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Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Politics of “Enough”

My last day off was Wednesday, and a friend of ours (the Evil Twins’ dad) gave a call just to see what was up, and as he admitted, because he was bored. This guy is a religious-right type, but not into teabagger territory; he supported Huckabee in the primary and voted the way his preacher told him to in the general.

Anyway, he likes to ramble from topic to topic, and the incoming rain led to discussion of water issues in general — primarily the drought that we left behind for now. Water politics is pretty complex on Planet Georgia, when it’s not a complete hairball. Lake Lanier is one of several Corps of Engineers reservoirs, but seems to draw the most attention since it’s Atlanta’s primary water supply. The lakefront counties want some of the water themselves, the (mostly) wealthy lakeshore property owners want their docks to stay afloat, Atlanta and smaller cities downstream want a drink, and there has to be a certain amount of water in the Apalachicola to maintain barge traffic. None of this was an issue 20 years ago, when we had an even worse drought (the pasture here looked like a Marscape), before people started flooding into Atlanta and points mostly north. At some point, the population and its water demands exceeded the minimum supply. I pointed out that limiting further development would go a long way toward preventing even worse problems in the future. And he said…

“But when you talk about limiting growth, you’re also hurting income!”

“Well, what would you rather have?” I asked. “Income, or a drink of water?” He changed the subject.

A lot of the problems we’re facing today — climate change, peak oil, water and soil depletion, the economy, etc. — stem from an inability (or more likely, willful refusal) to determine how much is enough. People cruise along with their lives and careers, perhaps with a vague notion that their locale or the world are reaching carrying capacity in some aspects, but make no attempt to do anything about it. Perhaps they expect someone else to solve “the problem” (which, as the Archdruid is fond of saying, is actually a predicament); perhaps they are afraid to make waves at home or work. The result, in either case, is the same.

“Enough” is a good place to be. A small, slightly ratty-looking car is fine for getting me to work and back and is less likely to be molested by thieves or vandals. Enough house costs less than too much house, in terms of both mortgage and utilities. Enough income… well, with FAR Manor, there’s never enough income, but if the expenses would go away you can bet I wouldn’t be working so much. Enough commerce would support a stable population without creating environmental issues. I could go on, but you get the point.

The problem is, finding a politician brave enough to say “enough.”


  1. I love your answer. It seems so obvious, and it just amazes me when I have similar conversations with people that they will argue and justify this part of their lives or that part without realizing the overall negative impact.

    Do you want water or money? Good answer!

  2. Thanks, Wendy. To me, it's harder to understand how people won't understand that what they're doing is self-destructive.

  3. Good morning Far .. read this last night and wanted to post something.

    Meh, that “anything but growth != prosperity” meme is unfortunately in wide circulation and much-believed by whole segments of our financially-illiterate population.

    You framed it nicely .. whaddaya want, water or growth? Can't have both.

    I tend to think of “growth” as being more like “adding capacity” to an operation, in the sense that it's safe to do only when you know that the new portion [of whatever] will be able to cover its own recurring costs later on. Think of it as when you company builds a whole new annex onto its manufacturing floor, buys machinery, hires and trains workers .. if there isn't enough room to expand company sales later, the money put into the expansion has essentially gone into creating liabilities for the company.

    It's the same thing when city ABC adds tons of new housing to the area without also adding worthwhile employment opportunities. It is not good enough just to build the neighborhoods and schools and shopping complexes, and assume that the construction/staffing/upkeep of these things will be the primary employment sector there, or that the army hookers that follow (services) will be the main employment.

    What we had in this country was essentially the cessation of sustainable growth a long time ago (1960s or 1970s) and the illusion of growth (construction of vast suburban housing tracts, roads, schools, shopping complexes, etc) subsidized by slowly-slipping credit standards as manufacturing employment was shipped overseas. This credit expansion has now reached its conclusion.

    I for one wouldn't mind living in a non-expanding economy that's maintaining some form of sensible stasis. In theory I could relocate to Germany, if I wanted (one of the parents was born there, so I have the right to citizenship) and move to the former eastern portion, where the economy is not at all good. Might be an interesting place to go live quietly, though. Forget about maintaining a US lifestyle there or finding jobs that pay like the ones here. I think what they're experiencing there is probably what all of us will be experiencing within 20 years or so. The age of FF prosperity, and everything that depended on it (from operations of scale to JIT to nation-states) will either find new supports or cease to exist. In their case, the former western part of Germany can't quite afford to bring the former eastern part up to speed.

    Far, if you wish to give your friend the gift of an education, point him to the HBB and tell him to read the whole Bits Bucket thread every day. They do a new one every day, and it typically gets 300~500+ comments. It is well worth the time in terms of free education in economics.


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