16 September 2013

Is Prosperity Everything?



Via Scott Shackford, at Reason, we learn of "The Scourge of Illegal, Underground Dinner Parties." In short, people are paying to attend dinner parties featuring fancy food. And such transactions are unregulated.
Naturally, people are concerned. Presumably, some of those concerned parties are restaurants that are subject to heavy taxation and regulation that are nonetheless facing competition from the seedy purveyors of underground dinner parties. I don't think the people concerned about unregulated dinner parties are going far enough. You know what else is unregulated? The kitchen at my house.
Think about what the means for a second. It means that my children--children, mind you--are being fed food that's prepared in unregulated, uninsepected, and possibly less-than-sanitary conditions. The burgeoning field of Helen Lovejoy Political Economy demands that something must be done. For the children, of course.

This satire strikes keenly at the heart of the matter:  just how far will you go to ensure that everyone acts fair and enjoys a perfect life?  The leftist vision of a utopic world in which everyone basically shares the same values and has equal access to good things (whether food, shelter, clothing, or art) is predicated on the continued pursuit of prosperity.  Nothing will ever truly be perfect enough.  It’s not enough that people enjoy greater access to fresh and healthy food to a greater extent than has ever been known.  No, more safety regs are needed. That illnesses from improperly prepared food are at an all time low (and have relatively minimal consequences to boot) is irrelevant; more perfect is needed.

While Carden’s point may seem satirical, it will eventually become truth since busybodies must always be busy; hence their name. See, busybodies do solve problems.  When busybodies set out to fix what they perceive to be as problem, they do usually succeed at their task.  The problem, though, is that busybodies must always have some sort of problem to solve, and so once all the real, major problems are solved, busybodies must either solve minor and inconsequential problems, or else create problems out of whole cloth in order to feel some sense of purpose.

Thus, the real question is whether prosperity is truly everything.  Surely it is true that those living in America in the 21st century are more prosperous than anyone who has lived before.  The hallmark of this modern life is the complete absence of meaningful problems, as seen by the popularity of the “fort world problems” meme.  We are prosperous beyond our ancestors’ wildest dreams, and yet we are not happy because our prosperity precludes us from having meaningful problems to solve, which in turn precludes us from having a meaningful existence.

No wonder so many view life as pointless, and no wonder so many engage in self-destructive behaviors.  Without a challenge, life is simply too facile to be enjoyed.  Thus, prosperity is not everything.  Rather, it is the winner’s curse, a goal whose attainment breeds discontent.