Commodity: "an external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind" (Marx, Capital 125).
Commodities and utilities have always been of great fascination to me. The idea that we need a number of necessities to survive reminds me that I am as composed of organic matter like every other being on this earth, and I have basic needs that must be satisfied for my survival.
Like food and water, my body demands a few things that keep me alive and should come as plentiful as the grass that zebras graze. However, we all know that’s not how it works in the advanced species of the human race -- a race we pay to belong to.
As part of a race that lives around the notion of work and reward, we’ve turned necessities into commodities, taking away the basic needs of survival from one another, expecting one to either work for them or die.
It’s a crazy notion, that we can deny one another basic needs and slap price tags on something that should come as flowing and free as water.
Of course, I’m not trying to align myself with Marxist economics and the ideals of communism, I'm trying to state a weird point about the society in which we live, a society that denies us basic needs for survival for a price many can't afford.
If you really think about it, it’s pretty weird that we have to pay for food and blood. It’s even weirder that companies make billions of dollars off basic necessities that come from our own earth.
It’s even crazier that something as abundant and flowing as water is privatized and withheld. Yet, what really stumps me is that in today’s world, you can’t even go fishing at a nearby lake without getting fined or having to pay for a fishing license. Thus, not being able to catch your own food for free.
So in an increasingly privatized, digitized and monopolized world, I’d like to bring attention to the irony of our “civilized” ways and maybe spark a dinner debate tonight that’s focused around something other than the Kardashians and James Franco's burgeoning pedophilia complex.
It seems like the most abundant resource on earth, yet is becoming the most scarce. In a world made up around water, we've created an industry that privatizes the seemingly plentiful resource around us.
According to James E. McWhinney, author of “Water: The Ultimate Commodity,” only about 1 percent of the earth’s water is readily available for human consumption and this shortage creates a desirable investment opportunity for companies.
The domination of these companies over the water market is seen in the Dow Jones US Water Index, which is now composed of 29 stocks affiliated with water business, and holds a minimum market capitalization of $150 million.
What this all really means though is water is traded and sold on the stock market. The idea that investors trade and sell water on the stock market should be enough of a conundrum to busy your mind for a while.
The blood industry is one you probably don't think of often, but it's one that's full of personal interest and obscene profit gain.
If you've ever given blood, you probably thought you were partaking in a generous act of human compassion and brotherhood, giving your blood so someone else could live.
Unfortunately, that good deed you're doing is being capitalized and monetized as blood banks charge astronomical prices to hospitals for your blood while those who can't afford health insurance won't get any.
According to "The Bloody Truth: Examining America's Blood Industry and its Tort Liability Through Arkansas Prison Plasma Scandal" a unit of blood cost up to $500, making blood a more expensive commodity than oil. Since when should getting blood be more expensive than buying oil? According to Richard Titmuss, a scholar of the blood business from the 1960s to 1970s:
"The commercialisation of blood and donor relationships represses the expression of altruism, erodes the sense of community, lowers scientific standards, limits both personal and professional freedoms,sanctions the making of profits in hospitals and clinical laboratories, legalises hostility between doctor and patient, subjects critical areas of medicine to the laws of the marketplace, places immense social costs on those least able to bear them—the poor, the sick and the inept—increases the danger of unethical behaviour."
It's funny to imagine century-old healers of remote villages charging monthly prices for their services. It just seems wrong, even indecent, to deny help to a dying person.
However, I understand how healthcare works and that there are very delicate balances that make it almost impossible to provide universal healthcare. But, it doesn't seem right that our society has enabled the basic human right of getting medicine a privilege.
According to Business Insider, "medical bills are the root cause behind more than 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies in the United States each year."
They also reported that "America's five biggest for-profit health insurance companies ended 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion."
It's a sad fact that the pursuit of health has to come at the cost of our livelihood, and that doctors are forced to limit their help due to malpractice suits and financial restraints.
If you don't want to freeze to death or would like to cook your own food, you must pay. Electric companies don't care how hungry or cold you are, it's a privilege to have oil.
According to TaxPayer, "the top five integrated oil and gas companies earned nearly $120 billion in profits last year."
However, those earnings do not align with the average supply and demand of oil, of which should be much lower for the consumer and result in small profits for the oil guys.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the supply of oil and gasoline is higher today than it was three years ago. Meanwhile, the demand for oil in the US is at its lowest level since April of 1997.
While many of us may understand why oil is bought and sold, we don't understand why hard working people must be overpriced for such a necessary and abundant commodity.
If food and water are basic necessities to life, shouldn't there be a way to eat if you can't afford it? Should a country let its people go hungry just because they don't have jobs?
Of course there is welfare and many other government programs that help the poor afford groceries, but what if there wasn't a price for bread at all? What if we lived around the notion that people need food to live, so basic nourishment should not come at escalating prices?
According to Monthly Review,
"The commodity nature of food results in food price levels far above many people’s meager means, producing a lack of adequate nutrition. The United Nations estimates that there are close to one billion people worldwide who suffer from malnutrition.
This leads to severe health problems and death for millions. Food deprivation, though falling short of severe malnutrition, is still a very serious condition. Hence, a sense of injustice associated with rising food prices and unequal access to food was a major factor spurring revolts in the Arab world over the last year."
It seems almost absurd that unlike other carnivorous species, we are not allowed to take our own food at whim. There are prices to be paid, bargains to be dealt and a disgusting amount of regulation to go through just to produce a loaf of bread.
Education may be the largest catch 22 of our lives; you need an education to get a job and you can't get an education without money.
The education system, especially that of the United States, is slowly robbing its people and leaving many in debt for most of their adult lives.
It's a horrible paradox, the idea that education is the most important and essential institution, yet only those who have money get access to this necessity.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the outstanding student debt of student loans exceeded $1 trillion in 2013 and the number of borrowers has risen by 70 percent since 2004.
These numbers are a gross reminder that higher education is most definitely not a right, but a luxury reserved for the wealthy.