Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Coronavirus Reveals That Our "Normal" is Itself a Disaster

© Mayoclinic.org

Since I am not even remotely literate in epidemiology, it would be irresponsible to comment on the medical aspects of covid-19. However, the fallout from it in terms of social, economic, and cultural reactions is fair game. What, if anything, will we learn from this collective experience? What will change permanently? Is resumption of “normal” an appropriate outcome? Serious questions abound if we want a better future.

Mandates and directives are changing daily, if not hourly, as governments at every level make new policy decisions based on the latest information available from the scientific community. We hope that is the process, anyway, but consumer confidence is often conspicuously absent. Politically-motivated courses of action are also at play, and it is left to media pundits and the citizenry to conclude which are in the best interest of the public versus being to the benefit of corporations and the (considerably) more wealthy.

This episode is a bizarre hybrid of a natural disaster and a manmade, or at least human-induced, catastrophe. Our behavior reflects it. While we are at our best, as Americans, anyway, in the face of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods, we are at our apprehensively worst when confronting a Y2K situation, or, obviously, a potentially cataclysmic disease pandemic. Consequently, the coronavirus has left us torn between a hoarding, every-man-for-himself mentality and a longing for closeness that violates the imperative of social distancing. Mentally and physically we are stressed to the max, and that only makes our immune systems more vulnerable to the pathogen we are trying desperately to avoid contracting.

My social media feed is full of humor, thank goodness, but also angst and uncertainty. There is little comfort to be had, and if there is anything we in the U.S. are addicted to, it is comfort….and convenience….and dependable sources of entertainment, food, and beverage….and ideally all at the same place and time. Right now, if the internet goes down, we are collectively screwed. Food delivery goes away? We are doomed.

Those in cities and suburbs, at least, are feeling helpless. Rural populations are likely laughing at us. They put a premium on self-reliance, and whatever we are in for as a result of our dependence on others in the big city, well, we deserve it. All our learnin’ and liberalism ain’t gonna get us nowhere. Forgive that last remark, or better yet take it to heart because there is some truth in it. Farmers, ranchers, and others who labor in small, far-flung communities deserve respect. Their skill sets are broader out of necessity. We could learn a good deal from them in how to prepare for emergencies.

As our lives boil down to basics, as our economic systems are forced to reevaluate their most basic tenets, and as we gain a new appreciation of what really matters, will we remember it all when life returns to our expectations? Should that be what we aim for? This pandemic is both a crisis and a valuable opportunity for make fundamental changes in our global culture, as well as addressing shortcomings here in the U.S.

Personally, maybe we make different choices in the marketplace, supporting local businesses over chain retail and dining. We’ve learned we can live without unhealthy foods we’d come to crave. We continue positive habits we evolved to cope with the stress of self-quarantine and social distancing.

Collectively, ideally, we embrace science again, start advocating for better pay and benefits for teachers, and press even harder for healthcare reform and a living wage so we can better weather future emergencies. We recall which of our civic leaders were on the side of working people, the elderly, and our youth, and who was trying to maximize their own gains or minimize their own losses at the expense of the rest of us. We remember that in the next election cycle, and push initiatives that would affect the removal of corrupt officials from office faster than recall elections.

Let us also recognize the need to repair the barriers between humanity and the wilderness that are necessary for the protection of our global population from novel pathogens. Not every organism is an appropriate resource. Probably not a resource in any way, shape or form, actually. Periodically we are reminded that our existence is tenuous, dependent on an infinite number of factors beyond our personal control. This is one of those times. Let us heed the warning, and work unselfishly toward sustainability.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Our Tax Dollars Are Being Used Against Us

The primary objection to democratic frontrunner candidates for President of the United States appears to be the idea that they would increase taxes, perhaps drastically. The problem stems from interpretation of “taxes” as strictly, or mostly, income taxes; and the belief that our current taxes are being spent as they should be. Neither of these assumptions is true.

© Atmmarketplace.com

The most extreme opponents of taxation view the practice as “theft,” the robbing of your hard-earned wealth. In theory, taxes represent your contribution to the public good, services and products shared by the citizens of your municipality, county, state, province, and nation. Unfortunately, that reality is changing, and the disbursement of your tax dollars is becoming larcenous at a grand scale.

….I look at increased taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations as an opportunity for atonement. Call them reparations for having enslaved labor and jeopardized our collective health, both physical and mental, over decades if not centuries.

