The Economy Rises

February 13, 2020

CNN reports:  “The US economy expanded by 2.3% in 2019.” Good news, isn’t it? Let’s see.

The US continues it’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Niger as well as it’s support for the war in Yemen killing thousands of civilians, including 8,000 children and sparking a humanitarian crisis and in Syria in which 500,000 people have been killed and 12 million (half the country’s population) displacedOn a related note, overheard in a conference of the major weapons manufacturers, Raytheon, Oshkosh and Lockheed Martin, how the wars in middle east “benefit” their stock prices. Of course, they do—more wars, more demand for weapons and the economy rises.

Benoa Bay, a region in the south of Bali, consists of 1,375 hectares (13.75 square km) of mangrove forests, five rivers, 12 traditional villages and 150,000 residents. The “residents” are indigenous people—the temples inside their home compounds still contain ashes from their ancestors—who have lived there for hundreds (probably thousands) of years, sustainably—proven by the fact that the forests, coral reefs, fish are still alive and vibrant. This land is now being “sold” by the Government to a private company for, here we go:

…[a] £150 million port facility, world-class cruise ship harbour and marina with hotels, resorts, housing and golf course in the area. This group of artificial islands separated by canals would also include a shopping arcade, luxury villas and townhouses, eco chalets, a business district, a water theme park and – possibly – a Bali culture amusement park in an effort to lure in elite tourists.

Does anyone not get the irony of destroying 12 truly traditional and sustainable Balinese villages and building “eco-villages”? And maybe the amusement park should be called “Bali Cultural and Environmental Destruction” amusement park. Who cares if most Balinese people oppose this project on their land (democracy, anyone)? At least, the economy will rise.

If the project were to go through, besides the destruction of the forests, corals, wildlife and environment, what will happen to the 150,000 residents? They will be displaced from their homes and available as cheap labour in the same mega-project as construction workers, cleaners, taxi drivers and so on. In an economist’s graph, they would move from “unemployed” to “employed” and would become part of the economy as “unskilled labor”. Never mind that they have intimate knowledge of the forests, corals and how to live sustainably in that region (their home), knowledge passed down for generations and knowledge that is absolutely vital, if we are to ever live sustainably.

The mega-project would need a lot of “resources”*, bring in a lot of “employment” and once completed, would bring in a lot of “foreign money” from the “elite tourists”. A win-win-win for the economy and a lose-lose-lose for the planet. And the economy rises.

The tall and beautiful Jeungjing trees next to my house in a small village in Bali were sold the other day for $75 each, which were then promptly cut down with chainsaws and converted to timber logs for construction. Trees that not only supported life—Javan kingfishers and various other songbirds, cicadas, squirrels and don’t forget, humans, by producing oxygen—but are life themselves, converted into logs for the almighty god of economy.

Few changes I am noticing at airports and in flights these days.

Children now play outside less and less. For one, there is no land that just exists because no one owns it, every piece of land is now divided, owned, and marked “Private Property” and “No Trespassing”. Whatever public places like parks, pools and community halls are left have to be constantly defended against the march of economy. Secondly, the natural instinct of adventure and exploration in children is on sale to the highest bidder – the producers of video games and TV channels. They decide if the children should kill zombies, grab more land (a good preparation for future) or follow Dora the explorer on adventures that feature, ironically enough, trees, forests and animals, all the while the real ones outside are being decimated.

In India, farmers who were growing food for themselves and their village are being forced to produce genetically modified cotton for cheap, mostly single-use t-shirts in Walmart or dog food and tulips to be exported to Europe. To be clear, producing and exporting these means that the large quantities of water and soil nutrients that are required to produce them, vital for the survival of both the people living on that land and the ecosystem, are being exported away leaving the people and the land without water, without topsoil, impoverished and malnourished. No wonder farmers are committing suicide at an alarming rate. Not just in India, this is the fate of farmers in Africa, Indonesia (Europeans obviously need their rice), South America (North Americans obviously need bananas all year round), Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on. “Third-world countries”** obviously need to balance the trade and increase their economy, don’t they?

Under the far right (fascist) government of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the rate of deforestation of the Amazon rainforests has increased 267% which equals to 2253 sq. km in July – that’s 400 football fields per hour. Hundreds of millions of year old ecosystems that support trillions of life forms and, not to put too fine a point on it, produce oxygen for us to breathe— ‘the lungs of our planet’— are being decimated in the service of the economy. Rainforests of Indonesia, Papua etc. are suffering similar fate. Orangutans—translated as person (orang) of the forest (hutans) in the Indonesian language— are now critically endangered. Looking at orangutans and their babies, isn’t it shocking that the law considers them property – things that can be bought, sold, killed with no consequences–and not living beings with the right to exist? This is true of all wild animals everywhere in the world, of course. In fact, anyone trying to protect them is the one doing “illegal” activities and is either thrown in jail or killed by loggers. A few corporations own the logging rights — rights to clearcut, i.e. to destroy, i.e. to kill — the forests of the world including their non-human inhabitants. Derrick Jensen in his book “Strangely like War” writes:

…the Canadian corporation Abitibi-Price owns a million acres [of forests] in the United States and Canada, and holds cutting rights to 19 million acres more. Barito Pacific holds 2 million of Indonesia’s 21 million acres of forestry concessions. Canadian Pacific Forest Products owns or holds tenures on 24 million acres. The Japanese paper manufacturer Daishowa controls nearly 10 million acres of timberland in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Karl Danzer of Germany controls more than 7 million acres worldwide”

 

and so on and so forth. If one were to ask about the insanity of a for-profit corporation in one country owning the rights to destroy the forests in another, the only answers you would get are balance of trade, economy, money, debt and so on — fictional stories created by humans — and nothing about suffering, empathy or humanity. And the economy rises.

