Lately we are witnessing a disturbing trend around the world. Western economies are in trouble. Financial problems plague most of the “developed world”. Unemployment is high. Energy costs are rising. These problems are not limited to Western societies. There are global problems: food and water shortages, disillusioned populations, social upheaval and deforestation. In my opinion, the underlying roots of the problem are deeper and much more serious than we are led to believe. The problem is our worldwide
Problems that I see with our lifestyle
Food: mono-culture; chemicals; genetically-modified food
Raw materials: open-ended consumption of non-renewable resources; waste - a substantial percentage of products manufactured is simply useless junk, wastefully squandering energy and natural resources.
Unemployment Causes: lack of skills; inferior education; expensive higher education; failing schools make for an unemployable workforce; constant productivity increases, decreasing the need for workers; corporations can do more with less to generate bigger profits; people buy less (general population has less money to spend); in its desire for greater profit, the corporations are dedicated to reduce overhead by laying off employees.
Social spending by the governments: health care spending due to a population that is getting sicker because of junk food, chemicals, medications, pollution, lifestyle and diminishing quality of food; the aging population needs more support; more unemployment and welfare costs due to rising unemployment.
What can be done? The common problem with all developed countries is their budget deficits. Naturally, governments are trying to reduce spending. Cutting spending is harder than many of us think and it has serious consequences such as increased unemployment. Corporations need to stop making useless junk but again, this will lead to job losses for some people. The same goes for cutting military spending. No matter what we do, it does not look good for employment. That leads to the logical conclusion that the current model of our society is unsustainable.
But here is another question – Do we need full employment? Are there any solutions?
If we must stop wasting natural resources and stop making junk, one result would be that people will get healthier, thus reducing consumption and health care spending.
What do we do about unemployment?
I read the book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. He describes how ancient tribal societies successfully functioned. Regrettably, he does not provide much detail. However, by incorporating some of Quinn's descriptions, I can envisage our present day society working on a tribal model but on a higher technological level...one that utilizes advanced communications so that we do not have to travel to the work place, micro-nuclear-powered generators, solar and wind power, locally grown food (again reducing transportation and energy needs), nano-technology for manufacturing the products for our daily needs. We must also reduce population growth. If we fail to reduce population, nature will do it via disease and starvation.
This will involve a change in Capitalism as we know it, or rather in what it has become. In our Western model, multinational corporations constantly need to expand and find new markets in order to be profitable. Originally, the idea was that capitalism was a good strategy for assessing society's needs and then working to fulfill those needs. But with the proliferation of a global economy, the growth of multinational corporations as well as mass media, that principle is now reversed . In today's world, corporations are creating products first and then, by using a sophisticated media campaign, they convince people it is an absolute necessity to have these products.
Example: According to a study by Emory University of Atlanta, Georgia, from 1996 to 2000 our country's annual spending on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs more than tripled to $2.5 billion, with the largest percentage increase committed to spending on television advertising (Rosenthal, Berndt, Donohue, Frank, & Epstein, 2002). A study by the National Institute for Health Care Management Research and Educational Foundation found that increased sales of the 50 most advertised drugs accounted for 47.8% of the $20.8 billion rise in retail spending on pharmaceuticals from 1999 to 2000 (Findlay, 2001).
In addition, corporations are intentionally limiting the life of their products so people will buy new ones. “Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design is a policy of deliberately planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a certain period of time. Planned obsolescence has potential benefits for a producer because to obtain continuing use of the product the consumer is under pressure to purchase again, whether from the same manufacturer (a replacement part or a newer model), or from a competitor which might also rely on planned obsolescence.” (Wikipedia)
In my opinion, as long as we remain a consumption-based society, the situation will not improve. The following excerpts from "The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy," by Paul Gilding, define well the problems facing our world:
"If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees. If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth's carbon dioxide blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic and life-support impacts. This is not speculation, this is high school science.”
"In all this though, there is a surprising case for optimism. As a species, we are good in a crisis and passing the limits will certainly be the biggest crisis our species has ever faced. Our backs will be up against the wall and in that situation we have proven ourselves to be extraordinary.”
"As the full scale of the imminent crisis hits us, our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades. Perhaps most surprisingly we will also learn there is more to life than shopping. We will break our addiction to growth, accept that more stuff is not making our lives better and focus instead on what does."
In reality can we radically change our society, our economy? I think, yes, but not without a major crisis.
Falling off the cliff. Have a good flight.