Tag Archives: future economy

Future Economy: Plenitude Instead of Growth

I haven’t written about Future Economy for a while, but as I follow the Occupy movement, I do keep thinking about it. I do still believe that our economy needs fundamental changes; that an economy based on growth and consumerism is not sustainable.

But what could take the place of our current economy? I saw this video (produced by the Center for a New American Dream) on the BikePortland website, which explains how we could adopt an economy of plenitude instead. In fact, some of the things mentioned are already taking place.

 

Future Economy: Coming Soon?

The New York Times editorial page admitted on Monday that The Numbers Are Grim. Supposedly, we’re in recovery from a recession now, but unemployment is still high (indeed, unemployment is slightly up as of Friday, June 3), and the Times blames slow growth in consumer spending.

More troubling in the latest figures, consumer spending — the largest component of the economy — was especially slow. Stagnant wages and higher prices for gas and food are squeezing family budgets, while falling home equity hurts consumer confidence … When consumers are constrained, so is hiring, because without customers, employers are hard pressed to retain workers or make new hires.

In other words, our existing economy is dependent on people spending money, and not just on necessities. It’s also dependent on growth in that spending from year to year.

Does that seem reasonable? It seems to me that constant growth in spending would eventually result in severe resource depletion. And encouraging consumerism seems like an unhealthy basis for an economy.

I’ve written some ideas and suggestions before around designing a different way to live, and a different economy. But according to Gar Alperovitz in Yes! magazine, there are companies and organizations who are already moving in new directions. That’s good news indeed! And we’re seeing it on the local level where I live — churches, schools, and organizations are opening community gardens and community dinners. New food c0-0ps, food buying clubs and farmers markets have formed. People are working together for healthy local economies.

I hope more people will see that the solutions are there, even if they don’t come in the form of consumer spending.

Investing in Food

People often say that organic and natural farming just isn’t profitable. Some farmers insist that conventional methods developed in the 20th century are necessary in order to make a living.

But there are investors out there who see it differently. Yes, wealthy people who could be putting their money into Wall Street!

In this OPB news story, individuals and groups of angel investors have been putting money into “slow food” and getting a satisfactory rate of return during a time when they might be taking a beating on money invested in Wall Street.

Meanwhile, I’ve joined a local food buying club, and am sending some of our dollars directly to farmers in exchange for locally grown/raised potatoes, onions, eggs, and beef. I feel like this is money well invested, too, even though I don’t see a direct monetary return. And we’re saving money by banding together with neighbors to buy!

Growth – Good or Cancerous?

I tried to read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, but couldn’t get into it, and I don’t think I really agree with all of his philosophy anyway. However, the following passage caught my eye before I stopped reading. It’s about our growth-based economy:

The unchecked striving for more, for endless growth, is a dysfunction and a disease. It is the same dysfunction the cancerous cell manifests, whose only goal is to multiply itself, unaware that it is bringing about its own destruction by destroying the organism of which it is a part.

Future Health Care

The current U.S. health care system isn’t working. The health care reform bill under consideration now might help, or it might be too little too late.

Many countries use a single-payer system, which sounds good. The government collects taxes. The government pays for health care. The people pay nothing (aside from the taxes) or minimal co-pays for health care.  Everyone is taken care of.

However, there’s strong resistance to single-payer health care in the U.S., and I would now question whether it’s financially feasible on a national level.

I think that at some point in the future, health care decisions won’t be made on a national level.  I think what will work is a community-based system.

There are some existing hints of what this might look like.

The Transition Towns movement includes health care as one of the topics communities need to address in the post-peak oil era. A look at plans developed by Totnes and Kinsale in the UK shows that they’ve thought a great deal about what health care will look like and what kind of health care will be needed, but less about how this will be paid for or otherwise made available to the community.

Christian Healthcare Ministries, which I’ve heard about from Jesus-following radical Shane Claiborne, is a medical cost-sharing nonprofit organization.  Members pay a monthly amount into the program, and after a 45-day waiting period, are eligible to submit medical bills to the organization for assistance with payments. Pre-existing conditions are excluded, however (which is one of the problems with our current health insurance system). Members have a “personal responsiblility” amount they must meet each year, similar to a deductible in a traditional health insurance plan. There’s also a $125,000 lifetime limit for cost-sharing.  Could this work on a local level? You might need a certain number of people involved to make it work.

