[This was drafted around the time of the delayed budget in October 2020. Too much was happening and I suppose the world moved on before I could submit it anywhere.]
The budget frenzy does not just highlight the familiar, toxic social and political priorities of this Government and much of the Parliament, it prompts deeper probing into common assumptions, perceptions and framing. What kind of society is desirable? What kind of society is feasible? How could we create it?
The budget is an opportunity to spell out, again, how misguided are some standard economic precepts. It reveals how profoundly awry are our conception of an economy and a society, our operating assumptions on human nature and our place in the world, and the aspirations we fall miserably short of.
The false nostrums of the pseudo-science of neoclassical economics have been used to create a system that promotes endlessly increasing consumption of resources and endless elaboration of technology. This system already operates far beyond the needs of people. Our survival requires that we rein in the machine and return to proven and durable, social and moral forms of organisation.
Growth has a fundamental place in the biological world, of which we humans are a part. Unchecked growth has no place, outside of the microbial world. Unchecked growth is called a plague, an epidemic or a cancer.
Growth, among mainstream economists, has become a reflexive, mindless goal, specifically growth of the Gross Domestic Product. Growth of the GDP is the dominant global criterion for allegedly successful management of an economy. GDP is an indiscriminate measure of what we spend money on: some things good, some useless, some bad and, increasingly, some attempting to repair damage from previous spending. GDP is not a useful measure of our quality of life, whose improvement should be the real goal, but it does correlate with resource use and resource waste, also known as pollution.
A recent exchange between Jason Hickel (and here and here) and Dean Baker (and here) on whether humanity can have a viable future and still have ‘economic growth’, nicely highlights the way old concepts and words can trap us in unproductive debate and action.
The way forward is to recognise the need for a fundamental re-framing of the nature and purpose of our societies, and their economies. The terms growth, GDP, capital and capitalism are so ill-defined, confused or inappropriate they only hinder debate.
Many assertions are being made about Australia’s rates of immigration and population growth, but it’s hard to find a coherent discussion of the issue. There’s not just an elephant but a menagerie of ignored creatures lurking around the living room.
The elephant in the middle of the room is the cost to society of ‘durable assets’ for each new person, imported or home-grown. Durable assets include not just infrastructure like roads, trains, water and electricity but houses, shops and schools. That cost is sensibly estimated by sustainability researcher Jane O’Sullivan to be around $500,000 per person. Some of that cost is public, borne by governments, and some is borne by the private sector.
[I have been busy with other things, so not posting very much. It’s partly distraction, partly finding a different approach, wanting to give less power to the nonsense that passes for mainstream political and social commentary, and more power to important and sane things. I’ll probably post about it before too long. Also I have (yet) another idea on how to present my economics thoughts so they might attract some attention. I’ll share that at an appropriate time too.]
I realised, from reading and interacting with indigenous folk, that my recent Anthem words still lacked something important. Fortunately there was a line that could be readily modified to cover the need. Perhaps this version is ready to promote more widely. (You may share it freely, with attribution to me.)
[Another post from the Two Fires Festival , specifically here. I want to promote this more widely when I get a chance.]
Many people find the words of our national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, to be unsatisfactory, for various reasons, such as
• no mention of the First Australians
• too redolent of old British Empire attitudes (the original version was written in 1878).
• the land is to be owned and used, rather than being a wonder we preserve and a provider we care for and pass on
• the antiquated phrasing (and not just “girt”).
[I am involved in organising an unusual local festival that combines Arts and Activism, the Two Fires Festival in Braidwood, NSW, 12-14 April – soon! That’s the main reason there hasn’t been much posted here lately. I’ll put a few more festival things up over coming days. Here is the blurb on the session I care most about.]
The challenge for our generation is to create an enduring way of being, in Australia and around the world, so that our children may look forward to an indefinite future of healthy life in a healthy landscape. Our agricultural and other direct involvements in the landscape have a key role, and the search for enduring systems has been under way for some time.
Historian Bill Gammage’s remarkable recent book The Biggest Estate on Earth teaches us that if our descendants fulfil this aspiration they will not have been the first. For millennia prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Australian landscape was managed comprehensively, intimately and enduringly to be productive, diverse, and safer from fire, flood and drought.
The challenge for our generation is to create an enduring way of being, in Australia and around the world, so that our children may look forward to an indefinite future of healthy life in a healthy landscape. Appropriate economic and social processes will be essential to creating such a collective lifestyle, but our agricultural and other involvements in the natural world of course have an even more direct role.
This topic was raised in a commentary by Braidwood local Ben Gleeson that questions much official thinking about rendering the land “sustainable”. He champions the idea that our duality of productive farmland, on the one hand, and wild nature, on the other, is inappropriate. Before getting to Ben’s ideas, I want to set a broader perspective.
[My previous post, and many before, featured the example of Interface Carpet Inc. The founder and guiding spirit of that exemplary new-paradigm company, Ray C. Anderson, died in 2011. The world is much the richer from his bold and inspiring presence. Here, from a free download, is the foreword from his recent book Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist.]
In memory, Ray C. Anderson
As I sit down to write this foreword, I have a lot on my mind. My company, Interface, Inc., has just marked an important milestone—ten years until our target year for Mission Zero, for zero environmental footprint, a goal for which we have set 2020 as our deadline. I’m immensely proud of Interface, and encouraged about our future. At the same time, I have spent the last year dealing with cancer, thankfully holding my own—barely.