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waste not, profit not

January 17, 2013

One of the many things that make me so critical of capitalism is the fact that waste is such a systematic and seemingly inherent problem in a system where the focus of production is always on profit rather than on need or even utility. For example, as a recent NPR story notes, while natural gas is something that’s quite useful as an energy source, and in relatively high demand, many oil companies simply burn off the gas rather than build systems to collect it because it’s not as profitable as the oil that comes up with it.

To them, it’s often cheaper and easier to just treat this limited natural resource as a waste byproduct of oil extraction than it is to treat it as an energy source in its own right that can be used to heat hundreds of thousands of homes. And many of the companies that do bother to collect the gas only do so because they’re compelled to by the state of North Dakota, which begins to tax those flares after a year (when it’s not granting exceptions, that is). What seems like an irrational waste of resources is in fact completely rational from a purely profit-driven point of view.

Another example connected to private property rights is how much food we waste/throw away at work. After my first week, I mentioned that we should take all of the stuff we’re just going to throw away at the end of the day and give it to the homeless and my co-worker just laughed at me. And the kicker is that, if I were to take it, even though it’s going straight into the trash (and I’m the one that has to put it there), and give it to someone or eat it myself, it’d be considered stealing and I’d be fired. How fucked up is that?

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