Forget peak oil. The population of the finite earth has now passed peak natural resources of ALL kinds. The destructive negative feedback loop powered by fear, greed, and power grabs, that is currently bedeviling much of the planet, is strong evidence that this condition is well known, even if none dare speak of it. As a thought experiment, subtract from current politics and economics all elements dependent upon the exploitation of natural resource. What is left? What do we need to invent to fill the voids?
For starters, Krugman and Friedman illuminate a basic conflict over education. Krugman posits that the current attack on education is a defensive strategy, required by the rapid rates of change facing us, based on the hope that what you don’t know won’t hurt the oligarchs in the 1%. Friedman, citing the example of Taiwan, writes in his article “Pass the Books, Hold the Oil”:
You’re the luckiest people in the world. How did you get so lucky? You have no oil, no iron ore, no forests, no diamonds, no gold, just a few small deposits of coal and natural gas — and because of that you developed the habits and culture of honing your people’s skills, which turns out to be the most valuable and only truly renewable resource in the world today.
Friedman goes on:
“Add it all up and the numbers say that if you really want to know how a country is going to do in the 21st century, don’t count its oil reserves or gold mines, count its highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students. “Today’s learning outcomes at school,” says Schleicher, “are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.”
“In sum, says Schleicher, “knowledge and skills have become the global currency of 21st-century economies, but there is no central bank that prints this currency. Everyone has to decide on their own how much they will print.” Sure, it’s great to have oil, gas and diamonds; they can buy jobs. But they’ll weaken your society in the long run unless they’re used to build schools and a culture of lifelong learning. “The thing that will keep you moving forward,” says Schleicher, is always “what you bring to the table yourself.”
Note the emphasis on personal responsibility for what you bring to the table. This is a fundamentally ‘conservative’ stance. Will it help make the transition to the new economics and new politics required for a vibrant, regenerative and dynamic future possible? This question is suggested by the work of Jonathan Haidt, as reported in an interview by Johua Rothham in the article “Why Republicans and Democrats will never agree“.
Haidt posits that our politics and opinions are rooted in intuition, are irrational at their core, and clearly influenced by genetics. How, then, do we get Conservatives and Liberals to both intuit the appropriate responses to a finite world that is now past peak all natural resources? How do we “intuit” and incorporate into our irrational belief systems the possible “fact” that the old politics and economics, based on the exploitation of natural resources, are no longer appropriate? What do we have to do to achieve the best possible outcome for humanity’s future? For starters, the best outcome requires that, in the United States at least, Republicans and Democrats learn to agree more than they disagree. It is only then that we will be able to return to a positive feedback loop that brings out the best in all of us. The question is simply is there time enough to accomplish this turn around before the consequences of over-shooting the natural resource base of our planet make the question mute.
So which course will America choose? Switching from an economy and politics based on natural resource exploitation to one based on education and life long learning will be a wrenching change. It will challenge many irrational belief systems. It is the only path to a vibrant, regenerative and dynamic future.