|A. The Creation of Perpetual Economic
||Perpetual economic growth has to come from somewhere.
And the social, political, and economic institutions that make it possible had to be
created and maintained by some degree of collective will. Perpetual growth also
requires a set of beliefs, values, and public policies to sustain it. The readings
in this section examine some of the ways that we have become slaves of perpetual growth,
from the way that we measure our economic well-being, to the economic theories that drive
policy, and the role of money in our society
|Reading 1. The
||Where did the idea of perpetual growth come
from? What was the origin of the GNP? Why has it become so important?
And why do we count such things as pollution, divorce, and illness as economic
benefits? Those are some of the questions that
Jonathan Rowe and Judith Silverstein address in this article. The key, they
propose, is the evolution of the GNP as the key measure of economic progress.
Instead, they say, it includes items that greatly detract from our quality of life.
|Reading 2. Lunatic Politics
||One of the consequences of the emergence of the GNP as
the main measure of a society's well-being, is that economists have become the leaders in
public policy debates. That is, economic theory becomes the major basis for
determining public action. In this article, Jay Hanson characterizes economic theory
as "lunatic" theory, arguing that it encompasses a value system that is more
religious than scientific. You may not agree with Hanson. but his argument is
|Reading 3. Money as a Social Disease
||This article by David Korten is a must-read for anyone
interested in how money has taken over our lives. Perpetual economic growth
generally means making more money. It does not mean creating wealth in the form of
better lives; instead the imperative to make more and more money, as Korten puts it,
"is rapidly depleting the real capital--the human, social, natural, and even physical
capital--on which our well-being depends." Korten then suggests some steps that
we must take to achieve real economic health and "an active economy of affection and
reciprocity in which people do a great many things for one another with no expectation of
financial gain. Such voluntary sharing creates and maintains the social fabric and
mutual caring of which the social capital of any healthy family, community, or society is
|B. The Consequences of Perpetual Growth
||There is every indication that our societies obsession for
perpetual economic growth is unsustainable. As we discuss in Global Problems and the
Culture of Capitalism, we are spending capital and calling it growth, constantly depleting
our stocks of natural, political, and social capital while public policy makers try to
convince us that this will make us better off. The readings in this section explain
why this isn't so.
|Reading 4. Why Bigger Isn't
Better: The Genuine Progress Indicator
Progress Indicator: 2006
||The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) developed by the
people at Redefining Progress is a
method of defining progress that better measures the changes in quality of life that
accompany growth in the economy. By focusing on quality of life rather than monetary
accumulations, they argue, we get a much better idea on whether or not we are living
better. In fact, as they show, while our monetary well-being as measure by GNP has
increased, our quality of life as measured by the GPI is declining.
|Reading 5. Greenhouse
gangsters vs. Climate Justice
||The conversion, through the use of technology, of
natural capital into money is one of the clearest examples of how the doctrine
economic growth rules our lives. In spite of the clear scientific evidence of the
dangers of global
warming, politicians (from every party) and policy makers (largely economists), refuse
to risk growth for the sake of our environment. This selection focuses on the
dangers of global warming and industries largely responsible for it--oil. It
includes, also, the political and social price we pay for our dependence on fossil
fuels. The article concludes with suggestions for achieving "climate
|Reading 6. Social
||In Global Problems and
the Culture of Capitalism we suggest that social capital is being depleted in order to
maintain economic growth. In this article by Carmen Sirianni and Lewis Friedland
the concept of social capital is defined. It was most elaborated by
Robert Putnam in his book Bowling
Alone in which he details its
decline in the United States. Putnam's articles and books have made the phrase
"social capital" a common one, as he has provided documentation on the decline
of social capital in the United States over the past half century. It is worth
noting that in his articles and book, he cites television and urban sprawl (made possible
by the automobile) as two of the main reasons for social capital decline. You can
follow-up on this article by reading Putnam's article from The American Prospect, The Strange
Disappearance of Civic America.
|Reading 7: Social Isolation in
could you count on in an emergency? Do you have a network of people to
talk with about relationships, family issues, and the like? These are some
of the thorny questions that some sociologists consider of the utmost
importance when peering into the heart of contemporary society."[KMG]
As Reading 6 indicates, social capital is declining, and in this study we
get some idea of the consequences of that decline.
