Sunday, September 12, 2010

Greed and Growth

Greed alone does not explain the growth imperative. Given constantly-rising labor productivity (i.e. lower labor inputs per unit output), the only way to stave off rising unemployment is to constantly increase consumption. But does it make any sense to blame productivity? Should we castigate CNC lathes and imprison programmable logic controllers? That would make as much sense as flogging gasoline pumps for failing to display prices which are onerous enough to make “people” conserve. Talk about passing the buck!

No, the growth imperative is the inevitable result of a spiritual deficit: we-the-people do not behave like we want to need human labor. Our actions indicate we’d rather employ fossil fuels and motorized machines and computers than employ human sweat, human craftsmanship, and human cogitation. God help us, we don’t even want to employ our own legs to get from “a” to “b” anymore. Why? Because we can get more for less that way. In fact sometimes it seems like we’re all swept up in a rat-race to get something for nothing.

The crisis which grips us today is not (yet) one of insufficient energy and raw-material inputs for “healthy economic growth”. Nor is it (yet) one of insufficient output of material goods for people in “advanced” economies. Our waistlines and landscapes are stark reminders that we already have far more Doritos and Escalades and McMansions than we “need”.

The crisis is rooted in our failure to choose to need one-another. The crisis is rooted in our willingness to “outsource” responsibility for a fundamental human need: to be needed - to labor and create for a purpose beyond ourselves. The fact that most of us expect “government” and/or “the economy” to shoulder this duty – a duty of brotherhood – is proof of our insanity.

We are damned fools to expect corporations or bankers or the educational system or elected leaders (especially those at higher levels) to do anything about this. They are but symptoms which emerge from the disease.