Thursday, May 17, 2007

Economics and equity revisited


Chris Jordan
"Container yard #1, Seattle"
2003
C-print
44 x 59 inches

Edward Winkleman's blog is host to an interesting conversation this week (or, rather, several related conversations). Over the course of four or five recent posts Winkleman and his readers, some of whom are very articulate and opinionated, have weighed in on a number of topics. Principal among them are art and commerce, "high" art versus populist aesthetics/inspiration, and the boundaries of the avant garde. The dialogue is pervaded by market concerns and, as I read through the comments, I found myself considering not only the art market, but also broad cultural attitudes toward commerce, creative responsibility, and the social role of the contemporary artist. Regarding this last point, there seems to be much confusion, even among artists themselves...and perhaps especially among artists. Eleanor Heartney's reaction to P.S.1's "Greater New York, 2005" exhibition came to mind.
“The show suggests that artists are connected to events in the outside world but have little sense of what to do about them, other than to create artworks that incorporate their frustration, rage, apprehension or sense of the absurdity of contemporary life.”
The industry we've built up around contemporary "fine" art may be more thoroughly intellectualized than that of Hollywood or hip-hop (often without good reason), but it is, essentially, the same beast. It is difficult, if not impossible, to make a living in any of these industries without becoming bogged down in a muddy mix of networking, posturing, and promotion. I'm terrible at all of these (hence my choosing words with negative connotations, such as "bogged" and "muddy") and at times I wish for nothing so much as a full-time spin doctor. Most of the successful emerging and mid-career artists that I know excel at navigating the swamp of promotion (they either enjoy it or reconcile themselves to its necessity). The amount of time and energy they commit to such endeavor makes them jealous of our independently wealthy counterparts, artists benefited not only by abundant studio time, but by greater freedom from the system. Certainly some monied artists pursue the nominal celebrity offered by art world success, but because they don't need to sell their work, they can, in effect, choose to work away from the noise and the distraction of "the scene."

While reading through the comments at Winkleman, I begin to feel that the dialogue, interesting though it may be, is just an echo of that scenester noise. Most, if not all, of the conversation taking place is grounded on the assumption that when creativity meets money, competition results, which leads to even greater creativity. That assumption is the bedrock of neoclassical economics and, in turn, free market philosophy, but not every economist embraces it. I recall John Stuart Mill's assertion that a balanced, sustainable economy (as opposed to one that is "growing," "strengthening," or, in the words of President Bush, "getting going") is "more conducive to long term political, ethical and spiritual improvements." I was first introduced to Mill's writing a few years ago, when I began pondering the concept of the Steady State Economy. This economic philosophy received a fair amount of attention on HH in 2005, when I was initially digesting the idea, but I haven't written much about it since; you needn't ruminate so often on that which you wholeheartedly believe, and the benefits offered by economies of scale and measured population dynamics are clear.

As I wrote in "Ecological Economics 101,"
"...[Brian] Czech, [author of "Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train" and president of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE)], offers advice for building a healthy alternative to unrestrained, free-market capitalism. In the steady state economic paradigm, growth (or, as Czech calls it, bloating) is discouraged; a balance is sought instead. This balance requires a more simplistic lifestyle, one driven by the quest for 'self-actualization,' a term Czech borrows from Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs," rather than self-esteem, which, in today's culture of celebrity and distraction, is tied to bling-bling displays of real estate, clothing, vehicles, expensive dining, and so on."

Chris Jordan
"Crushed cars #2, Tacoma"
2004
C-print
44 x 62 inches

If you feel that the contemporary art world mirrors the prevailing culture of distraction, you're not alone. Innumerable bloggers, several prominent art critics, and theorists have echoed the sentiment in recent months. Counter points have been made, of course, arguing that art and commerce/power have always been bedmates, but that very answer begs the question, why, then, is the volume of dissent so very loud today? I believe it is because more people (both in sheer number and portion) are dissatisfied with the current paradigm. The scope of the problem is far greater than the art world, however, so let me shelve art for now, and elaborate on some of Czech's core ideas, as I promised to do in August of 2005.

