Capitalism is unsustainable

Holy crap! I finally found someone who says what I’ve been grumbling to my husband and friends about for years. I haven’t ever gotten around to writing about it though:

Economic Prosperity Requires Population Growth… Not!

Here’s what Ron Britton at Bay of Fundie has to say about this, as part of a larger critique of fundamentalist fear mongering.

Yes, our current economic model requires population growth, but our current economic model is wrong. The current economy requires consumption. It depends on the conversion of non-renewable natural resources into consumer goods. It is actually an illusion of prosperity, because we’re living off of a savings account, in this case the accumulated resources of the Earth: Forests, fishstocks, water, minerals, etc. All of these things are extracted from the Earth, consumed, and thrown away. As long as we keep extracting resources, we can continue our current lifestyle. More people means more consumers, which accelerates the depletion of resources, but generates even more money in the process. If population reverses, consumption declines, and the amount of money being created declines.

The problem, of course, is that resources are finite. Whether the population is growing or shrinking, once a resource runs out, the money stops.

What is needed is a different approach to economics. We need to create a sustainable economy based on sustainable levels of resource consumption. In fact, having a lower global population makes this goal much easier to achieve.

Full disclosure: I am so far to the left on the political spectrum that there is no political party for me in the United States. I guess that doesn’t take very much these days, but I just wanted to be up front about it.

Over the past few years I’ve spoken to several conservatives about economics and they can’t get it through their frakking heads that growth cannot be sustained infinitely. I don’t know if they can’t comprehend infinity or they can’t look beyond the ends of their noses to care about what their policies will do to future generations. But either way, whenever I mention that growth has limits and that eventually our economic system will collapse in on itself, they look at me like I have four heads. It might happen in 10 years or 100, but it will eventually happen if we continue with the same flawed system we have today.

On a related topic, it depresses me that the American lifestyle requires slave labor to sustain itself. This was true at the time of the American Revolution, and it is basically true today. It’s just that these days we primarily get our goods made by wage slaves who live on other continents so we don’t have to look at them.

Finally, am I the only one who thinks that 99% of our problems on Earth would go away if the human population were reduced by 3/4?

 UPDATE: This person has accused me of supporting a mass culling of humanity because of my last statement, which is really a side issue related to the main post. In case anyone has ended up here from his post, I would like to state unequivocally that I certainly do not support any form of murder. What I do support is increased planned parenthood and birth control and a large reduction in the number of babies being born, to ensure that the population of this planet does not expand to the point where a large percentage of the population dies of starvation or thirst because we have outgrown the available resources. Infinite population growth is not sustainable and we don’t know at what point the population will outgrow the ability of our planet to provide food and clean water. I suspect we are nearing that limit now, but in any case, with the rate of growth of the population that has occurred in my lifetime, we will definitely be nearing it before I die.  My point is simply that with fewer people there would be fewer problems, and many of the problems that remain would be less severe.


Excuse me for being pissed off. I don’t care if people disagree with me or even if they think I’m a fool. But I won’t stand for someone accusing me of supporting genocide.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. Not only do I agree with you, but I am also a card-carrying Socialist.

    No room for me at America’s Inn, indeed.

  2. We’re like locusts, really. Swarming and eating until the crops are exhausted.

    I always think of this when NASA’s funding is cut. On the one hand, we’re supposed to constantly buy, break, and replace everything. On the other hand, the only place we can direct our attention once Earth’s resources are tapped is space.

    If we stick to the “unlimited growth” model, we’ll eventually have to turn ourselves into the bad guys from Independence Day. Who’s going to build our fleet of interstellar scavenger ships if NASA is reduced to raffling off used boosters?

  3. Poor old Thomas Malthus must be rolling in his grave right now.

    He figured out way back in 1798 that populations would outgrow food supply, so people needed to cut back on their baby-making.

  4. That’s why we need to build massive space fleets harvest the raw materials from our own solar system and build further fleets to expand across the universe and take it all for ourselves…

    What other choice do we have?
    We cannot work together for common good, or focus our science on renewable energies and materials… nope space fleets is the only option!

