The Wealth of Nature
InhaltsverzeichnisForeword: A Guide for the Perplexed
Maverick economist E.F. Schumacher became one of the leading figures of the alternative movement of the Seventies with innovative insights into the failures of current economics and the need for a new "economics as if people mattered." His ideas are largely forgotten nowadays, but are even more relevant as industrial civilization ventures into the uncharted territory on the far side of peak oil. This book applies some of Schumacher's core ideas to the crisis of our time.
Chapter One: The Failure of Economics
Today's mainstream economists insist that peak oil doesn't matter, because a market economy can come up with limitless energy resources. This insistence is not exactly reassuring, as today's mainstream economists have been repeatedly and disastrously wrong about a great many major issues already-for example, the durability of the late housing bubble. This chapter analyzes the flaws in current economic thinking that repeatedly produce false predictions and put a meaningful understanding of the peak oil crisis out of reach of decision makers.
Chapter Two: The Three Economies
Central to the dysfunction of conventional economics is a failure to grasp that all economic processes are not created equal. Every human economy operates on three levels. The first level, the primary economy, consists of the natural processes that support human life and provide all other economic activity with its raw materials. The next level, the secondary economy, consists of the production of goods and services by means of human labor. The last level, the tertiary economy, consists of the exchange of abstract wealth in the form of money. These three economies have different properties and dynamics, and manipulating the tertiary economy-the central tactic of most current economic activity-does not make up for the destruction of the primary economy of nature.
Chapter Three: The Metaphysics of Money
The blind spot that makes the tertiary economy of money appear to be the only thing that matters rests on a set of assumptions that might best be termed a metaphysics of money. As an abstract measure of wealth, money imposes unavoidable biases and distortions on perceptions of the primary and secondary economies, and results in a frankly delusional belief that market activities in the tertiary economy can ignore such awkward realities as the laws of physics. Most people in the industrial world nowadays have placed their hopes for the future in speculative investments based on this belief, and can expect most of those hopes to fail as the value of investments tracks the declining curve of an economy in contraction.
Chapter Four: The Price of Energy
The same illogic just discussed leads many pundits to insist that energy is available to industrial humanity in limitless amounts. At least two factors - the problem of net energy and the problem of energy concentration - stand in the way of this pleasant fantasy. In the real world, the raw quantity of energy in existence is much less important than the concentration of that energy. Nearly all our current technology has been designed to run on highly concentrated energy of the sort that is only readily available from fossil fuels, and will not be viable in a world powered by more diffuse energy sources. Fortunately alternative technologies using diffuse energy can make up some of the difference.
Chapter Five: The Appropriate Tools
More generally, current assumptions treat the endless development of ever more elaborate and energy-intensive technology as a given. In a world where cheap abundant energy is a thing of the past, however, this can no longer be taken for granted, and the pursuit of this model of progress promises to become both economically and practically nonviable. Schumacher's concept of intermediate technology offers a better option, one that can maintain many of the benefits of the industrial system without its resource and environmental costs.
Chapter Six: The Road Ahead
The perspectives already sketched out offer at least two directions in which practical steps can be taken to alleviate the economic impact of peak oil. One involves changing tax codes, corporate law, and other public policies to put incentives on the side of constructive change; the other involves empowering individuals, families, and communities to make changes in their own lives that will move the industrial world in the direction of sustainability, following examples from history as well as current innovative thought.
Afterword: Small Is Beautiful
One way or another, the twilight of the Age of Abundance is going to be difficult for nearly all of us, but a great deal depends on whether we approach it with the blinkers of contemporary thought firmly in place, or with a clear sense of how we backed ourselves into a corner and how we might be able to work our way back out of it. Economics are only one part of that picture, but they're an important part, and an economy that recognizes its true nature as part of ecology could be a major help in getting through the years ahead with some measure of humanity and grace.
PortraitJohn Michael Greer is a scholar of ecological history, an award-winning author and an internationally renowned Peak Oil theorist whose blog, "The Archdruid Report”, has become one of the most widely cited online resources dealing with the future of industrial society. He is a certified Master Conserver, an organic gardener, and has been active in the alternative spirituality movement for more than 25 years.
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