Bigger doesn’t mean better

I recently studied macro-economics at Colorado Mountain College. I recommend this course for anyone. What you learn immediately is that the practice of economics has one goal: growth. This fits with what is called the DSP, or the “dominant social paradigm”; or, you could say, the dominant economic paradigm. Every business school, every financial information media outlet, every chamber of commerce, every political party platform and every important political speech will tout the need to raise the GDP, the gross domestic product. A decline or even a slowing of the rate of growth of the GDP is cause for a change of government.

The Roaring Fork Valley is fully committed to this concept of growth. We must have a new airport to bring in more guests. We must have new hotels to house these guests. We will add more terrain to the ski areas, with more ski lifts, to serve more skiers. Our towns will build more commercial to increase retail business and raise more tax dollars. We will use those tax dollars to build more lower-cost housing to accommodate the additional working people who are needed to man all these new businesses and customers. Highway improvements and mass transit options must be done.

We call the prevailing consciousness a “paradigm” because it is all-encompassing and at the same time unnoticed. A well-travelled story told at a college commencement talks about two young fish that swim by two older fish. One of the older fish asks the younger ones: “How’s the water?” The younger ones just keep going. Then one asks the other: “What is water?”

There was a legendary professor at CU who did a lecture for years on exponential growth. Dr. Al Bartlett has passed on but the school vows to continue the lecture. Essentially, continuous growth means the end of the “human experiment.” Continuing to add on to the population, and our effects, has only one possible outcome: think Easter Island. Al said “sustainable growth” was an oxymoron. That is true.

The great challenge we now face is how to change the DSP. This will not be easy, if it can be done at all. This is 200 years in the making and we all receive thousands of messages per day in advertising that influence everything we do.

The problem is that all the natural systems on the Earth that have supported humans and the environment in a sort of “Goldilocks just right” condition are grossly overwhelmed. If we don’t change this situation, we are toast.

This means we need a new “economics,” and we need it fast. The “Neoliberal economic model” and the consumer economy have to change. What nobody seems to know is where we go from here.

Patrick Hunter