Monday, August 13, 2007

Economic growth vs. a living planet

A couple of interesting items lit up my screen over the weekend. The first is yet another piece of evidence that the global economy that we all tend to assume will continue providing net benefits to society is a chimera. There is no fundamental reality propping it up. What props it up is fairy dust that manifests itself from central bank controlled printing presses and accounting ledgers.

What this means is that if your life, indeed your entire sense of identity, is dependent on the stage props built by global financial markets, your life could descend into total chaos--become entirely meaningless and without sense of purpose--any day now. A true sense of humanity, however, requires quite a bit more than a growing bank balance, and this is what we must start working on recovering.

Central Banks Add Cash to Avert Crisis of Confidence

10 Aug 2007

"Central banks in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada added about $136 billion to the banking system in an attempt to avert a crisis of confidence in global credit markets.

"The Federal Reserve, in a second day of action in concert with the European Central Bank, provided $38 billion of reserves and pledged more ``as necessary,'' in a statement unprecedented since after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

Full Article

Another interesting item from the above article is that American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. this week became the country's second-biggest home lender to file for bankruptcy. The increase in greed fuelled by the sub-prime market is coming home to roost.

The second item provides part of the answer to "How did this all come to be?"

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #919, Aug. 9, 2007


By Joseph H. Guth

Guth, who is a biochemist (PhD) and Legal Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, points out a very important, but often overlooked or understated assumption in the underlying economic paradigm--that growth is good. The assumption is that economic growth provides net social benefits.

There's only one way this assumption can work, though. Human and environmental damage is discounted, and the unequal distribution of benefits is ignored. If the economic benefits that accrue to a small handful of people can be shown on a spreadsheet to be larger than the costs to a much larger but devalued group, then destruction and degradation of our common life support system is said to fall within the acceptable parameters of a cost benefit analysis. Not only is everything "good," but there is a net benefit to society. If ten million people die, but ten people make a billion dollars each, this is a net benefit to society.

Within the current system, the burden of proof lies on those wanting to show that the costs (which are undervalued) outweigh the benefits (which are overvalued). This makes proof difficult because the equation is unfairly lopsided from the start.

Guth's article doesn't address the inherent inequity of the variables used in the equation, but uses the precautionary principle to present one way in which we can at least begin to rewrite the equation. He also presents a good analysis of what is known as "sound science" and how industry uses it to its advantage in order to game the system.

Taken together, the two articles I've referred to above point to the pressing need to relocalize our economies, and to do so in a manner in which people and planet are valued more highly than profits. This leads directly to the pressing need to return corporations to the role of serving as a tool for creating social good, instead of acting as the arbiters of control and value at the top of a hierarchy of self-described elites.

Once again, it's just a story that we all provide the legitimacy for, and it's up to us to re-write the story.

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