Economics vs. plutonomics: increasing returns

Diminishing returns

The “law of diminishing returns” is a concept from economics that many people learn from popular culture, even if they have no particular interest in economics.  This concept, like that of the “invisible hand” and many other concepts from economics, is almost as widely misunderstood and misapplied as it is known.  This concept can also be used in a comparison that helps to reveal a fundamental distinction between economics and plutonomics, demonstrating the inherent limitations and tendency toward oversimplification in the former.

Increasing returns

In plutonomics, since capacity is recognized as a factor in wealth, certain types of activities produce increasing, rather than decreasing, returns over the course of a sufficiently long period of time.  In particular, when an activity results in an increase in both enjoyment and an increase in the skills needed for that activity, each marginal unit of engagement with that activity will produce, over the longterm, increasing returns, as long as increasingly complex substrates for the activity are available.

Reading is a good example.  With each book one reads, one’s body of knowledge—including vocabulary and knowledge of historical facts, for instance—and one’s ability to read increases.  Over time, a reader finds that she can read a new book in less time and also gain as much or more from that new book as she would have at an earlier stage in her reading career. She has the ability to appreciate, for instance, many more allusions, literary devices, and so on that the book has to offer than she would have earlier in her career.

This very experience is often found when an avid reader reads a book as an adult that they had previously read as a child:  there is a lot more to the book than the reader had had the capacity to appreciate in the earlier stage of life.

This result can be, albeit imperfectly, translated into terms that an economist might understand: the increase in the “return” from the marginal book occurs because the “cost” in terms of time and effort has decreased while the “benefit” has remained constant or grown.

Note:  increasing returns will depend on availability of suitable substrates.

When time permits, this entry will expanded and supplemented with additional examples.

Article: “Christmas carols that are already vegan, #3: ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas'”

Christmas carols that are already vegan, #3: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas article published

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Christmas carols that are already vegan, #3: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

Glorifying violence is not an inherent part of the Christmas holiday season.  Just as formerly non-vegan dishes can be veganized, hymns and songs can be veganized when need be.

Many famous Christmas songs are, in their basic and most popular form, free from any form of express depictions of animal abuse. Where a term is ambiguous—e.g., referring to a product that has a vegan form and a non-vegan form—the ambiguous term need not be veganized. The term can simply be understood in its nonviolent form.

A song that includes such an ambiguous term is “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  The verses refer to “figgy pudding,” which can be made in a non-vegan fashion but which can also be made fully vegan.  Thus, this Christmas carol can be sung as-is without the need for veganizing.  Enjoy!

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year!

Verse 2:
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,
And bring it right here.
Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year!

Verse 3:
We won’t go till we get some,
We won’t go till we get some,
We won’t go till we get some,
So bring it right here.
Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year!

Verse 4:
We all like our figgy pudding,
We all like our figgy pudding,
We all like our figgy pudding,
With all its good cheers
Good tidings we bring
To you and your kin
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New Year!

Article: “Christmas carols that are already vegan, #2: ‘I Saw Three Ships’”

Christmas carols that are already vegan, #2: “I Saw Three Ships” article published

Christmas carols that are already vegan, #2: “I Saw Three Ships”

Celebrating holidays without abusing animals is easy. Some famous Christmas carols were “born vegan.” One such carol is “I Saw Three Ships,” of which the exact authorship is unknown.  Enjoy!

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I Saw Three Ships

1. I saw three ships come sailing in,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
I saw three ships come sailing in,
On Christmas day in the morning.

2. And what1 was in those ships all three?
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And what was in those ships all three?
On Christmas day in the morning.

3. Our Saviour Christ and his lady2
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Our Saviour Christ and his lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.

4. Pray whither sailed those ships all three?
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Pray whither sailed those ships all three?
On Christmas day in the morning.

5. Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

6. And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day in the morning.

7. And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

8. And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

9. Then let us all rejoice, amain,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
Then let us all rejoice, amain,
On Christmas day in the morning.

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Other Christmas hymns and songs that are already vegan in their most popular form include Deck the Halls. Previously veganized christmas carols, songs, and hymns include Silent Night and Good King Wenceslas.

Article: “Christmas carols that are already vegan, #1: Deck the Halls’”

Christmas carols that are already vegan, #1: “Deck the Halls” article published

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Christmas carols that are already vegan, #1: “Deck the Halls”

Animal abuse is nothing to celebrate in song or otherwise.  Fortunately, some Christmas carols do not need to be veganized, since, in their popular form, they are already free from cruelty and violence.

One such carol is “Deck the Halls.” The basic lyrics were written in 1862 by Thomas Oliphant to an existing Welsh tune.  Oliphant’s lyrics have been slightly modified over time to reach what is now the most recognized form, appearing below.  Sing on!