Czech's prescription for a Steady State Economy is not original. He is merely playing the role of popularizer and spokesperson. Unfortunately, I don't imagine that "Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train" is reaching the audience it so desperately needs to, the American lower and middle classes. My other grievance is Czech's rabid focus on the liquidating class, or top 1% of consumers. He insists that they should be "castigated" whereas the members of the "steady-state class," the lower 80% of consumers, should be thanked. His critique of the liquidating mentality is warranted, but Czech goes too easy on the American majority. Most Americans make $30,000 a year (or less), yet boast of purchasing the latest cellphone, car, or designer shirt. It's no secret that success is measured by consumption. Frugality is no longer considered a virtue and, to my way of thinking, people with such unhealthy consuming patterns - the lion's share of us - are not members of what Czech calls the steady-state class, though members of the middle class undoubtedly have a less dramatic impact than the multi-billionaire, with his or her car fleets, mansion, yacht, and extravagant lifestyle.

Describing the typical "steady-stater," Czech writes,
"...[they] have small houses and lots, taking up less space and leaving more for others. Their small house and lots require less infrastructure and less commuting. Because they drive small cars that get good gas mileage, they leave a greater stock of petroleum to be tapped while scientists grope for a sustainable energy source. They also pollute less. Many of them ride bikes or use public transit. Because they don't have a different warddrobe for every occasion, they require less production of fiber, leather, and fur, which means that they leave more land for wildlife and for the grandkids. They don't accumulate large, wasteful items, thus saving storage space and tempering the traffic in trivial pursuits..."
This doesn't sound like a fair description of the lower 80% of American consumers! With the rare, off-the-grid exception, Americans exhibit r-selected, boom-and-bust tendencies, as did the citizens of the expansive colonial empires that preceded our own. The solution to the bloating and destructive habits must start with individuals and local legislation, eventually leading to critical mass and a paradigm shift that sees us abandon the fictions of neoclassical economics. (To many readers, this may sound idealistic, revolutionary, or just plain naive, but Homo sapiens are a young species and, taking the long view, we can surely arrive at a more equitable system; the troubling question is, will we be around long enough to get there?)

In his critique of neoclassical economic myths, Czech shines. He begins by pointing out popular misconceptions. Among his many examples is Robert Samuelson's article, "Stupid students, smart economy?," in which Samuelson "entertained an argument that despite the education crisis...the fact that economic growth continues is a sure sign of an intelligent, well-educated society." As Czech asks in response, "does a perpetual increase in American consumption of goods and services really mean that its citizens are smarter?"


Chris Jordan
"Scrap metal, Seattle"
2003
C-print
44 x 57 inches

It isn't just economic journalists that associate economic growth with universally good tidings, though. Our government makes the same mistakes. Over a decade ago, the Republican Secretary of Commerce, Barbara Hackman Franklin wrote, "Recognizing that commerce has supplanted military and security issues as the main concern among nations, the 14 diverse agencies that make up the Commerce Department rallied...to advance a seven point agenda for fostering economic growth." What all this growth oriented talk ignores is the most basic principal of economics; all goods and services require input of land, labor, and capital. Actually, neoclassical economics doesn't so much ignore this truth as creatively amend it; its tenants are colonial in nature. Should a wealthy country fail to produce a particular commodity, due to a lack of land, labor, or capital, they can expand their reach, using trade or old-fashioned pillaging to acquire the commodity or the resources required to produce it. Today's celebrated globalization is another manifestation of colonial conquest. Because neoclassical economists observed this expansion (more accurately termed a displacement), they created the concept of substitutability. As Czech explains,
"...the factors of economic production could be substituted among themselves. For example, if land became scarce, more production could be squeezed from it if only more labor was applied, or more capital utilized, or both. The substitutability concept was extended to assert that a resource could not be depleted, because as it was extracted and the pickings got slim, another resource could be substituted for it."
Because supply is finite, however, the end result of such substitution is inevitably importation. When a population exhausts the local wood supply, they might substitute aluminum, but when that supply, too, is exhausted, one or both resources must be imported. There's no way around it...or is there?

