The Secret of Labor

If an outside entity – say, the Government – pays you $10,000 to dig a trench in your yard. The Government then mandates your neighbor to dig a trench in HIS yard, and use the dirt to fill in your trench. You are required to pay him $10,000 out of your “trench earnings” for his effort. The effort steps its way around the block, until it comes back to you. Now, you use the extra dirt left over when you dug your first trench, to fill in the next-door neighbor’s trench, and you then return the $10,000 back to the government.

Economically, what has happened?

Looking at it financially, from the point of view of the $10,000, exactly nothing. The $10,000 has been created in the neighborhood. It then disappears from the neighborhood completely.

On a labor basis, however, it is a significant loss – a huge amount of wasted labor involved in moving dirt about with absolutely no final difference, other than the cyclical movement of a trench’s worth of dirt around the neighborhood, at the cost of wasting n hours of trench labor, for n households.

Were it spent on something useful, such as digging an aquifer of n trench lengths, the project might not be a complete waste of labor. However, the community might just volunteer the work for no remuneration, as a societal product that all could selfishly benefit from equally.

In each case, a certain amount of digging energy is spent – n person-hours. Marx might equate them. But the first cycle of labor is futile; the second is possibly productive.

Energy return on energy invested (EROEI) should be restated as productivity return on productivity invested (PROPI)

There’s the rub. If productivity in medicine is measured by some scale that actually relates to the production desired – patient lives saved, illnesses cured or prevented and the suchlike – the productivity of medicine is sufficient to tolerate a small amount of ancillary burden that assists in accomplishing the productive goal. Rampant parasitism, though, reduces the net PROPI to <1, like the cycle of trenches about the yards. If enough useless duties are attached onto medical productivity, it fails.