Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says we should work more hours. Fortunately, “Jeb!” has been appropriately chastened, with many pointing out (among other things) that Americans already work a ton of hours and productivity gains have gone to the 1 percent.
But while inartful and misguided, Jeb’s comments also reflect a sacred goal that is actually shared by most in American politics, including those doing the chastening: growth.
The examples are everywhere. Minneapolis’ Democratic Mayor Betsy Hodges — the same mayor who has recently been invited to the Vatican to discuss climate change — had this to say at her inaugural address last year:
“To grow our city, and make it more than great, means above all that we must grow a population where 500,000 people — no, 500,001 and more people — live and thrive in Minneapolis, with the greatest density along transit corridors.” [MinnPost]
The current population of Minneapolis is 400,000.
The whole system relies on it
Of course, it’s not difficult to understand why mayors trumpet growth. The whole system relies on it, and Mayor Hodges still needs to show up for work in the morning.
But how does growth align with the real world in the broader sense? In addition to the increasing social pressures and infrastructure costs that accompany population growth — which seem to go underappreciated by elected officials seeking to increase budgets — we are faced with a much larger problem as well.
By that I mean, it’s odd, to say the least, to receive the daily mythology about growth alongside the increasing number of articles about climate change, drought and population overshoot.
The same day I read about Jeb’s comments, I also took note of Dahr Jamail’s article in Truthout entitled “Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The article is about University of Arizona ecology professor Guy McPherson and his research on the possibility/likelihood of near-term human extinction. (Sorry, say again?) McPherson says “we’re in serious population overshoot,” and that “our version of civilization is the least sustainable of them all.”
Yet, the received political debate is whether poorer Americans should work more to achieve an extra 2 percentage points of GDP growth (and accompanying emissions), not whether growth itself is the right goal.
Facts and prescriptions don’t align
The usefulness of Jeb’s “work more” comment, while idiotic on several levels, is that it exposes a fundamental contradiction that we all perpetrate: Hard facts about the planet and prescriptions about growth simply do not align.
Of course, what to do about that is the question, but at the very least it’s time to blow the idea door wide open. The New Economics Foundation has proposed a 20-hour workweek. That’s an idea. Unless you’re one of the saintly and indispensable among us who work one on one with real human beings every day, we could probably actually use less of what you’re selling. In today’s context, these things are not radical (more likely radically insufficient), Jeb is.
So slow down if you can manage. Do something close to home with the family. And as always, don’t believe the hype.
JT Haines is a film producer and writer who recently moved from the Twin Cities to Duluth, where he works as a union rep. This commentary was originally published at Newspeak Review. Follow him on twitter @JTH2020 and @NewspeakReview.
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