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Deck the Halls

Lyrics by: Thomas Oliphant (as modified in version appearing in Pennsylvania School Journal in 1877)

Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
‘Tis the season to be jolly,
Don we now our gay apparel,
Troll the ancient Christmas carol,

See the blazing yule before us,
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Follow me in merry measure,
While I tell of Christmas treasure,

Fast away the old year passes,
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!
Sing we joyous all together,
Heedless of the wind and weather,

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Previously veganized christmas carols, songs, and hymns include Silent Night and Good King Wenceslas.

 

Article: “King Wenceslaus Goes Vegan”

King Wenceslaus Goes Vegan” article published

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King Wenceslaus Goes Vegan

Animal abuse and violence have no place in the Christmas season. Modern celebrants of Christmas, therefore, look to retain the values associated with this culturally rich holiday while refusing to grace, legitimize, or tolerate violent practices.

The Christmas hymn “Good King Wenceslas” was written in 1853 by John Mason Neale.  This song has been a standard part of the Christmas celebration since that time.  People who celebrate Christmas, whether in non-religious vegan holiday spirit or in the non-violent Christian tradition, generally recoil at the third verse as originally written, in which the king calls for “flesh.”  It’s unclear whether this line is intended to be a declaration of cannibalism or simple necrovory.  Whatever the case, this repulsive passage is clearly out of character with the rest of the story, in which the King is portrayed as kind, strong, courageous, and generous.

Thus, in order to bring this carol back into working order, a non-violent adaptation is provided below, in which “flesh” is replaced with “bread.”  This replacement is advantageous, because it (i) retains the single syllable and (ii) the essential vowel sound of the original lyric while (iii) eliminating the violent and rather disgusting cannibalism/necrovory and (iv) evoking more appropriate imagery: bread being the “staff of life” is much more powerful in and suitable for this context than is imagery of death and a rotting corpse.

Please feel free to use these lyrics in your Christmas caroling henceforth!

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Good King Wenceslas

Original lyrics: John Mason Neale; Adaptation: S. E. Harrison.

1. Good King Wenceslas looked out
on the feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about,
deep, and crisp, and even;
brightly shone the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight,
gath’ring winter fuel.

2. ‘Hither, page, and stand by me,
if thou know’st it, telling:
yonder peasant, who is he,
where and what his dwelling?’
‘Sire, he lives a good league hence,
underneath the mountain,
right against the forest fence,
by St. Agnes’ fountain.’

3. ‘Bring me bread and bring me wine,
bring me pine logs hither;
thou and I will see him dine,
when we bear them thither.’
Page and monarch, forth they went,
forth they went together;
through the rude wind’s wild lament,
and the bitter weather.

4. ‘Sire, the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger;
fails my heart, I know not how;
I can go no longer.’
‘Mark my footsteps, my good page;
tread thou in them boldly:
thou shalt find the winter’s rage
freeze your blood less coldly.’

5. In his master’s steps he trod,
where the snow lay dinted;
heat was in the very sod
which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, Christians all, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor,
shall yourselves find blessing.

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Article: “Silent Night” Turns 200: Non-Violent English-Language Translation/Adaptation Now Available

“Silent Night” Turns 200: Non-Violent English-Language Translation/Adaptation Now Available article published

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“Silent Night” Turns 200: Non-Violent English-Language Translation/Adaptation Now Available

The famous Christmas hymn “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”) was first performed on the night of Dec 24-25, 1818.   Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics in 1816, and Franz Gruber set them to music in 1818 for the Christmas Mass of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.  This song has endured ever since that time as one of the most universally recognized Christmas carols and hymns.  “Silent Night” is one of the songs that was sung by opposing forces during the Christmas truce of 1914. This hymn has been declared a UNESCO cultural heritage piece and is one of the most highly recorded songs of all times.

Modern Christmas celebrants in general as well as vegan Christians who embrace non-violence in particular, however, reject a portion of the original text that includes a tacit recognition of animal exploitation, enslavement, and slaughter, namely, the phrase that includes a reference to “shepherds.” In order to bring the text into line with the spirit of kindness universally associated with the Christmas holiday and with the non-violence values particularly associated with original Christian teachings, a new English translation/adaptation—a “veganized” adaptation—is provided below.

This translation/adaptation is identical to the pre-existing English translation (mainly by John Young) except that the clause “Shepherds quake” has been replaced with “Stars awake.”  This replacement has the virtue of (i) eliminating the animal-abuse text while (ii) retaining the original meter and “-ake” sound of the well-known English-language translation and (iii) also tying into the rest of the second verse more effectively, since the remainder of this verse pertains to sky-related concepts or symbols (e.g., “heaven” and “heavenly”).  Retaining the poetics of a line is an essential task of veganizing a classic work.

