Organizing our economy as if we lived on a single planet - Douglas Rushkoff

(Caroline Savery) #1

Great read, with food for thought for Cosmos.

(David MacLeod) #2

Excellent interview. Most especially because of the following question and answer, which most people are not yet willing to address.

" NPQ: Can you expand on the current economy’s growth imperative, and how that’s become a problem given environmental constraints?

DR: Well, the growth imperative was embedded in our economy once we made it illegal for anyone to use anything other than interest-bearing central currency. So, kings in the early Renaissance outlawed market monies and local currencies and non-growth-based exchange mechanisms, and said everyone had to use coin of the realm, which was borrowed at interest. And the way the math works is, if every dollar that you borrow or every unit of money that you borrow has to be paid back with interest, then you need the economy to grow in order to keep paying back more money to the lenders. So, that’s why we’re stuck in this growth trap.

And the problem with the growth trap is, we’re living on a planet with finite resources. I know there are many opinions on this, but I do think that our planet and the atmosphere are rather fixed. And when you have a growth-based economy, it not only needs to grow but also needs to accelerate its rate of growth, because 2 percent of a zillion-dollar planet is more than 2 percent of a million-dollar planet."

(Marco V Morelli) #3

Hi David,

Welcome, and thanks for plucking out that quote. I’m pretty sure I fully agree with you on the need to break the growth trap. I am also interested in alternative and complementary currency systems, such as mutual credit, which do not issue from fiat-based debt.

However, regarding the ‘finitude’ of the planet, I recently came across a counter-point, which seems worth sharing, even if I haven’t made up my mind which ‘side’ on the ‘hard limits vs. flexible constraints’ debate I agree with.

Perhaps there is a perspective that reconciles these views…

(David MacLeod) #4

Hello Marco,

Nice to interact with you once again. This is an issue I’ve spent a lot of time on. My 2015 paper for ITC was in large measure dealing with this theme of limits to growth on a finite planet (the paper can be found at either Integral Leadership Review, or at, i.e. ).

I’m familiar with the line of thinking (“Ecomodernism”) coming from Ted Nordhaus and the Breakthrough Institute. I know there are some in the Integral community who look favorably on them. I carefully read their manifesto and the first book on the death of environmentalism, and although there is some good food for thought, I felt they really ignored some very important foundational ideas, and displayed a lack of deep understanding of the role of energy in making both ecology and economy possible.

Some remedial reading I would strongly recommend for good foundational understanding would be Howard Odum’s classic introduction to Energy, Ecology, and Economics (, followed by David Holmgren’s article on Energy and Permaculture ( Holmgren, the co-originator of Permaculture, summarizes the profound influence of Odum on his development of Permaculture, and presents the info in a very practical way. I think the two articles will explain why Nordhaus’s claim that “For decades, each increment of economic growth in developed economies has brought lower resource and energy use than the last” is false. Resource and energy use has not declined in developed countries, it’s merely been outsourced (we need to understand the concept of embodied energy).

From there we could get into other issues, such as Albert Bartlett’s presentation on the exponential function and how it relates to growth projections (Arithmetic, Population, and Energy: ). I think there are legitimate criticisms that can be made about the work of Paul Ehrlich, but the Club of Rome reports and several editions of the classic book “Limits to Growth” have, in my opinion, been proven to be extremely accurate.

Finally, because I haven’t yet shared enough links, I enjoyed reading this recent post by Sam Bliss, who shares his story about arguing for Degrowth at a recent Ecomodernist conference.