The return of the prodigal son
What are we all striving for? Isn’t it for a better future and if so, isn’t this “better” quite practical, if you come to think of it. I mean, sure, there are so many things which mean “a better future” conceptually, but they’re dwarfed by the incisive sharpness of immediate things: health, time, lifespan, pain.
In economics, we have the concept of utility to describe this immediate better future, the one that is not about the matters of the heart, but about the matters of the body’s needs and mind’s obsessions.
In economics, utility is a measure of preferences over some set of goods and services. W
Roughly, the concept of utility explains why we subjectively and individually assign value to things and act according to this assignment. It is the measure of how much of a satisfaction of our need will the thing provide.
There are more kinds of utility, usually reduced to three grand classes: form, type and place. We can add to that list if we’re careful.
Commonly accepted utility is a type of utility with inverse marginal utility.
Marginal utility describes the numbing of consumers; first unit of thing will yield more utility (aka satisfaction assessment) than the second. Have you noticed how your second iPhone or n-th sports shoes are just a tad worse than the first? That is marginal utility in action, the more you get something, along with time, it will have a deprecating impact on your overall satisfaction.
Commonly accepted utility is that which has a marginal increase the more units you add to it. For example, the marginal utility of a medicine in a treatment scheme increases, because each step of the treatment plan restores overall health, therefore increasing the medicine’s marginal utility.
Solar power has increasing marginal utility. The more you add to the world, the greater the utility produced.
All the things that are having increasing marginal utility, brought by subsequent units, are inside of a type I call the commonly accepted utility.
Another property of commonly accepted utility is that it is common.
Utility, as a general term, cannot be separated from consumers, and it is considered to be defined in value on an individual level; with each purchase decision an utility value is assigned to a good or service. Yet, there is that kind of utility which can be separated by individual assessment, because it is a common good, a type of universal benefit that one automatically gets because of the basic condition of being a living, death prone, frail and aware creature in an unforgiving universe.
Commonly accepted utility is part of the paradox of water and diamonds:
the apparent contradiction that water possesses a value far lower than diamonds, even though water is far more vital to a human being. (W)
The fact that we don’t see the commonly accepted utility as worth a significant marginal cost is a problem which makes this kind of utility look similar to the parable of the prodigal son.
The idea is that whatever has low marginal cost tends to be wasted away. Yet marginal costs are deceptive because they show only a snapshot of a situation, not the whole larger picture of global value.
Commonly accepted utility regards everything generic, basic food, basic medicine, old patented products, basic telecom and basic information accessibility, basic people mobility (e.g. public transportation), common knowledge, living unit energy requirements, basic comfort and living safety, they all fall into this category, which we waste because they have low marginal cost.
The prodigal son in the parable wastes his inheritance because it came to him with a low marginal cost: basically he asked and his father offered it. The other, older son worked for it and had the decency to wait out on the old man to die, hence constantly increasing the marginal cost of his inheritance. Yet, upon return we see that for the father, his son’s financial management abilities couldn’t be of less interest. He rejoiced the commonly accepted utility of having your child back, healthy and alive. The prodigal son is of commonly accepted utility for the older brother too, serving as a springboard into emotional adulthood, beyond the simplistic black and white views of meritocracy. The father itself is exemplifying commonly accepted utility for the prodigal son, as the marginal increase in benefit for returning home increases with every added unit.
What is currently going on at an economic level at global scale is that we see government as spending instead of investing. This is an old subject but which apparently is not tackled very well. In my opinion, if capitalism would have a companion in society instead of an enemy, we’d all be far better off as a species and as a planet overall.
Second, government spending on commonly accepted utility.
What is that about? I’m lost. Like you mean roads, and bridges?
Infrastructure is one kind of commonly accepted utility. But overall all things described above are in a class of their own: generic medicine, staple food, basic clothing and many more.