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The Economics of LimitsViews: 777
Feb 18, 2009 2:12 pmThe Economics of Limits#

John Stephen Veitch

This is perhaps the key concept that makes it possible to imagine a better world, a world with an open future, rather than a world in continuous decline. The idea of "limits" goes against much of the cultural baggage we carry in our heads. "You can do anything" we tell our children, but it's a lie. Even as a cultural group, a nation or as a world community there are LIMITS on what we can do. The idea that the economy can "grow" beyond certain small limits is simply wrong. Yet every politician in power claims that one of his/her key objectives is to make the economy "grow". The planners of every city are busy making plans for how the city will look in 30 years time when it's double it's present size. This is seen to be both desirable and inevitable.

Growth - How to ensure a Closed Future
President Ronald Reagan expressed his optimism about the American economy with these words, "It's always morning in America". That's not the case today (February 2009). It's twilight in the USA today, and after this depression it will be morning again we hope.

Along with economic liberalism and the philosophy of markets, we got the knowledge economy and a narrowing of the debate to a single storyline as Margaret Thatcher said, "There is no alternative". For some time that seemed to be true. Despite all the changes, privatization didn't solve the problems. Knowledge became contaminated by "spin" and "political truth" and the "bible" or sometimes the "Koran" and far too often by deliberate falsification of official sources by governments. Institutions that were supposed to perform various social functions in the community proved incapable of action, often acting against the intended purpose. In countries where there is supposed to be an even handed application of the law, the law was abused by those we expect to uphold it. G.W. Bush, took the USA to war in Iraq on the basis of a "political truth" that both Democrats and Republicans agreed to believe. This lie was exposed two years previously, but if you choose to be blind, you'll find it's very difficult to see. So this is how you close the future.

Green Politics
I was a member of the NZ Values Party, which in the 1970's was campaigning for zero growth economics and for environmental protection. The Values Party was perhaps the first "green party" in the world. They quickly became a significant influence on a political campaign, but without winning any seats. The main effect was for the existing parties to become "me too" advocates of many Values Party ideas. (A few years later the Values Party merged with some other groups to become the NZ Greens Party.)

Population Growth
The world's population is continuing to expand. I don't believe we will ever get to nine billion people. I don't think the planet will allow it, regardless of what you and I may think. If the planet as a living system is already experiencing serious negative effects in the environment, increasing the population adds to that pressure. Stabilization of the population would be to our future advantage. But the problem is much worse than stated, because the intention of governments and economists is to "grow" the world economy at a constant rate of at least 3% over the next 100 years. That involves doubling our entire use of the world's resources each 23 years. So think about oil and water. Between now and 2032 we need to produce double the annual supply. And by 2055, we have to produce four times todays annual output. Is that likely? Far more likely is the probability that we come up against resource limits that make it harder and harder to supply our needs. At some stage we need to adapt to the fact of limited resources. Because of physical pressures on the world's resources, real incomes in developed countries are going to decline, and life in less developed countries will get more difficult. We have to learn to live within limits.

John Stephen Veitch
Open Future Limited - http://www.openfuture.biz/
Innovation Network - http://veech-network.ryze.com/
Building an Open Future - http://openfuture-network.ryze.com/

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