This is the first linocut I’ve done for ages; it’s also the biggest one I’ve done – 15″ x 5″. The image came to mind last week, from wherever images come from, and lino seemed like the best medium to use.
Printed by burnishing with the back of a spoon – I never manage even pressure, hence the patchy edge.
We live in an econo-system based on infinite ‘growth’. But we also live in a finite ecosystem. This is a problem, a problem barely acknowledged in the old buzzword ‘sustainable growth’.
But what is it that is supposed to do this necessary and desired economic growth? Population? No – obviously endless population growth is a problem – even before we run out of space, population growth implies spreading limited resources ever more thinly. Material goods? No again – there is a physical limit to how much stuff we can ‘produce’ (the inverted commas are to remind us that ‘production’ is actually transformation of what already exists – nothing comes from nothing), at least as long as we remain on this finite planet. Living standards? Well theoretically, yes, but that is not what the economic tables measure – and when the pursuit of growth is allowed to outweigh preservation of a liveable environment or provision of social services it seems that generally improved living standards are not the point anymore, if they ever were.
It comes down of course to money, or to the exchange of ‘value’ in an easily quantifiable form. The economy is growing as long as more money is generated by our activities, and money only really exists when it is in motion, moving from buyer to seller, from lender to borrower and back again. So endless growth implies endless increase in monetary transactions; the more times money changes hands the better. And whether those exchanges are of goods and services that are actually good is beside the point.
Endless growth requires both consumerism and debt – consumerism being the endless purchasing of more things, mostly to be thrown away and replaced by more things, debt being the endless growth of money from money. We are sometimes told that lending, and hence indebtedness, is a way of making the unused capital of savers useful, funding investment in new productive businesses, enabling the heroic entrepreneurs who drive ‘progress’ to realize their ideas. Of course most of those ideas are not ways to improve lives, but ways to generate more things to spend money on. Value is turned on its head: instead of making a thing because it is of use to us, and then attaching a monetary value to it when we need to exchange it, the thing is made purely because it can be exchanged for money. And the making is performed because it produces wages and profits, regardless of the usefulness of the thing made. (So you can justify preserving a destructive industry because it ‘creates jobs’.)
But consumer debt is even better than consumption or investment in new production, because it creates/moves money (grows the economy) without actually having to make any corresponding things (‘nothing comes from nothing’ – except money?), and the faster the money moves the better. So let’s cut the transaction costs, deregulate the movement of money (though not of people) – create as near as possible a frictionless system of finance where buying and selling is done in a nanosecond by algorithmic traders, and so on and so on. In this system, if robots were to replace us all as workers, we would still be needed as consumers and more importantly borrowers, to feed the spinning growth machine.
Meanwhile, averages and totals hide that other growth – increasing inequality, and the concentration of wealth in a smaller and smaller and more obscenely rich few, hiding their self-perpetuating wealth away so it can’t be ‘stolen’ by the taxman to help those huddled masses who have the bad judgement to be poor and, fortunately for the rich, in debt.