The World is Too Big (and getting bigger)

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There are a whole bunch of ideas tied up in this one basic sentence, but in and of itself it doesn't seem particularly controversial: Not all growth is good.

I'm not talking mold or cancer or debt, but economic and societal growth. Essentially the proposition that things can continue to get better forever. That the economic output of the United States can continue to grow, the World can continue to grow, while at the same time caring for its citizens.

Make no mistake, this myth of perpetual growth is one of the essential ideas underpinning the world economy--but particularly in the United States. Take the stock market, for instance, where shares tend to be valued on future expectations. Stock price can rise on massive losses, so long as you make the argument that growth is ahead.

Gross Domestic Product, jobs, wealth, all of it is expected to continue to grow, and policies are designed to accelerate that growth.

But that's hogwash. It's nonsense that doesn't survive back-of-envelope math or the smell test, unless you're a fan of rotten eggs. The world's resources are finite.

Perpetual growth is impossible, and pursuing it is destructive--particularly in a society where distribution systems are inefficient and inequitable. And yet, we keep trying.

I'm not saying I have an answer here. I don't know how to change opinions on this, but I do see how destructive it is. The wealthy keep amassing more, while we create larger and larger gulfs between those with two houses and those who cannot meet their own basic needs. 

They're related, of course. The wealth our society creates comes from the growth, and that's why the People In Charge keep pushing the lie. Inequitable wealth distribution requires more consumers and more cheap labor. All of this seems obvious.

Look at the privatization of prisons: An entire industry that requires more bodies. And the only way to get those bodies into prison is by making sure they don't have enough to care for themselves outside those walls.

How much is enough? What can one human DO with billion dollars? Or even tens of millions? Someone with $200 million in the bank doesn't even crack the top-1,000 wealthiest individuals in the country.

There are more than 500 billionaires in the United States alone.

Capitalism did some great things for the world, and the United States. But it doesn't scale up particularly well, at least in terms of an equitable and just society. Rampant capitalism has run the course of its usefulness.

"Socialism!" some people will shout and point and protest. To which I reply ... Sure. Yes. Or something like it.

When you are born into the United States, the indoctrination begins. "This is the greatest country in the world!" we tell our citizens, ad nauseum, just praying they don't look at other nations with better outcomes.

Life isn't a fucking competition. I grew up on a steady diet of American exceptionalism and belief in the all mighty dollar, but that is horsehit* on the highest order.

If a government's purpose is not to care for all its citizens, then what is it? And we are not--at all, at least not in the United States--caring for all our citizens.

For me, because that's all I can speak to with any authority, I have found comfort in reducing what I need. It's not about bunkering in, but having more control.

The more I need (or, think I need), the more time I spend thinking about how to get it. And frankly, I have better uses of my finite time here.

Of course, if everyone thought like me then the world wouldn't look anything like it does. "Innovation cannot occur without growth," someone said to me, and I have to admit that sounds kind of right. But then I think: So what?

"Our" goal, in as much as there is an Us, should be happiness and safety and security--technological advancement solely for the sake of itself is an ugly pony that doesn't do any tricks.

There's a theory that hunter-gatherer societies were happier than we are today. That should be a gut-punch to all of us. Happiness doesn't come from a thinner phone or faster car, but from a being a part of a safe and secure society.

Unless you're a hermit, maybe. Here, check out this article...


* Apologies to horses. It's just a saying. These problems are actually far worse that horseshit.

Posted on November 16, 2017 .