The End of Waste: The Reusable Silver Lining of Economic Disaster

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Another confession that could ruin a political career.

I'm a little excited that I'm likely to live through a time when economics will force an end to the gross waste that has characterized the United States, and to a lesser extent much of the rest of the wealthy and even not-so-wealthy world.

No more disposable packaging for everything. Local reuse of materials.

This could be great if we do it right. We could have high tech more decentralized and empowering than ever, and at the same time have the closeness to our communities lost when all our products are commodities packaged, marketed, and transported from thousands of miles away.

Local bottling and door-to-door pickup of the bottles again.

Corner stores and markets, shared garden space and farmland, more efficient use of everything because we aren't stockpiling anything.

I'm going to keep preaching the good news: economic systems are just ways of organizing ourselves, and the present one is actually pretty bad. If we replace it with something better when it fails, the reduction in material inputs can easily be overcome. People have needs, people have or can develop skills, people need and want to work.

As long as we overcome the imposed inefficiencies of unproductive, useless, meaningless, alienating, and demeaning work

In short, as long as we have an economic system that values what needs to be valued, we're going to do all right.

This is bound to be less profitable than the current system, harder to control, harder to get people to overpay for artificially limited services (telecommunication industry, I'm talking to you) or artificially generated needs (automobile and oil industries, I'm talking about your destruction of public transportation and your needlessly inefficient waste-making machines).

People who currently control a great deal of resources will try to withhold them. Better, they think, to not have anything to really do with half their wealth, than to invest it in low or no-profit initiatives that would compete with profitable, or potentially profitable, corporations.

(By the way, the very economic theory that rationalizes the profit-making model as efficient defines economic utopia as a zero-profit perfect competition– the profit incentive for innovation is good, the institutionalization of permanent profits based on unfair competition is bad.)

Capitalism as we know it hasn't succeeded; it has been subsidized by cheap fuel and racked up a mind-boggling environmental debt at the same time. Reliance on the exploitation of human labor is of course my main problem with every economic system human history has seen, but Western capitalism took global inequality to a new scale based in no small part on its very foundation stones of stripping the wealth from Indian, African, American, and Asian (including Middle Eastern) civilizations.

I want a radical change from the past several thousand years of inefficient hierarchy and the oppression that keeps it in place, but my vision's pretty lamely conservative: share just a little of our collective wealth. Don't abolish money; make it so it isn't monopolized.

Because change, as always, will have to come from the bottom up, that means we're going to have to form our own currencies and fight government attempts to suppress them. Just to do our part in saving civilization.