Old Ways in the New Days

More and more economists seem to be coming around to the idea that “low-growth, low-inflation” is the new normal. For most, this is not a change for the better. Because they believe economic progress depends upon economic growth, they hope for private sector “innovation,” or government “stimulus,” to kick-start economic growth.

I’m not an econometrician, of course, but I don’t dread and fear this “new normal.” Rather, I welcome it.

As someone famous once said, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” It seems to me that growth is desirable, until we’re done growing. At some point things grow as large as they ought to grow. At that point it’s best that they stop growing.

Growth that is dependent upon depletion of finite natural resources is unsustainable. Growth that is dependent upon an ever-increasing human population is unsustainable. Such growth may create “economic activity” and jobs, in the short run. But in the long run it is deadly, like cancer.

In the “new normal” there probably will be fewer jobs. Nominal incomes may very well stagnate or fall.

But that doesn’t mean humanity’s quality of life will necessarily fall. In fact, I expect our overall quality of life to improve. It will require some discipline, and a transition out of consumerism, but I expect that in the “new normal” it will be easier than ever to lead a very fulfilling and comfortable life with little money. “Economic growth” (at least as traditionally understood) may be unnecessary in a stable population whose basic needs are met.

Looking back at the last 20 years, we’ve seen amazing technological advances that have dramatically improved the overall quality of human lives around the world. The pace of technological achievement we’re seeing these days suggests that the changes that come with the next 20 years will be even more dramatic–to the point of being nearly unbelievable.

I believe we’re transitioning into the next phase of human existence–a phase our ancestors have been anticipating for thousands of years. The future is very bright and is rapidly approaching.

Maybe it’s ironic that we have a pre-existing set of values that are well-suited to the “new normal” and our emerging new world–values we have cultivated over 10,000 years of pre-industrial civilization. The agrarian values of virtue, prudence, thrift, community-based economies, sustainability, reverence for the transcendent and for the natural world, morality, self-reliance, love of neighbors, simplicity–these, I believe, will be the foundations for the peaceful, creative, benevolent societies that will emerge as we leave our ancient struggles behind us.

And if I’m wrong about the direction of humanity, if my technological optimism is misplaced and civilization is in fact proceeding toward collapse rather than toward progress, then it is agrarian values that will sustain us in that future as well.


Rambling thoughts on a rainy Christmas Eve morning…


13 comments on “Old Ways in the New Days

  1. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, I hope and pray that you are correct. Your thoughts are refreshing considering all the gloom and doom out there. The resulting election seems to have divided our country even more. I’m not one, like you, to cry “the sky is falling”. I believe, in agreement with you, that the answer is being in community with all those around me.

    I love technology. I’m old enough to say that I grew up with technology. I was captured by it in the early 1960s and decided to pursue a career in that sector for 41 years. I must say that today it has passed me by and having just bought the newest Galaxy S7 cell phone, it’s quite a learning curve from the old one. It literally is a computer in my hand and I seriously doubt I’ll ever use the entire potential of the phone. This is way cooler than Dick Tracy’s watch in the comics of old. Uber is on the brink of driver-less cars to move people, tractors here in the Midwest are ever so close to being driver-less as well. Technology has taken over every aspect of society except my garden hand tools. Is it strange that I like both worlds?

    Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Believing that “the sky is falling” seems to be part of human nature. Two of our strongest human cognitive biases are declinism (the belief that the world is getting worse over time) and the status quo bias (a bias in favor of the status quo and a corresponding belief that when change occurs it will be for the worse, not better). These biases account for things like the appeal of “Make America Great Again.” We hold those biases so strongly it’s a wonder we’ve made any progress at all! But we’ve done pretty well, in spite of ourselves.

      I’ve just come in from feeding hay to our goats and putting wood in the stove that heats our home–just as people have done for thousands of years now. But then I turn on my personal computer and have a conversation with a fellow gardener in Nebraska (thousands of miles away), about a short reflection I published a couple hours earlier, which is immediately visible to nearly every human on the planet. No long distance charges or publishing expenses involved. 🙂

      All best wishes for a very merry Christmas and the happiest of new years!

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Ed says:

    That is one of my favorite Edward Abbey quotes of all time!


    • Bill says:

      It’s a great quote. It’s pretty cool to think about Edward Abbey and Wendell Berry studying literature together at Stanford 50 years ago during their Stegner Fellowships.


  3. BeeHappee says:

    A friend of mine had recently posted this poem, which, almost a century later, still sums up our building and growing quite well, I think:

    by Edwin Markham

    We are all blind until we see
    That in the human plan
    Nothing is worth the making if
    It does not make the man.

    Why build these cities glorious
    If man unbuilded goes?
    In vain we build the work, unless
    The builder also grows.


  4. Thank you for this post. I totally agree. I feel lucky that we landed in Maine 15 years ago and are part of a small but active area of farming/do-it-yourselfers. I would hate to do without my iPhone, iPad and Macbook, though! All that new technology helps keep us small farmers and doers connected in a way that I could never have imagined 40 years ago. Humans being humans, hopefully we will stagger forward to more appreciation of what we actually can do and do have, but I think that is a lot to ask sometimes!


    • Bill says:

      Technology has certainly made it easier to form communities, as counter-intuitive as that might be. It’s been a great benefit to us here too. There’s a lot to be said for a sensible combination of the old and the new.

      Wishing you a Merry Christmas in Maine!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I sure like the way your mind rambles…
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts – it helps give me some much needed perspective as I continue to reel from the results of the election.
    Wishing you the merriest of Christmases and a “new normal” New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ain't for city gals says:

    I have lots of ramblings of my own on this subject but for now I wish you and Cherie a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for a great New Year.


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