Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Standard Of Living

The standard of living is different from the cost of living.

As a rule of thumb, they are inversely related: the higher the cost of living, the lower is the standard - all other things being equal, especially the level of income.

The problem is this: the higher the income, the higher are the prices. There are many factors involved. The quality of the goods and services consumed are generally higher, because you get to pay more for it. The place you eat is air-conditioned, the waitresses are pretty and well-costumed, the table cloth is nicer looking, the plates are gold-rimmed. If in general, you get what you pay for, higher prices would therefore means higher quality and hence a higher standard of the things you consume. That is, you have that level of income to pay for it.

But higher income also means that you really do have to work so much harder for it. You may get the same wage rate per hour but if you work very long hours, and you have a bit of profit share thrown in, then you could have a very income at the end of the year - compared to your friends who are having a good fun in the village socialising all day long.

The pursuit of wealth is a human flaw driven by a sense of uncertainty of the future, as if wealth can bring reassurance that our future is good when we suffer (work hard) to acquire it, eschewing all normal commual relationships, except those that deal with money. There is certainly a cost in the pursuit of high income, and it is often in human values, wholesomeness of being, peace of mind, calmness of nerves, and, if I may add, health as in gums and teeth and lungs and liver.

The world of high income is an artificial world, in the sense that it is a world that is disconnected with the natural reality - deliberately. It is a Matrix created where the pumping in of money, in whatever form, is meant to stimulate the residents inside, and they all run here and there full of activities and anxiety, and that high level of activity, to economists, is measured as GDP. The money pumped which then flooded everybody and everywhere is income. The valuation of piles of bricks and mortar is the value of real estate.

But in far flung places like Sarawak or Saipan, where man-made structures are few and far in between, man lives with nature in a spiritual connection in that there is fear and hence respect for the unknown, where human restraint and humbleness is the proper behaviour in life, each living on the barest minimal of materials which sustaining himself in high spirits, there is that sense of oneness with nature, a sense of being alive. The money income is low, the rate of consumption is low, but the rate of saving of the natural environment is huge, through abstinence.

The World Bank tries to measure the standard of living through the instrument of PPP - Purchasing Power Parity - by adjusting money with prices and other things (since a house is a house is a house, now matter how much it costs). There are debates.

For me, it is futile business to try to compare judgements and values. The highest standard of living lies in your preferred way of life, if you are already pursuing it. All other ways of life is therefore sub-optimal, and your goal is to go from sub-optimal to optimal.

My favourite quip is that most of us live only half a life - only the good life. But life is both good and bad which we should both if we want to live a full life. That's why artists live on the fringe and swing between jubilation and depression.


walla said...

P: What are you thinking about?
Q: Nothing.
P: Is that possible?
Q: What matters if it is possible? Why mind if it is not?
P: You sound like that monk who always asked, 'is that so?' each time one event overturned the previous.
Q: Is that so?
P: But seriously, why the faraway look? Missing someone, by any chance?
Q: Comes a time when one senses life has already exhausted all possibilities, one must let go and just carry on quietly to the end. Ultimately we are all alone to ourselves.
P: Let's go for a drink.
Q: I don't take certain beverages.
P: There will be company.
Q: Making a living, sacrificing for those they need to support.
P: Why so pedantic and serious?
Q: Already reached the tipping end of the plateau of the sigmoid curve; the story is tapering; turn the leaf and it's the last chapter of the book.
P: And the conclusion?
Q: Plato's equation. As time tends to infinity, the set of all problems tends to null.
P: What the....
Q: Of course, if the polarity of the universe is reversed and time tends to zero, then the set tends to unity. All life started with one problem. Itself.
P: Can we talk something else?
Q: What you want to talk about?
P: Dunno. You say something.
Q: Smoke.
P: You need a light?
Q: No, smoke as in a thread of fumes twirling up to the sky under the canopy of leaves.
P: Ah, i can imagine that. When?
Q: A few mornings ago.
P: Where?
Q: In a quiet spot in the jungle.
P: Why?
Q: A Presence responded.
P: How?
Q: I asked - mentally - if the Presence would be so kind as to make the smoke turn towards me.
P: Oh? And?
Q: It did.
P: Nah. Wind.
Q: Windless. Not even a whiff of a breeze.
P: Awesome.
Q: Yes. And isn't it a coincidence the post mentioned spiritual connection to nature?
P: Can we talk something else? Do you agree to the post?
Q: Does it matter?
P: Let's assume there's a fly in the ointment.
Q: Actually a family of flies.
P: Like?
Q: If everyone is spartan, then no one needs to work more than adequate for a spartan life. But in reality, we have to work more than adequate for ourselves because we have to provide for others.
P: What if everyone works just for himself?
Q: Over time, the sigmoid curve incapacitates.
P: But with age comes experience which commands a premium.
Q: But with age also comes progress which creates more free time which needs to be filled and there are not that many hobbies one can delve to while away time fruitlessly.
P: One can do charity work.
Q: And create crutches?
P: Then one can create enterprises for them.
Q: Which requires a materialistic approach contrary to a spartan lifestyle.
P: One can be spartan to oneself but materialistic for others.
Q: Let's see. You climb over others to make money for others. How long will you suffer that contradiction before you throw in the towel?
P: That's just theoretical. Try.
Q: And where's the money to get started?
P: I see.
Q: All life starts with one problem. Itself.
P: Where did you say the smoke event took place.
Q: Near a big boulder of quaint complexion.
P: I'm intrigued.
Q: It's just we never looked with our hearts. Things are not what they seem. There's another dimension out there. And as we question our own mortality and morality, we should consider it a blessing to occasionally get an insight, what more a Response across the void that puts into new context everything we have learned and experienced.
P: What wish for yourself if any?
Q: That the law of karma i learn sufficiently in this same lifetime that the lesson will stand me to do better as a human being in the next.

walla said...

P: When did that wish take form?
Q: Some posts ago, i recall. But while walking alone in the jungle a few days ago, it returned because i remember reading about a young man who gave up everything thousands of years ago for an answer that came as he sat under a tree. So my walking alone in the utterly quiet jungle so late in life could have been for a reason.
P: Nah, just happenstance.
Q: Who knows?
P: Let's backtrack. You said with age comes progress which creates more free time...
Q: And also devalues experience. Look around us today. Experience is being battered by complexity which creates chaos. Yet the world has become more efficient. During cave days, it would have taken hours and much experience to start a fire. Now, just flick a lighter. How much experience is needed? So where's the experience and therefore where's the higher income to come from it being a premium? The world has become the race against time towards instantaneous gratification sans the now-ism of balanced contextual valuation.
P: So what we need is not process experience but some other dimensional wisdom?
Q: With connective forces beyond imagination, let me add.
P: Wow!
Q: Wait a minute. Where are we? Aren't you supposed to be leading the conversation on something like the standard of living?
P: Oh, quite so. We have strayed.
Q: Sometimes we may stretch facts a bit until black seems grey and people question why we do so. Isn't the reason apparent? We do so in order to elicit a rebuttal that if sufficiently strong can help all get the right insight into the black box of things like political government. If we don't and we are right because they are facts, then we will have to remember that it only takes good men and women to do nothing for bad things to continue, especially when governments seem propelled to do bad things again and again but expect better results. Doesn't that fact on record tell you something about their motivation and agenda, for that matter what had prompted the observation that facts are grey as sufficient reason to try and sum over all things in order to escape the need to take a stand?
P: Ah, let's see where you are coming from.
Q: I've already gone.

etheorist said...


now you are dealing with the nature of living.