  5. I agree that continuous growth should not be a desired goal. I disagree that 99% of the worlds problems would go away with a population reduction. Throughout times, all throughout the world, an “us vs them” attitude has led to widescale rape, slaughter, slavery,unequal distribution and waste of resources. This “we are good and they are bad attitude” coupled with the lust for power by some (who want to control every action of other people) has caused and is still causing most of the worlds problems.

  6. Ah, but we are not only randy monkeys but clever ones as well, which is why Malthus hasn’t been proven right… yet.

    My guess on how this will all work out is that things will get a bit worse as we begin to grapple with global climate change and the decline of petroleum production, but by 2100 we’ll end up with a smaller population and a more or less sustainable economy. Our grandkids will shake their heads with wonder.

  7. People ask me (too often for my liking really) why I don’t have kids. I used to say I was too selfish and needy.

    Now I tell them that not having kids is my way of helping to save the world.

    Even though being selfish and needy… and hating to share… is still right up there on the list.

  8. Funny how no one ever volunteers to be part of the population that is “reduced”.

    It is all fine and dandy to say that capitalism is doomed. This first world lifestyle that we currently live simply cannot be extended to the whole world. It’s simple math.

    On the other hand, what do we replace it with? Government-run economies have been utter disasters. “From each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs,” sounds really great, but who decides what people need and what they are capable of? How do you deal with people who refuse to be productive?

    The easiest thing in the world to say is how great things would be if everyone just did what I think is best. Anybody can say that and mostly be right. We would have order instead of chaos. But being the one who is told what to do seems less attractive.

    So again, what is our solution? “Stop being stupid and wasteful” is not much of a plan…

    You know, Donna, I alternate between thinking you are a brilliant breath of fresh air to thinking you are bat-shit insane. On this posting, I am honestly not sure which side of this cycle I am witnessing…but I’m quite sure it is one of them.

  9. jrpowell:“but by 2100 we’ll end up with a smaller population and a more or less sustainable economy.”

    How is there going to be a significant reduction in population in that short a time without a mass slaughter?

  10. But we must only do away with the irritating, dumb, smelly and expensive people, and perhaps the fat ones and of course those who believe in woo or any god just has to be on the gone list. I think the name of what your advocating is Holocaust. No??
    ~Just call me RCM (randy clever monkey) from now on. And I’m a bit more optimistic about what my fellow RCM’s will make of their future. And I don’t expect it to involve Solyent Green.

  11. I was thinking along the same lines on Earth Day. My conclusion was that while the current corporatist and consumerist system is flawed, cultural change is the only fix for it – government action wouldn’t work.

    Also, I wondered – Why are the “supply” nations allowing this? Apparently the current global trade structure (which disallows “protectivist” tariffs) leaves both supply and demand nations at the mercy of market forces.

    China and other supply nations are depleting their resources and heavily polluting their own environments while siphoning wealth away from the demand nations.

    This may result in unintentional self-correction of population problems and consumerism in a couple generations, when supply nations suffer reduced lifespan and fertility due to mercury/lead/arsenic in the environment and demand nations are no longer able to sustain a consumerist economy. Proactive correction by government action seems unlikely.

  12. You know, Donna, I alternate between thinking you are a brilliant breath of fresh air to thinking you are bat-shit insane. On this posting, I am honestly not sure which side of this cycle I am witnessing…but I’m quite sure it is one of them.

    Haha. :-) Join the club, I guess. Probably neither.

    And I don’t have a solution or even a suggestion. I wish I did. I’m afraid I’m a hard-core pessimist and I just see ultimate disaster and doom.

    Oh, but I am part of the population that is reduced. I have no children therefore I am not contributing to future population growth.

    I know there are many problems that would not be solved by reducing the number of people, but all of the problems having to do with the environment, food, water, and so forth would be come much less of an issue if there were less than a billion humans on the planet. Of that, I am sure.

  13. Continuing on from there – Actions that I think could help:

    China could decide to take better care of their citizens, by setting an effective environmental protection enforcer. The added costs of doing business in a way that is safe to their citizens would drive the price of chinese goods way up, reducing Western consumption of Chinese goods…

    …and other supply nations see the opportunity and leap on it, ramping up their own unsafe methods of production and keeping prices down. China ceases to be the main supplier but the problem remains.

