Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So Shrink the Beast, Already!

by the Sandwichman
In the past, people trembled in fear of dragons, demons, gods, and monsters, sacrificing anything – virgins, money, newborn babies – to appease them. We know now that those fears were superstitious imaginings, but we have replaced them with a new behemoth: the economy. -- David Suzuki
David Suzuki is the Canadian counterpart to Carl Sagan -- a renowned scientist turned TV and radio celebrity. He's also an outspoken environmentalist with his own foundation and a weekly column published in newspapers and magazines across Canada. In last week's column, Suzuki highlighted a new book by Peter Victor, Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster.

A key element of Professor Victor's proposed low-growth economic strategy is reducing work time. Although the discussion of reduced work time doesn't show up until the final chapter, it is hard to imagine a viable alternative to endless economic growth without it. As Suzuki wrote in his column, "This current economic crisis provides an opportunity to re-examine our priorities." (See also the New Scientist on The Folly of Growth).

This current economic crisis... and the political transition in the US. Back in August the New York Times Magazine published an article by David Leonhardt on "Obamanomics." The dramatic climax appeared toward the end of the article when a press aide walked back to Leonhardt's seat on the Obama campaign plane to tell him that Obama had more to say.
"Two things," he said, as we were standing outside the first-class bathroom. "One, just because I think it really captures where I was going with the whole issue of balancing market sensibilities with moral sentiment. One of my favorite quotes is — you know that famous Robert F. Kennedy quote about the measure of our G.D.P.?"

I didn’t, I said.

"Well, I’ll send it to you, because it’s one of the most beautiful of his speeches," Obama said.

In it, Kennedy argues that a country’s health can’t be measured simply by its economic output. That output, he said, "counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them” but not "the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play."

The second point Obama wanted to make was about sustainability. The current concerns about the state of the planet, he said, required something of a paradigm shift for economics. If we don’t make serious changes soon, probably in the next 10 or 15 years, we may find that it’s too late.

"Something of a paradigm shift for economics" would require a move away from economic growth for growth's sake. Otherwise, it wouldn't be much of a paradigm shift. Managing without growth necessitates the reduction of working time. Otherwise, unemployment and poverty will destroy social stability.

The Sandwichman would like to call attention again to his "American Vision", submitted to the transistion website, of a Shorter Work Time Jubilee.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The only economic sector that cannot possibly do without growth is FIRE. For, despite of it costing us somewhere between 15% and 20% of GDP, all their “powerful” attempts at economic growth, leveraging et al., have not resulted in OECD growth above 2% yearly av., for well over a generation by now. A first point is that depreciation allowances build into cost prices, together with our natural inclination to learn from having done, could supply us with all the growth we can account for anyway; or better yet, turn it into more leisure time as the sandwichman so passionately promotes. And a second one is, when properly understood, “money” doesn’t disappear with the repayment of loans, thereby requiring unrelenting reinvestments. It’s high time to cut FIRE down to size. It has been robbing the rest of us from appropriating our own productivity increases by pushing their lines of credit, so that they can have their play money on top of ostentatious lifestyles. For a paradigm shift I humbly put up my homepage (2nd half especially) for your perusal.
John V