October 24, 2010

Where Does Boundless Economic Growth Inevitably Lead?

Yesterday I explored the notion of "imperialism," that natural tendency for industrialized nations with mass production that manufactures too much to be absorbed at home and must be sold abroad... by force if necessary (the imperialism part).

OK, so lets take the long view. "Economic Growth" is actually an acceleration; it's not good enough to be stuck at x% growth... the increase needs to be increasing year after year. This raises questions about carrying capacity and the wisdom of an economic framework that demands growth for the sake of "a healthy economy."

This question is explored by William Fort, 80-year-old founder of Praxis, a transnational corporation that is on par with with large nations. Fort is a fictional character, living in 2010, but his insights are pretty real. He knows that the global carrying capacity is finite and he is smart enough to know that economic growth in today's sense isn't sustainable; the economic model must change. The setting is a discussion among a few people chosen by William Fort to think about this issue:

One morning he spend an hour talking about feudalism -- how it was the clearest political expression of primate dominance dynamics, how it had never really gone away, how transnational capitalism was feudalism writ large, how the aristocracy of the world had to figure out how to subsume capitalist growth within the steady-state stability of the feudal model.

One can debate whether or not this question should be left up to the "aristocracy of the world", but the existence of the underlying question is not open to debate.

William Fort eventually reveals his insights on the matter to his select group:

The opportunities for growth are no longer in growth.

Sounds like a puzzle stated by a martial arts instructor or something. Fort continues,

We've got to identify the new nongrowth growth markets, and get into them.

He talks about "nonmarketable capital", which he boils down infrastucture investment, a long-term investment. One of the participants in the discussion observes that such "nonmarketable capital" is publicly owned, to which William Fort responds:

Yes. Which means close cooperation of the governments involved. Praxis's gross annual product is much larger than most countries'. What we need to do is find countries with small GNPs and bad Country Future Indices [bad future prospects]. ... We identify those, go to them and offer them a massive capital investment, plus political advice, security, whatever they need. In return, we take custody of their [nonmarketable captial]. We also have access to their labor. It's an obvious partnership. I think it will be the coming thing.

It's not "coming;" it's already been here. It's "imperialism" writ large. It's privatization. A particularly insidious form is described John Perkins' "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man."


Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson.


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