Efficient, Expedient, Essential

Economics talks about efficiency a lot. Efficiency is easy to define mathematically. If there are two ways of performing a task, the more efficient one uses fewer resources, whether time, labor, or materials.

I like the word expedient more than efficient. You aren’t merely recognizing the cheapest way to do something, you’re making a statement about its necessity. If something is expedient it has a certain needed impact.

This is my pinned tweet right now:

I looked up “expedient”. Apparently its often used to describe actions that are necessary but perhaps questionable, morally or otherwise. That’s not what I mean. Perhaps there’s a better word.

You can be efficient doing things that are worthless or of low priority. Our economy seems especially good at this. Go to a fast food joint and they will get you all you want in a matter of minutes. It’s not about need, it’s indulgence.

Things like global trade can be very efficient, but they aren’t always expedient or essential. Most countries can produce essentials domestically.

Food and oil are really the two big concerns here, and in some cases water. We indulge our populations a lot with the efficiency of global trade. In the case of a crisis a lot of people would be uncomfortable adjusting to lifestyles with different consumption patterns.

But not me. I hardly use oil. I walk or longboard or bike when I don’t have a flat tire.

From where I’m sitting people are driving around burning through a lot of oil doing stuff I simply assume is pointless and worthless. We could organize our lives a lot better so we didn’t have to use oil, but our “efficiency” means we lose track of what is essential.

Certainly automobiles are invaluable tools, but I think we could be completely comfortable with one for every 10 people or 100 people. Generational trends are moving in this direction, but only a little bit.

If our economic organization helps us recognize what’s essential and what’s just nice to have, then people will have a lot more free time. People won’t scrape by working fast food with no hope of affording unforeseen medical emergencies.

It’s a crime really.

I want to spend zero seconds supporting other people’s indulgences if I can barely meet my own necessities. That’s just the way I think about this problem. But money can’t recognize urgency and expediency, it’s on us to do this politically and socially.

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