Thoughts on the current worldwide economic downturn
To call this a philosophy post is a bit of a stretch, unless you squint your eyes tightly and accept these premises: most academic disciplines trace their roots back to philosophy, and their subject matter remains appropriate fodder for philosphical inquiry.
I began my undergraduate education as a biology major, intending to emphasize on population- or ecosystem-scale study and eventually earn a graduate degree in ecology. I dreamed of spending years living in a canvas wall tent, with all the comforts of a Boy Scout camp, exhaustively studying different ecosystems.
I have long been concerned that human population growth would continue, unchecked by natural predators or distasteful proactive means of controlling our numbers, until we exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity for human life. We wouldn’t destroy the earth, just damage its ability to support human life. I’ve always believed that that “natural correction” of human population would occur in a manner that would be particularly devastating in those parts of the world with the highest standards of living. After all, we had the farthest to fall before those of us who survived found ourselves back in the Paleolithic Age. The recent prosperity of India and China, and the resulting increase in their per-capita use of finite resources, could only hasten the population correction and drastically increase the percentage of the world’s population that would be hardest hit by it.
I believe that the recent changes in worldwide economic conditions could be viewed as a massive “correction,” in stock market parlance, brought about by a significant portion of the world’s population living beyond its means in very literal terms – living at an ecologically unsustainable level. What began as an apparent housing crisis is not a simple crisis in housing. It is a crisis in housing at the American standard of living, which is a level of resource consumption far beyond that which is required to meet the needs of life. In the United States alone, providing comfortable and simple shelter, clean water, a healthy diet, and a parcel of land to enable a degree of self-sufficiency for every man, woman, and child would be less expensive and have a more lasting effect than the taxpayers’ involuntary bailout of the financial sector and whatever other industries manage to win the favor of Congress. Also unlike the financial bailout, using the money to provide the necessities of life to real people, rather than funding the mistakes of corporations, could provide protection against the possibility that this economic correction is merely a precursor to an ecological correction. If we as as nation or as a species don’t proactively get and keep ourselves within the world’s carrying capacity for human life, it will happen anyway and not at a time or in a manner of our choosing…and it may well be sooner rather than later. Sustainability may seem expensive and may make politicians and bankers cringe, but it’s cheaper than starvation.