What’s Wrong With Our Economy?

What’s Wrong With Our Economy?

It’s not what you think. It’s not that it doesn’t produce enough growth. It’s that it is systemically flawed. In no particular order here are some of the ways it fails. For a century it has drawn people off the land, turning on its head the stable pyramid of food producers to food dependent people living in the cities, replacing farming with giant agribusinesses that do not care about the long term health of the land. It has gutted our once stable rural communities. It confuses wealth with well-being and well-being with money, reducing all values to cash value. It requires endless economic growth at the expense of the planet. It requires indebtedness and an ever increasing inequality. It has no sense of how much is enough. It allows for phantom wealth for a few who get rich by speculating on money without producing anything useful. It requires that most people must trade their time and labor to someone else, creating goods that they will not own and robbing them of self-reliance. It funnels the benefits to a few and externalizes the costs to the many. It favors giant, multi-national corporations that erode national sovereignty while putting main street businesses out of business. It swiftly depletes finite resources. It creates instability by hunting for the lowest labor costs of the moment, gutting one city or nation for temporarily locating in another where labor costs can be driven down even farther, and then after a little while it moves on yet again leaving abandoned factories, pollution, and unemployed people. It allows a few through stupid or malicious decisions to throw the whole system into chaos, putting millions out of work. It has abandoned our central cities, leaving unemployment, poverty and crime in its place. It has intensified our lives, speeding us up so we are always on the go in quest of money but in fact working more for less. It replaces people with robots. It results in a race to the bottom for income and destroys laws that protect labor and the environment. It allows for a concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority, corrupting democracy. It results in huge inefficiencies of energy wasting it on moving materials and goods all over the globe. It pits us against each other as individuals, cities and nations through a system of ruthless competition. It actually creates scarcity. It creates needless poverty throughout the world.

Who would want such an economy? Answer—the tiny minority of very, very rich and the politicians they feed. Why do we put up with it? Is it that we are trapped in it? Is it that we are overwhelmed with propaganda that tells us we are losers if we don’t buy all the flimflam it produces? It is that we are blinded by the bread and circuses of professional and college sports? Is it that we are diverted by a myth of national exceptionalism and trumped up threats of war? Is it that we don’t know and are prevented from knowing an alternative? Is it all of the above?



Nuclear Power—A Climate Solution?


Nuclear Power—a Solution To Climate Deterioration?

In order to generate electricity in the traditional way you have to boil water into steam which, as it expands, drives a turbine which spins a generator (basically a magnet inside a copper coil). Most of our boiling is done with fossil fuels which pollute the air, cause sicknesses and it drives climate deterioration. Many people including some environmentalists are advocating nuclear energy as the solution or at least as a bridge to clean and renewable methods of power generation such as wind and solar, but nuclear has its own insurmountable problems. Currently it supplies only 4.8 percent of global generation and would have to be ramped up on a colossal scale to become relevant. However, nuclear generating plants take a long time to build and are horrifically expensive, much more so than clean alternatives that are now on the shelf. Even if we started to build them now, they would not come on line in time to ameliorate the climate crisis. Even more importantly, nuclear plants are not fossil free. They depend on large expenditures of fossil fuels for fuel processing, transport and construction. Nuclear power has its own large, carbon footprint. Further they leave us with horrific toxins for ten times longer than civilization has yet been around and also with useless, heavily irradiated structures that will need to be dismantled and buried at an astronomical cost per plant. Nuclear is not cheap. In fact, if you add in the cost of processing the fuel in the first place, and “decommissioning” the irradiated and dead plants at the end, nuclear is the most expensive way to generate electricity. Then there is the risk of the next Fukushima type meltdown. Finally, they complicate the problem of nuclear weapons proliferation and are prime targets for terrorist attacks which would make the World Trade Center attack pale by comparison. Finally, nuclear power just doesn’t make sense. It is an incredibly complicated and dangerous technology just to heat water into steam to turn a turbine to turn a magnet inside a copper coil. Heating water by fissioning uranium is just silly. I suspect it was developed for two reasons; one, because we could. It was what the original atomic bomb physicists called “a technologically sweet problem.” The second was guilt over unleashing horrific weapons of mass destruction on the world. Nuclear power generation would offset that guilt—“atoms for peace,” was their phrase. Expanding nuclear energy is worse than a non-starter, it’s a dumb and dangerous mistake.


A Sack Full Of Secrets


If I could come to your next meeting, whatever it is you will be meeting about, I would ask for ten minutes to speak, promising that what I had to say would be relevant to your agenda.  You might indulge me. If you did, I would walk up to the table in front carrying a large brown paper sack rolled up at the top. I would place the sack on the table and ask if any of you knew this song and I’d sing the first lines.

” Last night I had the strangest dream, I never had before.

I dreamed that all the world agreed to put an end to war.”

I would say, “Anything and everything your organization is doing is negatively affected by war.  Then I would say, “It’s time to realize this dream.” And “I have this sack of secrets.”  I would unroll the sack to open it. The sound would be wrinkly-crackly. Pulling out apparently nothing I would unroll that as though it were a very important small scroll. I would read, “WE CAN END WAR.”

Right away a skeptic in your group (and that would be nearly anyone and everyone) would say: “That’s nonsense. We’ve always had war.”  I would look in my sack again and pull our another “scroll.” Reading it, I’d say: Homo sapiens (that’s us) have been around 200,000 years. There is no evidence of organized warfare like we now have until about the last 5 percent of that time. We know when, where and how war was invented. War is a social invention that has lost its utility.

Another skeptic would throw out, “Ah, come on ! We may not like to admit it but war is human nature.”  I would look in the sack again, pull out another scroll and read: “If war was human nature then it would be common to all human societies all the time. But it’s not. There are many societies that have eschewed warfare. Even today, Costa Rica has no military at all. And most nations live in peace with the others most of the time. Example, in the 20th century we fought Germany for 6 years but were at peace with them for 94 years. There’s much more peace in history than war.

Another person might say, “Yah, but as bad as it is war is good for the economy. You can’t deny that.”  I’d look in again and pulling out the imaginary scroll and read: “ War preparation makes very expensive things that are of no value to our civilian life. When did you have a need for a nuclear submarine or an F-16. When these things are used they destroy things of value, like a water treatment plants, hospitals and irrigation dikes. War production charges an opportunity cost to you. That money could have put your kids through college, rebuilt your roads and bridges, and. . . . Well, you get the point.”

Finally, getting tired of my being so contrary, someone would say, “Well if you’re so smart, how do we get rid of war?  I’d say, “I’m not, but a lot of other people are,” and I’d reach into my bag and slowly pull out from the very bottom a book, about 8 ½’ by 11” and say: “This book lays out the answer to that question. It draws on hundreds of experts for the design of A Global Security System: An Alternative To War. I’ll leave this one. You can buy it from Amazon or, better yet, download it free from World Beyond War at www.worldbeyondwar.org.

“Thanks for indulging me. Have a good meeting.”