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Economics, Values and Our Collective Fate

Underneath and driving all of the major problems in our world is the fact that people are more financially incentivized to perpetuate them than to solve them. As long as killing a whale confers a million dollars of advantage to a fishing company, while leaving it alive confers none, we will continue to hunt whales towards extinction. As long as a millennia old redwood tree is worth no specific amount to us alive, but worth $100k as timber, we will continue destroying the tiny percentage of old growth forests we have left.

Based on a very old, primitive and barbaric dominator worldview, our economic system doesn’t ask if they are ours to take, and doesn’t factor whose balance sheet the costs show up on.

How different is this in its fundamental rationale, than taking Africans as slaves for the economic value their “free” labor conferred? That was not that long ago. If you look at the conditions of the labor force in the third world responsible for manufacturing almost all our goods, you will realize that this still hasn’t changed as much as we’d like to think. Our goods economy was built upon and requires the continuance of cheap labor resulting from extreme economic disparity. Get that: our current economic system could not function with anything near economic equality for all.

Even if a regulation is put in place, when the liability limiting status of a corporation means the consequence for violating it is just a fine, then the price for breaking the law is simply factored as a cost of doing business.

USA, Alaska, Frederick Sound, Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breachingAs long as sick people are worth more to a for-profit medical system than well people, then the success of some of the most powerful organizations on the planet will continue to require optimal human thriving not to occur. As long as news stations are for-profit corporations that stay in business by selling advertising to the large corporations that can afford those marketing budgets, airing news that is not in the fiscal interest of their advertisers would put them out of business. As long as coal companies are allowed to externalize the majority of the cost of producing coal-energy to the environment in the form of mercury vapor, carbon dioxide, zinc and nitric oxide emissions, etc, as well as the ecosystem destruction involved in the mining to acquire the coal… we will continue to hear the insane nonsense that solar isn’t cost competitive yet.

If we actually factored into the cost of coal or other fossil fuels the cleanup energy required to achieve a net neutral environmental effect, solar and other renewables would proliferate globally within a year, taking us off the self-induced extinction path we are currently on with climate change and ocean acidification. These issues simply can’t wait for solar to become cost competitive in a rigged game where almost all the costs are externalized on the other side.

As long as war is profitable to the tune of trillions, with the military industrial complex being the largest sector of for-profit economics… the most powerful institutions in the world require war and threats of war for their continued existence. Given the percentage of the total profit steam it represents, the economy as a whole requires it.

We have a global economic system developed in the context of managing poverty, sickness, and war.  It would collapse from real solutions to any of these issues. We have an economic system that because of interest and fractional reserve banking, requires continuous exponential growth to even maintain homeostasis, which is simply impossible on a finite planet. The extractionary and waste producing system that developed with less than a billion people and relatively low technology, does not work with 7 billion people and high technology.

This economic system is extinctionary, and it is a made up system. It is not a natural system like physics or biology or ecology. It is a system humans made up, based on an old and very poor understanding of our world.

The crux of the problem is that this made up system–economics–interacts with and affects a fundamental system–ecology–without understanding it well, in ways that are incommensurate. Meaning, either we change the structure of economics to work sustainably with the inescapable reality of how our planet works, or our made-up system will self-terminate. There are no other options.

If our intelligence and ethics don’t change this system, then the inescapable reality of resource limits will. The only way to prevent the forced collapse of the system is to actively redesign it. The difference between the two paths is how much unnecessary suffering we let happen in the process, and how much earth we have left to work with.

Economics is the codification of our collective human values into a value equation that then determines how science and technology get applied to create industry, infrastructure, and ultimately, society.

USA, Alaska, Frederick Sound, Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breachingValuing a dead whale over an alive one, or a dead tree or forest, or a lower economic class that can provide cheap labor, or sick people over healthy ones… shows a value system that sees the rest of the world as commodities for us. Not as unique sentient co-inhabitants with their own right to life and intrinsic value.

Valuing something that’s scarce more than the same thing if it were abundant shows a competitive rather than symbiotic interest, that values things that offer differential advantage over others, rather than advantage for everyone.

This worldview of being separate and in competition for scarce resources, where everyone and everything else is seen either as commodity or threat, conditions empathy out of the whole population, leads to rationalizing violence, prevents real connection, and is rapidly destroying our world.

We live on a small, fragile, organic spaceship. We are all co-inhabitants of this tiny, exquisite biosphere, all affecting and being affected by the whole. Our fates and well-being are inseparably intertwined. We need a new story and new global values that recognize this… and a new system of economics based on these new values.

That does not externalize or incentivize harm.
That is not based on continuous extraction.
That does not force ubiquitous competition and the desensitization that goes along with it.
That does not require or permit gross inequity.
That does… recognize our fundamental interconnectedness and that honors the dignity and rights of all the inhabitants of this biosphere.

This is possible. And it is the necessary work of this generation. Nothing less than this is adequate to address the magnitude and urgency and scope of the self-induced challenges we face… or to realize our true, full individual and collective potentials.

We do not have many separate problems to solve. We just have multiple symptoms of one core issue: a primitive and maladaptive worldview and the resultant global economic system, one that pits individual’s personal desires against their responsibility to the collective good.

The issues are not the result of a few bad guys at the top. The top 1% are as much a result of this system as they are perpetuators of it. The real perpetrator is our collective ignorance of our interconnectedness and interdependence, codified in separate and competitive interest power structures.

The answer is not to rail against the top of this misguided system. That has happened countless times in history, where the energy of againstness itself ensured that the overthrowers eventually become the new tyrants.

The answer is to build a fundamentally new system, based on new understandings. A system that meets needs so much more effectively that it obsoletes the old one. That is our call to action: a ground-up redesign of human civilization.

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