"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Rethinking economy

I have had the distinct privilege of hearing Ray Anderson of Interface carpets speak. One idea he floated for re-envisioning our economy is the idea of closing the production loop by selling services, rather than products. What might this look like in terms of electronics?  A lease program? A buy-back option? Recycling programs for last year’s chips?

Yesterday I discussed the need of considering “exit strategies” for those of us with small spaces, but I think rethinking our economy demands going a little further out than considering the nature of a consumer.

Our economy primarily services one consumer: the military. In many ways, it makes sense. Build a bunch of things that eventually get destroyed. What sense is there in talking about recycling a missile? Or in refurbishing an outdated tank where the next generation consistently gets built from the ground up to ensure maximum military advantage? When we build things with the intention of destruction, we operate with a completely different purview than building things with the intention of preservation.

Yet our present economy assumes that everything tends towards destruction. This attitude in turn fuels our problem with waste because we design everything with an eye towards the trash heap. We understand our items as broken, used up, damaged, out of date, and out of style unless they happen to be new.

I am convinced there is a more excellent way. I think we can think about service, value, longevity and relationship. I think we can think in terms of cycles, whether speaking of up-, re-, or down-cycles. I think that forcing the discourse away from destruction towards preservation will challenge us to reconsider the economy as we know it. And I do think that we might find ourselves with some very interesting ways forward that help us honor our common humanity.

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2 responses

  1. “Our present economy assumes that everything tends towards destruction.”

    I cannot think of a single counter-example to this maxim at the macro level. When I was auto-obsessed, it bothered me that Detroit actually PLANNED to make this marvelous new toy, purchased with money I didn’t really have, obsolete in a few years so I’d have to buy another. (Is there some nexus between this and the scorched-earth obsolescence of the whole City of Detroit?)

    The obsolescence of our built environment is particularly troubling to me. At the micro level, there are a few Churches, where the liturgical praxis is stable, that build for the long term; but the faddish churches, such as the megachurches, build for destruction because the growth experts may tell them that what seekers really want is a casino atmosphere or something. But the Malls? I live near one from the 50s (I remember when it was new) that’s dying.

    And our McMansions reek of profligacy. I think much of the charm of Europe is that it’s not built that way. People still live more or less authentically human in homes that are more than 50 years old!!! Wow!!! How can they live without a special room for the Home Theater!?

    I’m not sure the etiology is in economic orientation toward the military, but the phenomenon is real.

    23 March 2010 at 6:30 am

  2. I do think that our obsession with military national security does create some need to plan for destruction. After all, many of the first things that we built can be considered a) targets or b) weapons. An interesting book in this regard is Juan Lucena’s “Defending the Nation: US Policymaking to Create Scientists and Engineers from Sputnik to the ‘War Against Terrorism'” which is essentially a very readable history of the National Science Foundation.

    It’s interesting that you should mention homes in Europe; the other thing about European homes is that people get by with a lot less square footage.

    23 March 2010 at 10:09 am

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