Saturday, May 2, 2009

Economy vs the Environment - Choose the winner.

I've had the opportunity to spend three weeks out of the past month in the USA. One thing is for sure, we are definitely in a new age. Unemployment is already rampant with more lay-offs being announced every day. Major automakers are declaring bankruptcy, housing prices, investments and retirement savings are falling. More and more families are unable to make mortgage payments, pay the bills and put food on the table. And this is probably just the beginning.

Unfortunately, many of the ideas being offered to help the situation will likely make matters worse in the long term. Let's take one of the most obvious examples. Popular wisdom is that the economic collapse is caused - or at least worsened - by a lack of consumer confidence. Who wants to go out and by a new car if they are worried about losing their job? So here is the obvious solution, inflate the money supply and then "employ one person to dig a hole and another person to fill it back in". You have created two jobs with two secure pay checks and now these people can go back to the market place and buy goods and services. In turn, this will create jobs for the people supply these goods and services.

What's wrong with this picture? Well - in an objective sense, all the first person has done is to use their energy and time to disturb a piece of ground and the other person has used their time and energy to repair the damage -at least partially. As a side-issue, they both had to eat food to get the energy and most likely they both drove their cars to the job site - using oil along the way. In return, all they really created was another piece of disrupted ecosystem. They do get a pay check, probably minimum wage, so they can go down to Walmart and afford low-price food produced by industrial agriculture and cheap consumer goods from China (which were recently shipped and then trucked to the store). This will create more minimum wage employment, result in a faster consumption of resources to fuel the transport industry and make the consumer goods - which will likely end up in the garbage dump in the next year or so. But it will grow the economy - at least for the short term.

In the longer term, the looming shortage of fossil fuel and the environmental cost of industrial agriculture will put an end to this cycle. You may still be able to employ people to dig holes and fill them in, but you will have to pay them a six figure salary before they will be able to continue their marginal life-style. A few more years and they will need a twelve figure paycheck and their quality of life will be worse than before.

The real problem is that the monetary system and the economy are imaginary structures. We allow them to command and distribute the resources of the natural world. While the imaginary economy may be able to grow forever, and is potentially limitless, the natural resources of this planet are unquestionably finite and limited. Unless the product of one persons labour actually produces more Resources than they consume, they are creating a very real deficit in the Real World. This can only go on for so long.

So what is the solution? Well, instead of putting one person to work by digging a hole, have them plant a garden instead. Then employ the other person to weed and water it. Then over the course of a few weeks, the natural living systems of this world will produce high quality food that is close to their homes and won't need to be transported half way around the world before they can eat it. This will not only improve the quality of the food, but it will save oil normally used for transportation. In fact, you can pay them both less money because you can just give them the food. As another by-product, the two gardeners might even become friends because of their time spent in a mutually beneficial enterprise. Their spiritual health may also improve through working with the Creator instead of struggling against the natural laws of Creation.

Isn't it telling that one of the biggest arguments in favor of industrial agriculture is that organic methods are too labour intensive- and therefore expensive. No one ever argues that industrial agriculture produces better food, or that it is good for the environment. In fact, most agri-business assumes the land will be worthless within 20 years. So we put up with low quality food, and allow the environment to be destroyed because we want to employ the vast majority of people with non-productive jobs at minimum wage so they can't afford to pay for higher quality and locally produced food products. Even when these food products can be produced in a way that heals the environment and provides employment for the local community.

Let's face it. Our economic measures, like GDP, GNP, etc. are nothing more than ways of measuring the speed at which we consume the natural world, process it, and haul it to the garbage dump. Our Economy does nothing more than allow and sustain a system of inequality in opportunity that benefits a privileged few and victimizes the mast majority of the world's citizens (of all species).

This artificial and imaginary Economy has been a cancer on our living planet. Unless we make some serious changes, we need to let it die before it kills us all.

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