This question brings us to the next fallacy of neoclassical economics. Resources are not limited, free market advocates tell us, because substitutability should include what lies over the horizon, new discoveries and technologies. For example, a neoclassical economist might advance the argument that the globe's fresh water supply is not dwindling, as many environmentalists and some (too few) policy makers fear, because new technologies will be developed that allow us to desalinate or otherwise produce potable H2O. Therefore, they argue, we should continue to promote economic growth and forgo any legislation regulating access and use of the existing fresh water supply. Czech says,
"We can reply that these labor- and capital- intensive operations consume their own resources and cause their own pollution, but they will reply that once we get the right technology developed, the problem will be solved. Despite the ludicrousness with which we view such 'solutions,' we can't really win the argument. Not in theory, because until we prove that these solutions are untenable, the theory stands. That is how science proceeds."
But neoclassical economics is not a scientific theory; there has been no rigorous application of scientific methodology. The free market is an experiment itself, one in which all of us are participants, whether we signed up or not.


Chris Jordan
"Pallets #1, Seattle"
2003
C-print
32 x 40 inches

Another neoclassical argument related to the promise of technology suggests that we needn't worry about depleting resources because we are always increasing efficiency. Furthermore, the economists point out, most first-world countries are transitioning into service-based economies, which require less land and raw resources. Czech responds that efficiency, while certainly a good thing, is largely a myth. Most increases in efficiency are a result of new tools, many of which use more energy and require more fuel. In the end, the more efficient production methods save on labor, but use more capital and land, making them ultimately less efficient. If short-term economic growth is the goal, this model is sufficient, but, over time, so-called "efficient production" leads to a breakdown.

Though it remains popular even among the general public, the service-based economy argument hasn't a leg to stand on. A former co-worker of mine sometimes rhapsodized about humanity's "leaving behind the agricultural" economy in favor of a "white collar world where we will all be intellectuals." When I challenged her incomplete Wellsian fantasy, asking what she makes of the millions of blue-collar Americans, the outsourced jobs, and the staggering increase in imported resources, she dismissed my concerns as irrelevant. Overall, she countered, outsourcing and increased trade is better for the world economy, lowering the unemployment rates in other countries and giving "first-world" citizens more time to develop their intellectual capacity. The evident dearth of contemporary American intellectual capacity, our struggling public school systems, and the supremacist ambition of her arguments aside, she ignores the root equation: land + labor + capital = produce/goods. We aren't just the United States of America anymore; although I resist the label generally, we are a "global village." Turning again to Czech,
"The butcher and the candlestick maker depended on the farmer who raised cattle and pigs, while the baker depended on the farmer who grew wheat and oats. To 'produce' more T-bones or candles required more cattle and pigs. To 'produce' more bread required more wheat and oats. It is easy to see why Francois Quesnay and the so-called physiocrats (predecessors of the classical economists, prominent in France in the 1760s) argued that agriculture was the sole source of economic production and growth. That is how Thomas Jefferson saw it, too."
Some of you may have played Sid Meier's computer game, "Civilization." In this game you achieve victory either by a) developing your technology to such a degree that you are able to colonize Mars, b) total conquest of all the other civilizations or c) playing until a set date while keeping all your citizens relatively happy and your culture successful. One of the most effective ways to keep citizens of different cities and towns happy involves "changing" farmers into artists/entertainers. This is a neoclassical concept if ever there was one! In fact, it can be used by economists to "prove" my co-worker's argument regarding the benefits of a service and substitution based economy. In the game, as in neoclassical theory, each painter, dancer, singer, or writer requires notably less resources than does a single farmer. "The conversion of one farmer, whose existence is based on using hundreds of acres of land, makes way for a great many painters, the existence of each being based on a studio and tiny bits of product from the land." In fact, neoclassical economists suggest we can remove one farmer and add many entertainers to obtain a net gain in available resources. This is patently absurd, particularly given the ugly consumption patterns of today's celebrities, but even if we assume that every entertainer will be a steady-state saint, the resource use has only been displaced. The laws of thermodynamics, the theory of relativity, and, well, common sense, all dictate as much. That farmland is reduced on our soil mean broad swaths of Amazon forest will be cleared to make way for arable land in South America. Or, as Czech writes, "Getting back to the services sector, then, we see that only a limited number of farmers are available for conversion to services. The rest will have to stick to farming, or those of us not trained to survive in the wild - assuming there is any wild left - will starve."


