Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What if the Economy Listened

Scott Gast writing on Post Growth ponders what it would mean for the world if we measured the economy's effect on something other than the market itself;

But what if the economy listened? What if, for a minute, the economy stopped talking to itself—to its own swirl of messages and indicators and pundits and forecasts—and actually gave an earnest ear to the world around it? Here’s Steingraber in a 2009 column for Orion magazine:
“Imagine that ecological metrics were as familiar to us as economic ones. Imagine ecological equivalents to the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P that reported to us every day—in newspapers, on radio, on websites, on the crawl at the bottom of TV screens, on oversized tickers in Times Square—data about the various sectors of our ecological system and how they are faring. What are the atmospheric parts per million of carbon dioxide today? Has the extinction rate become inflationary? What is the exchange rate between sea ice and fresh water? What is the national deficit of topsoil?
Suppose that ecological pundits discussed every night on cable TV the ongoing disappearance of bees, bats, and other pollinators and the possibly dire consequences for our food supply. Suppose we received daily reports on the status of our aquifers. Suppose legislators and citizens both agreed that if we don’t take immediate action to bail out our ecological system, something truly terrible will happen. Our ecology will tank.”

What would a listening economy look like? One thing I bet it wouldn’t look like would be a growing economy. A listening economy would be aware of the world beyond itself—that there is a world beyond itself—which means it would know that there’s no more room to grow. It would be a good conversationalist: it would listen to the world it lives in and respond accordingly. It would be less noisy, because listening requires periods of quiet and slowness and caution. It would be principled—and its highest principle might be the precautionary principle. It would know that listening is progress. It would know that listening is related to learning.