Friday, May 21, 2010

Progressive Doom and Gloom

Last week the Pioneer Valley chapter of MassBike celebrated bike-to-work week by showing off a bunch of cool bikes and screening some cool videos at the Jones library.

One of the videos they showed was a compelling little video by Annie Leonard called The Story of Stuff.

"The Story of Stuff Project’s mission is to build a strong, diverse, decentralized, cross-sector movement to transform systems of production and consumption to serve ecological sustainability and social wellbeing."

I agree with their mission; who wouldn't? I even agree with their premise-- that parts of our current system are broken; we've got plenty of laws and regulations that harm the environment and create social ills-- and I agree with their conclusion: that we're overly obsessed with "stuff."

But... the video gives me the skeptical willies. I've seen enough propaganda videos to have a pretty good sense of when I'm being manipulated with cherry-picked facts and carefully worded half-truths that reinforce my pre-existing beliefs and fears.

For example, in the first minute of the video, the narrator claims that we're running out of resources-- "the truth is it’s a system in crisis. And the reason it is in crisis is that it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you can not run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely."

Ummm, no, that's a straw-man argument. We're getting better and better at creating better and better things with the stuff we have. We're not going to run out of trees or atoms or electrons or ideas any time soon.

The capitalist materials production system adapts. It is not linear; price signals move up and down the production chain, creating feedback loops that make the whole thing wonderfully efficient at giving people what they want.

I'm with Russ Roberts; I think a lot of things people spend money on are dumb and wasteful and useless. I don't spend money on beanie-baby collectibles or fine art or fancy cars, and I think we'd all be better off if people spent less money on sports memorabilia and donated more to worthwhile charities.

But claiming that our consumerist culture is headed for a crisis because we're subjected to too much advertising or because we're not recycling more is wrong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes money is an efficient way to get things done. Unfortunately its not a way to think things right.