Chris Jordan
"E-waste, New Orleans"
2005
C-print
44 x 57 inches

Conservation and humanitarian efforts do not begin and end with the construction of highway underpasses or overseas rice shipments (or sending money to organizations which undertake/fund such enterprises), though these are vital components. They begin, rather, with personal practice, particularly in regards to consumption habits. I'm still not living up (or, more accurately, down) to my target footprint, but I do try to defeat my consumerist impulses. All the same, I just replaced my dying computer - which was purchased in 2001; planned obsolescence, anyone? - with a speedy (for now) laptop and, worse still, after selling a number of paintings and drawings a few months ago, I purchased a wide-screen HDTV to heighten the pleasure of my NetFlix compulsion. The truth is, I'm only marginally less guilty than the consumer who flaunts such acquisitions. Granted, I do a great deal that is considered eco-conscious: paying a premium for "green" power from ConEd, paying carbon offset fees for airline travel, recycling and composting, using canvas totes instead of plastic/paper shopping bags, using energy efficient light bulbs, relying on public transportation, contributing to many environmental policy groups, and so on. But so what?

As Edward Hoagland recently wrote in his essay, "Endgame," published in the June 2007 issue of Harper's Magazine, "People want mobility, yet a hideaway 'off the grid,' and to have the heart muscles of a hunter-gatherer, attained in a gym, though practically living in cyberspace, but still touch the earthly verities through yoga. Meanwhile, the pace and enormity of destruction is paralyzing, as is our general indifference." In this high-speed market world it isn't just creativity and creative dialogue that have been hijacked by the headlong plunge of Czech's runaway train; wise mans' social and biological imperatives are being forgotten.

Photo credits: all images from photographer Chris Jordan

12 comments:

jason said...

Nice essay. While Czech is correct to join the growing voice of concern over the unsustainable nature of the contemporary economy, I'm surprised at what seems to be (after perusing the website; I haven't read his book) his method for achieving sustainability. Maybe it's because he's coming at this from the point of view of an ecologist and not a political or economic theorist (or, more likely, that I don't have any idea what he is actually proposing, because I haven't read his book!), but it seems like Czech thinks that the political and economic structures can remain in place, but with changed economic objectives (e.g., steady state); that is to say, does he realize that this would be tantamount to asking a capitalist economic and political system to suddenly start acting in contradiction to capitalism (by not seeking economic growth), while keeping its essential structure in tact?

I'm glad that Czech is asking individuals to change their consumption habits in order to affect environmental change, but I don't see how the real economic powers of the world, especially the corporate giants and their state guardians, will alter their destructive behavior without massive structural revolution, mainly because the concept of a steady state economy seems so oppositional to everything that capitalism stands for. I'd be interested to know whether (or how) he addresses such questions.

Also, have you read Derrick Jensen's Endgame? I haven't read that one either, but it's very popular among radical types. I think Jensen is essentially arguing that all of contemporary civilization is unsustainable and must therefore be dismantled if the planet, and our species, are to survive. I object to much of what he says (especially his objection to nonviolent philosophy), but I've only read 3 or 4 chapters from Endgame that he's posted on his website, as well as several reviews/posts about his book on political blogs.

jason said...

One more thing -- you might be interested in a group that I've posted about today, who has combined their environmental politics with an artistic practice that not only practices what it preaches, but chooses direct contact with the American heartland instead of the profit-oriented commercial gallery system.

Hungry Hyaena said...

Jason:

Thanks.

