We live in oddly paradoxical times. People from all walks of life consistently vote and act in ways that are not in their own best interests. We all face the question of why low and middle class wage earners would vote republican. They are essentially voting for the party that cares least for their needs. The party that will always put the needs of the wealthy above any concerns for their wellbeing.
And yet like the zen paradoxes that question whether an act is good or bad, whether an act can be only viewed in the short term, or in the long term consequences of the act, it becomes apparent that outcomes are not always what would be expected.
The last five years of the downturn has produced obvious suffering for millions of poor and middle class workers around the world. There can be no question that austerity policies in Europe and North America have caused widespread unemployment and underemployment, as well as the gutting of the social safety net. It is without question that for those affected, there is no way to view this as positive on a personal level.
It is also a curiosity why the wealthy have carried out such actions. It's obvious that the long term goal is to strip workers of rights, destroy the social safety net, lower their own taxes, and ultimately increase their profit margins.
And yet, all of these actions have a negative effect even to themselves. Lower wages means less spending. Less spending means lower demand. Lower demand means less sales and lower profits. In the end a slow economy, viewed from a purely economical terms, results in a negative outcome for all.
So what is the unintended positive in all this?
For the first time in a century, emissions fell in Europe and the U.S. during the last 5 years overall. Some of this can be attributed to raised emission standards and a switch from coal to natural gas. But the bulk of it can only be attributed to reduced economic output.
It is of course arguable that more progressive governments over the last 5 years would have enacted even more strict environmental policies that would have lowered emissions more than we have seen. They might have done more to invest in green energy. But is it realistic to believe that a move that far to the left would have been even a remote possibility. Is that even a possibility now?
The more likely reality is that we will see more centrist type governments elected in Europe and North America. Centrist governments tend to show more concern for worker rights. But on issues of the economy, centrists do not usually take any actions that may harm international trade or slow economies. While they may do more to solidify the social safety net, and enact more progressive social policies, at they end of the day they are usually still quite business friendly.
World emissions output has still been hitting record highs mainly as a result of China and India. But just how much faster would that acceleration have been if Europe and North America had been operating at full employment, which would have resulted in a larger increase in demand for products produced in developing countries?
Basically, the republicans and international conservative politics have shot themselves, and the rest of us in the foot in purely economic terms. But in the end they have given the environment a small reprieve from even faster economic growth and increased emissions.
The solution for both the economy and the environment is an obvious one. We need an economic boom created by a large shift towards greener energy production and environmentally sustainable development.
In addition to environmental problems though, in the longer term we need to face the fact that technology will inevitably create a situation where human labour is not needed at the level it is now. When the machines can build the machines, and the computers can develop new ways to build them, it is hard to see where humans can play the role they do now. While the current policy is to raise retirement age, it is hard to see how we will need more people in the workforce rather than less.
Eventually we will need a new model for the economy. Capitalism in its current form, with its dependance on exponential growth, is completely unsustainable on a planet with finite resources. It will be unsustainable to have an economy based on consumer spending by employed workers, when labor will be in less demand.
The problem is that currently no real alternative economic models exists. And even when they do, the transition to a new form of economy, a new form of society is not one that will come suddenly, or painlessly.
In the meantime, while real economic growth for all rather than just a small percentage of us, benefits us on a personal level, it is harmful to the environment.
The republican party as a whole would be happy as a clam to raze the planet to the ground to make a quick buck. But oddly enough, in these strange times, their anti growth policies may in a small way be saving them (and everyone else) from themselves.
Please understand that I am in no way endorsing the actions of conservative governments. I find their policies, whether social, economic, or environmental to be downright repugnant.
It will not be until people have the power to stand up to big business that we will be able to end the stranglehold on our rights and freedoms to have a reasonable standard of living, and to live on a planet that can sustain our population.
Tue Nov 19, 2013 at 3:16 PM PT: I just wanted to say thank you for being featured on the Community Spotlight. I've enjoyed reading the well thought out comments. They have given me a lot to think about.