|C. What Can We Do About It?
||The big question when we talk about global problems, is
"what can I (we) do about it?" Many conclude that there is nothing we can
do, so why worry about it. However, many others believe that there are some
clear-cut steps that we can take to reduce or even reverse the consequences of converting
non-monetary capital into money. Each of the readings in this section has some
specific suggestions, many which complement those included in Global Problems and the
Culture of Capitalism.
|Exercise 1. What's Involved in a New
||What are the kinds of things that we must do to
address our culture's need for perpetual economic growth? The people at the Center for a New American Dream compiled
an area by area puzzle outlining the steps we must take. Take the tour and you will
have some idea of how extensive the change must be to make a difference in some of the
problems we have discussed. This is an excellent site to spark discussion and debate
about the scope of the changes that are necessary.
|Reading 8. Emphasizing the Individual to Protect the Global Environment
||This article argues for a growth in individual
initiatives to preserve the environment. It points to the Internet as a major means
that NGOs, particularly in the developing world can provide the impetus to environmental
|Reading 9. Good Growth, Bad Growth
||In this article, Richard Douthwaite, argues that we
can distinguish between good economic growth and bad, and he provides a list of conditions
under which growth and sustainability can co-exist.
|Reading 10. Towards a New
Economics: Questioning Growth
||The dangers of perpetual growth were voiced decades ago
in the classic work by Donella Meadows and her associates, The Limits to Growth
(1972). Yet, in spite of what was known 30 years ago about limits, public policy
makers remain convinced that growth is the solution, not the cause, of global problems.
Furthermore, they argue, that technology will provide solutions to these problems.
Yet technology is the major tool by which we convert non-monetary capital into money (just
think about the influence of television and the automobile). This article by
economist Herman Daly provides a stinging rebuttal to the conventional economic
wisdom that continued growth is the solution. Daly argues that from an economic
point of view limiting growth makes good sense. He also proposes
ways that we can limit growth and be better for it.
|Reading 11. Do
You want Them to Drink Coca-Cola?
||While it might be tempting to solve global problems by
sweeping, multilateral actions, they are far more likely to be solved by local actions.
That is the argument made by Helena Norberg-Hoge in this article. She
concludes that "Long- term solutions to today's social and environmental
problems require a range of small, local initiatives that are as diverse as the cultures
and environments in which they take place." She outlines the flaws in public
policies that favor highways over bike paths, large-scale farms over small-scale
agriculture, and large business over small business, and then offers some concrete policy
measures to build a more sustainable and just society.
|Reading 12. A New Politics of
||In this article, Juliet Schor (author of The Overspent
American) offers a critique of consumerism, and offers some measures to correct it.
In spite of increases in income, she says, the "average American now finds it harder
to achieve a satisfying standard of living than 25 years ago. Work requires longer hours,
jobs are less secure, and pressures to spend more intense. Consumption-induced
environmental damage remains pervasive, and we are in the midst of widespread failures of
public provision." Consumerism, she suggests, has led to a decline in our
quality of life, and we have created an "aspirational gap," a difference in what
people have and what they think they should have. She then suggests a new
"politics of consumption," a number of measures that must be taken to achieve a just
and sustainable society.
|Reading 13. Is the Corporation Obsolete?
||In this article Jonathan Rowe proposes that the
corporation has come to dominate our lives in ways that no one had
corporations are showing a degree of raw aggression that
is unsettling to say the least. They are claiming new territory in virtually every
dimension of existence, from the personal space that is assaulted by huckstering and cell
phones to the Star Wars initiative, which will stake a commercial claim to the farthest
reaches of outer space. They are taking control of the quest for knowledge at
universities, and are moving even to claim the gene pool and the processes of life
itself." He calls for a change in the very structure of corporations.
|Reading 14: Reclaiming
suggests that we are losing
the commons, those features of our environment and life that we together
share and should control, rather than surrendering them to private interests and
commodification. Since one can look at the evolution of capitalism
in general and globalization in particular as a steady process of
privatization, Bollier's ideas are compelling.
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