Very recently in commenting on current economics, I used the metaphor of a family losing its house to fire more than once. I’m still on the economy, and this time a worn out car comes to mind as a possibly helpful way to illustrate complications of normal human psychology in response to economic woes. It would be fair to guess that my life-style is pretty basic!
It may well be that those attending Davos, and those who would have attended if their schedules had allowed, have little experience with “driving a car until its usefulness is over.”
Those of us who live where personal vehicle transportation is necessary, and who live on smaller budgets, have driven cars until usefulness is gone more than once. There’s a “letting-go” process, a series of mind-shifts that the car (or pickup) owner goes through before accepting the inevitable: the car no longer serves; it must be replaced.
There are two reasons for a vehicle to lose usefulness. One is age and wear; the other change of environment, causing very different needs compared to what has been. In either case, the car owner faces emotional and rational challenges.
Usually vehicles driven to end of service have become objects of “treasured relationship” for the owner. The owner may have given the car a name, may pat its dashboard when it performs well in a dicey moment. The owner has cared for the vehicle with routine oil and filter changes. Belts, water-pumps, and brake drums have been replaced. Some owners have re-built engines to keep a car going. Care and repair to maximize years of service may cover a long time period, during which human loyalty to the machine deepens!
Eventually expensive breakdowns occur too often. There are increasingly shorter intervals of smooth operation. Or, by second cause for need to replace – the owner of a 2WD moves to where 4WD is the only intelligent choice. In either case, or in a combination, all evidence makes clear: dependability is over; usefulness is gone. The car (or pick-up) must be replaced. Tinkering will not assure reliable performance; changed circumstances demand model replacement.
The deeper the relationship an owner has with a vehicle, the deeper is reluctance to make the replacement.
Much that I heard/read on Davos (standard news posts, panels and opinion pieces) suggests to me that the “vehicle owners” don’t yet notice that tinkering can’t give sustained function. They don’t notice (or don’t want to concede) that defining “conditions” are monumentally different from any earlier time. Their emotions are similar to those of the worn-out car owner; loyalty and hope bias their conclusions in favor of more tinkering, pushing economic dominant models in hope they will serve.
Geithner can be “more confident that now we have a sustainable expansion, not a boom,”*; (he’s looking for signs of recovery, especially sustainable recovery). News reports announce: “Gross domestic product–…up from the 2.6% …confirms the view held by many economists and stock-market investors …economy is gaining …momentum to start bringing down unemployment…”** These statements are like those of driver/owners of favorite, but failing, vehicles. The driver/owners look for signs that the end is not imminent!
Key word in Geithner’s assessment: “expansion”. It seems to me we’ve “expanded” about as far as possible – if, that is, we want to measure expansion by old model criteria such as gross domestic product, new markets created, and new profits accrued.
Wealth/power leadership is in relationship with models that have served “wealth accumulation” particularly well. As “owner/drivers” they are understandably slow to notice loss of model dependability. Arguments are made: “statistically” humanity has greatly benefited from profit-oriented models that have served us to now; this proves their dependability.” This may have some historical validity – to now; (it’s also true that earth and many people have suffered much along the way.)
Circumstances for which we need a replacement serviceable economic model are: an exhausted, trashed earth, and countless populations living in, or headed into, “sustained” deep impoverishment. The challenge for the 21st Century is for us to consider wisdom of radically changing economic models.
It can’t be over-stated: today, the earth itself can’t meet human demands unless humans change level and type of demand. Today, much of the human community is born, lives, and dies without ever experiencing access to quality life-sustaining food, water, shelter, and health care; Without ever experiencing support and education that allows individuals to develop unique talent, Without ever having been asked to share its thoughts and talents in the human community. (Our ‘old model’ rationale is that a few will rise from these conditions, and will join the rest of us in “prosperity”. Maybe – but is ‘a few’ the result we want, is it “our best”?)
Given changed earth ‘health’, and given our new, unavoidable global experience, it’s time for serious proposals and discussion of new economic models!