As one who will be seeking professional help with his own income tax for 2019, I am in no position to comment on the collection and disbursement of any other form of taxation. However, there are plenty that come to mind immediately: estate taxes, property taxes, capital gains taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, taxes on interest income, and excise taxes such as “sin taxes.” You cannot say that America has not been creative in ways to generate tax revenue. How to tax everyone equitably has been the challenge.

How is that revenue spent? Traditionally, tax revenue has gone to pay for such features as roads and other public infrastructure, public safety services (police, fire, other first responders), national defense, libraries, museums, parks and monuments, and salaries of government officials who represent you or otherwise serve you. The arts, sciences, and public television are also supported through government programs. Tough to argue against such vital foundations of our collective society, but some people do.

Perhaps this frustration is due in part to the fact that many of the projects related to these services are not performed in-house, in the public sector, but contracted to private companies. Some companies may not be eminently qualified to carry out the tasks, despite a low bid, and consequently the job must be re-done. That kind of redundancy and waste should be unacceptable. Other companies, more qualified and skilled, habitually overcharge or otherwise exploit the systems in place to milk as much profit as possible. Cost overruns are the order of the day, and apparently accepted as common practice by government agencies that engage in public-private partnerships.

Ok, but at least our tax dollars are ensuring our health and safety as consumers, members of the labor force, and guaranteeing environmental health, a free market, and all the other things we take for granted. Right? Wrong. That is the way it should be, but the opposite is happening instead.

We have to end the feedback loop of wealth accruing more wealth to be weaponized as an unfair tax burden against the poor and middle class for the creation of still more wealth for the wealthy.

Your tax dollars, instead of being spread widely for the benefit of the entire citizenry, are being funneled upward to corporations and individuals that are already enjoying a vastly greater degree of wealth than you or I. This takes the form of outright industry bailouts and corporate subsidies, plus loopholes in the tax laws permitting all manner of legal but unethical abuses. Industry then uses its protected and enhanced profits to lobby your government representatives for deregulation to further boost profits. This tends to result in fewer protections for labor, including union-busting and depressed wages and benefits, as well as erosion of consumer protections against faulty and dangerous products, and a decrease in environmental quality resulting from relaxed codes on atmospheric emissions and discharge of wastes and toxins into water resources.

The free market, though! Ah, if only that were true. If a free market existed, the U.S. would no longer have an auto industry, a coal industry, an oil industry, nor probably the enormous financial institutions we continue to have. All are consistently subsidized with your tax dollars. In the case of auto manufacturing and big banks, bailouts kept them from collapsing, for the time being. I guess we enjoy low fuel prices, but at what costs to the environment and our health? I guess we enjoy free bank….H-e-e-e-y, wait a minute!

Personally, I look at increased taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations as an opportunity for atonement. Call them reparations for having enslaved labor and jeopardized our collective health, both physical and mental, over decades if not centuries. We have to end the feedback loop of wealth accruing more wealth to be weaponized as an unfair tax burden against the poor and middle class for the creation of still more wealth for the wealthy. We have to tear down the dam that has resulted in hoarded currency, and restore the natural flow and cycle of money throughout the economy. Currency must be defined once again as energy, not power.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Reverence For The Wrong Thing

Since about the dawn of civilization, depending on where you place that on the timeline of humanity, our species has claimed divine relationships, yet held a far less righteous agenda. Prior to that, when there were fewer of us, scattered farther afield, conflict was rather rare, resources abundant, and sentiments towards other populations relatively benign. Those phenomena out of our control we assumed were the doings of gods, and we had proper reverence for them. Salmon runs. The wet season. Our lack of knowledge kept us in our place: frightened on the one hand, grateful on the other. My how times have changed.

The consequences of our changing social and cultural climate have resulted in divisions and hostilities we should have averted, but must now devote considerable resources to mediate, repair, and end. This is not going to be an indictment of science, but a reminder of our animal nature, our ability to overcome it, and a plea for a shift in focus.

…. we revere religion above God. We hold sacred our technology instead of creation. We aspire to material wealth instead of peace, enlightenment, and humility.

As biological entities we are selfish organisms, like any other primate, mammal, or even insect. We have to be that way if we want to perpetuate our genes. Science has revealed that we are not as special a species as we would like to think, and we react angrily to that notion, especially if we are of certain religious persuasions. We should find joy and solidarity in our fundamental instincts and shared physiology with other animals, yet we actively deny it instead. This attitude serves not the Creator, only our own ego.

