Because the universe doesn’t care what you think you deserve. It really doesn’t—and, by the way, the willingness of your fellow human beings to take your wants and needs into account will by and large be precisely measured by your willingness to do the same for them.
Whatever our tradition—Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or indigenous, we are now being called to participate in the “unveiling” and pierce the veil of old paradigms. We are being compelled to live and love in new and unfamiliar ways that stretch the heart, perhaps even to the breaking point. This end/beginning invites us to move beyond sectarian labels and elevated piety into the territory of becoming not only a more compassionate human being, but members of a new species of human that fully experiences and lives its divinity.
In aspiring toward sustainable growth, then, the Rio participants carried an irreconcilable contradiction with them into the conference. Its failure was assured — not because of the commonly cited reason that it is impossible to gather 50,000 bureaucrats for a week and get anything done. Well, OK, because of that, yes, but the contradictions run deeper. Given the way that growth is defined in our current system, sustainable growth is impossible.
Rather than maximizing real well-being, policy makers are compelled to focus on avoiding economic collapse by growing the money economy. A debt-based money system can make sense when the credit funds real investment. When the credit funds current consumption and phantom wealth speculation, the result is ever-increasing debt, inequality, destruction of the natural environment, erosion of the social fabric, and ultimate default. For too long, we have put up with a money system designed to grow the financial assets of rich people at the expense of assuring continuing cycles of economic boom and bust, confining billions to lives of desperation, and reducing Earth to a toxic waste dump. We can do better
But there are seldom-acknowledged factors external to financial and monetary systems that are effectively choking off efforts to restart growth. These factors, whose impacts are worsening over time, were briefly alluded to in the Introduction; here we will unpack them in more detail, discussing limits to oil and other energy sources, as well as to food, water, and minerals. We will also explore the increasing cost of industrial accidents and environmental disasters—and why, in the wide wake of global climate change, those costs are likely to escalate to the point that disaster avoidance and recovery will constitute a major portion of future government and private spending. Along the way, we will examine how markets respond to resource scarcity (it’s not a clear-cut matter of incrementally rising prices).
The central assertion of this book is both simple and startling: Economic growth as we have known it is over and done with. The “growth” we are talking about consists of the expansion of the overall size of the economy (with more people being served and more money changing hands) and of the quantities of energy and material goods flowing through it. The economic crisis that began in 2007-2008 was both foreseeable and inevitable, and it marks a permanent, fundamental break from past decades—a period during which most economists adopted the unrealistic view that perpetual economic growth is necessary and also possible to achieve. There are now fundamental barriers to ongoing economic expansion, and the world is colliding with those barriers.
If this essay were to serve as an economics primer, then plenty more financial terms should be defined and discussed; however, the aim instead is merely to provide the essential background (by way of history and terminology) necessary to understand the recent financial events and trends that have led industrial society to the point where we are today—the end of growth