We instinctively react negatively to decay – perhaps because it reminds us of our own all too brief presence here – but we understand it is at the root of all progress when we think about it.
Growth is a poor substitute for progress. On the contrary, progress takes the best of what is and what we are, combines it with the best of its surroundings, and produces something new and more evolved. Growth pays little respect for what feeds it, whereas progress does. The logical result of our growth-based economic model is one person, one their own, on a barren planet. We can be confident of that because we can see the minimum viable prototypes playing in their private spacecraft.
Progress requires interaction with our surroundings in ecosystems – webs of interdependency – that recognise we are part of a process, not designers of process.
According to the World Bank, the average per capita GDP for the world’s human population is around $8,000. The average high income is $44,000, middle $4,800 and low $820. Growth depends on making those gaps bigger – the one-person model whilst progress would be making them smaller – the abundance model. A healthy reality would be moving towards that.
I wonder what would happen if money decayed inexorably? In Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein plays with this idea, amongst many others, in what I find an increasingly persuasive argument. Frighteningly challenging to adopt, but then frightening is the real root of innovation. Almost all innovation we currently laud is tinkering – born of a desire for more, not necessity. Real innovation is born for a desire to survive – being given an impossible problem that has to be solved in a seemingly impossible time frame with extinction the price of failure. Evolution is very, very good at it.
We have created things that do not decay easily, from plastics to the corporations that manufacture and sell them. Socially, we have created money which we expect, an inorganic good that somehow we hope will grow of its own accord. And, psychologically, we have created artificial fear that we are somehow not good enough.
Decay is a powerful tool for progress. We would do well to grow into understanding and respecting the truth of that.
his thirteen-minute summary by Charles Eisenstein provides food for thought, whether you agree with it or not. I believe it to be nearer the mark than the worship of asymmetric growth.