essentials, from Thinknet discussion, which I have give a brief bit here. 10 May 2021 thinking out non-essentiality. 10 May 2021 Can we say more and less essential?