• neglected neighborhood



Born in the late 1800’s, Frederick Soddy and R. Buckminster Fuller led extraordinary lives. Soddy won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1921 and Fuller became well known for his work in architecture and the development of the geodesic dome. Soddy was a British citizen, Fuller an American. Both were deeply rooted in science and the laws of physics, and both spent the latter half of their life trying to apply their knowledge of physical reality to making the world work for everyone. Inevitably their quest led them to the field of economics and the study of monetary systems. Remarkably, though they never worked together, both men reached a similar conclusion – – – money and economics were largely disconnected from physical reality and productive capability. The result was the unnecessary impoverishment of much of humanity.

Soddy and Fuller were both impacted by World War I. Soddy as a British scientist saw the devastation caused across Europe by the first war to fully employ the knowledge of science in the act of destroying others. Fuller served as a rescue boat commander in the U.S. Navy. Both men were struck by how nations could seemingly never afford to do any of the tasks necessary to improve the living conditions of people before or after a war, but could always afford whatever it took to go to war. As Fuller stated in his books Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1963) and Critical Path (1981), whenever the financial power structure controlling a nation’s politicians feels its interests threatened:

“vast new magnitudes of wealth come mysteriously into effective operation. We don’t seem to be able to afford to do peacefully the logical things we say we ought to be doing to forestall warring – by producing enough to satisfy all the world needs. Under pressure we always find that we can afford to wage the wars”

Soddy wrote in a similar vein referring to World War I in his book Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt (1926):

“Then, for the first time in history, we saw science used without artificial financial restrictions for the purposes of destruction. A degree of liberality and unity of purpose prevailed which is never lavished upon the less spectacular but more necessary tasks of construction. Year after year the industrialized nations produced an ever-mounting tide of munitions of war,” “There seemed no physical limit to the extent which a nation, shaken out of its preconceived habits of economic thought by the imminent peril at its doors, could turn out the material necessities for its existence.

Whereas now [post war] we have returned to peace and squalor, to idle factories and farms reverting to grass, we are back as a nation to the pre-war conditions with a million and a quarter workers unemployed, unable to feed and clothe ourselves adequately on a military standard, and unable even to build houses in which to live under existing economic conditions. Yet we have the same wealth of natural resources, the same science and inventiveness, with much more favorable conditions for production and an army of unused man-power being demoralized by enforced idleness!” “A nation dowered with every necessary requisite for an abundant life is too poor to distribute its own wealth, and is idle and deteriorates not because it does not need it but because it cannot buy it.”

The contemporary version of this incongruity is called “austerity.” Nation after nation is being told by its politicians that it cannot afford to do anything to help its people. “There is no money to buy it and people must tighten their belts.” Yet all of these nations have abundant physical and human resources waiting to be used and all of these nations mysteriously find whatever money it takes to fight the so called “war on terrorism.” It is the destructive/constructive contradiction – – – an unnecessary, artificially created state of poverty imposed in the midst of plenty. It raises many questions.

Part II of this series will look at the difference between wealth (productive/constructive capability) and money.