    Change in global trade regulation would help; The ability for a demand nation to say “nation X is making products using techniques banned here; we are going to slap tariffs on their products to allow our own products to compete fairly.” demand for unsafely-made goods goes down…

    … and the administration of the demand nation is voted out of office because goods prices quadrupled because of that policy.

  14. Unchecked consumption is foolish, there can be little argument about that. However I am not convinced of your basic assertion that it is a direct and inevitable result of our current economic model. My current understanding of the data suggests something of the opposite, really. As a society “develops” and becomes more consumer focused population growth often declines. After all, if consumption is a measure of your worth in a society having a large number of children interferes with that. It is nations aspiring to that self-centered model that have explosive growth.

    Admittedly there are countervailing forces in the form of various religious dogmas, but those are often blunted in “Me First” culture. This is likely one of the reasons that the “be fruitful and multiply” religious groups that I am aware of tend to stress rather strict rules against integration into mainstream society or offer lip service to that tenet, at best.

    Also keep in mind that little is actually lost in a semi-closed system such as the Earth, it is just converted into less useful forms. There is some loss to heat, yes, but that is more than offset by the input of energy from the Sun. It just becomes a trickier problem of converting materials into a useful form. If our current economic model is valid, itshould be able to adapt to that changing environment. If not, then the natural consequence will be that “population reduction” you’ve been hoping for. I must say that I don’t agree that looking for global genocide is a reasonable approach to solving any of the ills we have brought upon ourselves.

  15. Forests, fishstocks, water not sustainable?


    Water doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not consumed (subduction notwithstanding). It ends up in the air or the sea.

    Fish and trees are not “mined”. They breed and come back with the right encouragement.

    Please, at least get the basics right.

  16. Ok, 9/10ths. :-) I still think overpopulation causes and exacerbates many other problems.

    Water availability is a huge problem, and will be getting worse in the future. Just ask anyone who lives in the US West. Not all water is potable or easily accessible.

  17. I smell a red hearing tornado Dorothy, so lets pack up our two cents, put-em in them thar deep pockets and high tail it to the cellar!!

  18. Setting aside the tenability of communism as an economic system, the fact remains that removing the power from the hands of a tiny group of borgousie elite and placing it into the hands of an even tinier group of government elite is and always has been a surefire recipe for totalitarian rule.

    /I am surrounded by damn dirty bolsheviks.

  19. Seriously and hyperbole aside, don’t any of you think that a system based on eternal growth is doomed to fail?

    I mean, is stockholders suing corporations because they don’t have enough growth every year, even if the company makes a profit, OK with you all? What happened to the idea that a business that pays the bills and still makes a small profit is a success? I really do think our economic system is completely out of control. Are all forms of capitalism doomed to fail? I doubt it. There’s probably some way to mitigate the more negative effects of a free market with some government regulation combined with some pressure from consumers.

    I am still upset that the idea of laissez-faire economics (considered a bad thing) has transmuted in to the concept of free market economy (considered a good thing). I still think it’s a bad idea. A rose by any other name stinks just as much.

    Oh, and trees and fish can be hunted and chopped into extinction, and water can be polluted so much that it can’t sustain life. So even though these are not “mined” they are not infinite resources.

  20. Ah, but the Universe will go on just fine without us.

    If we manage to make the planet uninhabitable, and exterminate ourselves in the process; then that might simply indicate that intelligence is not all that good an evolutionary adaptation in the long run.

  21. Zamboro wrote, “Setting aside the tenability of communism as an economic system, the fact remains that removing the power from the hands of a tiny group of borgousie elite and placing it into the hands of an even tinier group of government elite is and always has been a surefire recipe for totalitarian rule.

    /I am surrounded by damn dirty bolsheviks.”

    Then there’s the Sci-Fi solution where an even smaller group of Luddite scientists come up with a plague to wipe out X% of the population… for our own good…, really.

  22. Donna,
    I’m glad you posted this, as this is a subject close to my heart.

    You’re absolutely right about growth being unsustainable. We have been warned about this since the days of Malthus, and more recently by the Club of Rome. We chose to ignore them and now the chickens are coming home to roost. That’s how we have food riots, 120$ oil, depleted aquifers, receding rain forests, and much of humanity living in filth and sewage.

