Jan 212001

Economists usually consider consumption opposite to production. From the viewpoint of entropy, however, there is no difference between them. You can describe both of them as an increase in entropy of environment in compensation for reducing the entropy of a system.

As the proverb goes, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. “Work Hard Play Hard” by 483schrei29 is licensed under CC-BY-SA.

1. From a viewpoint of entropy

For example, in order to produce metal, they refine it, with oil burned. Although the increase in entropy as burning oil reduces the resource value, it refines ore and creates negentropy. What making CD players of the refined metal and selling them to consumers decreases is not real entropy but ideal entropy. Namely, it reduces the indeterminacy of listening to favorite music at favorite place and time.

Such consumption as listening to music increases entropy by using electricity and exhausting the CD player. But if you can get rid of stress by listening to music and refresh yourself, you can come to work well again. Since the recreation as play re-creates labor, it is kind of production.

2. Is play different from work?

How about the following distinction: consumption is pleasant, while production is not? Receiving dental treatment is consumption but it is painful, while some enjoy working. So, whether pleasant or not does not help make a distinction between consumption and production.

In the article, "What is Value? ", I asserted, "Play is richer in possibilities than labor. That is to say, the entropy of labor is higher than that of play. As labor is negentropy, it can produce value." But, even it the case of play, consumption may not be utterly arbitrary. Consumption can be significant or meaningless, just as the balance of production can be in the black or red. This distinction is more important than that of production and consumption.

3. Consumption is not always production

As the second law of thermodynamics indicates, you must always increase the entropy of environment so as to decrease the entropy our system. But the reverse is not always true. An increase in entropy sometimes does not decrease the entropy our system. The mere increase in entropy is called waste. If you continue to waste resources in producing and consuming, your system cannot survive for a long period.

Our ultimate purpose is to maintain and develop our systems. Consumption directly and production indirectly contribute to maintaining and developing our systems. Since maintaining and developing our systems in the present is a means to maintaining and developing them in the future, the distinction between production and consumption is relative.

You might wonder, "If we cannot justify play without the reference to production, we must dedicate our entire lives to realizing the value of means. It will make our lives empty. Don’t we have to regard consumption as realization of end value, so as to avoid the regressus in infinitum of means-end chain?" But it is not contradictory that individual happiness contributes to maintaining and developing social systems. As it is rather normal, our systems have survived up to the present.

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