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Unplugging Our Economic Ponzi Scheme

If the human species hopes to continue thriving, we have to embrace a new model that doesn’t rely on population growth.

| December 2011/January 2012

  • resources-we-cannot-replace
    In recent decades, the status quo has relied on cheap fossil fuels, exhausting resources we cannot replace. 
  • big-city
    Humanity’s dilemma: The Earth won’t allow for a continually growing population, but our current economic system depends on exponential human population growth. 
  • sustainable-society
    While we work together to develop a sustainable society, we should keep right on tending our gardens. 

  • resources-we-cannot-replace
  • big-city
  • sustainable-society

 “Change before you have to.”  
 — Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO, General Electric Co.

In 1977, the editors of MOTHER EARTH NEWS published a sprawl­ing Economic Outlook that pre­sented a number of bold, disturbing as­sertions that emphasized our need for a new economic model:

• Capitalism, as we know it, is designed to exploit newly discovered resources and will flounder when we run out of new frontiers to conquer.
• The human population continues to grow rapidly.
• We can recognize and pre­dict coming shortages of oil, irrigation water and arable land.
• The health of our current world economy is con­tingent upon continued population growth and the discovery of new natu­ral resources.
• We need new economic systems to support a “steady state” econo­my — an economy of stable size with only mild fluctuations in population and consumption of en­ergy and materials.

To support their thesis, the editors (led by MOTHER EARTH NEWS founders John and Jane Shuttleworth) quoted historian Walter Prescott Webb, whose 1951 book The Great Frontier warned that when we run out of natural resources, our economic systems will stop working.

My predecessors wrote: “Western man’s clever technology, self-motivation, work ethic, economic system, and regard for the individual all came after and are all solidly rooted in the windfall resources and profits of The Great Frontier ... And now that most of the cream has been skimmed from this windfall, capitalism (the economic sys­tem so ideally suited for the exploitation of a seemingly endless storehouse of natu­ral riches) will decline, prosperity will slip through (our) fingers ...  

“... Western Man’s 450-year-long expan­sionary binge — which was fueled by inex­pensive, plentiful energy and other natural resources — is now drawing to a close. And, just as Walter Prescott Webb predicted [in 1951!] ... the industrialized nations of the world are having a difficult time under­standing what is happening to them.”  

It’s now 2011, 60 years after Webb’s warning. The global recession is now about 3 years old. Are we “having a dif­ficult time understanding” what is hap­pening to us? Yes, I think so.

JC Fool
3/14/2013 4:55:12 AM

The 10B is arrived at by simply projecting present trends forward. It does not take into account any potential problems (like TSHTF) that might crop up along the way. We will never get there. We couldn't even if we wanted to. Once the dust has settled in a couple of hundred years and all the resources that let this present cancerous growth develop have been consumed we'll drop back down to our natural carrying capacity of 1B +/- 500M. Better learn how to farm or else put your head between your legs and...

Judson Witham
1/3/2012 7:34:53 PM

Judson Witham
1/3/2012 7:34:06 PM

A $100 Bill weighs a Gram and so 28.6 $100s are worth $2860.00 a Pound of SCRIP or Bills Of Credit Are Worth $45,760.000 and a Ton = $91,520,000.,00 So lets see they PRINT if from Thin Air and Gee Well This FIAT PAPER STUFF is all over the World. Can MENs tell me though What is the CRACK of the Ponzi Scheme again. Hello

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