The primary lesson to be taken from this story (and the central topic of this blog) is that the behavior of individual consumers determine the fate of a society. Unfortunately, there is a myriad of ways in which individuals can subtract from society as a whole and, if the majority of citizens within the society are taking more than they are giving, it is only a matter of time before the system collapses.
The developed world is seriously unwell today simply because a very large number of consumers take more than they contribute. We had a collective mindset of contribution and personal responsibility while we built western society up to grant us the wonderful standard of living we enjoy today, but this precious mindset has slowly morphed into one of consumerism and entitlement over the past couple of decades. It is this mindset, more than anything else, that is causing the decline of western civilization.
Our slow devolution towards total welfare states has been at the forefront of this steady decline with more and more people believing that the government will take care of them and sometimes even finding that it is much more beneficial to stay on welfare than it is to look for work. Now don’t get me wrong; a limited amount of welfare to those who have truly been hit with bad fortune is good and necessary, but the systems we have today have just gotten totally out of hand. The grotesque growth of western welfare states was enabled by our fiat currency financial system which gave government the ability to borrow and print the money required to buy votes in exchange for ever more debilitating welfare benefits. But yes, we cannot blame government, for they are elected by us. Like a bunch of ignorant schoolchildren, we have fallen for the promises of lavish benefits that just got bigger and more unsustainable with every election campaign.
The degree to which this system allows for manipulation by those in a position of power has completely corrupted our leadership and our business practice. Politicians and central bankers rule as gods because they posses the ultimate power: the ability to create money. Speculators and big business manipulate the human nature of these self-made gods through large-scale market manipulation and cashing in on special favors. In this way, they can line their pockets with billions of unearned dollars stolen from honest, hardworking people (through taxes and inflation) and future generations (though national debt).
In short, our totally corrupt economic system has given the opportunity to a very large portion of society to get much, much more than they give, thereby making western society today a true leech on the world. If you then add to that all the millions of jobs that actively prevent the free creation of value (government bureaucracy) and the active destruction of lives and infrastructure (the military and our self-induced degenerative disease epidemic), it becomes crystal clear why our society is failing.
But remember, our society not only has to struggle along trying to make ends meet, our society has to absolutely thrive if we are to have any chance at revamping our world to sustain our massive numbers into the age of expensive energy and a distinctly finite planet. We therefore not only have to stop this terrible decline we are in at the moment, we have to reverse this trend and start generating massive amounts of excess value in the areas of renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, clean transportation, water and waste management, clean industry and human-friendly urbanization.
The international energy agency estimates that revamping only the energy sector at a rate sufficient to prevent runaway global warming would cost the world $2.13 trillion per year (close to 10% of the disposable income of the richest billion individuals). If you then add in all the other above-mentioned sectors that need fundamental reforms, the magnitude of the challenge facing us starts to take shape.
It is therefore clear that we are up against it. But still, the solution is incredibly simple: we just need every able bodied adult within our society to contribute more than he/she consumes and to start consuming sustainably. If I could press a magic button today to snap everyone out of their debilitating culture of consumerism and entitlement, we would be back on the road to sustainable prosperity in no time.
Unfortunately, I do not have such a button and this blog is the best I can do. However, I can say with 100% certainty that if a significant number of people alter their lifestyles along the lines advocated on this blog, we will save our civilization and start building towards a truly sustainable society that can grant long, happy and productive lives to countless future generations. Even though it may seem like politicians and big business make all the rules, we, the consumers rule the world through our consumption. Yes, government and big business can manipulate the consumer demand through things like out-of-control advertising, totally unsustainable campaign promises, government subsidies, price fixing and interest rate manipulations, but we still have our own free will and are free to buy what we want.
If we start consuming sustainably, refuse to be liabilities to society and elect that precious sane politician that occasionally appears on the scene, we will avert disaster and start building towards true sustainable happiness. But we have to accept responsibility. No-one is going to do it for us.
In closing, please consider these three indisputable facts:
- Our current systems are fundamentally flawed and, if we do not change them, our stagnating standard of living will start going into steep decline.
- The lifestyle choices of individual consumers is the one and only factor determining the fate of our civilization. If the majority of consumers consume more than they produce and/or consume unsustainably, our society will collapse. If the majority of consumers consume less than they produce and consume sustainably, our society will prosper. It really is that simple.
- In addition to all the terrible ecological, economic and societal effects, excessive and unsustainable consumption shortens life and brings no happiness whatsoever. Sustainable living really is the one and only way to lasting health, wealth and happiness.
If you accept these facts, the appropriate course of action should be pretty obvious…
As a final little bit of motivation, the next (and final) page in this series will look at some scenarios that might play out over the next two decades. Please take a look.