Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them All
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Americans have been conditioned to appreciate, cheer, and serve economic growth. Brian Czech argues that, while economic growth was a good thing for much of American history, somewhere along the way it turned bad, depleting resources, polluting the environment, and threatening posterity. Yet growth remains a top priority of the public and polity. In this revolutionary manifesto, Czech knocks economic growth off the pedestal of American ideology. Seeking nothing less than a fundamental change in public opinion, Czech makes a bold plea for castigating society’s biggest spenders and sets the stage for the "steady state revolution."
Czech offers a sophisticated yet accessible critique of the principles of economic growth theory and the fallacious extension of these principles into the "pop economics" of Julian Simon and others. He points with hope to the new discipline of ecological economics, which prescribes the steady state economy as a sustainable alternative to economic growth.
Czech explores the psychological underpinnings of our consumer culture by synthesizing theories of Charles Darwin, Thorstein Veblen, and Abraham Maslow. Speaking to ordinary American citizens, he urges us to recognize conspicuous consumers for who they are—bad citizens who are liquidating our grandkids’ future. Combining insights from economics, psychology, and ecology with a large dose of common sense, Czech drafts a blueprint for a more satisfying and sustainable society. His ideas reach deeply into our everyday lives as he asks us to re-examine our perspectives on everything from our shopping habits to romance.
From his perspective as a wildlife ecologist, Czech draws revealing parallels between the economy of nature and the human economy. His style is lively, easy to read, humorous, and bound to be controversial. Czech will provoke all of us to ask when we will stop the runaway train of economic growth. His book answers the question, "How do we do it?"
theory). Even before resorting to the “ultimate answer” of outer space, neoclassical economists can, to some extent, answer the spatial problem with the second concept employed to tout the inﬁnitude of economic growth: efﬁciency. Economists use the term “efﬁciency” in several ways. In one sense, efﬁciency refers to the allocation of resources such that an optimal combination of outputs results. This allocative efﬁciency or optimization has long been a concern of welfare economics. The focus of
Will They Think of Next, and Why? / 51 not to invite me for an interview. The search committee chair asked what I thought of the Endangered Species Act— of all people to ask! He informed me that they had sort of an informal agreement with the ranchers in the region whereby faculty, upon encountering an endangered species in the ﬁeld, would make no mention of the ﬁnding. Needless to say, that didn’t get anywhere. Such has been my personal experience, but again, common sense dictates that political
partly a function of misleading facts, such as, “the quantity of land [in the United States] under cultivation has been decreasing” (p. 6), despite the fact that agricultural acreage (including cropland and animal production land) had increased from approximately 958 million acres in 1920 to 981 million acres in 1992 (Cramer and Jensen 1994). To Simon’s credit, he was insistent on considering the longest time frame possible. “The intellectual practice of focusing on a very short period which runs
that all capitalist democracies have found it necessary to engage in various degrees of planning and regulation due to the complexities brought about by economic growth. Simon tended to be very selective in his use of examples, sometimes transparently so. He asserted, “There is no evidence that public ofﬁcials are better stewards of any class of property—including wilderness and parks—than are private owners” (p. 304). He conveniently neglected the classic examples of parks and wilderness saved
and in that sense represents an investment in the grandkids. Third, the liquidator, and rightfully so, ﬁnds a source of selfesteem to replace that attained via conspicuous consumption. At ﬁrst glance, this third function may appear slightly antiChristian. After all, Christian charity is supposed to be an inconspicuous affair, where the reward is obtained in heaven, not at the banquets of reformed liquidators. However, this matter is irrelevant, as it may readily be seen that the true Christian