It has long puzzled me that discussions of the neoliberal economy often neglect two things:
The first is that the neoliberal ‘lens’ magnifies a single growth-promoting value—efficiency–at the expense of all others. The result is more efficient (and more destructive) growth (simply getting bigger, not necessarily better) at the expense of economic diversity, social equity, systemic resilience, community cohesion, conservation, ecological stability, etc. Why would a truly rational species do this? No one would run his/her individual life this way, so why the whole economy?
The second omission is even less well explored—globalization and so-called free trade are arguably the greatest intermediate driver of ecological destruction, including climate change.
Consider that every country or trading region would have a natural human carrying capacity dictated by that single vital resource in least supply — e.g., water, arable land, energy, etc. At the same time, each would have surpluses of other resources.
In isolation with no trade, in essential commodities, all such regions/countries would grow to the population/consumption limit imposed by the scarcest factor; other resource systems would not likely be over-stressed. In the aggregate, therefore, the world would be in pretty good shape, even though most regions and countries would be pressing up against particular domestic limiting factors.
Introduce globalization and free trade. Now every country can import supplies of scarce vital resources from ‘elsewhere’ in exchange for those resources/goods/services for which it has a surplus. This exchange eliminates regional ‘negative feedback’ on growth everywhere and enables each region to expand beyond its domestic carrying capacity (the one dictated by that single resource in short local supply).
In these circumstances astute observers would realize that: a) their own region’s population/consumption was becoming increasingly dependent on ‘elsewhere’, drawing down stocks of surplus resources in other countries/regions and; b) their own ‘surpluses’ were being depleted by others. (For example, my group’s eco-footprint work shows that roughly 63% of Canada’s Great Plains cropland has effectively been ‘appropriated’ by foreign consumers through global markets and that this is responsible for a proportional fraction of the soil depletion the region has experienced – a 50-70% loss of original organic and nutrient content over much of this vast area (Similar rates of loss occur on the US side of the border.)
But wait, there’s more!
So-called ‘free trade’ bids down commodity prices in competitive global markets eliminating the economic surpluses needed for the owners of the resource base to husband it sustainably—e.g., farmers (whose real incomes have tended to decline over the years) have little capacity to maintain the soil that feeds us all. (BTW, the world has only +/-50 years of soil left at current rates of trade-facilitated over-consumption.)
Globalization and trade have even created world markets for plant products (e.g., palm oil), animal parts (e.g., rhino horn and ivory) and bushmeat of many kinds, markets that continue to grow with incomes and population. This, in turn, increases direct predation (poaching) and habitat destruction and therefore raises extinction pressures on many species, including rare primates.
In short, globalization/trade is the reason why: a) virtually every major economy and all densely populated countries are now in ‘overshoot’–i.e., they far exceed their domestic carrying capacities, the Netherlands by a factor of four, Japan by seven-fold, for example; b) the world as a whole is in overshoot by a factor exceeding 50% in some respects. Consequence? The trade-bloated human enterprise must continue to ream the earth to the core just to maintain itself. Further material growth accelerates the liquidation process.
(To be sure, some of our eco-footprint studies are received with skepticism. When the Global Footprint Network revealed that Europe needed about three times its domestic biocapacity to maintain its current population and material standards the reaction was disbelief. The European Commision subsequently undertook its own analysis using now standard methods and, to its dismay, confirmed the original results.)
To summarize: The evidence suggests that globalization and trade are the primary facilitators of excess population and material growth and therefore constitute the death-knell for biodiversity, ecological integrity and sustainability.
Top ‘o the season to y’all.
Following on Bill’s comments on trade, this debate over autarky might be of interest:
Busch, T. and A. Sakhel. 2016. The island logic: Scaling up the concept of self-preserving autarky. Journal of Industrial Ecology 20(5): 1008-1009. dx.doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12452.
Van den Bergh, J. C. J. M. 2016. Spatial Inequity of Resources Impedes Autarky, Comment on “The Island Logic” Journal of Industrial Ecology 20(5): 1212-1213. dx.doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12485.
I am very sorry that I used the word “Malthus” – which is not my point.
What really interests me is the question of how to give positive purpose and meaning to the lives of “indignados”. The people who were affirmed, and saw purpose, in Brexit (of UK Independence Party), in the Trump/republican campaign, and many elsewhere.
If some politicians, and virtually everyone in the market, offer “everybody another box of chocolates”…?
Many thanks for your timely reminder of the downsides to Riccardo.
Joachim H. Spangenberg
There is one more consequence of trade worth to be mentioned: by allowing to exceed all regional limitations as long as supply from elsewhere is not running short, free trade is a means to synchronise collapse. It is postponed regionally, to materialise globally, with no place to escape left, for the first time in history of humankind.
Not a nice perspective.
And you can turn it other way around. Planned obsolescence as the cure for the great depression and the planned obsolescence as the new plague, or to be more precise consumerism as the new plague.
Every industrial revolution brings benefits(increases) to production which leads to need(for the industry) for consumption. Intervention in the demand i.e in education of people is one way to stop the resource spill.
Industry dictates the trends which is the basic flaw in today’s world/environment, because industry dictates more consuming to match its production boosted by the newest industrial revolution, the tech one.