The modern casino, which politicians and journalists, mistakenly call an economy is not held together by laws of physics – of scarcity and surplus –of laws of nature – or abstractly, by the wishes and ethics of citizen. It is held up by the religious fervour (the blind faith) of its punters. When they doubt just a little, then spending and investments slow. But when the cult’s followers lose faith in sufficient numbers, the whole cult and all its properties crumble. That resources are mined to extinction; that ecologies on which all economies depend are cascading; that climate change is accelerating beyond human recall – has no influence on the casino. All transactions – debt-created capital; usury; currency speculation; trade in shares and bonds are sequestered within the sanctity of its beautiful walls and are pledged at the beautiful altar. Outside, the evils of the world fall at a sordid 32 ft per sec sq and are nasty, brutish, cold, wet and short.
Democratically-elected cult followers have formed governments in every developed economy. The cult crosses political boundaries – both left and right are followers. All newspaper, radio and television stations promote the vision. Most of our friends are devotees. Self-professed independent BBC openly mocks all other views. Democracy and the cult are commonly regarded as synonyms – just as democracy and consumer choice are regarded as one.
Of course, the preferred measure of cult well-being is GDP – a measure of spending. As climate change parches soils, withers crops, and starves people – or conversely, floods coastal cities and destroys lives, crops and livelihoods, so spending will increase. When my house floods, I spend money to repair it – or pay rising insurance premiums. Funeral expenses, lawyer’s and doctor’s bills – all marvellously add to GDP. So, as assets shrink, cult well-being expands. This madness passes without note.
Now the tragedy is (to those who are pinned to the Earth at 32ft per sec sq) that collapsing casinos bring real gravitational economies with them. Companies fold, unemployment soars, tax revenues crash and spending on health and hard infrastructures crumble.
A dramatic reduction in spending is needed for economies to sit balanced within the ecologies and resources which must supply them. But such reduction will crash the casino – national currencies, shares and bonds will appropriately fall like a tower of playing cards.
So, arguing for de-growth of the casino is the wrong argument. Improving impossible systems can only prolong the impossible. People who still walk on real soil, pinned down by laws of nature, must carry on walking and appeal for others to join them. Life beneath a collapsing casino will not be pleasant, but we must all endure it. We can only endure if we have built an alternative economy which can emerge alive from beneath the rubble. Social connections, independent skills, local currencies and a common story-telling of the lives we’d like to lead – the binding of a mutual and beneficent purpose, will be enough to lead us through a certain amount of chaos. We could be happy.
The spending power of Christmas-celebrating nations means that these few days are the most destructive few days in both time and space on our shared planet. A Christmas message of hope and new birth at the darkest time of year is beautiful, true, ancient and perennial – but Christmas celebrations today are – fossil-fuelled travel and the manufacture of useless ephemera – utterly destructive and utterly heartless. They symbolise, not rebirth – nor innocence in a manger, but greed, narcissism and a decision to end future human cultures for a few moments of our own. Grandparents will cross the globe to visit grandchildren adding two or three tonnes weight of CO.2 to a single cross on the shoulder of a grandchild’s future. They’ll not carry it.
Those binary symbols are metaphors for the casino (which we currently call an economy) and the real economy of people, soil and resources. I pray that all of us, following a simple, quiet star, will soon set out to discover that new beginning.