Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Challenges, Old Paradigm

The talk is all about stimulating the economy, getting banks to lend money so people around the world will start buying stuff again. Meanwhile, the Antarctic is melting faster than scientists had ever imagined. How do these two facts, both displayed ad nauseum on TV, fit together?

Elites seems to have a penchant for tacking today’s problems according to yesterday’s paradigms Will the most intelligent, knowledgeable, thoughtful president this country has ever had be able to prevent two runaway locomotives from crashing head-on as they careen down the same track in opposite directions?

Worryingly, the much talked about book by a British Harvard professor called the Ascent of Money is a series of sleights of hand, a paen to Milton Friedman, guru of the Chicago school of economics that Obama’s economic team hails from.

To his credit, Obama’s chief economic advisor, Austen Gooslby believes in nudging people and institutions  into what are deemed desirable behaviors. But he appears to be working on the assumption that the world will continue on as it always has, ignoring the fact that increased consumption by eight billion and more people will accelerate climate change, perhaps irrevocably.

An article called “The Dystopians” in this week’s New Yorker partly addresses the question, and simultaneously, The Economist, in a short piece called ‘The money-go-round’ recognizes the virtue of local currencies and the lesser known idea of taxing money that’s held instead of spent.

The idea of nudging can combine the best of capitalist and socialist systems, as countries with vastly different histories and cultures feel their way in uncharted waters. But how long can leaders afford to ignore the need to close the gap between activity based on profit - whether financial or productive - and planetary processes which we can only nudge so far? Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” comes worryingly to mind.

1 comment:

  1. O, Deena, I've pondered what you call "two runaway locomotives" frequently and it always throws me into a kind of panic attack. Now you refer to the Diamond book, sigh, another I've not read but it seems I should.

    I just re-read your description of President Obama before signing off, just to feel better......