Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Growing the Economy

I’ve just finished watching the PBS News Hour (8/16), with a major segment on the problems with Europe’s faltering economy. Sheherezade Rehman, an economics professor from George Washington University, stated the conventional wisdom:
“The real long term issue is growth,” she said. “Without growth, there is no way out of this crisis.”

Barack Obama has been saying the same thing, adding that the growth in jobs can’t come from the government; it has to come from business. And everyone nods, and agrees, and reinforces the point in whatever way possible: our system, corporate capitalism, requires growth. Constant and incessant growth. If growth stops, our economy is in trouble, capitalism is in trouble, capitalism dies.

But wait. What kind of system can sustain constant growth? Is there anything in nature that’s like that? Don’t most systems have limits, lemmings for instance, which grow and grow and then hit a certain point of overpopulation that strains the resources lemmings need, and then they stampede off cliffs in a kind of mass suicide? Or don’t natural systems all have predators which, when a population grows too fast, fatten up on the growing population, thereby cutting it back to a sustainable or balanced level? They do. But not humans; not capitalism. It’s as if capitalism is a kind of cancer: it has to grow and keep growing without cease, without limit, no matter what. Until, that is, the host organism dies.

Many thinkers have noted the logic in this. The constant growth demanded by capitalism drives us to the brink of disaster. With the human population out of control (only in the last few hundred years) we humans are drowning in our own waste, we are destroying the resources (like fossil fuels or rare minerals) needed to keep growing, our oceans and rain forests are being devastated, our water sources are being polluted or emptied. And then, there’s the carbon we’ve poured into our atmosphere, producing a little tent for ourselves that traps heat, leading eventually to a deadly rise in the temperature of the planet. Growth, in a word, is fatal to our planet. One of my neighbors has a bumper sticker that sums this up:
Growing the economy is Shrinking the ecology.

The people who are urging more growth, or lamenting the lack of enough of it, then, are either ignorant or insane. They are ignoring the fact that our only salvation, not as individual communities or nations, but as a species, as a planet, is to stabilize growth. To reduce growth to a sustainable level. And one way to do that, perhaps, is to distribute the wealth we already have more equitably. Since that is unlikely to happen, however, (and this is another subject that’s been getting increasing attention: the astonishing inequality of wealth in the United States, with the top 1% controlling upwards of 90%, and the bottom 40% controlling essentially ZERO—see the same PBS News Hour, 8/16/11), I see only one solution (aside from a mass revolt aimed at killing the obscenely wealthy among us, that is.)

Indeed, in some ways, I think that solution to reduce or stop growth is already under way. People, consumers are not doing this intentionally, of course. They are limiting their buying to absolute necessities because that’s all they can afford: a bit of food, a bit of transportation to jobs, a bit of clothing to cover their asses. And that is precisely what we need. In fact, though, we need even more radical action than that. We need a mass movement, an intentional movement, of outright refusal.

We refuse to take part in this global insanity. We refuse to buy more gadgets we don’t need, faster computers we never asked for, bigger cars we can’t afford to fuel, more elaborate toys to keep our minds off the real issues of life, including our enslavement. We refuse it all. We are boycotting the idiocy of modern capitalism, of planned obsolescence, of disposable diapers and clothes and shoes and packaging for our gadgets and toys and foods, of more and more automation that eliminates jobs for real people so corporate pigs can make more profits, of more and more hospital procedures that extend life beyond the point where it is bearable so hospitals and doctors can get rich. We refuse. We see through the brainwashing (buying beyond what we need is a fairly modern ploy of U.S. capitalism, designed by a few market researchers in the 1920s alarmed at the prospect that mass production had become so efficient that people would soon satisfy all their needs and corporations would drown in un-bought products, and who therefore invented campaigns to stimulate endless psychological desires for useless crap (see the documentary The Century of the Self, by Adam Curtis), we know what brainwashing portends and who profits from it, and we have had enough.

This is what millions need to say directly to corporations, especially those who have moved their “offices” to foreign countries to avoid U.S. taxes. CBS’ 60 Minutes had a segment on this issue Sunday night, and it had me screaming at my TV set where the CEO of Cisco Systems not only admitted that Cisco had moved its corporate headquarters and thousands of jobs to Ireland, but glorified it into a threat that either the United States lower its tax rate to parity with countries like Ireland and Switzerland, or face losing even more corporate taxes. In essence, he and his ilk are holding a gun to our heads, saying if you don’t lower our taxes (already at the lowest point in almost a century), we’ll all be leaving.

If there is a crime called 'treason', this is it.

And my answer, and every refusing American’s answer should be: GO. Take your shit headquarters to whatever country you like, take your shit products with you, and don’t bother coming back. And don’t bother trying to sell your products here either because we will slap a boycott or a tariff upon you and all you produce.

There’s a lot more that I’m thinking, of course, such as the fact, brought up on Yahoo News today, that Pay Pal founder Peter Thiel, one of our wonderful billionaires so incensed about high taxes, has been revealed as a “big backer of the Seasteading Institute.” Guess what this utopian innovation, to which Thiel has recently donated $1.25 million, proposes to do? Well, given that even all their bought-off lackies in Congress may not be enough to protect these money hogs from government intrusion, Seasteading seeks to “build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties.” It’s the ultimate libertarian wet dream. Set up safe havens in international waters
free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details say the experiment would be "a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons."

Nor is this some pie-in-the-sky venture. One rep from the Institute is quoted as saying the group actually plans to launch an “office park off the San Francisco coast next year.” (To see that this isn’t an urban myth, check out )
And these are our sunshine patriots, tearfully singing America the Beautiful.

So think about it next time you are inclined to buy something. Do you really need it? Can you do without it? Patriotism--not national patriotism but planetary patriotism--demands a short, simple response: I prefer not to. (for more on this, see my “Bartleby Option” at

Lawrence DiStasi

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