In a previous post, an example nation was assumed, one where people were not interested in material things, or in careers, but in interpersonal relationships, and they avoided work when possible. In this nation, an economist would be faced with several problems, including the one of how to motivate people to work sufficiently to support the economy. It seemed to be a soluble problem.
Consider a different nation, again with a homogeneous population. In this second example, all of the people with few exceptions, pride themselves on what they produce that is of use to the remainder of the population. They do not particularly care about amassing wealth, or surpassing others in their possessions or ownership, but they do compete in some fashion on how useful they are to society.
As in the previous example, an economist concerned with devising an economic system for this nation and its industrious population, needs to cover three things. The first is the trinity of production, allocation and consumption. The second is employment and motivation. The third is capital accumulation and allocation.
The second is solved by assumption. The entire population, at least the work-capable fraction, having the right age and lack of disability, want to work and are motivated. They want to be productive and will do whatever they need to in order to be productive. Some people are productive in one way, others, in another way. There should be managers and tradesmen, salespeople and maintenance workers. Because their self-worth depends on being productive, not on having some particular job, all work slots will be filled as flexibility will be part of the core value of productivity. Their motivation is simple: work productively at whatever is available. Move up to more productive positions when possible. Work as long as possible. Get whatever education is necessary to do a job.
Productivity is the core value, there will be no difficulty in reducing consumption sufficiently to accumulate capital, and then finding those who can make use of it, by increasing productivity of the nation in general. Technological progress might be brisk, except for one point. For the primary trinity of economics, production is assured. Allocation is not a problem, as the population will not be finicky about how produced goods are allocated among workers. But who is going to do the consumption? Taking time off for consumption is not a core value, and is not appreciated. None of the workers cares much about what they own or use, but principally about their work. So, as the nation progresses, production increases, and who gets what is produced? There is, in this example, no one interested much in consumption.
One might say, let the children consume, but in a society where everybody of working age and able body is interested in what they can do, not what they can get, the children are going to learn from early age what is important to adults is what is important to them. They will dream about becoming productive adults, not idle consumers. Thus, children are not the answer to a lack of interest in consumption, particularly in consumption goods. Neither are disabled people going to pick up the slack.
There is a certain amount of production that can be drawn off for economic growth. More extraction means more economic growth, but this should saturate due to the constraints needed for the various operations necessary for growth, such as the construction of factories. Fairly soon, some economist will note that it is quite hard to find anyone to take existing production for consumption, and more of it certainly will not be needed. Improvements in quality might be possible, but a saturation in production bottleneck appears inevitable.
Government siphoning of some production is always necessary, but it has its limits in a society where there are no government officials looking to become extremely wealthy from bribery of various types. Government officials come from the same nation, and would not expand government past what promotes production. So the bottleneck is not resolved by government expense. You can build one city hall, but you can’t build two. You can build adequate school space for all children, but you can’t double or triple it. Parks that no one visits are not the things that a nation of productive people build.
In this second example, as we have constructed it, there is no way to eliminate the lack of interest in consumption, except by changing the culture, meaning, what children learn and carry with them through life. There are here also inevitable tight connections between the social part of the nation, meaning the culture, and the economics. One route for an economist is to enlist those sectors of the nation able to change the culture. The other route, more true to the culture and preserving it, is to deny to some fraction of the population the opportunity to do what they want to do the most, be productive. Only by decreasing the employment level by some amount, or artificially reducing productivity, could this be accommodated. Low productiivty may be the light at the end of the tunnel.
This example again shows the impotence of economics as compared to the culture that is embedded in the population. If the economic system is to be of maximum service to the population, it would have to determine a way to reduce productivity, so that the real goal of the population, being productive, could be assuaged. There might be a severe tax on productivity development, so severe that it could not be afforded by any entity, and no funds devoted to it by any government organization. Instead of an economy based on consumption, and designed to maximize it, this economy would be the opposite. It would be built around productive work, and the work hours would be the right thing to measure as a test of how well one particular policy of suppressing productivity would work.
Having this example seems to break the lock that consumption has on economics. Everything in previous economic systems has been about consumption, and of course, its use in maximizing the wealth or status or power or importance or whatever of those who make decisions about economic matters. It is not necessarily the case that productivity bottlenecks could not exist before, as standards of living were much lower, and saturation of consumption could easily occur. However, there is no way to advance the position of the czar or monarch or emperor by having productivity lowered. They would always be able to spend more production on larger palaces, bigger navies, or other things available only to a national leader. Favoring production instead of consumption can only seem to happen in a nation which was not run by an elite group which did not share the culture of the population. If the elite leadership group wants to accomplish anything on their own, typically they would want as much production as possible to amass for its use. Limited productivity would almost seem as an offense or even a treasonous act. In a milder view, any nation which is concerned about its defense might want to maximize productivity so as to divert some of that productivity to bomb shelters or tanks or spears or whatever was currently useful in the art of war.
Suppose we return to the example in its full splendor. Even those in the government just want to be productive, and there is no external threat to drive productivity. If these two barriers to a complacent, low-productivty, fully-employed, happy population are removed, that is the population that this situation will lead to. The lack of productivity gains means that the situation is likely to go on and on, without break, with a happy population just continuing to work and to raise their children to work and enjoy it.
One thing, not discussed so far, that an economist might be concerned with, is the stability of the population to various disturbances. The only disturbance embedded in the scenario so far is the contrast between the desire to be productive and the ban on the desire to increase productivity. This has to be solved by some explanation of the choice to the population.
Another disturbance that the nation in question is vulnerable to has already been mentioned, and that is conquest by a nation which does not espouse low productivity and uses their production to prepare for war and conquest. Other disturbances might be situations of crop failure or destructive natural weather phenomena, The latter might be solved by storing up productivity ideas, in other words, allowing the development of productivity gains, but not putting them into practice, until some even happened which made it important to use them. The former might be covered by having large inventories of stored food, renewed to prevent damage via aging, and kept ready to be used in the instance of a bad crop year. It would certainly be a productive task to prepare for possible dangerous uncertainties, so the culture would emphasize doing both of these tasks. Even preparation for defense in the unforeseen instance of invasion might be done under the guise of useful production. Thus, with forethought, the second example could be elaborated into a stable, very long-lasting economic system, which could continue until the culture eroded or some other change crept in.