Today we revere religion above God. We hold sacred our technology instead of creation. We aspire to material wealth instead of peace, enlightenment, and humility. Do you sense the pattern here? God is good. Religions, at least the militarized ones? Not so much. If you are fighting your holy war with anything more violent than battle hymns, you have pretty much broken your covenant with God and taken up with the Devil. The means of asserting your rights have violated your belief system. Your definition of God becomes “warrior” if not executioner, or plain thug. No one considers God villainous until their religion needs It to be.

Religion, we should remind ourselves daily, is a human institution, and as such serves a human agenda, not a heavenly one. We conveniently interpret scripture, from whichever source applies, to uphold the favor of our race, our male sex, our male gender, our perceived dominance over other human individuals and populations, as well as other species. God is most certainly not a specific race, sex or gender, nor even a species. Other living things have souls, or none of us do. Why create a living being and then not give it a soul? Religion has created more atheists than science ever will because of its insistence that we are somehow a product of greater divine attention than anything else.

One aspect of humanity that does make us unique is our ability to recognize ourselves as animals, with all that this implies, and yet behave in ways that avoid obvious self-interest. We can put others of our species, or our entire species, ahead of ourselves if we so desire. The more specialized we become as individuals, too, the more it behooves us to preserve our collective diversity. To put it another way, the less well-rounded we are in tasks, knowledge, and social interactions, the more we need others to cook for us (speaking personally here), solve complex problems, and resolve large conflicts, to name but a few important skills.

”…. meaningful change will happen from individual choices made daily in the marketplace, the workplace, the church congregation, the public agency, the private enterprise, and the personal household.

If our human diversity is so vital to our collective survival, then why are we still at war, why is there still racism and other forms of discrimination, and why does poverty exist? If we have the capacity to acknowledge the negative ramifications of purely selfish acts, why are we so reluctant to be altruistic, charitable, and accepting of each other? Simple, and yet complex. The human institutions we have created for the organization and advancement of our species have proven terribly vulnerable to corruption, abuse of power, and other inhumane and criminal actions. Government and business and religion are all rife with atrocities that amplify our worst individual tendencies. Politics compounds the dissonance created by the other three institutions, framing everything as an us versus them scenario.

How do we overcome? Some advocate anarchy or libertarianism. Others see democratic socialism as the answer. Ironically, perhaps, meaningful change will happen from individual choices made daily in the marketplace, the workplace, the church congregation, the public agency, the private enterprise, and the personal household. Choosing to reward your definition of excellence, asserting your right to freedom from violence and discrimination, and committing to a better understanding of others will be how we solve our most intractable problems. Speaking honestly and authentically, and doing our best to withhold judgment of others, is the process.

Celebrate the right things, resist the temptation to confuse the divine with the human. Hold yourself to higher standards. Be critical of your own choices not only in the voting booth, but in products and services. Spend as much time as you can listening without speaking. Admit your mistakes and squelch the impulse to put down others for theirs. Realize you are going to fail, repeatedly, until all of it becomes second nature. Forgive yourself in the meantime.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Impeachment and the Super Bowl

The past few days have brought us events that offer a stark contrast between spontaneous generosity and orchestrated greed. We can learn from both, and demand better from ourselves.

Derrick Nnadi, Kansas City Chiefs
© Wfla.com

In the wake of winning Super Bowl LIV (54), Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi announced that he was paying the adoption fees for ninety-one dogs at the Kansas City Pet Project animal shelter. This is old news, it turns out. He has been doing that the entire season after every Chiefs victory. Wait, there’s more. “Tackles For Kids” was another season-long campaign in which Nnadi invited fans and supporters to pledge money for every tackle he made. Alternatively, you could make a flat, one-time donation. Proceeds went to Boys & Girls Clubs. Nnadi also founded the Derrick Nnadi Foundation, based in Atlanta. The non-profit helps families and children in need in Kansas City and Virginia Beach, Virginia, Nnadi’s home town.

