Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 10:08:01 AM EST
Those happy ideas -- consumption and demand -- are even now -- almost unconsciously -- perceived as the engines of economic activity. But such imagery is left over from a time when fuel was abundant and almost free.
In that exciting era, more demand and more consumption translated effortlessly into more use of fuel. More use of fuel obviously benefited the extractors and sellers of fuel, but it also helped those who processed and stored and transported the fuel, and of course also those who fed and clothed the processors and transporters, and on and on and on.
Diary rescue by Migeru
Even more significantly, all that fuel-driven activity left permanent infrastructure in its wake: buildings, roads, machinery, pipelines, railroads. Of course such infrastructure multiplied the ability of the society to generate even more economic activity, more artifacts of the civilized good life.
The result? Exponential growth of wealth! Happy times are here again!
But now a time arrives when fuel is scarce or expensive, and suddenly none of the above works. Suddenly "demand" simply translates into the old demons of Want, Need, Deprivation.
(In a society with, say, insufficient water, generating more demand for water does not help the economy. When food is short, we are not cheered by more demand for food.)
The whole idea of consumption and demand being good for the world only makes sense when there is an actual surplus of fuel, just the situation we have come to experience as normal. From the beginnings of the Oil Age, around 1860, the extractors of "rock oil" always ended up with more of the stuff than they (or anyone else) knew what to do with.
Naturally those extractor companies wanted to increase demand! Naturally they lobbied to replace public transportation systems with automobiles and airplanes! Naturally they encouraged wars, which use lots and lots of fuel!
Who could realistically argue with that kind of success? Certainly not politicians! Surely not business leaders. Obviously not bankers.
And not the public, who (then as now) love cars and roads, the 20th century embodiments of Freedom.
Let me ask you, then, next time you read something about "stimulation" or "demand," to please remember exactly what is being stimulated, what is being demanded: the ever-faster approach of a moment of truth such as even the most pessimistic among us hardly dare to imagine.