Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The instability of limitless growth

Memes don't always say it all, but this one is quite succinct in that it captures something I've been thinking about for a while. In his book Everything must change, Brian McClaren identifies the societal machine (or economy) as sitting inside the ecosystem. The societal machine has a prosperity cog (wealth generation), an equity cog that redistributes wealth to various aspects of society such as education, health and those in need, and a security cog for police and armed forces.

At the centre of the machine is the central narrative. Presently that narrative appears to be one of growth for its own sake. This has expanded the societal machine to almost swamp the ecosystem, and is pushing planetary boundaries (atmosphere, ozone, biodiversity, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, etc).

When the central narrative is one of endless growth, the prosperity cog enlarges, the equity cog shrinks (the top few own the most of the wealth) and the security cog also enlarges. I think the oil wars in the middle east are a sign of this. Note how issues of environment, justice and peace are all intertwined!

Such growth is cancerous, runaway growth for part of the system only. This is not otherwise seen in nature, where dynamic relationships mean there is a constant shift between new balance states, cycles of populations but an overall resilience.

Ched Myers wrote Sabbath Economics, which reminds us that the year of jubilee was an ecomic reset, so that wealth did not accumulate in one place. It was also an ecological reset in an age before chemical fertilisers. We need a new model, a model more like Sabbath Economics. This is not a Marxism where people do not earn according to their talents or significance of their roles - but what CEO really earns so much more than their employees?

While many would argue we should appeal to people's better natures, Christian doctrone should tell us that sometimes people need rules (sin after all), and that yes governments via taxes can actually achieve real good. I've heard often enough "why should I give my money ...." Well to start with, under God, there is only money we steward, not money that is ours.

So while our central narrative is fixated on growth, peace, justice and creation care will always be at odds with decisions made. The G20 may well demonstrate this.

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