Every year I write an essay on the spirit of the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange and how to heal the economy, ecosystem, and communities of Rhode Island using the principles of use less, share more. Often I dedicate the essay to those trying to end poverty, war, or planetary destruction, or in jest dedicate it to those making things much worse in the community. Last year I dedicated the essay to Occupy Providence and their brethren around the world challenging the power of Wall Street. I was going to dedicate this year’s essay to Curt Schilling, 38 Studios, and their enablers in Rhode Island for squandering $100 million of our money on violent video games.
Then I learned that the Rhode Island Foundation was going to put $1 million into a fund that would be used to help grow the Rhode Island economy. This is an essay I wrote this past summer which tells you how much I think a growth fund will work. In short, not at all.
People are already using 135% of the biological productivity of the planet each year, which means that every year the global forest disappears, fisheries are diminished, and our soil washes to the bottom of the sea, carrying its nitrogen fertilizer load and thereby creating huge dead zones in the ocean. We need to get well below 100% if life on earth is to continue.
If you look at the American economy the only thing that passes for growth are the economic bubbles and the pumped up funny money that the 1% pay themselves. Over the last 30 years 93% of all growth in income in the US has gone to 1% of the population. Everyone except the 1% and the next few percents behind them has gotten poorer. Economic growth no longer is real and every time I turn around I see another article about why it is no longer a useful concept.
Nonetheless, the Rhode Island Foundation joins a long line of rogues in suggesting that we ought to grow our way out of our misery. Whether by another tax cut for the millionaires, a call to drill baby drill, more wars for oil, or the growth fund of the Rhode Island Foundation, the thrashing around in the name of growth benefits the 1% and kills the rest of us and the planet. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently pointed out how poorly economies do as they become more unequal.
Robert Gordon of the National Bureau of Economic Research recently published a paper on the end of growth, with rising inequality being one of the bigger factors leading to the demise of growth. Yesterday I received an article from the New Economics Foundation on how economic growth has no role in alleviating poverty, it just makes inequality worse.
If the Rhode Island Foundation wanted to do something useful for the RI economy it would call for an end to tax breaks for the rich, which do nothing but make the economy more unequal. Then stop the bubble economies, re-regulate the banks and investment markets, and do more to protect and heal ecosystems. The Rhode Island Foundation does many wonderful things, supports many worthy causes, but it continues to view the world through the lens of the 1% and therefore is sort of clueless about what economic growth really means on this finite planet and what the thrashing around in search of ever more growth does to our communities.
Given the state of the world, and the state of Rhode Island, on November 23 I will be out on the State House Lawn collecting and distributing winter coats. The generosity of Rhode Islanders will salve my soul, while the poverty we see among those lined up to get coats will drive me to work harder to alleviate the twin ills of poverty and ecological collapse. Volunteer or donate to the 16th Annual Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange. There will be more sites around the state than ever before with the Greater Providence YMCA opening their facilities to the collection and distribution of winter coats in November. We can not solve the problems of the world in a day, especially if we do not address the root causes. But using less and sharing more on November 23 is a good thing to do along the road to a better Rhode island. Hope to see you.