The story is this: A middle-aged man from Spring, Texas—Terry Robinson—posted on Facebook that he plans "to spend his retirement years at Holiday Inns nationwide" to "cut costs." A nursing home, he claims, is around $188 a day, whereas the average cost of a Holiday Inn, when “long term stay discount and senior discount" and reservations are factored in, is $59.23 a day. The ruling logic of his plan, however, concerns the way one is treated at a hotel versus at a nursing home: The latter treats you like a patient and the former like a customer. In the US, a patient is nothing but trouble, but a customer always comes first.
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There are also these side benefits at Holiday Inn: “Breakfast is included and some have happy hours in the afternoon.” Then there's "room service, laundry, gratuities and special TV movies. Plus... a spa, swimming pool, a workout room, a lounge and washer-dryer.” It does not end there. “Most have free toothpaste and razors, and all have free shampoo and soap.” All of this adds up to a retirement that apparently saves a considerable amount of money: roughly $100 a day.
Some may find this to be nothing more than a bit of light humor. But it is not as far-fetched as it sounds, and it makes sense if you're familiar with the right genealogy (history of thinking) of capitalism rather than the false standard that is promoted by the journalists and academics of what is today called orthodox economics (or the neoclassical school). In fact, even the genealogies of most branches of heterodox economics (post-Keynesian, Marxist, institutional, and so on) would also fail to adequately explain why it might be cheaper to spend one's golden years in a hotel chain rather than a nursing home. What heterodox economics has in common with orthodox economics is the bad idea that capitalism's relationship with nature is strictly metabolic and, as such, is transhistorical. Meaning, there is no historical break between, say, an economy based on gathering nuts and fruits from the one that we have today, and which began during the late stages of the Golden Age of the Dutch Economy (the 17th century).
But in fact, there is a total break between this system of production and distribution and all the others in the human record. Capitalism is truly something new, and is defined not by a strict metabolic relationship with nature, but a perversion of that relationship, one that monstrously replaces a system of needs with a system of luxuries.
So, a genealogy that would explain Terry Robinson's Holiday Inn plan would not begin with Adam Smith, but a writer that the Scottish moral philosopher and founder of modern economics loathed—Bernard Mandeville, a thinker and satirist whose work and life forms a bridge between capitalism's Dutch moment and its British one. (This is by no means my first post to follow this line of thinking, which is indebted to the Israeli critical theorist Noam Yuran.)
Yuran, concerning Bernard Mandeville—who is famous for the very bad 1714 poem, The Fable of the Bees—writes in his essay "Luxury and the Sexual Economy of Capitalism":
[The] various aspects of luxury were explicitly explored at a significant moment in early economic thought, only to be abandoned with its celebrated beginning in Adam Smith. Luxury occupies a fundamental place in Bernard Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees. It is conceived, paradoxically, as both an excess over economic essentials and as the very substance of economic life. The prosperous beehive in this fable is inflicted with all kinds of vices, but as these are miraculously abolished, its economy quickly disintegrates.
A genealogy of economics that begins with Adam Smith then goes directly to Jean-Baptiste Say, then David Ricardo, then Ricardian Socialism, then Karl Marx. What is absent from that tradition, which forms the foundation for all of the economic plans and phenomena that are with us today (from the tax cuts of 2017 to AOC's Green New Deal) ignores this key aspect of capitalism, which Mandeville describes in his truly awful poem, and Yuran, one of the most brilliant cultural critics of our times, describes as "an excess over economic essentials."
Of course a hotel would end up cheaper than a nursing home. It is thus so because it is a total luxury, and that is what capitalism does best: produce luxury after luxury. From this we can predict that the closer anything is to an essential (or necessity, such as a nursing home or elderly assistance), the harder it is for the market to produce or provide it. This has nothing to do with costs. A luxury does not have to be expensive. It's the temporal status of the thing or service that matters. If it is or approximates the infinite, it is consistent with an economics that cannot exist without growing without end (money making more money). An essential (or need) has a hard limit. It can be satisfied. Thus a system of needs leads necessarily (and for capitalism, tragically) to a steady state economy. But a system of luxuries does not. And here you have the significance and function of our gross domestic product (GDP)—a measurement not of human well-being, but of growth: money making more money. (This distinction was missed by many readers of my post about Andrew Yang.)
In short, we may all consider living in Holiday Inns in the future because that is what we have plenty of. (To better understand all of this, and its possible future implications, I recommend watching "Autofac," an episode from, oddly enough, Amazon's Electric Dreams series.)