We are destroying people and planet with our economy, and destroying people and planet will destroy the economy. This is pretty simple to see.
Understanding why have become harder and harder to answer as years moved on. Probably did we put our faith in this self-destroying economy in the first place because that
“the real output of the economic process (or of any life process, for that matter) is not the material flow of waste, but the still mysterious immaterial flux of the enjoyment of life”.
For a long time that enjoyment of life was growing but as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Donella Meadows and several others pointed out a long time ago that nothing can grow forever where there are limits. The economic process is like any other system, like an animal, devouring energy and materials (low entropy) and spitting out waste (high entropy) and if we, as we do, have an economy based on ever expanding production and consumption someday it will break ecological limits and demolish our fragile biosphere, the base for all economic processes and more importantly, all life! Now future has assured that someday has come to collect our forgotten but now highly noticeable entropic loan of nature, however we cannot pay the problem to go away.
The unsustainability of the current economic model is not limited to the ecological consequences. Socially we can see and feel that things are not going great either in the way the economy has shared and shares the resources we as human beings are endowed with. History has shown though that the enjoyment of life has been highly unjust and even those people that are supposed to be able to enjoy life doesn’t seem to enjoy it anymore. People are starving in some parts of the world while 26 persons own as much stuff as 3 800 000 000 persons ) and in between people are dealing with anxiety problems trying to keep up with the Jeff Bezos.
Repeating the question, why are we still doing this to ourselves?
Well, economic growth is a bit like cocaine. At first it seems like an incredibly good idea but soon you realize you’re playing one of those not so nice parts in the movie Traffic. We never meant to end up there but beginning playing the grownups play of “playing business” of CEOs, consumers, workers, and politicians our sniffing of growth soon made us addictively dependent on it, wanting more and more of that thing that we believed would give us more “enjoyment of life”. In the end the drug gradually will destroy you. Going to rehab for detoxing however doesn’t seem like an option. The Hollywood stars has showed us they fear it like speaking in front of an audience. Instead of going “cold turkey” we have come up with green cocaine, sustainable cocaine, inclusive cocaine, smart cocaine to keep us, as Donella Meadows reminds, from
“finally confronting the real (and usually much deteriorated) state of the system and taking the actions that the addiction allowed one to put off.”
So how do we confront the real state of the system. How do we get off the drug?
A great start would be realizing addiction is a system gone wrong (a system archetype). Not the failing of one person, rich or poor.
Paradigms (worldviews paradigms/worldviews/sacred canopies/preanalytic visions/one dimensional thinking) are the sources of systems and if we can as noted above realize that no worldview is “true” and it is a only limited sketch of what is a very complex world we are off to a good start. If we can do that, we can set ourselves free from the established reality and see that other possibilities exists. But losing our religion, losing what we have come to believe in is scary. It means losing control.
Therefore, rather breaking from the one-dimensional thinking we look for the same high priests of economics who put us in this existential conundrum, wanting to them to save our secular mortal souls. These economic priests had, with the idea of progress in mind, hopes of turning our planet into a Garden of Eden abiding the Gods of efficiency, prices, and technology. Preaching to human beings that they are only egoistic self-driven machines with insatiable desires for things.
It worked kind of well (for a few) in an empty world. But now when we are near the limits of the planet the high priest economic canons are cracking up and we are experiencing an existential crisis in more than one way. The economic priests lacked the omniscience of the Gods and couldn’t grasp what traditional wisdom has known for ages: that human beings are more than just consumers and that our existence is very physical and interconnected. This economic real or voluntarily amnesia of throughput (we cannot make something out of nothing! and the other side of the same thermodynamic coin that nothing cannotcome out something!, 1st law of thermodynamics and thateverything wears down!, 2nd law of thermodynamics) brought havoc on our planet emptying it of its life supporting resources and functions.
The sermon of the economic priests resonated well with those of us that luck had favored the fortunes. Throughout history some of us got lucky in getting wealth, land for example. Lucky to get land, lucky to get the power to grab other peoples land or just grab the people themselves to work on their land. With time passing their wealth grew because of their already acquired wealth. And this reinforcing wealth loop (“Success to the successful”) seemed at same time to reinforce the growingly rich and powerful in their belief that their wealth is not a result of luck, or abuse of power, but a sign of competence .
That their success was deserved and they were just handed just deserts. Since status quo best served the interest of the powerful they, naively or maliciously, in tandem with the economic priests the lucky privileged powerful said you can’t touch this (the neoclassical economy preachings).
They began preaching the powerful idea that first started off as an actual joke: Wealth will all trickle down, eventually … , just have a bite of the apple, take a piece of our ever growing worldwide American pie of dreams! A lot of people believed it. The problem was that this was just dream, it didn’t trickle down. The idea was wrong. On a finite planet it means it is impossible for all of us to be the become Bill Gates. The worldly American dream is dead. Instead we are left with an absurd and iniquitous economic that wastes resources and life, defended by the powerful.
The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that realizing the idea of perpetual economic growth was sprung from a way of viewing the world is that we can have new ideas based on a world view that better takes into account the limits of our Earth and the dreams of all people. And we need some kinds of new economic systems because economic collapse can sometimes not be a very good option. Thanks to a lot of people who have dared to think differently, people who thinks that there exist alternatives (plural) that another worlds (plural) are possible, we can set out to create a better system!
A system behavior is determined by its goal or purpose. And if the goal, intended or not, of our current economic system is growth then it will produce economic growth with all its impossible consequences. If the goal of the economic system is a super-duper fantastic place then we will have a super-duper fantastic place!
Lets find a proper goal for all this messy wonderful world that we all share! Lets make it a super-duper fantastic prospering within limits place!