A recent issue of New Science-ist had some articles on the end of civilization, which were just as silly and dangerous as the usual contents of that mag.
A letter in the latest issue, responding to the articles, contains a far more interesting idea. "Inverse differential rewards", first described by Robert Tressell (who I now must read in more detail.)
The concept is simple: make a list of the available occupations and roles in a given society. Rank them two ways: (1) Rank by reward in money and especially in status, since status is what really counts among social mammals. (2) Rank by usefulness, measured by how long we could do without this occupation before we'd have to re-invent it.
I've used the latter measure in discussing the federal government, particularly the judiciary; said several times that if we eliminated them entirely we'd never find any reason to re-invent them. But I hadn't thought of applying this instrument more widely.
The writer's point: in current Euro and American culture, those two lists are inverted. Which occupation would we have to redevelop immediately if it disappeared? Probably trash collectors or plumbers. Which occupation could we survive longest without? Celebrities.
A civilization that wants to endure will aim toward a somewhat
more positive correlation between respect and usefulness.Here
is the best web page on Tressell, including a complete downloadable copy of the book.
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After reading part of the book: It's a cross between Dickens and Steinbeck, but without the literary talent of either. Basically an instructive fable leading toward some form of socialism. In fact the problems described in the book were adequately solved without full-fledged socialism; labor laws and Social Security did the trick. Still, it's a useful reminder of how bad life can get under raw unregulated Ayn Rand capitalism, and a nice slap-in-the-face for middle class conservatives who imagine that their interests are identical with billionaires.