March 30, 2012
By Richard Clark
In the wake of the current crisis, more people are questioning the primacy of growth-at-all-costs. President Sarkozy, the Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz, and elements of the Financial Times’s commentariat are among those now arguing that prosperity is possible without GNP growth, and indeed that prosperity will soon become impossible because of GNP growth. In fact, a new movement seems to be emerging.
We tend to forget that the larger system within which we live is changing and is, with our help, reaching certain limits. Most of us don’t understand that, just because . .
a) many of us came to feel we achieved very good living standards and
b) we in the developed world came to feel pretty good about the world and ourselves before 2008,
. . does not mean that the evolution and transformation of the larger system within which we live has stopped.
Humans are not above the vast natural system we exist within; yes we are the dominant species within it, yet just one single species within it, so the continuing change of the system around us continuously and inevitably affects us, just as we effect it. Example: The recent, large and ever worsening natural catastrophes (e.g. hurricanes, floods & tornadoes) remind us of how helpless we are in the face of those forces that most of us cannot fully comprehend (i.e. most of us do not yet understand that ever more damaging weather systems stem from the ever rising percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that results in the greenhouse effect and global warming — which inevitably comes from the ever increasing amounts of manufacture, production and consumption which produces that carbon dioxide).
So if we want to solve our present problems we have to understand a few important points:
1. We do not and cannot have historical perspective on the present crisis. Why not? Because we are in a situation humanity has never before faced.
2. We are not in a crisis that could be corrected by known economic, financial or political means; rather, we are in a system failure. Why? Because our constant growth, overproduction/over-consumption system has become unsustainable, and has even began to self-destruct because of this. Paradoxically, the same drive that gave us all our achievements throughout history has become a cancer that is now destroying the entire system, and none of the basic principles of a constant-growth, expansive system any longer exist. To wit:
* free markets are rapidly disappearing as corporate monopolies and oligopolies take over,
* because of falling wages and rising unemployment (as ever more income and wealth is cleverly siphoned away by the top 1%), there is no longer a strong and confident consumer base, and it is not going to return!
* the mass hypnotic media and marketing system that have always brainwashed people to keep buying products they do not need, for money they do not have (but must borrow) . . is falling apart,
* an ever larger percentage of the public is becoming aware of the fraudulent and completely unsustainable system we are now living in,
* we are fast depleting all our natural resources.
3. Stuck in their present attitudes and behavior, corporate-dominated culture and society remain in complete opposition to the vast natural system around us. With global capitalism and population growth, we have achieved a certain saturation of economic possibilities that has finally put us into a direct conflict with Mother Nature, who is, as a result, beginning to turn against us. While the whole system (i.e. “Mother Nature”) strives for overall balance and homeostasis, most corporations (with their fragmented, competitive, exploitative attitude and organization) are inadvertently working in opposition to that.
Therefore our next moves need to be based on the realization just described. We need to update and educate the whole population about the key factors now influencing and impinging upon our lives. We need to educate people as to what it means to live in a closed, integral, and completely interdependent world. By this means we can prepare people for the inevitable transition to the limited, natural-resource-based life that will be required for the survival and health of our civilization.
Only a factual, transparent and scientific global education program can create a situation where people willingly join this new movement and system. Such an education program can prevent global-scale rioting and revolutions due to the continually worsening living conditions that will surely result if we fail in this task. By this means we can show people that human society has an unlimited potential and a bright sustainable future — as long as we keep mindful of the natural laws governing and limiting the larger political-economic-environmental system in which we live.
Author and economist Tim Jackson states the challenge starkly:
“Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries. But question it we must.”
And that is the core mission of his perfectly timed book, Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet. Had he published it before the financial crisis, he would probably have been dismissed as another green idealist, at best. But in the wake of the crisis, more people are questioning the primacy of growth-at-all-costs. President Sarkozy, the Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz, and elements of the Financial Times’s commentariat are among those now arguing that prosperity is possible without GNP growth, and indeed that prosperity will soon become impossible because of GNP growth. A new movement seems to be emerging, and this superbly written book should be the first stop for anyone wanting a manifesto.
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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I’ve always been more interested in political economics and what’s going on behind the scenes in politics, than in mechanical engineering, and because of that I’ve rarely worked more than 8 months a year, devoting much of the rest of the year to reading and writing about that which interests me most.