Having a 'Better' Economist in Obama's Treasury Won't Cut It
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Something fundamental is wrong with our system of political economy, and we need to fix it. It's not just that we're spending more than we make in terms of money, it's that we've been consuming more than we produce on an ecological level as well. The overall long-term results are not surprising: we are using everything up and ruining whatever's left, including not just fossil fuels, topsoil, forests, water. and minerals, but many species and even our own climate. Having been bequeathed perhaps the most fabulous paradise in the entire universe, we are taking a giant crap on it and trying to figure out where to move to next. Maybe those folks making all those crazy crop circles can tell us where to go.
It needn't be this way, not at all. We humans have some amazing things going for us, things like intelligence, empathy, and opposable thumbs. Of course we're a little self-centered and prone to believing irrational things like it would be fun to be famous or that we can have an economy based on debt and never-ending growth on our tiny, little abused orb. Fortunately, with a few adjustments, we don't have to shove the whole thing in the disposal and depend on NASA to ship us off to greener pastures (a quaint little bubble on the moon, perhaps).
What's missing from our lives is maintenance, the daily attention and tender kindnesses that cause things to slowly get better rather than to slowly deteriorate. This is how the gardener makes the garden flower, how the shepherd makes the flock grow, how the parent raises a well-adapted child, and how the preacher or the community organizer makes our neighborhoods thrive. Instead of slowly sucking the life out of things, maintenance allows up to create more than we use up.
Of course, maintenance is kind of a pain in the ass. It imposes responsibilities on us, and requires us to actually do stuff. It is decidedly not convenient. The reward? Life slowly getting better rather than worse. A sense of accomplishment. And we leave a better world for our children, so when they come visit our final resting place, it's with a handful of wildflowers and not to hock a loogey on our tombstone.
We are in a political transition, but will the change be any deeper than swapping out one dude in a suit for another? In order for it to be so, we must restructure the foundation of our economy from one of consumption and convenience to one of regeneration and maintenance. Two changes would go a long way towards accomplishing this goal, although it will send the megacorporations into a tizzy. Both ideas are fundamentally in opposition to the current corporate modus operandi of "Privatize the gains, socialize the losses." And while these two ideas might make a few CEO's heads burst into flames with callow rage, they'll actually make the rest of our lives, and our children's lives, and our grandchildren's lives, better.
First, we need to force all companies into using Triple Bottom Line accounting, otherwise known as the three P's: People, Planet, and Profit. This is the first step towards ridding ourselves of our extractive (and hence ultimately doomed) economy towards a regenerative economy that actually makes our world a better place.
And second, we need to scrap the antiquated notion of Gross Domestic Product, which only measures material goods produced and ignores non-traded goods like environmental quality, resource depletion, leisure time, and financial independence, to name just a few. We need to change our focus from stuff to contentment. It's not enough to just kick all the neoconservatives out of of office. We also have to boot out all Neoclassical economists from positions of academia and political influence, including that misogynist dunderhead Larry Summers. These folks just plain ole got it wrong. They looked right while our ability to suck stuff out of the earth was constantly increasing, but now that those days are over they need to get out from behind the driver's seat before they take us over the final cliff: societal collapse. The discipline of Ecological Economics actually takes into account the real world rather some group of nerds' mathematical model of it, and we need to move in this direction posthaste.
Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit from Chelsea Green . For more information about green living, the Hrens, or their book, visit chelseagreen.com.