Provocation # 208 Crises and imagination.
Arnold Toynbee, in his research into the fate of civilizations, explored the idea that the response of a civilization to crises was the most important part of determining what the future can be.
Climate change is being faced by a political system and economics that seem unable to respond to the whole.
It is obvious that the political process is broken and will do what is necessary to keep the economy on a growth curve while leaving all the institutions functioning as they are now. Economics and politics seem to agree that the goal, a version of Keynes – invest to keep things as they are – is to shift from the current economy to a green economy WITHOUT DISRUPTION. Consider the Green New Deal, each person will transfer from their current job to a more green job without having to move or change their commute.
Economics is able to discuss the flow of regulation and finance but not enter into what will happen to people and who should do what when.The social disruption from taking the necessary steps to avoid more than a 2 degree rise are unexplored, as are the consequences of not doing what is necessary to meet the 2 degree target. If we shift from the current economy to a green economy organized by government and corporations and using federal guarantees for innovations that are likely to fail, it will enhance the economic activity of the corporations by increasing their size and reach. This shift in economy will continuing to marginalize those who can’t get jobs (because of bad education, ghettoized culture, and actual lack of jobs where people are).
This will be made worse because the new green jobs – agriculture is the one I know best – will be the targets of automation. The move to the green economy will, if we hold the current institutional structures in the center, lead to an even bigger divide between those who have money and power and those who don’t. This of course means we don’t really deal with climate change and Toynbee’s assessment would mean that we are not responding well to the crises we face (we can add population and war).
It is understandable why politicians don’t tell us about this. They assume they would be attacked because it implies that the economy, one way or the other (meet the goal or drift into warming) shrink the economy.
Economics could make a major contribution by urging broader consideration of these issues. The task implied by the word economics, household management – is being abandoned to the task of keeping the growth economy working for those who benefit most from it.
People like prosperity and innovation and are attracted to builders – provided it works for them. Can capitalism – which starts with some people owning and some not – possibly deliver better equity and quality of life when the race is on to cut costs, embrace automation, and find a safe place to live?
The benefits of technology will be lost if they are only used for wealth transfer and “green” is used as the wedge into current assets.
There is a management task – managing the people in their relation to the land, creating attractive communities that are great places to grow people. – that should be at the center but is not.
The challenge we face is daunting but compelling. The ways we face it could be a benefit to humanity. It could bring the best out of us. We need to be truly optimistic while being realistic, not cynical.