I went to Tillerson’s ranch in Bartonville [Texas]. I pulled up in front of his ranch, a big, big horse ranch. In front of the gate to his ranch, there was this big sculpted metal globe. It looked like someone took a carving knife to it and the whole upper part of the globe, along these uneven serrated edges, opened up into this gaping void, and I thought, Wow, that is symbolic. Here is Tillerson’s globe and it’s a world whose apex has been systematically shredded. It was quite a metaphor.
Whoever the next president turns out to be, her or his term in office will likely coincide with another financial crash, which could well turn out to be much worse than the 2008 debacle. Social pressures from rising inequality and dashed expectations will build to explosive levels. And climate impacts may well take forms that even a Donald Trump cannot ignore. Altogether, the next eight years are unlikely to be as safely corked and bottled as the last. They say crisis is opportunity. We may be facing more opportunities than we know what to do with; may we seize them skillfully!
The decision to embark on this rite of passage won’t be an easy one. Most people in the developed world have no interest in changing anything about their lives or their worldviews, and are often oblivious that anything’s amiss to begin with. They’re not remotely interested in asking the hard questions that might shed light on a path forward. Even those of us who are open to the rite struggle to take that first step. We’re scared. I’m scared. But we can’t allow this fear to rule our lives, to constrain our lives. A rite of passage isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to introduce us to our edges and the void that lies beyond. I can’t pretend to know precisely what each of these stages of our impending rite of passage will look like, how people in different regions will muddle through, but I trust it’ll be powerful, enlightening and, at the very least, interesting. Perhaps more interesting than we’d prefer. But then we live in interesting times, so go figure.
If you are able to move quickly as conditions change, this flexibility has its advantages. Losing your job is probably the biggest risk right now. Think about how you might deal with the situation. Also, we don’t know how things will change in the future. One area may be affected by a lack of water; another by an electrical system that no longer works, and can’t be repaired in any reasonable time frame, perhaps after a storm. If you are not too tied to where you are, you can make better decisions regarding changes.
We are a nation on the edge of a nervous breakdown. We consume two-thirds of the world’s anti-depressants as we battle for position in the economy. Why not just declare a cease-fire with the Joneses we’ve been trying to keep up with? We’ve bought into the notion that if we’re not wealthy, we’re not good enough, which creates horrible stress and anxiety. Why not become citizens again, creating employee-owned businesses and member-owned credit unions that can reduce both killer stress and unnecessary expenses? (Credit unions save $8 billion a year in interest on loans because they are non-profit) Why not invest in community bonds, portfolios and banks and make living returns on our investments?
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