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Re: Does Hubbert Peak Bode Ill for World System?
by Barry Brooks
05 December 2003 02:46 UTC
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While socialism would not have so much trouble stopping hyper-activity and 
ending the 'need' for growth, capitalism could do about the same thing if all 
people had some capital.  Why call it capitalism if most people have little 

Sustainability vs. The Consumer Economy

With due respect to Keynes and the benefits of demand stimulation, it would 
seem that we should move beyond trying to use all available labor and begin to 
focus on how to employ only the needed labor.  Does anyone believe that growing 
consumption can be sustained?  Our present consumer economy uses most labor, 
but its high consumption rates are at odds with resource stewardship. The high 
rates of resource consumption needed by the consumer economy not only hasten 
the trend toward resource scarcity, high consumption rates also increase the 
pollution which lies behind global warming. The consumer economy is not 
sustainable, but it is necessary to prevent automation from causing 
unemployment in a world of wage dependence. 

Any activity involves some resource consumption. We all need to consume food, 
fuel and other perishable goods. The provision of consumption goods is the 
proper goal of any economic system, but the consumption of durable items is not 
a proper goal for a sustainable economy. Only a consumer economy, with the goal 
of increasing consumption by any means, seeks to consume potentially durable 
items prematurely, as if waste could really increase wealth. 

Advocates of the consumer economy must deny the limits to growth, or pretend 
that increased consumption is consistent with resource conservation, or admit 
that they don't care about stewardship. No one wants a destructive economic 
system, yet most people have supported the consumer economy and its use of 
demand stimulation to create jobs. Belief in the existence of an infinite 
supply of cheap resources made the consumer economy seem desirable, but today 
we know that because the consumer economy needs waste to function it will 
hasten resource scarcity, and it will leave us unprepared and living in a world 
of scarcity. Support for the consumer economy is falling for good reason.

Since the media made everyone aware of world oil depletion problems, the 
assumption that we don't need to worry about resource scarcity has been shaken 
out of most people. Now that we are worried about resource scarcity one 
question is "What can we do to prevent resource scarcity?"  Which is part of 
the larger question, "What must we do to have a sustainable society?"  Most 
people desire a sustainable society, we know we need a sustainable society, and 
our engineers already know how to build one. The conflict between increasing 
consumption to make jobs and reducing consumption to conserve can't be solved. 
It will be impossible to build a sustainable economy if we fail to reassess the 
role of human labor in an automated economy. 

Some wealthy people, with the ambition and means to rule, cleverly created the 
consumer economy to provide jobs after world war two, thus delaying the need to 
reassess the role of human labor in an automated economy. Today's plutocrats 
can create a sustainable economy whenever they become justifiably terrified by 
the consumer economy's inability to reduce consumption rates. Our wealthy 
rulers must create an new economy that will provide people's needs without 
making too much pollution and without running out of resources rapidly if they 
hope to avoid leading us into an age of growing scarcity. They are already so 
worried about resource depletion that they are willing to use aggression to 
grab all the known oil resources. Their fear of reassessing role of human labor 
in an automated economy makes war seem like a good option. It's interesting how 
people so often are afraid of the wrong things. Finding more oil, and grabbing 
more oil, will only delay the need for economic reform at the high cost of 
increasing world conflict. It would be much better to address the main cause of 
our unsustainablity now, rather than seeking more delay and finding comfort in 
denial. Our unsustainability is caused by needless wage dependence in an 
economy that already provides unearned income, but only for a tiny minority.    
Barry Brooks

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