August 21st, 2006

Penguin sign

Discourses on profit.

Today's Politics of Development tutorial was quite interesting, and not just because of the possibly-not-a fire drill (the announcement over the PA was so hopelessly garbled that I'm unsure if the word preceding 'a drill' was 'not'). I was just reflecting on one of the matters that came up in our discussion; it is an issue that I have been tossing around in my mind for a little while and have been meaning to write about here but hadn't yet gotten around to it. I figure now is as good a time as any (actually, it probably isn't as I should be reading, but this shouldn't take me long to type).

It troubles me that today's society is so incredibly monetarily driven and focused upon economic profit. Projects, development, construction, investments, and almost any action are judged on whether they will turn a profit; this is the defining issue that over-rules all others. The discourse of our society seems to neglect to mention that other forms of profit exist; in fact, we understand the unqualified statement of 'a profit' to refer to money without hesitation. I suppose this reality has been rammed home by my interest in trains; it seems the New Zealand system isn't doing so well, especially not when it comes to carrying passengers, and those professing to be 'realistic' argue vehemently that the service simply cannot continue because it is not profitable. My simple reply is: profitable in what sense? Monetary profit for the operators appears to completely nullify whatever environmental, convenience, or social profits exist, or even for that matter, nullify related economic profits such as providing employment, a source of traffic for associated businesses, and the like. Only the direct profit of the service matters; any other profits might as well not exist.

What especially bothers me is that this discourse has narrowed the bounds of discussion so significantly that any mention of alternate forms of profit just does not get a look-in, let alone any serious consideration. This can be simply illustrated by the reaction to the suggestion that something monetarily unprofitable should go ahead because it offers other profits: "how on earth is it meant to survive if it does not make money?" I simply don't know, because I have been raised to understand profit based on the dominant discourse that the supreme profit is monetary and all other profits are subordinate to it. But what I do know is that societies can survive and flourish without this discourse and its attitude, and not just non-monetary societies either. Monied societies in the past have not been dominated by this discourse. Why must we be dominated by it? I fear where it may lead. It is a discourse of accumulation, greed, materialism, and consumption. People aim for significant surpluses - and for what great purpose, or will this surplus just remain unused while others starve? And that raises the most significant issue: what is the cost of this discourse? If the supreme profit is monetary and all others are essentially ignored, what happens when all those other factors fail to turn a profit and make a loss instead? Great monetary wealth won't do much good when the social losses have caused the disintegration of order and the environmental losses have caused harm beyond repair.