Mar 30, 2012

Wealth as a Way of Life

"Somehow, we have come to think the whole purpose of the economy is to grow..." ~ David Suzuki
It's hard to talk about this subject without sounding wax-a-dazical, but what if the purpose of our economy was to provide a great quality of life for all those on the earth? More and more folks are questioning society's purpose and values everyday. Progressives like me tend to see that questioning as part of an inevitable a continuum, wherein the humanity's preference for true love, religious freedom, racial equality, good governance, gender equality, environmental sustainability, ethical economics, and so on --- builds a better world. However, we all tend to commonly desire property, status, indulgence, and validation, too, as well as a whole host of other stuff; and that's just naming commonalities. Suffice to say, things are slowly getting better just as they're rapidly becoming more challenged here on planet earth.

That's in part where Herman Daly comes in. One of the world's first eco-economists, his 1977 Steady State Economy ideal has recently found a home with the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE), aka. SteadyState's thinking is perhaps best summed up in this quote from their website, 
"Perpetual economic growth is neither possible nor desirable. Growth, especially in wealthy nations, is already causing more problems than it solves."
With a staff of 14 stationed around the world, is working to "educate citizens, organizations, and policy makers on the conflict between economic growth and (1) environmental protection, (2) ecological and economic sustainability, and (3) national security and international stability." The award-winning think tank traces its origin back to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. The group also spends time "promoting the steady state economy as a desirable alternative to economic growth" and "studying the means to establish a steady state economy." SteadyState has local chapters in 11 countries.

Click to enlarge.

Similar to my motivations for blogging, the SteadyState website states, "Conventional economists tend to overlook physical and ecological principles when considering the effects of economic growth… Our role is to help people understand the truth that growth isn’t the answer to all our problems... a steady state economy provides a hopeful way to achieve sustainability and equity in an increasingly constrained world."

It's a fascinating conversation, in line with some of the best declarations of the even more recent #Occupy Movement, but it's an awkward one. Scanning around the website I wonder how the SteadyState model would distribute profits and wealth from the world's biggest companies? I believe this is the ultimate and most influential challenge facing whole-scale economic reform. It's nowhere to be found on the group's 15 point policies page, which contains some greet ideas and some blatantly partisan ones, e.g. "Limit the scope of advertising to prevent unnecessary demand stimulation and wasteful consumption." I can only imagine the push-back.

Nevertheless, seeing Steady State in a working state is exciting. I recommend starting with their cartoons page.


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