Thursday, February 18, 2010

Economic Recovery? No. Economic Transformation? Absolutely

The State of the Planet is an important conference March 25, in New York City hosted by the Earth Institute, of Columbia University. The Earth Institute is one of the rare organizations that actually understands the interconnection between the environment, the economy, and society; their research is eye-opening. This year's conference, held every two years, is apparently going to center around the core issues of "climate change, poverty and economic recovery". The first two agenda items, climate change and poverty, make absolute sense in the context of sustainable development but what about "economic recovery"?

Morally, there is nothing about the old economic system that should be continued into the next decade of the 21st century. If the global economy was to be 'recovered' in the state it was before the recession began, we would also be returning to a very destructive and polarizing development model that has been anything but sustainable.The process of unchallenged economic growth was the greatest driver of man-made ecological disaster in world history. Rapid economic development which, technocrats would like to return to, has also actually generated poverty in much of the Third World. The old neo-liberal model of economic growth was excluding an increasingly large proportion of poor farmers from access to use of the land, modern technology and then driving peasants into deprived shanty towns with no economic opportunity.

Conventional economists have not yet conceded that the most recent process of economic growth was inherently unsustainable and had disastrous ecological and human consequences . Even the most progressive theoreticians are only calling for minor regulatory reforms of the banking industry, and market-oriented carbon trading schemes. However, we will never move toward the path of sustainable development until we address our severe dependence on private sector investment or capital in the production process. Because our society is reliant on private investors to create new jobs and consumer goods, the will to act on global warming and extreme poverty is restricted to the narrow bottom-lines and cost-cutting strategies of big business rather than human compassion and reason. Private investors, who have the financial resources we believe we need to change course, refuse to pour their money into any venture from which they cannot gain short-term economic profits; this is true regardless of the potentially apocalyptic ramifications later down the road.

The alternative is to work toward a new cooperative economic model where production is motivated by the drive for scientific discovery and compassion for both other human beings and the natural environment. When the conventional economists say economic recovery ,we should demand economic transformation, and remind them of the creative destruction the last 30 years of "growth" brought us. Future generations will judge us with outrage if we do not.

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