How can we redesign money— and our mind-set—for a mature economy or an ecological civilization?…
Perhaps the defining issue of our age is that the human economy has grown to a scale where it impacts the environment at every level: on land, in the oceans, and in the air. As Kenneth Boulding put it, we are transitioning from a cowboy economy, where the world is an open frontier, to a spaceman economy, where we are restrained by natural limits.
This transition, ecologist Eugene Odum argued, resembles that followed by ecosystems as they become established. At the early stages of an ecosystem’s development, available energy (whose ultimate source is the sun) is rapidly exploited by a few species in a sudden bloom of growth. As the ecosystem matures, the food chain switches from a linear chain—carnivores eating herbivores eating plants—to a more web-like, decentralized structure in which multiple species interact in increasingly complex ways. The waste of one organism is recycled as food for another, and resources such as nutrients and minerals are conserved. An example of a mature ecosystem is a tropical rain forest, where most of the nutrients are not in the ground but in the trees and the species that live in them. The land itself has little agricultural productivity, as farmers discover if they cut down the trees and try to grow soy or provide pasture for cattle.
Economies also develop in a similar manner. In a society of pioneers, wrote Odum, “high birth rates, rapid growth, high economic profits, and exploitation of accessible and unused resources are advantageous.” As the economy matures, the emphasis switches to “considerations of symbiosis (i.e., civil rights, law and order, education, and culture)” and the recycling of resources. However this transition is a work in progress: “Until recently mankind has more or less taken for granted the gas-exchange, water-purification, nutrient-cycling, and other protective functions of self-maintaining ecosystems, chiefly because neither his number nor his environmental manipulations have been great enough to affect regional and global balances. Now, of course, it is painfully evident that such balances are being affected, often detrimentally.” And matters have not improved in the ensuing half-century, as carbon dioxide emissions have climbed and the lifesupport abilities of the planet have continued to degrade. We have grown richer in monetary terms but the hidden charges are mounting up.…Very much worth the read.
As the Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel explains, “We have drifted from having market economies to becoming market societies. The difference is this: A market economy is a tool—a valuable and effective tool—for organizing productive activity. A market society, by contrast, is a place where almost everything is up for sale.” In this case: “What role should money and markets play in a good society?Lots of info that raises more questions than the authors are able to answer, which they recognize, but these are the kinds of questions that we need to answer in a complex adaptive system subject to emergence.
What Role Should Money and Markets Play in a Good Society?
David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý