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The Last Boom
As the downfall of growth economies become more and more apparent, there will have to be a dramatic shift in domestic and foreign policy. The mantra “everything must grow” will be replaced with the mantra “everything must last.” Americans will realize that the lifestyles they live are not made for “lasting,” but for consuming. They will look at their small patch of lawn and wish for potatoes. They will look at the seas of concrete and asphalt surrounding them and wish for topsoil. Suburbia, urban and suburban sprawl, box stores: they will all look foolish and unusable in the face of serious global crisis. America will begin to understand that they must retool for a new reality. America was never built to be sustainable, and in a twisted way, this will be the silver lining. There will a lot of work to do. There will be no lack of ways (and jobs) to fix America.
This “Last Boom” will be the last period of unfettered growth as the world transitions into a post-growth economy. As the world realizes that growth economies are dying, citizens will use this “last boom” to create the wealth that will sustain their families for generations to come.
The “Last Boom” will have a number of components, some of which are outlined below.
The Great Resettling
Perhaps the best examples of post-growth economies are local agricultural economies. When economies are rooted in local agriculture, the only real “growth” in the economy is the miraculous growth of crops and livestock. While I can expand my garden bed, I cannot expand my gardening operation to China. In a local agricultural economy, balance is key. While I might be able to expand my garden bed, I’ll have to consider how this will affect the size of my goat pasture, my orchard, or my chicken run. As a self-sufficient citizen, I will not do anything to compromise the balance of my own home economy.
By retooling the economy to produce more tangible goods, a sense of stability and balance will be infused into the economy. By dealing in bushels of corn or loaves of bread, capital is being used for real transactions in a real economy. Money that is exchanged in this sort of economy is far more real – and thus far more valuable – than the digital money that is traded, lost, and stolen in abstract “market” transactions. It is being exchanged between real people, for real goods.
Additionally, the work that is done on the farmstead is the type of work that is meaningful and that nourishes the soul. Farm chores at forty below; harvesting with the help of neighbors; sweat from a long day’s work: all these things improve the character and life of the individual. And for most Americans, these acts of meaningful work are entirely foreign.
The Great Resettling will be about self-sufficiency, not economic growth. In the process, the “efficiencies” of the current global economic system will have to be dismantled and be replaced with intentional “inefficiencies”. For instance, instead of California producing all of the nation’s lettuce, almonds, and strawberries, these items will be grown in countless garden plots. Instead of mega-farms, the wastelands of the Midwest will be replanted with family farms and small towns. Citizens will realize that in order to live self-sufficiently, they must find a little land and good soil.
This process of resettling rural areas will create countless cottage industries, small businesses, and economic potential. The number of small towns in America will double, and each will need a barber, a café, a mechanic, and a grocer. Intentional inefficiencies will create more economic potential.
Years ago I visited my grandma’s relatives in rural Germany. They live in a barn built in 1100AD, now converted to a beautiful home. Grape vines climb gracefully over the garage door. A tiny pond holds large carp that are fed the left-over bread. They occasionally venture into the woods surrounding their home to collect mushrooms for dinner.
In the nearest town, the downtown district contains houses and a church that have stood for hundreds of years. While there are malls and department stores, there are also bakeries, meat markets, and cafes that have been operating for generations. Each of these local businesses are bustling. While townspeople could more efficiently buy frozen foods at the supermarket, they choose to buy fresh bread from the bakery. They choose to lounge at the local café, drinking espresso. They choose to buy their bloodwurst from the local butcher. And in the process, they choose to create a life that is “inefficient,” and thus more enjoyable and more sustainable.
Of course, not everyone can live on five acres. Some of the citizenry must live in the city. Cities must exist in order to maintain centers of learning, technology, and shared resources. The world still needs hospitals, universities, and manufacturing. Additionally, cities create a marketplace for those living in rural areas — if you live in an apartment and work in an office, you need someone else to feed you.
The key to the Great Resettling will be the balancing of intentional inefficiencies with a more efficient society. For instance, our rural new citizens will likely agree that oxen are not the best way to plow their fields. But not every “farm-steader” with 5 acres needs a tractor either. A communal tractor, and communal work with planting and harvesting, would likely be much more economical.
Perhaps the first thing Americans will see, when they wake from their fitful dreams, is that America is covered in asphalt. So much of our land mass is devoted to transportation by personal motor vehicles. Rolling seas of asphalt surround all of our populated areas. Acres upon acres of good farm land lies rotting under blacktop. Furthermore, vehicular transportation can be extremely inefficient. Semitrailers sitting in rush hour and individuals driving monster trucks are, obviously, the product of a cheap-oil economy and are incredibly inefficient.
Rail transportation, on the other hand, is far more efficient and takes up a fraction of the space. A well-maintained rail system connecting population centers would do several things that would benefit society. First, by adding efficiency to the system, necessary goods could be transported with far less fossil fuels. Secondly, as citizens increasingly forego personal vehicles, they would also forgo the disadvantages of having a car: car payments, insurance, gas money, upkeep, and maintenance. Citizens thus need less money to live a high quality of life. Their time can be used in other pursuits instead of having to spend massive amounts of capital on vehicles. Thirdly, a transportation system based on rail travel creates economic opportunity. Goods still need to make it from train station to homes and businesses. The need for rental vehicles, delivery services, and logistical help would create immense economic opportunity. Finally, with a rail-based system of transportation, travel once again becomes a social activity. Traveling with friends or meeting new people become a daily reality. In this way, it can contribute to the cohesiveness of society.
With the suburbs retrofitted, transportation revolutionized, and small town revitalized, the Last Boom will gradually wind down. The society will take another step away from growth economies, and a post-growth economy is ready to take center stage…
Stay tuned for more!