Please feel free to use this text henceforth in your Christmas celebrations!

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Silent Night

Lyrics: Joseph Mohr; Music: Franz Gruber; English translation:  John Yong; English adaptation: S. E. Harrison

1. Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin
mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

2. Silent night, holy night,
stars awake at the sight;
glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

3. Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
radiant beams from thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

4. Silent night, holy night,
wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

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Article: “‘Solitary as an oyster’ and other animal comparisons or expressions”

“‘Solitary as an oyster’ and other animal comparisons or expressions” article published

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“Solitary as an oyster” and other animal comparisons or expressions

In the process of veganizing Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, numerous expressions that refer to animals presented themselves as items to consider.  For instance, in Stave 1,  the author compares Ebenezer Scrooge to an oyster, saying that Scrooge was “solitary as an oyster.”  Later in that chapter, Dickens uses the expression “dog-days” for the hot time of late summer. Another example comes from Fred’s Christmas party, in which Scrooge is implicitly compared to a “bear.”

Veganizing principle:  retaining animal comparisons and idioms that have no exploitative or speciesist meaning

Expressions that merely include a reference to an animal are not necessarily exploitative or non-vegan.  Indeed, an entire story could be written about an animal, of course, without having any negative intent toward or associations with that animal. Such benign expressions can be left intact.  And under the minimally invasive principle for veganizing a classic work of literature, such expressions should be left intact, since they represent the original author’s words and embody that author’s creative approach.  In short, when no clear and convincing need for editing a passage appears, the original text controls.

Thus, expressions such as “solitary as an oyster” (which expression, for example, implies nothing negative about oysters) and “dog-days” (an expression that apparently originated as a reference to the star Sirius, which was the chief star in a constellation said to look like a dog) have been left untouched in A Vegan Christmas Carol.  Even the comparison of Scrooge to a bear—presumably because of Scrooge’s grumpiness or ferocity—is not necessarily negative: bears can indeed be fierce, smart, and defensive fighters, and there’s nothing inherently non-vegan, demeaning, or otherwise speciesist about acknowledging these possible traits of a bear.  Accordingly, that comparison was also left intact as well.

 

Article: “Ebenezer Scrooge: Revealing Quotes—’Decrease the Surplus Population’”

“Ebenezer Scrooge: Revealing Quotes—’Decrease the Surplus Population’” article published

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Scrooge Quotes

Ebenezer Scrooge:  Revealing Quotes—“Decrease the Surplus Population”

In the beginning stave of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens reveals much about the inner workings of Ebenezer Scrooge‘s mind through Scrooge’s verbal expressions.  Here are some examples.

“If they would rather die… they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

This statement by Scrooge is in response to the gentlemen who, in Stave 1, enter the “Scrooge & Marley” office and ask for holiday donations.  One of the gentlemen says that many of the poor “would rather die” than go to the “prisons” and “workhouses” that Scrooge has previously suggested as a suitable place to house and care for the poor.

The statement is very effective at introducing us to the landscape of Scrooge’s mind.  He has already countered the gentlemen’s request for money by pointing to the fact that he pays taxes to fund certain institutions.  He then counters their attempt to, indirectly, call upon his pity.  Rather than say something like, “Oh, I didn’t know the prisons and workhouses were that bad,” thereby getting sucked into their pity trap, Scrooge counters again by upping raising the stakes per the above quotation, which indicates clearly that his pity is not available as a point of leverage for would-be fundraisers.

The entire exchange that culminates in this statement shows that Scrooge is very perceptive; he’s not oblivious to human need, cries for pity, and the plight of the poor.  Nor is he oblivious to the verbal tactics with which others attempt to manipulate him.  Nor is he too slow-witted to recognize and counter these attempted manipulations in the very moment in which they are happening.  He is, in short, very perceptive on multiple levels.

Meanwhile, the mathematical and financial relationships realities of the situation are very present and apparent to him.  He views society in terms of the money, math, and numbers. For instance, he’s readily aware of the fact that he is already paying to support certain public institutions. He recognizes, in a Mathusian way, that the resources that he and others pay into the system are not sufficient relative to the existing population.  He, at least ostensibly, views those who are outside of the reach of existing resources as “surplus.”  The fact that he chooses such a dehumanizing word shows that the numbers-based approach is both readily available to his standard way of thinking and also readily available to establish his negotiating position:  pity-based arguments will carry no wait with him.

This interchange, comprising just a few lines that pay off in the multi-layered response quoted above, thus reveals a great deal about Ebenezer Scrooge in a very short span.  It is but one of many examples of Charles Dickens‘ mastery.