Another story has been making the rounds in social media that purports that Super Bowl LIV MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes once paid the checks for everyone at a pizza parlor as thanks for fellow diners leaving himself and his girlfriend in peace during their meal. This may or may not be true, as a nearly identical tale was attributed to NFL Hall of Fame inductee Troy Polamalu back in 2009. Neither report has been verified.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senate impeachment hearings have only reinforced low public opinions of Congress, and exposed once again the devotion to self-interest of a majority of politicians. Being selfish is not in and of itself a crime, mind you, all individual humans are selfish to one degree or another. What should be unforgiveable is disguising selfish desires as something that benefits the greater good. This was an actual argument put forth during the hearings by Presidential attorney Alan Dershowitz. Various interpretations have been offered, but even in defending his argument against impeachment, Dershowitz stands by the idea that if the President believes his re-election is in the interest of the nation, then soliciting campaign help from a foreign government is not necessarily a criminal act all by itself.

Regardless of the validity of those arguments, it appears obvious that the intent is to protect not only the President, but an entire political party that has fallen into chaos, and sunk to a new low in a desperate attempt to protect extreme white male financial privilege at all costs. Only a tiny fraction of the nation has its interests protected under this kind of….rule.

How ironic that we continue to expect the worst behavior from supposedly “entitled” professional athletes, who are mostly people of color, while we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge evidence of willful, unethical acts by our elected officials, who are usually Caucasian males. Cultural and institutionalized racism, and oppression of women are two reasons why. What are we so afraid of? When did sacrifice for the greater good go from being a virtue to a sign of weakness?

Yesterday, my wife and I were presented with an opportunity to benefit a charitable organization that was tabling in the cold and snow outside a dining establishment here in Colorado Springs. ChildHelp.org is a non-profit that has existed since 1959, but maintains a low profile to reduce overhead costs. The current mission, as the two spokesmen explained to us, is to provide backpacks, basics like a toothbrush and toothpaste, school supplies, and toys for abused children, locally. I decided to purchase two.

We went to buy groceries after that, and I was surprised to find my card was declined. I was able to resolve that a couple hours later at my bank. The charity transaction was interpreted as suspicious activity, and perhaps now I know why. Childhelp has a reputation for turning one-time donations into recurring, automatic transactions. Wow, no good deed goes unpunished. I am not looking forward to the problems others have had with this organization. I decided to call the bank today to preempt any further transactions, but the one has not posted yet. I'll have to call again tomorrow, after it is posted, to avert recurring charges. I do not trust ChildHelp to behave itself.

I hope I can maintain my good will towards others, but maybe I’ll have to start my own foundation, like Derrick Nnadi, instead of entrusting others who may or may not be on the level. Further erosion of public trust, and trust in our family, friends, and neighbors, is going to be the death of our civilization. We must correct that before we can accomplish anything.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Thanks For "Listening"

Earlier this week I attended two local events billed as opportunities for civic engagement. I am still trying to decide if they were a waste of time. One was a “listening tour” of a state non-profit organization that serves as a liaison between Colorado government and a handful of other non-profits concerning disbursement of lottery funds to outdoor recreation and protection projects. Attendees did most of the listening, to presentations outlining updates to the goals of the organization. The other, larger event was a mostly one-sided panel-and-moderator discussion of the future of urban growth in Colorado Springs. The two forums did open my eyes to something I had been blind to, though. We collectively fail time and again to accommodate, let alone welcome, marginalized parties, at least in meaningful numbers.

© nbcpalmsprings.com

The attendance, and leadership, at both events overwhelmingly reflected white privilege, and mostly on the elder end of the age spectrum, too. That this has become what I expect is a tragedy in itself. I am modestly proud of myself for starting to notice, finally, and not being happy about the lack of involvement by people of color.

The urban growth event was so heavily weighted towards seniors that one of the speakers was the Colorado head of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). It became a running joke that each of the panel members, five of them, all white men, were either members already, or had recently received an invitation to join AARP.

What do I mean by white privilege in the context of the attendees in civic engagement events? Simple. We have the luxury of free time. We are not working a second or third job, or a second shift, in the late afternoon or evening when such events take place. We have the luxury of at least a modicum of disposable income for communication technology, and to fuel our vehicles to drive to meeting locations. We enjoy the advantage of not being hassled by law enforcement when we show up in locations where non-whites would be met with suspicion, if not hostility. We are able to understand everything being said at meetings because English is our first language. We know our opinions will be met with respect from our white peers, and that no one will question the authenticity of our experiences because they are shared by others. You can probably add additional points to this bullet list.

