Aren't we all Bernie Madoffs?

SUBHEAD: The Ponzi scheme of economic growth is coming unraveled.
By George Mobus on 12 March 2009 in Question Everything -
Image above: Falling house of cards. From (
Bernie (may I call you that, Bernie? I feel as if I know you well!) may be facing some of his 'victims' before going off to jail. Boo-fricking-hoo. You will probably think me heartless. A lot of people, some of whom were possibly innocent, lost a lot of money in Bernie's Ponzi scheme. But I have to ask: Is anyone who has dollar signs in their eyes and thinks they are about to become filthy rich without doing anything to earn that wealth aside from putting up some money in a no-lose proposition really a victim? Ponzi schemes, like all cons, work because someone is succored into believing they will get something for nothing. If you do something because of greed, can you be called a victim when things go badly? But then what about our whole economy? Isn't it a giant Ponzi scheme that relies on new "investors" coming into the "market" in order to support the "profits" of older investors? A "growth" economy is necessary in order to keep the scheme working. We need new workers with an expanding job market in order that they become consumers so that they will buy and use up junk produced from dwindling resources. Bernie got caught because suddenly there were few if any more new investors to scam. The financial implosion gave people pause and they were becoming more careful with what money they had left. No new investors and the Ponzi scheme unraveled. And now it looks like jail time for Bernie. Our growth-oriented, consumer-based, borrow-from-the-future economy has been a gigantic Ponzi. It depended on growth because that is the only way you could keep it going. The bankers knew this. The Wall Street crowd knew this. The economists knew this. They were the distributed 'Bernie Madoffs' who promoted the scheme. And the public, ever eager to buy SUVs and wide screen TVs were the suckers — they wanted to believe in magic and hedonistic consumption, so they bought the story hook, line, and sinker. The politicians probably didn't know it, but they wanted votes, and what got votes was to keep the 'dream' alive. Promise the public that they could have their cake and eat it too and they would keep their jobs. Ask me again why I claim that the average human being is lacking in sapience. What all of these believers failed to take into account is physics and the laws of nature. What they didn't know, couldn't have known in their willful ignorance, is that humanity had come to rely on a finite and exponentially dwindling energy source — fossil fuels — to build their civilization with. It takes a continued flow of energy just to maintain that civilization. And we are running out. Or, at least, our net energy available to do useful work is running out. Without energy to do real work, produce real wealth, all the paper and electronic dollars in the world are worthless. First to go is the confidence in the financial system that created money on the basis there would be plenty of wealth creation in the future to pay back for what we 'borrowed' now. But it isn't so. The decline in net energy is a one-way street that cannot be reversed by simply putting up a bunch of wind turbines and solar arrays. There probably is a steady-state equilibrium point wherein many fewer people can be sustained at a reasonable living standard using truly renewable energy sources without decimating the Ecos further. But I do mean MANY fewer people. And we are a long way from having that number as well as having the energy infrastructure to support them. The few voices that have been pointing out that infinite growth is an impossibility in a finite world have been drowned out by the promises and the promotions of those who seek to retain power and privilege; the rich seek to become richer. The foolish people didn't want to hear the message of the limits crowd in the first place. When the world was largely empty of human presence, growth of the population and technology seemed good and provided ever increasing conveniences. What was not to like about that phase of our species' existence? But we have long since filled this world up and are now seriously jeopardizing the future of the Ecos by taking a much bigger slice of the finite pie. It really is a zero-sum game, we just wanted to ignore that fact. We are all Bernie Madoffs. We are both greedy investors and Ponzi promoters. And, much as I hate to say it, President Obama has become the 'Berniest' of them all. He buys into the whole scheme. He has appointed two of the principle promoters as chief economics advisors who are hell-bent for leather to get the banks loaning again so that they can re-start the economy we had. This is the ultimate in foolishness. We could be using this opportunity to completely re-tool our economic system to move in the direction of balance and steady-state. We could re-envision education to be about developing the minds and hearts of people rather than about training them for jobs so they can become consumers. This is the perfect time to re-invent not just our culture, but to lead the world in understanding and accepting our limits, and learning to live equitably within those limits. Ah, but for the lack of wisdom we will instead commit societal suicide. See also:

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