I think you are correct in attributing Czech's approach to his ecological background. Ecology, like economics (the two words share the same root), is given to pragmatism and generally shuns extreme measures, given the increased likelihood of disaster. The Steady State Economy as described by Czech can be arrived at via a reprioritizing of objectives within the existing system; this is preferable to an all-out upsetting of the apple cart. I share your skepticism, to some extent, although given globalization's ripple effect and the associated risks, Czech's approach seems the most tenable.

The alternative begins with groups like The New Monastics (on the religious side) or Swoon's Miss Rockaway Armada (the group you highlight today). I think such efforts are terrific, but I wonder at the coming together of so many splinters. That is to say, part of the reason these commune-scale cooperatives work is their very scale. Once you begin to consider a coming together of the smaller groups, you are faced with the same problem all larger societies are, and we will again find ourselves considering equitable capitalism which is, I believe, possible, although it is damned difficult to sustain.

i haven't read Jensen's Endgame, but it seems as though I would agree with his assessment. Yet I tend to shrink from the more extreme revolutionaries, if only because to begin what they call for involves destruction of what is now...including many lives, human and otherwise. "Fight CLub" was a good movie, but c'mon...blowing up a city in the name of new beginnings ain't just a pretty vignette for Gen X.

As for Swoon and the Armada, I've been reading a lot about the graffiti collectives and the various social activism of many graffiti artists. I'm planning a post on it sometime in the near future. Swoon and the Miss Rockaway Aramade will be featured; I greatly admire efforts such as theirs.

jason said...

Well, the fact that you used the words "equitable" and "capitalism" together in a sentence demonstrates how very, very far apart we are on this, so I don't think I'm going to test the limits of blogo-debate by attempting to hash things out here. But I would like to make a couple of comments.

generally shuns extreme measures, given the increased likelihood of disaster.

Sorry, I always have to object when someone equates extremism with disaster. What about extreme goodness? Maybe it just reflects a general pessimism about the nature of human behavior. The problem with the current pragmatic economy is that it is already creating disaster -- disaster for those not enjoying the profits of the system.

Swoon's Miss Rockaway Armada ... graffiti collectives

I realize that she is attributed as conceiving of the original idea, but I think it's inaccurate (and unfair to the other members of the project) to imply that Swoon is somehow the 'director' or 'in control' of the group. Also, the Armada project is so much more than a graffiti collective, even though graffiti practice is shared by many in the group. I'm looking forward to your post on graffiti art and activism.

Hungry Hyaena said...

Jason:

I'd wager that we're not as far apart on the subject as you think, at least in the abstract. But I'm wary of the notion that, with as large a global population as we currently have (one that continues to grow), we can tear down the walls and build anew. Doing so necessitates the collapse of the installed network. A piecemeal fixing of that network, as with brain surgery or nervous system rehabilitation, would lessen the hemorrhage of the greater body.

If we do opt for total destruction of the system (call it revolution or whatever), we'd better be prepared for billions of deaths worldwide, the majority of these in the so-called first-world nations, where people would have to learn to hunt and gather again, with less resources and very limited knowledge. As romantic as social collapse seems to some - I often think I'd be fine, but I own guns and land - it isn't the reasonable way. But perhaps we're envisioning two different "solutions."

As wretched as the capitalist system is, it also supports a number of "enlightened" stances, values which would quickly go the way of the dodo were rampant xenophobia, racism and survival of the fittest, all pre-programmed features of humanity, allowed to rule the day again. And maybe I am a pessimist, but I can't help but assume that a few bad seeds would love to reinstate the feudal system in the wake of such a revolution. The European Middle Ages are today the stuff of Monty Python sketches, but they were brutal, miserable times for all save the wealthy rulers and perhaps the monks.

The problem with the current pragmatic economy is that it is already creating disaster -- disaster for those not enjoying the profits of the system.

Agreed. Definitely...the problem in a nutshell.

I realize that she is attributed as conceiving of the original idea, but I think it's inaccurate (and unfair to the other members of the project)

Probably. I've always heard the project spoken of with reference to Swoon and the articles I've read suggested it was her brainchild, but I didn't mean to imply that she was in "control" of it. My bad. It's clearly grown into something greater than any one vision.

jason said...

