Saturday, February 7, 2009


I want to remind my readers, (assuming that there are more than one), that Obama has the notion of equality as one of his fundamental ideas. In his inaugural address he said:

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better
history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation
to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a
chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

"All are equal" is an immense responsibility, it is a call to a radically new worldview. If "all" really means "all" then "all" means everyone. Not just middle-class Americans, but all Americans. Not just white Americans, but all Americans. Not just Americans but all living human beings. And there's the rub.

If we are to take seriously the notion that we are all equal, then we are obligated to give all of us the opportunity to have the use of the globe's resources. Maybe not the same amount of resources, but at least enough to survive. If we are all equal, then we all have a right to life. And Americans, on the average, use so much of the world's resources that many people in the world are not able to survive. We literally kill them by wasting the way we do.

And yet our economic system is based on this level of wasteful consumption. Two-thirds of our economy is based on consumption of resources. When we cut back, and don't overconsume what we don't need, our economy collapses. So the problem appears to be conservation: if we don't increase the rate at which we consume resources, if we are not as wasteful as we were a couple of years ago, our economic experts don't know how to cope.

And yet it is clear that if everyone consumed resources at the rate that the average American did in 2007 there would not be enough to go round. If we try for the equality that Obama believes in, we have to waste less, and our economic system isn't designed to do that.

Obviously the best thing we could do would be to get used to the level of consumption we are presently adopting; and change our ecopolitical system to fit that. That would allow us to approach universal equality of consumption at a level that has a sustainable amount of waste. But that would require us to understand what's going on, and that's a lot to ask.

So we may have to try to put our Humpty-Dumpty socioeconomic system back together, although all of Obama's economists and all the world's stock traders are not likely to be able to do that. Only after that fails will it be possible to step back and take a serious look at where we are on a global perspective.


Christopher said...

Spot on analysis, Karl. There are no ifs, ands, or buts, Americans and members of the wealthy nations must reduce consumption and their wasteful ways if the species is going to make it to the next step of history IMHO. And when I see, to take one example, China's ever-increasing production and sale of automobiles, I am not hopeful. It seems to me Mr. Obama really is going to have to turn out to be the next Messiah to get us over this potentially civilization-ending hump... And I am quite disappointed to see, in the face of the greatest financial fraud in history, he's turning to many of the culpable parties themselves to simply "rearrange the deck chairs."

Karl Eklund said...

There's a conflict between a couple of evolutionary streams. The government bureaucrats had control from the end of WW2 to Reagan and the corporate bureaucrats had control till now. so the easy thing to do is go back to the government bureaucrats. Obama gets his power from the ordinary people, the non-elite, but the infrastructure isn't set up to let that power be used effectively. I think that's what Obama's "nonpartisan" idea is all about--to find people who can run a bureaucratic agency without benefiting either of the elite factions. On the other hand the media can't recognize that motivation, and maybe Obama hasn't articulated it to himself. But maybe I can articulate it better myself. More later.

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