A Limitless Economy

[O]nce greed has been made an honorable motive, then you have an economy without limits. It has no place for temperance or thrift or the ecological law of return. It will do anything. It is monstrous by definition.

In keeping with our unrestrained consumptiveness, the commonly accepted basis of our economy is the supposed possibility of limitless growth, limitless wants, limitless wealth, limitless natural resources, limitless energy, and limitless debt. The idea of a limitless economy implies and requires a doctrine of general human limitlessness: all are entitled to pursue without limit whatever they conceive as desirable—a license that classifies the most exalted Christian capitalist with the lowliest pornographer.

-Wendell Berry, Harpers Magazine 2008




9 responses to “A Limitless Economy

  1. Karmen August 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Oh. my. goodness. An economy with no limits– not ecological, moral or human — yes, greed made honorable. Capitalism, like any other mortal-designed system is vulnerable to corruption.

    Melanie, have you seen The End of Poverty? (link here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0903943/) It shows the costs– again, ecological, moral and human — and how we are all part of it. I was angry and deeply sad after watching the film because I feel trapped by the system. Then I hear the “free market” rhetoric and want to scream, NO! None of it is free! There are many, many people paying a terrible price!

    Thanks for posting this!

  2. mfranti August 30, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    I want to hear from the free-market fanatics.

    how do you reconcile your faith, charity, etc. with “greed made honorable”?

  3. dgl August 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Not a free-market fanatic, but there is a difference between “greed” and “self-interest”–the latter is good for a capitalist economy but the former, actually, isn’t.

  4. nat kelly August 30, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    This nails one of the craziest things about our status quo – we only consider our economy to be healthy if it is “growing.” Growing towards what? Do we want it to just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger? For the stock market to go higher and higher and higher? What do all those numbers even mean?!

    I recently read a really, truly heart-rending account about the current events in Guatemala – peasants who have been growing their own food for generations are seeing their crops burned and their houses demolished. The way is being cleared for sugarcane and African Palm plantations. These people, who used to be able to feed themselves, are finding themselves starving.

    The owners of the plantation, and the government, write if off as the necessary growing pains to “grow” the national economy.

    Grow it for what? For whom?

    dgl, I agree that greed and self-interest are not interchangeable terms – but when capitalism functions on “the hyperefficiency of theft”, I’m pretty sure we’ve wandered into the greed territory.

  5. mfranti August 30, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    dgl, thank you.

    Self interest is nice word to use, Isn’t it? And in some cases, noble self interests motivate entrepreneurs.

    But let’s be honest, Chevron doesn’t have noble self interests when converts millions of gallons of fresh water into deadly toxic waste that mysteriously finds its way into private wells. And ABC coal company isn’t acting with good intentions when it dumps its “overburden” into public waterways either.

    Most people go into business/the business world with the hopes that they’ll get rich, or at least make a good living so they can buy shit. Why else would they spend thousands of dollars and incur massive debt at a four-year institution? It’s so they can learn the skills necessary to make money.

    But these people do not thoughtfully question how it is that they are able to get rich. Ask the question and you’ll get some rote institutional response about the markets dictating this or that and that’s as far as the conversation and thinking goes.

    Do they think about where and how and with what the widget they sell is made? Not unless it has to do with the bottom line. The real costs (externalities) of doing business are not factored into their profits. A lot of those costs are actually subsidized by the very government they are trying to avoid paying taxes to. Oh irony!

    Let me state a fact that our irrational brains chose not to think about when making decisions that affect our self interests:
    We/they are able to get rich because we take land and resources from the poor, invisible, and voiceless. And we don’t just take from people, but also from voiceless plants and animals that live in the places we extract resources from.

    My dog, in the US Big Corporations are so confident in their position of power and influence, that they take, steal, cheat, pollute, defile, abuse, etc. from their own countrymen with nary a rosy cheek for their “indiscretions”.

    How is any of this charitable? fair? right? How is it in keeping with Christian teachings? How is it not taking those oh so precious inalienable rights that the “real Americans” love to justify their choices with away from others?

  6. Maureen August 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    This is HUGE! I don’t have anything very helpful to add, just my own thoughts. It’s as though every step I take, every moment of my Australian life… is on borrowed, NO stolen! energy, time, freedom, space etc. For me to have this lifestyle, many others suffer in the world.

    For the moment all I can think of to do about it is to continually increase (ooh there’s that term again, huh) my own self-sufficiency. Give what I can… and share on facebook and sign petitions (?).

    Reducing consumption feels very liberating. My kids seem to understand these principles really easily. Recycling, re-using is second nature to them. It seems to be developing into a bit of a game for us to find new ways to love our earth and hopefully that love and energy will spread to friends and family and out again from there.

  7. mfranti August 30, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Maureen, how about ‘continually” strive perfect/hone/sharpen the skills of self sufficiency and community sufficiency?

    There’s always going to be trade of some kind. It’s a necessary part of society.

  8. Karmen August 31, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Maureen, your comment about your kids is interesting to me as my kids (all adults now) are the same. Self-sufficiency, reducing consumption, recycling-reusing, clarity of vision regarding corporate exploitation seemed to come very naturally to them, without my explicit teaching, talking or example. In some ways I led them, in others, they have led me. I think that’s the way it will be in society in general. We talk, watch and listen and by doing so we learn and teach.

    M., You ask how the corporate actions can be reconciled with Christian teachings. IMO, they cannot be, other than in their own minds and in the minds of their congressional enablers/puppets. To see what people and politicians do, all while justifying their actions and peppering their rhetoric with the use of the name of God/Christ or other rhetorical trickery (e.g. “family,” “values,” etc.) makes me sick inside. In Utah, with our dominant Mormon culture, it is especially troubling to me. I cannot see how the greed and abuse of the corporate vampires sucking the blood from the poor and exploited people not only in poor countries but right here in river city can be reconciled with the teachings of Christ and Mormon scripture (specifically Mosiah and Moroni). The phrases, “righteous will be blessed,” “chosen people,” and the links between prosperity and righteousness are flawed, prideful and ill-chosen. The use of these terms is antithetical to the “humble people” that God says he will have.

  9. free film downloads December 6, 2011 at 7:33 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more!!!

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