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An Economy that Works for Everyone

October 4, 2010 – I’d like to begin by saying that September wasn’t supposed to gang up on me like that, but before I knew it, my husband and I were on our way to Paris to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. My apologies for failing to explain this PRIOR to it actually happening.

Be sure to check out a new online publication that launches today: Transition Voice.
You will find it - naturally - at www.transitionvoice.com. I cannot claim to be a strictly disinterested party; TV is running an article about permaculture, and a book review, by yours truly. I’ve had an opportunity to peruse TV’s initial issue, and I like what I see.
Take a look.

Awhile back I wrote about degrowth, touted at the time as the opposite of growth. I notice that the Post Carbon Institute is currently featuring an excerpt from Richard Heinberg’s work-in-progress, tentatively titled The End of Growth, on their website. We’re talking about economic growth, of course, and the fact that, having reached peak everything, economic growth will stall (that’s the end of growth, happening right now) and then decline (i.e., the economy will contract; that’s degrowth). These are concepts for which “inside the beltway” folks have absolutely no use. Don’t expect to hear ANY congressional or gubernatorial candidates talk about them in the run-up to November elections. They’re not sellable because they scare people, particularly the unemployed. The American economy cannot exist without perpetual growth. Right?

Certainly that is what Americans are lead to believe by what they read and hear in the media. The term “growth” has been endowed with such positive overtones that we have learned to dread its absence. The fact that our great grandparents lived their lives without ever hearing about economic growth seems improbable to us, but it’s true. It may simply have been taken as a given, for all I know. America was, as everyone knew back then, the land of opportunity. That meant you would live a better life here than you had back in the old country, and your children could expect to live a better life than you. Did that necessarily mean financially better?

Probably. It was, however, part of a larger picture that included being better fed and better educated. The better fed part we probably learned very quickly to take for granted; the better educated part was free (very few of us attended college back then). A public school education, if it was taken advantage of to its fullest extent, was the ticket to financial security. The idea of living without scraping by was pretty revolutionary, at the time. Only in America!

The difference between our great grandparents and ourselves, then, is the dream. For our ancestors, the dream was having enough. “Enough is as good as a feast,” quoth Mary Poppins, and that was pretty much the order of the day. Wanting better and more for one’s children was the next evolutionary step, but was in no way considered an entitlement. Your children would still have to earn their way, just as you had earned yours. That way, they would have enough, too.

When, then, did enough stop being enough?

Within the last three generations. Let’s see, there’s you – that’s one, there’s your parents – that’s two, then there are your grandparents – that’s three. The Greatest Generation, they’ve been called. Having survived a Great Depression, and having won a World War,
deservedly so. With the economy cranking out products as it never had before, in answer to Uncle Sam’s call, our grandparents decided it should go on cranking out products – for them. They would buy them! After all, the GI Bill was paying to educate men (and a few women) who had previously never dreamt of going to college. Build the homes, manufacture the cars! This generation was going to get to enjoy life, so just stand back, watch, and be amazed.

“Growth without end. Amen.” That became the dream. They quickly learned to take for granted that possessions would make them happier than previous generations had dreamed possible. For awhile it was all too good to be true. The Greatest Generation paid an exalted price for helping to end the nightmare; payback would be equally stratospheric. It was only right. It was only fair. What they had earned with blood, sweat, and tears, they would pass along to their children. And they did.

Fast forward two generations. Five percent of the world’s population is helping themselves to 25 percent of the world’s natural resources? Helping themselves to so much fossil fuel that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any other time during the last 800,000 years? They’ve been told – but they don’t want to listen! It turns out that overindulgence is fun! We pay for it – what’s the beef? Speaking of beef, farting cows and pigs and sheep have unleashed poisonous methane into the atmosphere at a rate that will kill us all! What the heck happened?!

Repeat after me, everybody: Because someone is capable of paying for something does not mean it is theirs by right. We live on a planet of plenitude. The Earth’s gifts are meant for all, not just for some. Sharing is the name of the game. Time for degrowth, so that all may live in peace and contentment. We’ll still have an economy, it just won’t be the same one we have now. An economy that works for everyone, rather than everyone working for the economy.

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