February 11, 2012

Why "Getting Back to Normal" is Not an Option

Great article by Sara Robinson at Alternet, summarizing three important kinds of shift we may now face:

  1. Per Joseph Stiglitz, we should stop waiting for the economy to "get back to normal"; it ain't gonna happen, because we face a once-in-a-lifetime shift in the basis for wealth creation, from a system based on manufacturing to one based on information. We have too many manufacturing workers and too few information workers. "Austerity and debt reduction will get us nowhere"; "[t]he current economic crisis is doomed to last exactly as long as we put off building [the workforce] necessary to the new information economy."

  2. Per Thomas Homer-Dixon, empires rise and fall based on their control of the dominant energy supply, and the US also faces a shift from oil to renewables. He adduces evidence that no empire has ever survived such a shift, because "the reigning hegemons are always too deeply invested in the current system to recognize the change, let alone repond to it in time."

  3. Per Gar Alperovitz, Jeffery Sachs, and Umair Haque, the real shift relates to the nature of our capitalist system. Haque identifies two kinds of good: those having "thin" value, typified by Big Macs, Hummers, and McMansions, tend to be artificial, unsustainable, and meaningless to anyone but the people who produce and consume them. Those having "thick" value tend to be sustainable and to have potential effects or uses that are moral or that multiply meaningfulness.

    Alperovitz points toward the growth in worker- or consumer-owned cooperative businesses and co-ops which, if continued, could result in a massive redistribution of labor and wealth. "America’s 30,000 cooperatives provide over 2 million jobs [, and t]he UN has declared 2012 to be the Year of the Co-Op, in recognition of the fact that nearly half the world’s population now belongs to cooperatives."
The sooner we let go of our assumption that going back to the way things were is desirable or even possible, the more we'll be able to help create the new world that's now arising.

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