By JT Haines — July 15, 2015
Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says we should work more hours. Fortunately, “Jeb!” has been appropriately chastened, with many pointing out (among other things) that Americans already work a ton of hours and productivity gains have gone to the 1%.
But while inartful and misguided, Jeb’s comments also reflect a sacred goal that is actually shared by most in American politics, including those doing the chastening: Growth.
The examples are everywhere. Minneapolis’ Democratic Mayor Betsy Hodges — the same mayor who has recently been invited to the Vatican to discuss climate change — had this to say at her inaugural address last year:
“To grow our city, and make it more than great, means above all that we must grow a population where 500,000 people — no, 500,001 and more people — live and thrive in Minneapolis, with the greatest density along transit corridors.” [MinnPost]
The current population of Minneapolis is 400,000.
Of course, it’s not difficult to understand why mayors trumpet growth. The whole system relies on it, and Mayor Hodges still needs to show up for work in the morning.
But how does growth align with the real world in the broader sense? In addition to the increasing social pressures and infrastructure costs that accompany population growth — which seem to go under-appreciated by elected officials seeking to increase budgets — we are faced with a much larger problem as well.
By that I mean, it’s odd, to say the least, to receive the daily mythology about growth alongside the increasing number of articles about climate change, drought, and population overshoot.
The same day I read about Jeb’s comments, I also took note of Dahr Jamail’s article in Truthout entitled “Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The article is about University of Arizona Ecology Professor Guy McPherson and his research on the possibility/likelihood of near term human extinction. (Sorry, say again?) Prof. McPherson says “we’re in serious population overshoot,” and that “our version of civilization is the least sustainable of them all.”
Yet, the received political debate is whether poorer Americans should work more to achieve an extra two percentage points of GDP growth (and accompanying emissions), not whether growth itself.
The usefulness of Jeb’s “work more” comment, while idiotic on several levels, is that it exposes a fundamental contraction which we all perpetrate: Hard facts about the planet and prescriptions about growth simply do not align.
Of course, what to do about that is the question, but at the very least it’s time to blow the idea door wide open. The New Economics Foundation has proposed a 20-hour work week. That’s an idea. Unless you’re one of the saintly and indispensable among us who work 1 on 1 with real human beings every day, we could probably actually use less of what you’re selling. In today’s context, these things are not radical (more likely radically insufficient), Jeb is.
So slow down if you can manage. Do something close to home with the family. And as always, don’t believe the hype.
This piece also appeared in MinnPost on July 20, 2015.