The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain, in addition to operating its cooperative businesses and schools, provides health care for its members, independently of the state.  So, people pay to be members of the cooperative, and as part of their membership benefit, they get health care.  Sounds pretty good! Again, you might need a critical mass of people involved in order to make it work.

The Co-Op Village Foundation has created a model (they hope to build an actual village soon) for cooperative villages which would include medical care for all members.  You can download their free book, which details the entire plan, but here are the basics:

-A group catastrophic health policy would be purchased to cover those who do not have entitlement health coverage.
– The Village might contract with a local medical group for primary health care for self-insurance, with X percent of the fees paid for by the Village and the balance paid by the resident. Over a period of time, the full amount might be paid by the Village.
– A pre-existing medical condition clause may be required to protect the Village from being overburdened by current catastrophic conditions. This clause probably would be required by the insurance provider but might apply to the Village self- insurance as well.

The village would also maintain access to preventative care for members, preferably on-site.  But it sounds like their plan is mainly to pay health care costs for members, rather than maintain their own health-care facilities.

That might work for a while.  I think that at some point communities will probably need to be more self-sufficient and less reliant on outside sources for medical care.  I think we’ll probably need something closer to the cooperative system, in which everyone in the community would chip in (at a level appropriate to their income) to hire medical practitioners for that community.  But that might mean that some communities couldn’t offer much more than food and housing to medical practitioners, which could result in great inequities if the doctors prefer to go where they’ll be paid more.

None of these solutions is perfect, and our future is very much in motion. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

Future Economy: This Ain’t It

With the new national jobless rate at 9.5%, critics are saying that President Obama’s economic stimulus package isn’t working.

That’s highly debatable. It could be that it’s really not working. It could be that the federal stimulus is keeping things from being much, much worse. I’m not sure how you’d measure that.

Regardless of this argument, what is clear to me is that we have to start looking beyond the paradigm of jobs and consumerism. Our current economic system is not sustainable. It’s based on people making more money and buying more stuff, and given our limited resources, that can’t go on forever.

It’s also obviously not working, when the top one percent of earners in the U.S. are receiving 20 percent of all income, controlling 33 percent of the country’s wealth, and paying a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than many in the middle class.

So what’s going to happen? Although I think taking care of people without jobs is the right idea, having the government pour more money into it may not be the right answer.

My husband likes to give a radical answer: Abolish money, and everyone will be forced to take care of each other. Simple and drastic, but I don’t see it happening.

I think that’s part of it, though. Here’s what I think we need:

1. Downshift. Realize that we don’t need so much stuff, and that we can’t base our economy on the stuff. We have to lower our expectations of how we should live and simplify.

2. Community. Yes, we do need to take care of each other, and it’s probably best done on the local level. We can share in making sure everyone has food, clothing, shelter and more — companionship, entertainment, education, etc.

3. Get off the fossil fuels. Not sustainable. Enough said.

This isn’t going to be easy. We will have to either deliberately make sacrifices and change the way we live, or be forced into it by our own actions. Either way will be difficult, and perhaps dangerous. The old ways and old jobs will continue to disappear, and this will hurt. But if we dedicate ourselves to taking care of each other, it will work out. Our lives just won’t be the same as they are today.

President George H.W. Bush once said “The American way of life is not negotiable.”  Well, Mr. Bush, it turns out that the American way of life is not sustainable. It’s time to negotiate for our lives.

RESOURCES

Co-op Villages: The Next Evolution (free PDF book download)

The Simple Living Network

Appropedia: The Sustainability Wiki

Xtracycle

Bicycle-related posts on TechnoEarthMama

Sustainability-related posts on TechnoEarthmama

Forget Recession-Busting: Change Your Life!

I’m getting really tired of reading articles about how to save money, tighten your belt, etc., because of the recession.  Every article pretends to have new, useful information for you, and every one has the same tired old shit that I’ve been doing for years (or at least they’re ideas that I considered and discarded months or years ago).

