A Trickle-Up Economy?

June 4, 2007 at 6:53 pm 1 comment

I’m no expert at economics, but I don’t believe it takes an expert to ask questions and make some basic observations. I’ll first state the obvious: our present system economics has brought us to where we are now — a world transformed as a result of technological development. The big question is whether this particular style of economics is the best way forward.

I ask this question because no system is perfect and despite the many positive advances we’ve made, it has come with both serious social and environmental costs. Perhaps the most telling consequence is our resistance to change our harmful behavior for fear of its negative impact on “the economy”. I’m specifically referring to global warming and the economic machine that generates carbon emissions. But, in general the end result of our system is that two-thirds of the world’s resources are utilized to sustain only one-sixth of the planet’s population. This consumer based economy screams waste and inefficiency relying on wealth “trickling down” to solve the problem of poverty.

So what would the characteristics of a sustainable system be? I think it would have to meet at least two criteria. One, it would be capable of meeting the needs of the entire population and two it would not harm our environment in the process. I believe these goals are both reasonable and achievable. A key theme to the solution is the notion of investing in oneself and the role of government policy is to provide the tools that support this theme such as education, sustainable infrastructure and LEED platinum designs to name a few examples. Here are some thoughts on achieving these goals.

Trickle-up: If the system is truly going to provide for everyone, it has to be built around everyone’s productivity and cannot be over-productive. Concepts such as the 40 hour work week need to be rethought and replaced with a more realistic approach of “many hands make light work”. Also, it may seem backward to suggest it, but we need to shift from an industrial based economy to one which is sustainable based on renewable resources in which the vast majority can actively participate and thus “trickle-up”. This would suggest a rural, knowledge based economy that is actively participates in local; agriculture (I’m thinking of a quasi- Kibbutz system).

Sustainable Transportation: Fundamental to our modern world is our ability to transport goods and services. Unfortunately, our methods and volume of transportation are the source of many of our problems. A sustainable system will be rooted in smart public transportation. Luckily, the power of the internet can eliminate a lot of unnecessary transportation.

Time-Based Currency: While using time as a currency is not practicable in all situations, it provides a more direct and equitable exchange for services while at the same time promoting a sense of community. Perhaps hours will be the currency of the sustainable economy and will allow a means for a hybrid system as we “switch gears”.

Small-Scale Government: Ideally small, local governments are more effective at responding to its citizenry and creating a sense of involvement and community. However, in the age of the internet and a well designed people moving system, networks of small communities can form the basis of large-scale economies that will sustain us all – just more efficiently and effectively.

Economics is not something “other” that we should fear, but rather it is a description of how we manage our resources amongst ourselves. While these thoughts are admittedly vague, incomplete and probably making economists and businessmen cringe, this entry is more about developing and sharing ideas because, not only can we do better, we have to do better.


Entry filed under: Consumerism, Environment, Philosophy, Sustainability.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mike  |  February 19, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Well… there are some problems with the vision described here. The big one that jumped out at me – Time based currency…. so basically that would be reverting back to slavery, no? Or would we just file for ‘bankruptcy’ once we owe more time than the courts deem tolerable? And then what do you do w/ the people who have been proven to be lazy w/ their bad time-credit history?


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