As we discussed in the earlier blog posts about surplus, our primary responsibility is is to use some of our limited time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) to take care of ourselves and fulfill any commitments and obligations that we have taken on. The balance of our disposable TERF is our surplus. Not only is that true for us as individuals and for households, it holds true for any aggregation of them and for the society as a whole as well. The groups of individuals to which the concept of surplus applies include: families, extended families, teams, tribes, communities, villages, churches, clubs, firms, organizations, towns, the district, states, nations, international organizations and the world’s population.
Just as with individuals, first and foremost, the group must produce or have enough goods and services available to sustain itself over time. The decision of how to use the balance of their surplus is not only the aggregate decision of the single individuals and households, it also depends on the aggregate decisions of the group.
Regardless of how a decision is arrived at, a group decision on what projects to undertake and how to use their surplus is effectively a joint decision. Furthermore, in order to transform any idea into a reality, collective, coordinated, collaborative action is required. Depending on the size of the project, it can take a considerable amount of the limited TERF, and sometime years, decades or even longer to make it happen.
Think of what it took to conceive of and create the ancient monuments, like the Sphinx, the pyramids in Egypt, and Central America. Or even the Coliseum, the European cathedrals, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal. Those accomplishments are significantly more remarkable when you realize they were achieved using limited technology, tools and resources. Each of the monuments — like any other product — must go through their individualized process of production to become a reality. That requires mustering the labor force and other components — the materials, equipment and supplies — and performing the series of tasks in order to bring the idea about. Unlike preparing a meal, the accomplishment is the result of the group’s and society’s collective decision and action. Given the conditions some societies lived under, it is amazing that they were able to create sufficient surplus to make these monuments possible. For an additional discussion of the ancient monuments see the previous blog post entitled “Monuments: The Unrecognized Achievements of Ancient Cultures.
In order to complete any project a group must have access to required funds and resources. When a group is a firm, typically those funds and resources come from the sale of goods and services. Unlike firms most groups obtain the funds in other ways. Typically, governments get their access to the funds from taxes. The non-government organizations (NGOs) get required funds from fees, contributions, donations, gifts and from the support of benefactors. They also get resources provided by volunteers. Those funds and resources give the group access to the TERF required to produce the goods and services they provide.
Regardless of how the group makes its decisions on which projects to pursue, effectively it is a group decision, one that effects every member of the organization. It makes no difference whether the choice was made by the head of the group, by a committee or by a member’s vote. Once the decision is made and implemented, regardless of whether all members agree with the decision or not, the surplus of each group member is affected.
Importantly, whatever limited time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) are used up on any project, society gives up whatever else that TERF could have been used for. Think of it this way. It is estimated that it will take $21.6 billion and 3.5 years to build a border wall. Those funds could certainly be used for other purposes. Moreover, there is no guarantee ahead of time that the border wall would accomplish its intended objective, even if that was what society, as a whole, wanted to achieve. Those funds could be used, for example, to help small businesses and families effected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Or to pay off part or all of the $1.4 trillion of the currently outstanding student loans.
When those in an economic and political groups achieve a position of power and control, some are likely to do anything to do anything they can to maintain and extend their control. The net result is that they are able to increase the group’s and their private surplus, frequently at the expense of others both inside and outside the group. That stance typically places them in the position of being in opposition to anyone, like the government, that attempts to rein in their control. Under those circumstances some use part of their surplus to resist the government ‘s attempt to limit their activities, to engage in actions that result in lower tax payments and to lobby and arrange for legislation that promotes their private interests.
It makes no difference whether we are talking about the Robber Barons in the late 19th and early 20th century, the dictators in the mid-1900s, or the current economic powerhouses — like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon — or the other economic and political powerhouses and autocrats all around the globe.
Some in that position take on an alternative stance. They use their newly acquired group and private surplus to ensure that those who were harmed — intentionally or unintentionally — by their previous actions are compensated and helped in making the transition to the new technological and economic conditions that those in control helped bring about. In that way they would acknowledge that we are all part of one Community.
One thought on “Surplus: Collective Decisions”
While not a monument in the tradition of the pyramids, etc., today’s launch attempt by SpaceX is to me a good example of applying society’s surplus in a positive way.