    To all those idiots , er, cornucopians saying growth is good, please move to Bangladesh.

    One little nit to pick: conservatives are not necessarily pro-growth. I consider myself politically conservative, and to me this means a balance between 2 main values, personal freedom and personal responsibility. The ‘conservatives’ you debated have obviously abandoned the responsibility part.

    With that said, it will be hard to stop us from the growth mindset, as we are really hard-wired for it, just like all other lifeforms. ‘Greed’ is just a perversion of our basic survival instinct. Kind of hard to get around it. However, you can count on Nature doing it for us as she does for all other species.

    The industrial revolution and all the economic/population growth that accompanied it has been sustained by cheap and abundant fossil fuels. With the growth of the fossile fuel supply being close to the end (Peak Oil) we’ll see the end of growth. This will happen in the next decade or two. After that, the energy pie gets smaller. Unless some other cheap and abundant energy source is developed (nuclear fusion?), we’ll slowly revert to 19th century lifestyles and population. This chain of events will of course will probably be accompanied by a litany of grief, with job losses, shortages of everything, wars over the remaining resources and societal breakdown. Nothing new here by the way, history repeating itself, it’s just the sheer scale of the thing that is unprecedented.

    I for one don’t count on any instance, political or otherwise, to get us out of this predicament. I have decided to at least prepare myself, and my loved ones, from the impending mess. That’s why I moved to a remote spot where I can grow food and lead a sustainable life. Call me a doomer if you like; even if we’re both wrong and the world is showered with prosperity and abundance I really enjoy that new life.

    So, is there hope for us? Absolutely. I am convinced that out of this, a new generation will emerge with more brains and less base instinct. After all, what is evolution good for if we can’t get better.

    One final note about your comment on ‘slave labor’ sustaining the American lifestyle: this was not the case in the 1950s and 1960s. During those years Americans made stuff for Americans. The downhill slope started in the 1970s, precisely at the time the US Oil production peaked. To me this is not a coincidence.

  23. Last I checked several European countries and more notably Russia are experiencing population declines but economic growth. Russia’s economy and prosperity is expanding again after its post-soviet decline but look at its population, its dropping like a rock.

  24. Growth can’t be indefinite, you’re right. Not the sort of growth we’ve got now. But the illusion I often find people labouring under in discussions of these sort of neo-Malthusian scenarios is that they seem to assume that the present is a reliable model for predicting the future, a VERY debatable proposition.

    Technology changes. Economies change. Supply, demand, population…all these things are not fixed in an interminable upwards slope. It’s at least as likely that we’ll find new resources to exploit, or higher-efficiency means of exploiting those that we have, before we hit any sort of total collapse. And as the situation darkens (which it likely will), priorities will shift and there will be higher potential value in developing better practices and technologies than in continuing to “stay the course,” as it were.

    I’m not an optimistic person, by any stretch, but I am very averse to alarmist and extremist ways of thinking. I have no doubt that some portion of the world will have very dark days ahead under what my academic friends like to call (with the typical smugness found in those academic socialists in denial of their own bourgeois careers) “late-stage capitalism.” The world is EVER thus, I’m afraid, and I feel it extremely unlikely that there can be a time when no one is underpriviledged and no one is exploited (as nice as it would be). That said, I highly doubt that our ultimate end will come from this. Just as in most personal tragedies, the ones that get ya are the ones ya never see coming.

    Anyway, I’ve gone off the rails here. Apologies…

  25. “Seriously and hyperbole aside, don’t any of you think that a system based on eternal growth is doomed to fail?”

    Certainly, but that our current economic model has a finite lifetime based upon current rates of consumption does not invalidate it; you don’t seem to take into account the way in which technological improvements have historically thrown off the economic predictions of futurists. Developments like nuclear power (invalidating turn of the century predictions that the growth of our power demands was unsustainable) and factory farming/genetically engineered crops throwing off predictions concerning our ability to feed a rapidly growing population.