This is no different, of course, than the slave trade of 16th to 19th century which was driven mainly by economics. Yuval Noah Harari in his extraordinary book Sapiens writes:

The slave trade was not controlled by any state or government. It was a purely economic enterprise, organized and financed by the free market according to the laws of supply and demand. Private slave-trading companies sold shares on the Amsterdam, London and Paris stock exchanges. Middle-class Europeans looking for a good investment bought these shares. Relying on this money, the companies bought ships, hired sailors and soldiers, purchased slaves in Africa, and transported them to America. There they sold the slaves to the plantation owners, using the proceeds to purchase plantation products such as sugar, cocoa, coffee, tobacco, cotton and rum. They returned to Europe, sold the sugar and cotton for a good price, and then sailed to Africa to begin another round. The shareholders were very pleased with this arrangement. Throughout the eighteenth century the yield on slave-trade investments was about 6 per cent a year – they were extremely profitable, as any modern consultant would be quick to admit.

Charles Eisenstein in his book Sacred Economics gives us another simple example of “economic growth”, an example which might be personally true for many of you as it is for me:

Child care has been another area of high economic growth in my lifetime. When I was young, it was nothing for friends and neighbors to watch each other’s kids for a few hours after school, a vestige of village or tribal times when children ran free. My ex-wife Patsy speaks movingly of her childhood in rural Taiwan, where children could and did show up at any neighbor’s house around dinner time and to be given a bowl of rice. The community took care of the children. In other words, child care was abundant; it would have been impossible to open an after-school day care center.

For something to become an object of commerce, it must be made scarce first. As the economy grows, by definition, more and more of human activity enters the realm of money, the realm of goods and services. Usually we associate economic growth with an increase in wealth, but we can also see it as an impoverishment, an increase in scarcity. Things we once never dreamed of paying for, we must pay for today. Pay for using what? Using money, of course—money that we struggle and sacrifice to obtain. If one thing is scarce, it is surely money. Most people I know live in constant low level (sometimes high-level) anxiety for fear of not having enough of it. And as the anxiety of the wealthy confirms, no amount is ever “enough.”

From this perspective, we must be cautious in our indignation at such facts as, “Over two billion people live on less than two dollars a day.” A low cash income could mean that someone’s needs are met outside the money economy, for example through traditional networks of reciprocity and gifts. “Development” in such cases raises incomes by bringing nonmonetary economic activity into the realm of goods and services, with the resulting mentality of scarcity, competition, and anxiety so familiar to us in the West, yet so alien to the moneyless hunter-gatherer or subsistence peasant.

And the economy rises.

US continues to increase it’s largest export—guns and military weapons (read: death) all around the world and blocking UN resolutions to control the flow. It exported 10.5 billion dollars worth weapons in 2018 and that excludes “military aid” since that’s free. Ironically, in many of the wars that the US fights, including the war on drugs, both sides are using weapons Made in USA, a win-win for the weapon manufacturers and the economy.

 

Prisons in the US are overflowing— about 2.2 million people, the highest of any country not just by percentage but actual numbers—and becoming privatized. These prisoners are used by for-profit corporations in dangerous and menial jobs, for example, as firefighters in California to contain the fires caused by climate change with almost no pay or benefits. A few of them die but at least the economy rises.

You vote Democrat or Republican, BJP or Congress, they all promise a rising economy and the economy rises.

No one seems to appreciate the fact that a rising economy (higher GDP) means higher rate of production of stuff and this “production” simply means the conversion of the living to the dead – the living mountains, rivers, forests, trees into plastic, cars, cement, phones and so on. And the economy rises.

The rivers suffocate because of dams and toxic chemicals from factories and the economy rises.

The oceans are vacuumed by industrial fishing (bottom-trawling***) and suffocate under plastic trash, toxic chemicals and the economy rises.

The earth is being polluted, burned, devastated, dug up, toxified — in a word murdered—and the economy rises.

No one asks the question: “Should the economy rise?” and the economy rises.

 

* Resources: This might sound shocking to most people, especially to economists, but there is no such thing as resources or raw material. These so called “resources” are either living beings (trees, fish etc.) or their homes (rivers, oceans, mountains, deserts) or both (rainforests, prairies, wetlands, corals) and they have to be taken either by violence or fictional economic stories of balance of trade, debt and so on.

 

** Third world – This term was coined during the cold war between the US and Soviet Union to describe countries that did not align to either side. The US and it’s NATO allies were First World, the Soviet Union and it’s allies were Second World and the rest who did not get involved in the war, (i.e. the peaceful ones) were Third World. Any guesses as to who came up with the term? Obviously, the ones who described themselves as First World.

However, these terms have now completely changed meaning and are mostly used in a racist way, even though the person using it may not know this. “First world” is used to describe mostly white-people countries that are “developed”, meaning “civilized”, meaning what all other countries should and want to become and “third world” is used to describe countries with people of all other colours that are “undeveloped”, meaning “uncivilized” meaning aspiring to become “first-world”.

How about a new definition? “Third-World” countries are the ones that still haven’t completely destroyed their rainforests, corals, oceans, animal species like elephants, tigers, giraffes, rhinos – and still have many indigenous people living sustainably within these communities. Meanwhile First World countries are the ones that have mostly destroyed these, save for a few national parks and are now importing these “resources” – food, fossil fuels and so on. Sweden, for example, the model “First World” country for many imports 97% of it’s food!

*** Bottom trawling, a form of industrial fishing that involves dragging heavy nets across the sea bottom, which obliterates seafloor habitat and seafloor creatures in the “most destructive of any actions that humans conduct in the ocean.” Every six months, bottom trawlers drag an area the size of the continental United States.

 

 

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