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Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them All Paperback – August 1, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Economic growth is as American as apple pie and as popular as pizza. It has also, according to conservation biologist Czech, reached its limits and had led to "economic bloat," doing irreversible harm to the environment and literally destroying the future for the next generations. The main culprits here are mainstream, "neoclassical" economists (and also the political and economic elite supporting them) who through arcane theorization insist there are no limits to growth. Czech does a marvelous job of skewering the assumptions behind this notion and of introducing and synthesizing the perspectives of the opposing field, "environmental economics," which offers in the place of unbridled growth a "steady state" economy of low production and consumption and stable population. Moving through sometimes difficult ideas like "substitutability," "trophic levels" and "carrying capacity," Czech is always clear but never condescending, serious but not without humor. Agree with him or not, he is eminently clear. Yet it all falls apart when he discusses what might be done. Given the severity of the ecological crisis Czech finds us in, his recommendation that public opinion should shame conspicuous consumers among the rich into changing their ways is both vague and tepid. Missing are analyses of public policy options and considerations of political strategies that are as focused and nuanced as his critiques. Too bad, for when he's on his gameAin the first part of the bookAhe's as good at popularizing economics as Carl Sagan was science. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
To conclude, this book spends too much time saying how wrong consumption is without sufficiently explaining why spending and investing money is. Even just leaving your savings in the bank is no good as bankers will make loans to growth hungry corporations with it. Of course, most people already know materialistic consumption is bad, but at least one should try writing more convincing arguments to sway the mainstream. Just repeating that it is wrong and urging people to castigate the wealthy will not work. As the author explains himself, the need to flaunt one's riches is biologically ingrained in all of us, as a way to move up socially. Tall order it is indeed to compel individuals to ignore this natural urge, with grim implications for humanity.
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I have to agree with the reviewers who found part 1 of Shoveling much better than part 2. Part 1 makes a very good case that, nearly all professional economists to the contrary notwithstanding, unlimited economic growth is not possible, and the growth of the American economy and the World economy must end, either gradually and smoothly (what he calls K-selected, see p. 89) or suddenly and painfully (r-selected, see p. 90).* His argument is irrefutable, but unfortunately it is ignorable, albeit we ignore it at our peril. Why do nearly all economists continue to make the unsupportable claim that growth can continue forever? Czech tells us on page 51: "Economists, academic and bureaucratic, are hired to toe the line for economic interests. Rarely explicitly, but almost always effectively." As long as the controlling executives perceive the doctrine of unlimited economic growth to be to their benefit, economists who want jobs will continue to give lip service to unlimited growth, until the laws of nature (exhaustion of resources) brings the whole economy down. (see Kunstler's portrayal of America after the r-selected collapse, as he envisions it, in World Made by Hand: A Novel )
Czech is perfectly correct that it will take a revolution in popular thinking to bring about the necessary change in our goal from steady economic growth to a sustainable steady-state economy. "If it is not to jeopardize the lives of the grandkids, its growth must taper off at or below carrying capacity in K-selected fashion . . . . This will require nothing less than a revolution, a social revolution . . . ." (page 111). But wisely, Czech does not call for a violent revolution. He quotes M. B. Brown: "Most revolutionary social changes have involved very little violence. . . . It is the social breakdown that follows a failure to change that engenders violence." But he (unfortunately correctly) adds that "Americans are exhibiting some highly r-selective traits, portending a failure to change that engenders violence."
Most of the rest of part 2 consists of Czech's suggested program for producing the needed non-violent social revolution. Sadly, it is unrealistic; it won't work because it won't be adopted. The general public will persist in denial until the r-crisis is upon us, and it is too late. Just one example: he calls for women (and men) to disdain and reject big spenders (he calls them liquidators), and some already do, but as long as there are big spenders, there will be a plentiful supply of beautiful-looking gold-diggers to prey on them, and there will be plenty of handsome gold-digging men to flatter and prey on female liquidators.
Part 1 is worth the price of the book, and clearly deserves five stars, but so much of part 2 is based on wishful thinking that it is generous to allow it three. A weak four stars.
* K stands for "carrying capacity," the population the world can continue indefinitely to support; r is the rate of population growth. Why K is capitalized and r isn't, Czech doesn't make clear, at least to me.