Frugality should be a way of life, not something that we do only in case of emergency.  Oh, sure, there are times when we move to frugality extreme (dry beans and powdered milk all week because you had to pay the heating bill from the Snowpocalypse, anyone?  Or is that just me?).

But signs are pointing to this being more than just a recession.  Even if the economy does pick up a little due to governmental stimulus programs, the way we run the economy now just isn’t sustainable.  It’s all built on the ideas that growth is good, and that spending money on stuff is good.  It should be perfectly obvious to everyone that you can’t have infinite growth with a finite supply of resources, but we keep sticking our fingers in our ears and singing the consumerism song.

So I don’t want to hear about clipping coupons, making your own coffee, or keeping your tires inflated any more.  I want to hear about real change: about local economies that work, about communities where people are living, working and eating together, and about steady instead of growth.  I want to hear about people who are making lifestyle changes for good, not just until the economy picks up again.

Future Economy: Growing Food

It’s January 30, and the last thermometer I saw said it’s 37 degrees, but it really is time to start thinking about gardening again.  For me, this is complicated by the fact that we’re thinking about moving (not out of Portland, just someplace cheaper and/or possibly a different neighborhood).  So I don’t want to put a lot of stuff in the ground if we’re going to do that.  I might have to do some containers for now.

But gardening is part of our family’s food plan, and should be a big part of our society’s food plan.  Some people are calling for the return of the Victory Garden.  Whatever you call it, we need it.

One question often asked is “Is it worth it?”  After all, you can spend a lot of money gardening, not even taking your time into account.  Seeds, tools, raised beds, soil amendments, plant starts, and fertilizer can all cost money.  But really, many of these can be one time or once in a while expenses.  Once you get started, you can save your own seeds, make your own compost, and start your own seedlings in late winter.

And then you’ll spend time digging, planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting.  If you compare it all with grocery store prices, you may decide it’s not worth it.

But what if we value our home-grown and home-preserved food differently?  Here’s what Rick Saenz of Dry Creek Chronicles has to say:

If by that question I mean, “Was it cost effective?”, then the answer is No. Just no. I can buy one hundred eighty quarts of canned tomatoes at Sam’s for about one hundred and eighty dollars, and it would have been much easier and quicker to earn one hundred and eighty dollars than to can those tomatoes.

Oops.  That doesn’t sound very frugal in “time is money” terms.

Many people say that it’s worth it because the food is healthier.  You get better nutrition and fewer pesticides (assuming you garden organically).  You know what you’re feeding your household, because you grew it.  It’s also worth it as a personal achievement.  It feels good to produce something, and to be more self sufficient.

Saenz says it’s more than this.  He says that we need to move from a cash-based economy, where time is money, and we have to earn cash to pay for the things we need, to a subsistence-based economy, in which we can produce the things we need ourselves, either as a family or as a community.

That sounds like a viable future to me.

Even if we can’t grow everything we need at our own house, we can still find ways to be independent of cash.  Maybe I can’t have chickens, but I could grow some broccoli and trade for eggs.  Or maybe I could do some sewing in exchange.  I could even barter copy-writing for things that we need.

Some people don’t have land for growing food.  Community gardens and bartering can help with this, but apartment and condo-dwellers could also make arrangements to share someone else’s land — perhaps planting a garden in someone’s backyard, and in exchange, giving the homeowner a share of the produce (people in the UK are already doing this).

Once again, it’s all about getting local.  What can you do in your community to help these things happen?

No Impact Man wrote about “The Tom Sawyer Approach to Saving the World.”

To change people’s values, so the shrinks say, you change their behavior. You don’t barrage them with ideas and cause information overload. You don’t tell them their existing values are wrong and get their backs up.

What you do is you get them to change their behavior and, once you’ve done that, you let their ideas and values change all by themselves. “What a great idea we’ve come up with,” they’ll say.

Basically, you get them to join you in doing something, and then once they start doing it, they realize the value of it.  So, can you invite someone to join you on a food adventure?  Maybe you could invite just one person to share a meal with you, made from your own garden produce.  And maybe that would evolve into a weekly or monthly shared meal.  And maybe you could give them some of your started plants for their own garden.

And maybe later, you could each invite someone else to join you.  You might even end up with a co-op in your neighborhood!

What can you do?