Dissecting and debating divergent economic world views in 2013

One of my daughters gave me a clever Christmas gift: a matching set of “The World in 2013” issue from The Economist and “The Big ...

One of my daughters gave me a clever Christmas gift: a matching set of “The World in 2013” issue from The Economist and “The Big Ideas of 2013” from Adbusters Canada (“Journal of the Mental Environmentalist”), the latter slyly matching the black background, bold white type, red logo and photo collage of the former.

After looking over both, I was struck by the wildly different worldviews inherent in the assumptions and topics of both publications. Could they possibly to talking about the same world in 2013?

The Economist needs no introduction to BIV readers. As a former long-time subscriber, I find it indispensably savvy about just about everything.

Adbusters, for those new to town, is Vancouver’s thought-bomb anti-consumerist magazine whose founder Kalle Lasn started the Occupy movement and Buy Nothing Day. It agitates with a vengeance “to fix the gigantic psycho-financial-eco crisis of our times … through a struggle for the imagination of the world … a daring escape from capitalism.” You get the idea. Adbusters gives itself poetic licence to say anything, to be extraordinarily, sometimes stupidly, outrageous. The Economist, in its cocky C-suite way, stays ruggedly sober and relentlessly upbeat.

There’s a graphic in Adbusters that sums up the fundamental difference between the two. It shows traditional economics viewing the “Earth as a subsystem of the human economy.” The most common word in The Economist issue is “growth” (as in GDP). This is the goal of all goals. Without it, “misery will mount, as will anger with political leaders, reflected in outbreaks of popular unrest.” All true, but the other half of the Adbusters graphic paints the bigger picture, reminding us where this growth really comes from – “Bionomics”: “Human economy as a subset of the Earth’s bioeconomy.” The decline of the earth’s bioeconomy is actually the bigger story, because all economic growth depends on it. This is where The Economist becomes outrageous by what it ignores. The biggest change that’s coming at us in 2013, catastrophic climate change, gets one page out of 192, where the writer quibbles about the quality of data about clouds.

Otherwise, amid its brilliant analyses of everything from American competitiveness to Australian mining prospects, The Economist’s message is that more resource extraction, more emissions, more consumption will save the world, reminding me of economist Kenneth Boulding’s comment that “anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

The cliff to be feared in Adbusters: “In 2012 our human species surpassed all its limits, speeding dangerously past the point of no return.” The cliff to be feared in The Economist: the fiscal cliff in the U.S.

In my desperate search for some convergence, I did find a chart in The Economist about the share of income flowing to the top 1% of Americans reaching levels not seen since the 1930s. I also discovered the Pirate Party. The Economist describes it as a German political party whose members are mostly young, well-educated, in good health and cosmopolitan, that has “tapped into a growing antipathy towards the established parties and … is much more broadly based than many think.” The Adbusters version is a call to join a World Pirate Party to fight for “a new global world order in which corporations bow to the will of the people.”

The gap in the worldviews of these two publications is quite possibly a driver behind The Economist’s prediction that “public faith in politicians could hit new lows in 2013.”

We all have to come into this year determined to talk openly about the facts about what’s going on in our world, even if it pains us to believe them. That is our toughest assignment for 2013. •

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