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Zombie Economics: Don't Bail out the System that Gave Us SUVs and Strip Malls

Why squander our remaining resources on a lifestyle that doesn't have a future?

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To be specific about this new economy, we're going to have to make things again, and raise things out of the earth, locally, and trade these things for money of some kind that we earn through our own productive activities. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is optional. The only other option is to go through a violent sociopolitical convulsion. We ought to know from prior examples in world history that this is not a desirable experience. So, to avoid that, we really have to put our shoulders to the wheel and get to work on things that matter, and do it at a scale that is consistent with what the world really has to offer right now, especially in terms of available energy.

In my view -- and I know this is controversial -- a much larger proportion of the U.S. population will have to be employed in growing the food we eat. There are many ways of arranging this, some more fair than others, and I hope the better angels of our nature steer us in the direction of fairness and justice. The prospects of a devalued dollar imply that we very shortly will not be able to get the all the oil-and-gas-based "inputs" that have made petro-agriculture possible the past century. The consequences of this are so unthinkable that we have not been thinking about it. And, of course, the further implications of current land-use allocation, and the property-ownership issues entailed, suggests formidable difficulties in rearranging the farming sector. The sooner we face all this, the better.

As the fiesta of "globalism" (Tom Friedman style) draws to a close -- another consequence of currency problems -- we'll have to figure out how to make things in this country again. We will not be manufacturing things at the scale, or in the manner, we were used to in, say, 1962. We'll have to do it far more modestly, using much more meager amounts of energy than we did in the past. My guess is that we will get the electricity for doing this mostly from water. It may actually be too late -- from a remaining-capital-resources point of view -- to ramp up a new phase of the nuclear power industry (and there are plenty of arguments from the practical and economic to the ethical against it). But we have to hold a public discussion about it, if only to clear the air and get on with other things, namely the new activities of alt.energy. But I would hasten to warn readers that we'll probably have to do these things more modestly, too (don't count on giant wind "farms"), and that we are liable to be disappointed by what they can actually provide for us (don't expect to run WalMart on wind, solar, algae fuels, etc.).

In any case, we're not going back to a "consumer" economy. We're heading into a hard-work economy in which people derive their pleasures and gratification more traditionally -- mainly through the company of their fellow human beings (which is saying a lot, for those of you who have forgotten what that's about). Our current investments in "education" -- i.e. training people to become marketing executives for chain stores -- will delude Americans for a while about what kind of work is really available. But before long, the younger adults will realize that there are enormous opportunities for them in a new and very different economy. We will still have commerce -- even if it's not the Kmart blue-light-special variety -- and the coming generation will have to rebuild all the local, multilayered networks of commercial interdependency that were destroyed by the rise of the chain stores. In short, get ready for local business. It will surely be part and parcel of our local food-growing and manufacturing activities.

 
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