Economists don’t measure costs in the Gross National Product formula. Only growth.
Any action, behavior, or labor within any relationship, organization, or community has a corresponding cost to it’s benefit. Give time to your children and it is time taken from some other activity. Buy a house and you likely have turned away from another possibility. Plant grass in your lawn and you have chosen not to create a more natural habitat which in turn, has an unintended cost to the environment. Every gain has a cost.
What happens then, if we don’t measure costs alongside gain, or more particularly, the costs of production, growth, and consumption? If we do not measure costs then we have an inaccurate view of growth’s value — a one-eyed perspective. That could be called solipsism. With one eye there is more outside our field of vision than inside it, which can lead to an unhealthy focus on our own desires and interests.
There is an economist named Herman Daly that has been working for thirty years or more on waking up his colleagues to this reality, and has recently he made progress. You can read a profile of his work in a recent New York Times Magazine (7/17/22).
It doesn’t take much looking around to be convinced. There are stinking piles of garbage being buried all over the Finger Lakes, and what is in them? Well just look around your basement, attic, or garage and estimate the weight and volume of “stuff” you never use and will likely throw away or sell at a garage sale that someone else will then throw away. Our economy is based upon consumerism and in order to make that happen, we have all been turned into consumers of “stuff.” Much of the “stuff” we purchase is unnecessary and not even something we will care about for very long. Most of the “stuff” we purchase is not truly recyclable or biodegradable. It is just “stuff” that sits around until finding its way to a landfill. We have been taught to be consumers by the people who have “stuff “ to sell. Another option would be to teach us to be conservationists who are happy with less “stuff.”
Apparently, what we have taken for granted — that economic development depends upon never-ending growth — has detractors who hold up alternative economic strategies. I am not an economist but we could begin by simply measuring the horrendous costs to physical and emotional health, and to the environment — along with the opportunity costs of not living by more wholesome economic values — before we assume that our current growth-at-all-costs economic practice is best. The scales may not be tipped in the direction we assume.
For Geneva and the Finger Lakes, these days may be the last opportunity for us to consider such questions as we plan our development. On the other hand, that assumes that we are planning development rather than reacting to it.
Not closing dumps, or restricting bitcoin mining; not barring agricultural products that harm the land and lakes; not limiting and governing (taxing) airbnbs like we do hotels or refraining from capping how many wineries, breweries, and distilleries can be squeezed into a square mile, all have a cost. So does the sum total. We don’t know the true value of development until we measure cost alongside growth.
Tim Long, Just Up the Hill from Lock 15 says
Ooohh. Thanks for this, Cam. Just read Herman Daly, too, and that on the heels of finding J. B. MacKinnon (“The Day the World Stops Shopping”) and Andy Crouch (“The Life We’re Looking For…”, reviewed by writer Brad East as “Can we be Human in Meatspace?”). IOW, shall we be “image bearers”, or turn ourselves more fully into “units of consumption”, each with a twenty-yard dumpster of stuff for our children to clear out? I’m no longer able to watch commercial television, or commercials, generally. And, having spent my final professional year “managing” a “development” for a desperate-for-growth suburb here, fully realized that the folks who gain the most from “development” are the developers, and the squabbling heirs to that greenfield land turned into luxe housing. The only satisfaction for me was that none of the eager attorneys managed to get us all into court over who gets what. I have some amends to make, but also, some laundry to get on the line. Appreciate your point of view. Again.
Cam Miller says
NP. Glad it hit the spot!
Thanks for this piece, Cam. ON the one hand you’re preaching to the liberal choir; on the other, that hand lives in a shell surrounded by other “do gooders.” Folks apparently convinced that vintage costumes and their “baby steps” toward an environment of cleaner air and curbside recycling are all that is needed. Wrong!! They (in fact “we”) should be bussed to the nearest landfill (we can call it a “field experience”), perhaps loaded into helicopters which would do seome serious hovering to see where their (“our”) castoffs and disposals have found their “final resting places.” Not far from here is the Chaffee Landfill, and if one travels along the Savage Road and pauses, fixing one’s eyesight to the east – well, there is is: nearly tall enough for skiing, covered with flocks of sea gulls (the lake is several miles away, BTW), and if the breezes are favorable, there are light debris fluttering above the mountainous marvel of consumerism, sharing air space with those gulls. What was it that Pogo said about “the enemy” and “us?” Stay well, amigo.
Cam Miller says
You paint a chilling image that, unfortunately, we all know too well.