    That’s not to say that technology is a magical panacea that will swoop in and save our bacon, only that malthusean doom and gloom predictions seem to assume that people will sit complacently on their hands as conditions worsen rather than taking notice of it and working towards solutions, and yes of course there are solutions to be had.

    The last matter I’d like to bring up is that of overpopulation. It isn’t the imminent threat to our existence that you make it out to be. There’s actually negative population growth in the United States (as well as a great deal of underutilized land and relatively low population density on the whole) and most developed European countries, it’s nations like India and China in which overpopulation is a pressing concern. It’s easy to be alarmed by simplistic presentations of population growth that fail to mention that human beings are not distributed evenly over the surface of the Earth, nor does population growth occur in even proportion in all nations simultaneously. I realize full well that this might come across as a “not our problem” defense, but I believe it’s a valid one. We have no special obligation to solve the problems of other nations, and as such the overpopulation threatening India for instance does not directly threaten me, as an American.

    There’s a great deal more I’d like to say, but I’d like to hear your take on it first. I don’t doubt that you’re better read on the subject than I and if I’m laboring under any common misconceptions that bear correction I’d like to find out about it before proceeding.

  26. Lately I’ve been reading a book titled Deep Economy (2007, by Bill McKibben), which makes many of the same points made in the original post and then some.
    In Chapter 1, the author cites calculations made by Lester Brown about what it would be like if and when China becomes as rich as the United States. If the country of 1.3 billion leads a U.S. lifestyle, they’ll use 99 million barrels of oil daily, or about 20 million more than the whole world consumes presently. The people of China would also use more paper than the world produces right now, and have more than a billion automobiles – if they live by U.S. “standards”. I can’t see how this would be sustainable.
    Of course, this doesn’t have to happen. It wouldn’t if the Chinese adopted a more reasonable and sustainable lifestyle than ours. But who the hell are we to say they should? After living it up all these years, we’re hardly in a position to say that others simply can’t join in on the orgy of consumerism.

  27. The reason economists have no answer when you point out that no economy is infinitely sustainable is because economics is the study of scarcity. Economics deals with compromising the unlimited demand of people with the limited supply of resources, so economists really don’t don’t try to create sustainable society. You are right that growth is unsustainable, but economists try to keep growth sustainable as long as possible, so they can’t answer your question. On the bright side it will be fun to find Earth’s carrying capacity for us.

  28. “our current economic model requires population growth”

    This is your argument in favor of economic liberalism? This is my first disappointment since I’ve been reading Skepchick. First, our “current economic model” is not capitalist. Second, where is the proof that it requires population growth. Sounds like pure speculation to me. Third, capitalism does not require population growth. I am by no means advocating for capitalism, socialism, or any other “ism”. What I am advocating is argument based on more than a catchy statement.

  29. I don’t know what everyone is so agitated about…the “rapture” is right around the corner and our “heavenly father” will deal with all that vary effectively.

    Seriously, I have been telling people this same thing for years. When I was in High School, gas was $0.35 a gal. Of course that was back in the days when you had to choose which you wanted to do, crank up the jalopy or hitch the team. (I’m old and senile)

    People have looked at me like I’m some kind of insane mass-murderer when I suggest that the best thing that could happen to the human race, in the long run, would be some kind of mass extinction event like a killer virus that wipes out 75% of the population. It would be horrible to live through to be sure, but there would be a silver lining for the survivors. The only hitch to this scenario is the necessary preservation of 21st century technology. Otherwise, people would revert to 16th century lifestyles and frankly, if that happned I would rather be dead.

  30. I wondered if anybody else thought this… I’m in complete agreement with you. Every time the economic analysis talk about how we’ve only had 1.2% growth this quarter (or whatever) and how that’s a Terrible Thing, all I can think is that we’ve really got our collective priorities horribly screwed up.

  31. Denver 7M;

    Consider that the natural resources necessary to build a civilization up to our current level of complexity have already been depleted. Where would we get the resources necessary to make a second go of it, if I may ask? Surely there’s still oil left, but we’ve depleted sources that are easily accessible hence why arctic/sea bottom rigs are becoming increasingly common. Of course there’s a great deal of useful ore left, but we’ve already depleted the richest and most easily accessible sources, not to mention the fact that we’d be unable to produce many modern alloys using 16th century metallurgy.

