Carpenter Takes Buzz Saw to Economic Growth
This is not the first time in history some profound wisdom was conveyed by a carpenter. Erik Lindberg is not a professor, reformed Wall Street financier, economist, physicist, or even Tibetan monk. He’s just a carpenter with a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature, and a guy who has taken the time to sit back and ponder what the fuck we are doing here on Earth in the 21st century. I want to applaud and recommend his two-part treatise published at Resilience.org
First of all, some of his observations are unusually on-point for Growth Bias Busted, where every week we try to take the power away from this phenomenon:
“I heard an NPR business update announce that economists were predicting ‘a healthy holiday shopping season.’ Such reports are a near-daily happening, and their words of praise, sometimes warning, have come to be accepted with little question…. But healthy for what? Is the health of our families and our children the concern of such reports? A healthy shopping season may mean a mound of presents under the tree, but will this give comfort to our distracted minds, our scattered consciousness? Can any still and simple purpose claw its way to the top of such a growing mountain of stuff? Do the throwaway toys and the ‘look how much he loves me’ jewelry, the most advanced personal devices, or bow-festooned Lexus SUV’s create more of anything we truly need—more love or joy, contentment, peace, simple time with others? Is it healthy for the Chinese workers who must pump out a strange assortment of bizarre looking plastic pieces beneath the yellow smog which hangs as a choking menace over their cities? Is it healthy for the African gold and diamond miners, pushed ever harder and more cruelly as demand increases? It certainly isn’t healthy for our environment, our overburdened planet, which first must supply the raw materials and then absorb the waste.”
You’ve probably heard or read it before, but Lindberg does a pretty fine job of collecting into one essay a convincing indictment of what modern society has come to accept not only as “normal,” but as desirable. Perhaps BECAUSE he’s not an economist or scientist, he captures beautifully the ugly truth about our obsession with MORE.
“Of course we all know at some level what a ‘healthy shopping season’ is really healthy for: the economy…. But what is “the economy”? Is it a mere name–like the harvest, the kill, or the catch–that in this case we give to the assembly of transactions we make? It seems more alive and willful than that, full of demands of its own. It provides us with our daily bread, and sometimes much more—but at any moment this could come to an end. For it stands above and apart from us. It has requirements distinct from ours. It must be fed. We are conscripted by it. It demands our sacrifices…. But most of all, the economy must grow, a terrible fact that most of us accept without question, we imperiled mortals in the hands of this angry and petulant God.”
Rarely do we stop and consider what prisoners we are of “the economy,” shackled to a hamster-wheel on which we must run, to earn more, to buy more, to consume more, to feed the beast.
“This need to grow—Growthism—is the foundation of our current condition and the key concept of our present worldview. It has become a sort of theology and advanced democracies are equally theocracies of Growthism. It is our official ideology, but not in the common partisan sense of the word. Rather, it describes a value or a good that is mainly invisible and obediently accepted without question.”
Yes. I love that – “invisible and obediently accepted without question.” What he said. Along with:
“None of this is true.”
“…growth, this way, vs. growth, that way, are the only options we have at the polling place.”
“…just when it looked like we may have reached the limits of growth, Growthism became an earnest, though idolatrous belief.”
In part 2 of his treatise, Lindberg again visits the very reason for the existence of Growth Bias Busted:
“This sense of normalcy can be seen in the way journalists, academics, and politicians speak about economic growth. An economy that is not growing, of course, in recession and has only ‘recovered’ once it is growing again at an acceptable rate, around 3% per year, a rate often extolled with genetic metaphors—as if this sort of growth part of ‘the economy’s’ DNA. An economy that is not growing or not growing fast enough is, accordingly, referred to as ‘sluggish’ or will be said to be ‘facing headwinds,’ ones like insufficient consumer confidence, high energy prices, an international trade imbalance, or even demographic changes. This is quite odd if considered outside the perspective of Growthism: the fact, say, that the population is growing older or that people are having fewer babies could be considered mainly as an economic challenge, never mind the more basic fact that an economy’s size and growth has to do with how much people are buying and selling and that people might someday decide they have everything they need. That any pause in buying, selling, and of course disposing, is a condition from which we must recover is the most peculiar thing, yet it is accepted without thought.”
I’m sharing such large slices of this enlightening pie for fear you may not stop and read Growthism parts 1 and 2 in full. Part of the very problem Lindberg describes is the world we’ve created where we can’t afford to sit on a rock and spend the afternoon reading something deep and thoughtful. It may take you 20 minutes to read it. Will you invest the time? I hope so. If you are tempted to slow down and read more than 140 characters at a sitting, you may want to explore more of Lindberg’s work. Aside from the need for some punctuation editing, this guy can write. Welcome Erik Lindberg to the Wall of Fame.
“Lost in the normalizing of economic growth, in addition to any awareness about its lethal outcome, is the sense that economic growth and modernity in general are part of a very specific historical conditions, and not the simple releasing of a dammed up river. And because these conditions cannot last, as important as asserting this fact, unknown to most of the knowledge-makers and power-brokers in Liberal societies, is thinking about our present historical condition in ways that will help us choose, if that’s the right word, an alternative.”
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