The Impossible Hamster
I think you’ll enjoy this little clip with a simple message – simple, but one that seems to elude almost all economists and politicians.
And another along similar lines for good measure:
- The Mathematics that Contemporary Economics Ignores
- The Crash Course
- Money Literacy
- Our Moral Dilemma – Because We Don’t Live on an Inflatable Earth
If you confront economists with these observations, you will often hear that “growth” is not about our actual throughput of materials, but about “efficiency” and “quality” improvements. “The weightless economy” yadda yadda…
I see a concerning trend in education here. In the last years, some subtle things have changed in the University landscape. If I look at exams from 20 years ago, and compare what students did back then to what they are supposed to learn today, I get the impression that the relative importance of strong command of the sometimes quite challenging technical material has declined markedly. What is strongly on the rise, however, is to “educate” all students about the importance of “intellectual property”. New academic staff has to undergo special schooling on how to teach students to respect “intellectual property laws”. One might almost get the impression that these days, University is not about helping young people to develop a sound understanding of this world, and in particular critical thinking skills, but instead all about “producing employees” with a certain set of desirable characteristics. One of them being to have a good idea about the rules of the intellectual property game. Why so? As material resources get used up, the effort to sustain “growth” inevitably will imply a shift of activities towards the “information economy”. (Which, if I may say so, also exploits and despoils a resource: our right to live in a cultural environment that allows one to retain some rest of sanity.)
I remember once having demonstrated to a professional economist that, by tweaking the selection of goods the “representative customer” consumes (and of course, on-going tweaking does and must take place – we no longer buy floppy disks and audio tapes), I could sell pretty much anything – even a total and rapid shut-down of industry – as “growth”. (There always are some things that increase in value just because we start to realize their true importance. Think “raw materials bull market”. As if the more expensive oil we burn today were of correspondingly higher quality. Actually, we already used up pretty much all of the really high-quality fuel.)
When I hear “growth”, I these days almost immediately think “creative accounting scam”. After all, what, exactly, is it that “grows” if we turn precious raw materials that could be used for many different purposes into stuff only fit for the landfill?
In that sense, as Bill Mollison says, “the final inflation(*) is now upon us”. (*) In the sense of the massive destruction of real value.
Economists, throwing around all these numbers, may appear impressively quantitative to many. Alas, I say, most of them come with empty hands.