    I could go on but I’m sure you get the point. There is no going back, no second chance; at this point it’s either sink or swim.

  32. This idea of economic growth being necessary for prosperity is long-debunked Keynesian garbage. I think the only economists who actually believe it are the ones that work for the government.

    It’s the growth of WEALTH that brings prosperity, but wealth is an abstract notion. It’s really about resources being moved around so that the people who can use them most efficiently can get them to the people who want them the most.

    Once we start running out of nonrenewable resources such as oil, we’ll start finding other ways to get what we want. And it’s an established fact that economic prosperity is strongly correlated with both long life and low family size. Economics seems to have a population plateau.

    No, wealth is created in transactions, where one person gives something (such as a good) to someone else in exchange for something (such as capital), where both people regard what they got as being worth more than what they gave up to get it.

    I heartily recommend that everyone read the excellent essay “I, Pencil” (just Google it).

  33. “both people regard what they got as being worth more than what they gave up to get it.”

    I thought it was both regarding what they gave up as *equal* to what they got. Both ideas are extremely idealistic, but the practice of “something for something” works quite well in my opinion. The opposite end of the spectrum, contrariwise, “from each… to each…”, is idealistic nonsense that does not work in practice.

    One thing to remember though, is that there is only one side to extremism.

    (Please forgive the run-ons and the poor grammar. I have had “a couple” this evening).

    PS What’s up with the moderation? I’ve never seen that here before.

  34. Shanek, wealth certainly doesn’t mean prosperity. If everyone has wealth then inflation kicks in, price levels rise, and all the money everyone has saved away suddenly doesn’t mean squat. I consider a high standard of living to be the sign of prosperity, and the best way to ensure a high standard of living and no risk of inflation is is to lower the costs of living so that even those considered poor have a disposable income and maybe even a government that can take care of things like health care. Unfortunately, prices for food, housing, transportation, and everything else will rise as gas prices rise.

  35. “Once we start running out of nonrenewable resources such as oil, we’ll start finding other ways to get what we want.” — shanek

    I’m reminded of how the Easter Islanders gradually chopped down every big tree on the island until their home was void of arbor. Jared Diamond, in Collapse, ponders what could have gone through the mind of the person who chopped down that last tree.

    Of course, he says, the answer may have been simply that the tree chopper figured someone would come up with a solution to the problems posed by a paucity of trees.

  36. “Consider that the natural resources necessary to build a civilization up to our current level of complexity have already been depleted. Where would we get the resources necessary to make a second go of it, if I may ask?”


    Yeah, that’s totally going to suck. When civilization collapses and we drop back to barbarism with a much smaller population, all we’ll have is a huge amount of heavy machinery that runs on vegetable oil, a massive oversupply of pre-mined, pre-refined metals, factories full of useful machines, the information of a highly technological civilization stored in millions of locations worldwide in hundreds of formats, and if we’re lucky, functioning power plants.

    What WILL we do? It will be so much harder for us to build a civilization than it was for our primitive ancestors, who had all that easily obtainable copper lying around.

  37. Shanek, wealth certainly doesn’t mean prosperity. If everyone has wealth then inflation kicks in, price levels rise, and all the money everyone has saved away suddenly doesn’t mean squat.


    SIG, you don’t actually understand what wealth is. In fact, inflation kicks in when there is an oversupply of currency.

    No one has mentioned the word that is important, here: footprint.

  38. Alan, apparently some keywords cause the comments to get tossed into moderation. I don’t even know what they are. Nothing should get held up for very long.

  39. sethmanapio, that’s exactly what i’m saying. An oversupply of money cause inflation, an everyone being wealthy is what I would call an oversupply.

  40. I don’t think a 3/4 reduction is helpful as something to think about, since it can not be achieved in the short term without wholesale slaugher — and in the long-term, if we do survive I think the earth will then be able to support the current population and then some. Actually, I think things would be great even now with the current 6.something billion if things were arranged a bit better. Eg. nobody goes hungry because there’s not enough food around in an absolute sense, people starve because of dictators, inaction, corruption, incompletence etc.

