The Stewardship Economy

February 25, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society

The Obama Administration seems to have a feel for part of what our society and our economy has to achieve when it seeks to fund a transition to a “Green” economy.  Decentralizing the electrical grid by creating a distribution infrastructure that encourages solar and wind offers economic health without greenhouse gas production.  Still, the Obama Administration is not exactly displaying a lack of imagination but is exhibiting a failure to understand that the economic crash is signaling the end of the consumer economy.

Three generations of Americans have grown used to this giddy consumer amphetamine high accompanied by a reverence for products and the institutions that bring us all these choices.  Imagining an economy without the constant churn of natural resource conversion into disposable commodities, at this point, is a challenge.  Engaging imagination in this direction would be a useful challenge for the new administration.

My website design and development firm serves over 400 businesses.  One of those clients is down the street and around the corner.  Monica sells used children’s clothing and toys.  This Christmas she saw her business boom.

Monica told me the story of one of her customers giving the younger of her two daughters a used toy, a toy that would have been quite expensive if new.  The older child, maybe seven or eight years old, upon being told by the mom that is was a used toy, expressed excitement at the mother’s virtuous act.  To this child, the fact that the toy was used enhanced its value.  It was a recycled toy.

The Obama Administration needs to be able to see three or four years into the future when a sizable portion of the slowly recovering economy is revolving around stewardship of what we can use as opposed to abandonment of what’s not new.

This means paying close attention to infrastructure that encourages preservation of resources.  One obvious choice would be to fund public transportation over highway construction.  Another would be to subsidize specific areas within industries that don’t churn nonrenewables.  Modern agriculture burns up fossil fuel fertilizer in the guts of cows, pigs and chickens that we then consume.  Nonconsumer economy food is organic.  When we note the astonishing amount of the greenhouse gas methane that is produced by cow flatulence, moving quickly away from beef would be another prudent stewardship economic action.  We could tax beef as we tax gas.

Very soon advertisers will begin touting the longevity of their products as an integral feature of what they produce.  This change in frame of reference will encourage the new stewardship perspective.  How can the government proactively spend our money to make our withdrawal from the three-generation consumer high as painless as possible?  It can begin by emphasizing quality over quantity whenever possible.

Perhaps that which most characterizes a quality life is a life spent in appreciation.  The government can’t make people appreciate, but it can encourage reverence for life and art.  One of those things government can be spending money on is massive art works.  Art, almost by definition, enhances or encourages the idea of stewardship.  Art is not generally disposable.

I imagine that the zeitgeist message of a stewardship society is stories that naturally emerge from artists.  In a consumer economy, all propaganda revolves around consumption.  Those days are over.

Does the Obama Administration have the hearing and vision to be able to note the excited voice of a child observing that recycled is actually brand new?


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