I said I wouldn't try to hash this out, but ... ah well, that's what blogs are for, right?

I'd wager that we're not as far apart on the subject as you think,

Right, we both agree that the world is getting more and more fucked up and that this needs to stop, but I meant that we are very far apart regarding the positive social capacity for capitalism as an economic model. I don't see how capitalism can be 'tweaked' in order to discourage economic expansionism. To me, expansionism, economic growth, and the lure of greater profit margins (coupled with the importance of private property and the wage system, of course) are THE defining characteristics of the mindset that created capitalism.

Isn't capitalism based on the idea that competitive economic growth leads to greater human productivity, and thus a more advanced society? Instead, economic expansionism fueled by vicious competition has lead us to constant militarism, sweatshops, and the ever-advancing brink of environmental destruction. So it seems to me that when Czech argues against economic growth, he's arguing against the core argument of capitalist thought. If he is successful, and a Steady State Economy is attained, it would have to have almost nothing in common with capitalism, and would be unrecognizable as such.

If we do opt for total destruction of the system (call it revolution or whatever), we'd better be prepared for billions of deaths worldwide,

Maybe we just have a different view about what I mean when I say 'structural change' or 'revolution.' I'm not saying that people should immediately start blowing up capitalist infrastructure (as Jensen advises), I'm just acknowledging that a completely different economic system will be required in order to end industrial-scale ecological destruction. I think it would be possible to work towards dismantling capitalism piece by piece over time, while avoiding the short, violent cuts of bloody revolution that you describe.

I think Czech's proposal could be an important first step away from the destructiveness of global capitalism, but he lacks a larger vision of how social and political structures determine economics (or vice versa). I believe this kind of total vision is necessary because the near entirety of our social and political systems are based on the goal of economic expansionism. So essentially what I'm saying is this: any plan to curb mankind's current rate of economic "growth" will require a plan of action that acknowledges a full philosophical critique of the ways that our social, political, and economic structures work together in promoting the profit-driven mentality. I doubt that impassioned lobbying of politicians -- whose power within the current political and economic structure stems directly from their ability to increase the profit margins of their corporate backers -- will do the trick.

rampant xenophobia, racism and survival of the fittest, all pre-programmed features of humanity,

Uh oh, there's that "general pessimism about the nature of human behavior" that I spoke of earlier. I admit that if the entire structure of contemporary civilization were destroyed tomorrow then, yes, there would be mass chaos and a bloody battle for the 'survival of the fittest.' But maybe this is because we have been taught from the very first days of our lives to NOT TRUST ANYONE, and that our security depends on CONQUERING OUR ENEMIES. There are, of course, many examples of Native American tribes that managed to form sophisticated and relatively peaceful societies without any structured form of political hierarchy. Human progress has not necessarily advanced linearly with history (as evidenced, for example, by the genocidal destruction of the ecologically sustainable societies of many Native American tribes). I'm certainly no primitivist, but it might be good for society to go "backwards in time" in a few ways.

the articles I've read suggested it was her brainchild

Yeah, I spoke with one of the members of the group this morning, and she said that this has been a problem in the past (especially a Village Voice article that was full of inaccuracies). While the original idea to create the project was Swoons, it's definitely not her project. I think that (1) the media probably focuses too much on Swoon when discussing the project because it's obsessed with celebrity, and she's something of a "rising star" in the art-world proper; and (2) the group probably likes to emphasize her name in conjunction with their events because it gets them more attention (because of her "rising star" status in the commercial world). So maybe it's their own fault for creating that impression.

Eeyore said...

There is a wonderful scene at the end of Kurt Vonegut's 'Player Piano.' The citizens of a technocratic society revolt and smash the machines. There is great rejoicing and marching around. Eventually, the buzz wears off, and at the end of the book, the revolutionary protagonist witnesses those same citizens, who have just thrown off the yoke of technology, working together to get a vending machine back into working order.
Seems relevant to your discussion.
RIP Vonegut.