Oh, I already have another one. The “listening tour” did provide an opportunity to take a survey….by texting. I have a flip phone with less than instantaneous speed. Luckily, a paper-and-pencil option was available, but increasingly there are assumptions made as to the minimal level of technology utilized by citizens. This further marginalizes people who cannot afford those devices, wireless networks, and other supposedly universal products.

The responsible growth forum addressed Colorado Springs and El Paso County, an area that is expected to exceed Denver in population and geographical urban footprint in the not-too-distant future. The only thing worse than unbridled urban growth is growth for whites only….but that is the direction we are headed if we continue to prohibit equal participation in public conversations like this event. I will give civic leaders the benefit of the doubt and suggest that overwhelmingly white participation in public policy-making processes is not by design, but it still reflects a willful ignorance of the factors limiting participation by non-whites, and those who do not speak English.

The treadmill process that yields white privilege authority figures occurs when you have white privilege participation in all civic matters from voting to public hearings and meetings, resulting in the election of white privileged public officials, who then assume their constituents all enjoy the same circumstances as their white privileged benefactors and supporters….In instances where a person of color is elected or appointed, white privilege still colors their agenda, still enforces the boundaries of any meaningful reforms that could result in broader participation and increased leadership by people of color. Shameful.

Does it make me a “white savior” to be pointing out these systemic problems, these unquestioned attributes of institutional racism? I hope not, as that is not my intent. I am sharing my personal observations and interpretations, not putting words into the mouths of others, even fellow Caucasians. We have to start stepping back, take supporting roles, and even then, only when invited to do so. The irony is that all people will benefit and advance from diversity in leadership. I am supremely confident of that.

Monday, January 20, 2020

We Still Have a Long, Long Way to Go

On this day of celebration of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., at least one journalist is daring to point out something that demands earnest reflection, appraisal, and commitment to a different, better future. Jenn M. Jackson, in Teen Vogue, assesses a “whitewashed” legacy that does not do justice to the radical agenda of Dr. King. It is unfortunately an appropriate expression for this day and age, when it appears we have slid backwards.

As a Caucasian male myself, I recognize I have no right to pretend to know what any individual historical or contemporary black experience is like, nor define the boundaries of rights and expression for an entire race. What I can do is listen better, get a firmer grasp on the extent of my white privilege, support and advocate for black leadership roles in all arenas, and be willing to sacrifice in ways that might make me uncomfortable. No one should be living in constant fear for their lives, no one should view their future as limited in any regard.

Many of us Caucasians, including truly well-meaning individuals, equate racism with white supremacy, period. That was pretty much my own logic until relatively recently. Then I learned about institutional racism, cultural appropriation, and white privilege. Does it make me uncomfortable when someone points out that I am privileged just for being white? Yes, of course, because I was born that way and there is nothing I can do about my physical appearance and genetic makeup. Thankfully, that is not the only thing that defines me, and I have the freedom and ability to become more empathetic, by choice.

The first step on that road to empathy is to stop defending yourself as a white person. Pause to listen to voices you are have ignored previously. Not everything is about you, but it is often reflexive to assume a comment about your white privilege is accusatory or at least personal. Mental and emotional re-training is never easy, as any recovering addict can tell you. You and I are going to be works in progress, emphasis on work.

Black History Month will be upon us shortly. The media will tend to focus on figures of historical importance, in roles we do not typically associate with blacks. There are scientists and doctors, artists and writers, inventors, athletes….They will be referred to as “exceptional,” but the implied emphasis will be on “exception,” because the expectations of white privilege are so narrow when it comes to other races. You do not get a pass simply because your expectations of black people are not in the thug, drug dealer, or welfare queen categories.

We seem to be comfortable with black people as either entertainers (including spectator sports) or servants. There is that word “comfort” again. This is one race defining what is acceptable for another race, and you should personally have no tolerance for that. Collectively, we should find this kind of racism abhorrent. It is no better than assuming a black male is a criminal or out to take your job through Affirmative Action.

Am I making you squirm by suggesting you have more in common with a confederate flag-waving white supremacist than you thought you did? Good. That is the only way we are going to get anywhere, by confronting our own biases that we did not know were biases, because no one looked that hard before.

We have to be open to criticism, sometimes delivered with hostility, from those who have suffered and continue to suffer, even if we are not personally responsible for that suffering. Then we can begin to alleviate that pain through self-examination, increased empathy, and truly beneficial action.