  41. SIG: You’re completely wrong. Increased wealth represents an increase in REAL value. Inflation is an increase in NOMINAL value WITHOUT an increase in real value. It happens when the government prints too much money. Increasing wealth is the WAY you lower the costs of living and raise the standards of living.

    That’s what our economy has been trying to do, but inflation has been ruining it. Look at how the prices of a lot of things are rising at a level under inflation; without inflation, people would be able to afford more.

    Everything–INCLUDING GAS–is rising because of inflation. Compared to gold, gas prices have been completely flat since 2002.

    Wealth != money.

  42. I don’t really get the point – about resources being used for the economies (in the world) to rise…
    It’s pretty obvious (?) and there is no other way… Sure, we can sell information, but for sure we need to consume food as well and everything that we consume naturally has to come from our planet. There is no other source…for anything. Also, it’s not true that “what we consume, we then discard and trow away.” Recycling anyone? E.g. there is a lot of coal that is supposed to cycle in our sphere right now, using that coal is not wasting it.
    Maybe point was about the finite resources, and the renewable ones are the only ones we should use? It was not clear in my mind when starting to comment, and really, you can’t expect me do delete all this text?

    Anyway, I do agree (as most ppl must see right?) that humans are too many, and we will eventually need to lower our numbers…

    I feel bad for you not living in a country where there isn’t a political party even on the scale for you. (Here it is, though there’s still no party getting it right IMO…)

    One last thing – “comprehend infinity” :)
    Show me how to do that Rebecca. Energy? That’s about it as far as examples go right?
    (Not insinuating I’m one of those you’d argue with here, just to be clear, I agree with you.)

  43. “Full disclosure: I am so far to the left on the political spectrum that there is no political party for me in the United States.”


    And not to be too brutal, but do you have any idea how totally inconsistent this is with your basic thesis? Left wingers are always complaining that right wingers are cruel and selfish: I.E. right wingers will–supposedly–let poor people starve to death or die of terrible diseases, and right wingers are unwilling to support subsidized medicine, etc.

    But now you think we’d be better off if everyone was dead. So which is it? Do we let people die, or do we have a compassionate society where we try to keep everyone alive? Or are you suggesting draconian population control measures like they have in China? But since those haven’t worked, is that a skeptical point of view?

  44. I never said we should let people die or kill people to reduce the population. I think we should curtail reproduction. Yes, I do think that China was onto something, although their implementation left a lot to be desired.

    I don’t think we should try to keep everyone alive either. That, taken to extreme, is what we saw with the Terry Schiavo fiasco created by Republicans, and it is not a left-wing philosophy at all. I think sometimes people are too far gone and have too small of a chance for survival to waste money on extreme medical intervention when there is almost no chance that it will work, and I fully support physician-assisted suicide.

  45. I’m sorry, but I think you miss the point: either society should expend massive effort to save the lives of poor people who can’t afford medical care and food, or it shouldn’t. The position the right wing is often accused of having is is the latter, and the position of the left is the former.

    However, the former is at odds with your stated desire for lower populations. Its interesting that the only position of refuge you have left is a totalitarian regime with the environmental sense of a farting brontosaur and the morals of a pack of rabid hyenas.

    This is also at odds with the position of the left, because it would involve some massive restructuring of current welfare packages to deny benefits to people who have too many children… and what’s your enforcement mechanism, if not leaving the second or third child out of the safety net (right wing) or some kind of enforced sterilization to prevent this situation from coming up?

  46. Jeez, Seth, I missed the part where dd called for “a totalitarian regime”. And she clearly didn’t advocate “mass culling” of humanity, as you stated in your blog.
    I say you’re using a straw man argument. That’s bad enough, but it’s even worse considering what you’re accusing dd of.

  47. Shanek, I was assuming that by wealth you meant nominally, you are right about the definition of wealth meaning real money. But your statement at the end “wealth!=money” is untrue because wealth is purchasing power.
    Also, don’t you think that high gas prices are causing inflation, not the other way around?

  48. SIG: Wealth isn’t necessarily purchasing power. It’s much more general than that.

    If gas prices are causing inflation, why is gold going up as much as gas? Gas prices shouldn’t affect gold. Yet, they’re both going up by almost exactly the same amount.

