Sunday, May 31, 2009

The recession is good for America

I'm starting this off late at night - so the description of what I'm doing here will have to come later. For now I just wanted to mention something that's been bothering me for a while. Every day when I hear the business news it's reporters praying to the gods of finance for growth. There's no questioning whether growth is good - or what type of growth we would want - or even what growth means outside the abstract world of econ numbers.

Of course, like everyone else I want growth that stimulates hiring so people like the guy in interviewed in North Richmond (California) don't lose their homes. But for most of my young life in Nevada City, growth represented cutting down forests and putting up strip malls. It meant destruction of that which was meaningful and beautiful and it's replacement with opportunities to buy. Even from a dispassionate money-is-the-only-object economic standpoint, it never seemed like this was a good idea in the long run. They were building all these Circuit City's and tanning salons - but these were all things that depend on people making money elsewhere for their support. They are luxuries really. The money to feed these retail centers had to come from somewhere and I wasn't seeing the growth of actual useful industry - the creation of new wealth from the land. There was no new mining or timber or farming - we were just shuttling money around from the therapist to the tanning salon, to the record store, to the grocery store. And every time someone bought something real, like food, a little money got siphoned off to the Midwest or China or Peru.

All that is a hastily worded way of saying that I've been a little worried that we are scrambling so hard to get out of this recession that we aren't taking time to solve the problems that got us into it in the first place. I was bothered enough about this that I found an economist who thinks about such things and interviewed him for Crosscurrents (KALW 91.7). I was especially interested to learn about the history of how the belief that economic growth is essential got ingrained in the '50s. You can listen here: Richard Norgaard - he's an interesting guy
Here's his website.

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