An Interesting Statement

This is from a recent interview with the environmentalist Bill McKibben:

Larry Summers, Obama’s chief economic advisor, said that “putting limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error.” Is he wrong?

He’s wrong, but for an interesting reason. Economists, and many of us to some extent, have come to believe that the economy is more real than the physical world. Think about the incredible regard we have for the economy. “It’s healing,” we say. “It’s going through a rough patch.” We talk about it like it’s our aging mother. Whereas with the Earth, we say, “Oh well, it’s going through its natural cycles, don’t worry.” Which is slightly crazy, because clearly the economy is a subset of the natural world, not the other way around. We lavish intense worry and affection and brainpower on the economy, but not so much on the environment. Summers is the perfect exemplar of that attitude: an incredibly smart guy whose context is so narrow it ends up making him very dumb indeed.

You can read the entire interview here.

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3 Responses to “An Interesting Statement”

  1. Tracy Glomski Says:

    When I read that Larry Summers quote, a funny picture pops up in my head of the old Chiffon margarine commercial: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

    I put my name on the waiting list at the library for Eaarth. It’s heartening to know that people are interested in reading it, even out here, where our governor recently attended a Tea Party rally.

  2. Piper Says:

    I have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail which is 2663 miles long and goes from Mexico to Canada. I went out this weekend and hiked the trail again for just a few days starting at the Mexican border.

    One morning, I sat next to a creek eating my breakfast watching the border patrol trucks drive over the bridge. It struck me how much energy we spend protecting our wealth. All kinds of energy, too, including human energy (people spend their lives as border patrol workers), resource energy (oil for the trucks and helicopters among other things), emotional energy, and more.

    On my drive down to this hike, I drove through city after city of ugly McMansions and identical, beige shopping malls, each of them with the exact same red logos for the exact same corporate stores. This is what we work so hard to protect. This supposedly is our “way of life” that’s “non-negotiable”. This is what those border patrol trucks are supposedly trying to protect (it might just be mere security theater for all I know, but let’s suppose their efforts are for real.)

    As I sat there eating my breakfast watching the trucks and also watching the birds come down to the creek to drink and the wind blowing through the wildflowers in the meadow, I had this sense, which I often had when I was doing the full 2663 miles, that I don’t belong out in that world of shopping malls and border patrol vehicles. I don’t care about this economy we spend so much life energy building and protecting. I wish it would just go away and leave the birds and the meadows and breakfast by the creek.

    I do not mind that we have many things in our modern world. Many of them made it possible for me to hike 2663 miles. But it seems we’re out of balance with this whole growth thing. Why always does there have to be more and more and more? Can’t there be time and space to just sit and watch birds? Or do we have to keep gobbling up and building more malls and paving over more meadows? I’m afraid I no longer understand what this economy is really for. It certainly isn’t for happiness and beauty.

    • markbittner Says:

      I’ve disliked our economic-cultural-political set-up for a very long time, but I’m usually able to shut it out of my mind. (That’s one of the nice things about living in San Francisco. You don’t see it as much.) But I do have moments where I despair of it ever changing. This morning was one of them. I am convinced, though, that help is on the way. The devouring beast’s days are numbered, and I think I understand why well enough to start writing about it soon.

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