    According to independent calculations of M3, the actual value of inflation is around 10%. That’s definitely enough to account for the prices.

  49. Jeez, Seth, I missed the part where dd called for “a totalitarian regime”. And she clearly didn’t advocate “mass culling” of humanity, as you stated in your blog.


    1. Never said she did. I said that the only position left to her was the position of a totalitarian regime, which is true.

    2. “99% of problems solved by 75% population drop” = extolling the virtues of a mass cull.

    And SIG, you have no idea what you are talking about at all. Seriously. Currency is not wealth. Currency is a technology used to trade wealth. Wealth can be represented with currency, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be represented in, say, real estate, knowledge, or food, all of which can be valued independently of any currency system.

  50. “Writerdd … has added to the chorus of voices calling for the mass culling of the human race.”

    Your own words, Seth, in your blog.

    Saying the planet would be better off with fewer people is NOT the same as calling for a mass cull. It’s an observation, based (in part, at least) on the impact our species has on ecosystems.

  51. the only position left to her was the position of a totalitarian regime, which is true.

    99% of problems solved by 75% population drop = extolling the virtues of a mass cull

    BULLSHIT — on both counts. I am not even going to bother replying to this garbage any more.

  52. BULLSHIT — on both counts. I am not even going to bother replying to this garbage any more.


    I’m sorry, but I don’t think you understood what you said. You claimed that 99% of all problems could be solved with a 75% population drop.

    I stated explicitly in my post, by the way, that you weren’t advocating murder, merely death by natural causes.

  53. But either way, whenever I mention that growth has limits and that eventually our economic system will collapse in on itself, they look at me like I have four heads.

    Have you considered the possibility that you may be wrong? That there may be a lot more to it and your expectations may be way off?

    Maybe you have a good case to make on this score. But I’ve yet to hear it, and by and large, many of the people who make this case have a lot of misconceptions about economics. As a model of the world, its resources, and human economy, Roy’s picture of things just isn’t even close to realistic or meaningful. He fails to count the effects of productivity changes, fails to mention the role of prices, and clings to the idea that goods are in any simple sense finite. Worst of all, he speaks of money as a commodity rather than as an abstract share of all potential commodities.

  54. “high gas prices are causing inflation, not the other way around”

    You know, I think most of the “argument” in this thread is over individual understandings of economic terms. The post title states that capitalism is unsustainable, yet capitalism is never mentioned again (and not mentioned at all in the link provided), and our consumer based economy is not capitalist by any stretch of the imagination.

    And now we have the old inflation misunderstandings. A rise in prices is not inflation, it is the result of inflation. Inflation is an increase in the amount of money in circulation. The Fed tries to control that amount by raising or lowering interest rates. In many countries, the government just prints more money, devaluing it, which causes prices to rise. The fastest way to bring a country to war is controlled rapid inflation-deflation cycles (See pre-WWI and Pre-WWII Germany – did I just Godwin the thread?). In any case, the government is exerting controls on inflation, not the capitalist “pressures of the marketplace”.

    So… if the point here is that our current “heading” is unsustainable, I agree in that if we don’t curb ourselves, “nature” will do it for us. If the entire point here is that capitalism is unsustainable I would have to ask what the value of such an argument is since I know of no capitalist societies. It could make an interesting philosophical argument, but that is about all.

    Frankly, I think everyone (including me) needs to re-read their own posts and analyze them for strawman arguments, false analogies, glittering generalities, etc. Hope everyone has a great, sustainable weekend. Personally I will be working on a sustainable beer buzz this evening.

  55. I don’t know much about economics so I am just asking: Can’t there be a rise in the price of something because there is a change in supply or demand (even if the government does not print more money)? For example, if a blight wipes out half the coffee crop and all coffee drinkers insist they must have their coffee ,won’t the demand “drive ” the price of coffee up?

  56. Johnea13, not only is that correct, that is the ONLY way prices can change (absent a government edict, of course; look at the 1970s). The reason why inflation changes prices is because the supply/demand equation works for money, too. The supply of money increases, making its value decrease, making prices of goods and services rise.

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