Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Got It Figured Out

While on my 30-minute walk today with Prozac the Boston Terrier, it hit me like a flash. I'm listening to "Planet Money" podcast (thanks for turning me out to this, Tana), and they're talking about what's really going to cure Europe's economic woes. Guess what is? Economic growth. And can you guess what is going to cure all our ills here in the US? I'm talking the deficit, unemployment, income disparity, cancer . . . everything. Everything gets better with economic growth. Right?

Wrong. Economic growth is good for right now. But the whole premise of economic growth is flawed. It's a great concept for a globe with about 3 billion people on it. Mother Earth could sustain the consumption of resources this many people would use. But the globe currently has well more than twice that living on it, with even more projected. The population won't level off till there's something like 9 billion people. Now if you've been paying attention at all, the Earth and its bounty is groaning under the weight of its current population. And to sustain all these people, we're tearing the tops off mountains for coal, fishing out thousands of square miles of ocean for fishes, clear cutting rain forests all over. And Earth is protesting: huge chunks of Antarctica falling off, killer storms everywhere, water shortages, creeping desertification, poisoned rivers, square miles of floating plastic dead zones in three oceans, toxic waste in the entire environment, animals species disappearing every day, monstrous growing cities slowing chewing up hundreds of acres and replacing arable land with slums. Not to mention billions, that's billions, of people living at the very edge of mere survival throughout the world.

So what's the problem here? The problem is the fundamental theoretical underpinning of the capitalistic system. Now, I'm not holding out any kind of brief here for an alternate system.* No, what I'm saying is if everything good is premised on the notion of more consumption this year than last--and everything bad if we don't have this--we're sooner or later finished. Simple as that. Survival of the human species, it seems to me, depends on qualities in human beings that are, to say the least, scarce. That would be selflessness and wisdom. All the religions have this figured out: selfishness kills bodies and spirits; wisdom is self-surrender. But isn't the whole notion of capitalism based ultimately on selfishness? the idea that things are not good and are not improving unless I, we, my country has more now than before? And then more than that next year? When are we going to figure out that this just is not going to work?


Here's a related video by a great band, Talking Heads. These guys had it figured out.

*Not because I wouldn't favor one, but I seriously wonder what could work at this point. I don't see any evidence that any of them do for everybody.
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