Economics @ ITT

Conspicuous Consumption: A(nother) Cautionary Tale

Posted in economics, environment by ittecon on January 27, 2014

Unfettered capitalism is a road to extinction, and, sadly, not just a metaphor.

At first the frenetic pace of the killing didn’t matter: there were so many seals.  On one island alone, Amasa Delano estimated, there were “two to three millions of them” when New Englanders first arrived to make “a business of killing seals.”“If many of them were killed in a night,” wrote one observer, “they would not be missed in the morning.”  It did indeed seem as if you could kill every one in sight one day, then start afresh the next.  Within just a few years, though, Amasa and his fellow sealers had taken so many seal skins to China that Canton’s warehouses couldn’t hold them.  They began to pile up on the docks, rotting in the rain, and their market price crashed.

To make up the margin, sealers further accelerated the pace of the killing — until there was nothing left to kill.  In this way, oversupply and extinction went hand in hand.  In the process, cooperation among sealers gave way to bloody battles over thinning rookeries.  Previously, it only took a few weeks and a handful of men to fill a ship’s hold with skins.  As those rookeries began to disappear, however, more and more men were needed to find and kill the required number of seals and they were often left on desolate islands for two- or three-year stretches, living alone in miserable huts in dreary weather, wondering if their ships were ever going to return for them.

“On island after island, coast after coast,” one historian wrote, “the seals had been destroyed to the last available pup, on the supposition that if sealer Tom did not kill every seal in sight, sealer Dick or sealer Harry would not be so squeamish.”  By 1804, on the very island where Amasa estimated that there had been millions of seals, there were more sailors than prey.  Two years later, there were no seals at all.

via Noam Chomsky is right: It’s the so-called serious who devastate the planet and cause the wars – Salon.com.

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