Thursday, March 15, 2012

growth is the religion of capitalism

There is no land left to settle, the last frontier we have left to civilize is ourselves.
(Jewel Kilcher, from the album cover of This Way, 2001)

In nature, some species are pioneers or colonizers; they are the first to invade ‘new’ lands, such as land created by lava from a volcano, the land after a forest fire, the naked land after a mudslide or other kind of erosion or land rising from the sea. These species prepare the land for a richer life. Normally, they are specialists in living on limited nutrients, such as lichens and moss. Human beings are also a kind of colonizer, even if certainly not the first ones to take new land into possession. The Swedish psychiatrist Nils Uddenberg (1993), in his book Ett djur bland alla andra?, writes that ‘the colonization stage of humanity is over. There is no new land to conquer; we have to learn how to live from the land we already have. Other paradigms have to replace the pioneer mentality.’.

This train of thought is not at all shared by those who see how the restless energy of capitalism constantly expands our world. ‘The conquest of the air may well be more important than the conquest of India was—we must not confuse geographical frontiers with economic ones,’ says Schumpeter (1942: 117), and his words are repeated today by almost all defenders of the existing system. In a limited sense he was correct; the airline industry perhaps has the same gross output as the GDP of India, and if it doesn’t, one can throw in the mobile networks, radio and television, all using the air for the service they provide.

But Schumpeter was also wrong because he didn’t see that the economy is a subsystem of nature and not the other way round. Although it is true that economic, geographic or biological limits should not be mixed up, this doesn’t mean that the economy can move any of the other limits. It just means that when one has reached the limit, expansion will have to take place somewhere else, which is exactly what is happening all the time and which is why capitalism is based on colonization and not on living within limits. Which is also why growth is the religion of capitalism, without it, it will crumble.
(Extract from Garden Earth)

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