Category: Sustainability


Our Economic Roles

Sometimes I teach modern world civilizations at the university where I work. About the time we get to the turn of the 19th century and begin discussing the angst of the 1900s, I tell my students how the economic lives of people have evolved across millennia. Here is how I put it.

From the very beginning until about roughly the 18th century, people were producers of things they consumed

From about roughly the 18th century to about roughly the 20th century, people were producers of things other people consumed

From about roughly the 20th century to about now, people have been consumers of things other people produced

Of course, this progression of our economic lives really only applies to people in developed countries. Surely most people in the world today exist economically in one of the first two scenarios.

Sometimes the angst of modern times is blamed on the influence of people like the master’s of suspicion; Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. That view has merit. But I wonder if more cognitive and social dissonance resulted from the lightning fast shift in economic purpose. Humans in developed economies went from thousands and thousands of years of making food that sustained life and crafting pyramids or cathedrals that sustained meaning, to a few dozen years of making PowerPoint decks that cannot sustain 18-minute attention spans.

Perhaps the most innovative economic idea of our times would be this. Do work that creates something for ourselves and our communities to sustain our lives and our purpose.


Excess and Abundance

Can we create a world of abundance without making it a world of excess? The boosters of a consumer economy rightly point out that poverty is not a virtue. (Of course, poverty might be a means to a virtue. This is how ascetics use poverty, not as the end but as a means.) Yet quite a few people who experience the riches of a consumer economy also feel the burdens of its wastes. Let me suggest two definitions that might help sort out the question.

Excess more than is healthy for individuals and communities.

Abundance enough for individuals and communities to flourish. Read More


Internet of (Less) Things

The so-called “internet of things” baffles and worries me. Perhaps because the examples have always been so vague. Boosters say, I have heard, there will be sensors in a refrigerator so a person can communicate with it. But how? And even if the technological mechanics get worked out, do I really want my refrigerator to text me that the eggs are running low when I am about to drive by the supermarket on my way home from work?

Yet, potentially less odd results might come from the internet of things. In the latest Economist, Schumpeter explores how a heavily wired world of things might change the nature of the economy in favor of sustainability.

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