The celebration of life for my late father was held at his favorite place, a yacht club. I remember it from my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s, and it is still just as old, white, and male as it was back then. It pained me that I could not call out the membership right then and there. Maybe I should have.

I remember driving through Over-The-Rhine, a black neighborhood in Cincinnati, with a friend on a summer day. She asked in a rather concerned tone why black people were on their stoops, out in the street, some loud music here and there….Back in the 1990s I did not have an answer, nor did I think it was an unreasonable question. Today? Today I would ask her “Why aren’t (white) we out on our stoops, out in the streets, enjoying the day with our neighbors?”

What are your experiences and expectations and assumptions? Why are they that way? Please, start asking yourself.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The U.S. Economy is a Dysfunctional Ecosystem

Economies might do well to emulate at least some aspects of biological ecosystems. Our American economy has somehow managed to magnify the undesirable characters of ecosystems while failing to adhere to the fundamentals that make such systems work. Meanwhile, our economy is undermining natural ecosystems that are the foundation for the economy.

Before I proceed farther, in accordance with a recently self-imposed personal law, I must disclose that I fall into the category of white privilege. It is important to remind myself that however I perceive my own circumstances and point of view, my status, for lack of a better term, is still greater than it should be when compared to other demographics that are not Caucasian nor male nor straight, and so forth. We need to hear those voices also.

How can one claim that economies are in any way like ecosystems? There are many similarities, but the most obvious is the idea of niche. Ecosystems are full of niches, each occupied by one or more species. Some, mostly plants and marine algae, are producers that take energy from the sun and convert it to biomass. Other organisms consume those plants, while still others feed on the first tier of consumers in what is properly known as the food web. Decomposing organisms help recycle deceased organisms back into the soil.

Economies are full of niches, too, but all of those niches are filled by one species: Homo sapiens. Niches in economies are called “jobs,” but it goes beyond that if only because, increasingly, one person may hold more than one job such that they can have the ability to consume more (or break even). Further, machines are filling more and more niches formerly occupied by persons as a result of automation. Society functions best when we do not limit the definition of an individual to their occupation. Human economies are more than simple transactions involving goods and services, they involve investments of intangibles like emotions and social capital.

The most profound similarity between ecosystems and economies is currency. The currency of ecosystems is energy, pure and simple. The currency of an economy is money. The only way an ecosystem functions properly is if energy flows freely, cycling ceaselessly for the benefit of all organisms. There is very little banking of energy, at least in the short term. Look at water and carbon in the natural world and they cycle endlessly.

Meanwhile, in the American economy at least, money is not viewed as energy. It is seen as power, and therefore hoarded, failing to flow as it should, despite the claims of those who subscribe to “trickle down” economics. The tap is perhaps dripping randomly. Worse yet, it is often only those in the white privilege category that receive any sustenance at all. This causes a cascade of negative effects that further erodes the economy. Entire segments of society are left without niches to fill, and therefore no way to participate in any part of the economic cycle, from production to consumption.

Among the negative side effects of an exclusionary economy is the rise of predators, parasites, thieves, and other criminal enterprises. While predators, for example, are one category of niches in natural ecosystems, there should be no place for them in an economy. When crime becomes a survival strategy, it is time to re-think the structure of our economy, question our aspirations to gratuitous material wealth, and tolerance for continued economic injustices.

One insistence of capitalist economies that is completely incompatible with natural ecosystems is the idea of infinite growth as the ideal. There can be no such thing, as human history has demonstrated repeatedly with the collapse of one civilization after another. Failure to accept the finite nature of natural resources, and/or partition them responsibly, has led to the fall of many empires, and it would appear that this is now a genuine threat to the entire globe.

Markets, like the biosphere, are also finite, despite efforts to expand them. Furthermore, while we claim allegiance to the idea of the “free market,” there is in reality no such thing. Were it true, then the U.S. auto industry, multinational banks, and other American corporations would have failed by now. Instead, we prop up those businesses artificially through government bailouts, tariffs, and other subsidies as corporate welfare that is deemed acceptable while social safety nets are allowed to unravel or are intentionally dismantled.

What does all this mean? It means that we need to look more critically at how we live our lives, what constitutes our premiums (Convenience? Value?), and perhaps seek to align our economy more with the functioning of the natural world. It is not a question of prosperity versus austerity, unless you are the ultra-privileged and your idea of austerity is one less yacht.