Hungry Hyaena said...

Jason:

Firstly, apologies for the delayed response. I haven't had much computer time these last two days.

I don't see how capitalism can be 'tweaked' in order to discourage economic expansionism.

Well, not so much "tweaked" as reworked at a fundamental level, while preserving the local system, or the small scale market. For example, take the Farmer's Diner, the environmentalists' celebration du jour this past year. A decent interview with the fella behind the diner can be found here, and he elucidates his approach articulately. His pragmatic, local "business/community philosophy" is the sort of thing I have in mind when I use the word "tweak."

To me, expansionism, economic growth, and the lure of greater profit margins (coupled with the importance of private property and the wage system, of course) are THE defining characteristics of the mindset that created capitalism.

Agreed.

So it seems to me that when Czech argues against economic growth, he's arguing against the core argument of capitalist thought. If he is successful, and a Steady State Economy is attained, it would have to have almost nothing in common with capitalism, and would be unrecognizable as such.

Yes, I believe Czech hopes that the local/individual changes would draw broad awareness to the perils of the traditional, capitalistic economic imperative and a total abandonment of said system in favor of something new. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely to me, but the restructured system would represent a significant improvement and necessitate a reprioritizing of personal wants and needs. In other words, the small changes will precipitate a generally positive cultural shift.

I think it would be possible to work towards dismantling capitalism piece by piece over time, while avoiding the short, violent cuts of bloody revolution that you describe.

Then we're in agreement; you're just more optimistic about the potential results than I am...but of course I feel we should try nonetheless.

any plan to curb mankind's current rate of economic "growth" will require a plan of action that acknowledges a full philosophical critique of the ways that our social, political, and economic structures work together in promoting the profit-driven mentality.

Yup. Right on with you here.

Human progress has not necessarily advanced linearly with history (as evidenced, for example, by the genocidal destruction of the ecologically sustainable societies of many Native American tribes). I'm certainly no primitivist, but it might be good for society to go "backwards in time" in a few ways.

I'm no so sure many Native American tribes were living in a long-term ecologically viable way. Given a burgeoning population (which was imminent in the eastern tribes during the 1500s), they, too, would face difficulties and an ecosystem out of whack. Granted, their attitudes and religious beliefs (as well as those of aborigines and other indigenous cultures the world over) tend to be more animist in nature, which means they extend "treat your neighbor" to the Everything. Going "backwards in time" may help, but adopting a more holistic worldview and lowering global population would help even more.

Eeyore:

Seems relevant to your discussion.

Apt, indeed.

jason said...

Good discussion, I think your post deserved it. BTW, although I doubt you need another blog to read, I've recently come across a blog called Growth is Madness!. It seems well-written, and (surprise, surprise), as of this morning, the third post down is on Brian Czech.

danee said...

brilliant post. thanks!

Hungry Hyaena said...

Jason:

Thanks for that heads up. The blog is good.

Danee:

And thank you.

Sunil said...

Chris,
I read this post about three weeks back and could not get to think about it enough to comment thoughtfully. Looking back at this post, I still may not have the right things to say - needless to say that the steady state economy is a good concept but the practical application of this idea to society is a pipe dream (given our current conditions of mass consumption) - and also watching India, China and Taiwan helplessly go by the same way of maintaining the mantra of galloping growth rates. I think it will take some kind of a mass revolution at different points in the world for the 80% to really wake up and understand what is happening amongst them. Until that really happens, we can only write about this and lament. Just by the noises that the World Bank based economists make when India and China show a steady clip of >7% growth in GDP/year we must infer that this is a crescendo call that the end is near… Humankind has but inhabited this earth for a mere fraction of the time that since that primordial fire 4.5 billion years ago - nature will have a way to right all of this out some way - either through our own willful actions or through 'natural' causes....
The one thing that keeps me awake at nights is the growing divide between the $30000/years folks and the people who make 30 million/year. We live in a time where the gilded age seems tame by comparison...
Great post and I loved Chris Jordan’s pictures – very apt and it seemed like reading an issue of Harpers.