This is an expanded version of a letter I sent to NPR after a report on the goals of the G20.
I feel exasperated at the way world economic news is reported without any interrogation of what appears to be an unquestioned assumption in the current economic paradigm: that consumption and growth are inherently good. I refer specifically to today’s story on the G20, in which the goal to get China and Germany to save less and consume more is “necessary” to world economic growth.
Does anyone not ever question the long term ramifications of the principle of economic growth? Can our planet’s eco-systems sustain this sort of growth, and for how long? Setting aside global climate change how many years of growth can our supply of fossil fuels support? Is it not a troubling sign that what, specifically, is consumed is of no import within this paradigm, as long as consumption, any consumption(?), takes place.
True enough, the world economic situation, as currently understood and calculated, would indeed improve if people in Germany and China bought worthless crap made from fossil fuels and immediately threw it away. But it is madness that a system in which waste and destruction is not only good, but necessary is so entirely taken for granted. A delicate ecological system, for instance, collapses under the force of this sort of contradiction. Are we so far removed from this sort of system that the standard rhetoric of economist and economic reporting remains unjarring to us? If economists have no ear for this stuff, if they are tone deaf to any unquantifiable factors (or ones whose tally can’t be immediately charted and graphed), then NPR has a responsibility to step in. What about a story about, even any mention of, the ecological limits of economic growth, or of Peak Oil?
This will be one of the fundamental concepts of the next generation. Isn’t anyone going to start talking about it? Are we so committed to and indebted to economic growth that questioning the very concept of it remain inconceivable? Unless someone helps put these ideas into a national dialogue, we will be subject to these unflinching calls for consumption, unfettered by any meaningful thought about consumption.