A modest Proposal (An appeal to Rupert Read)

How many are aware of Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay? If poor people sold their (too many) babies to rich people for food, a lot of poverty and hardship would be solved.

Rupert Read is terrifying in the calm way he forecasts not just the complete collapse of human society, but the destruction of the ecosphere on which all life depends. I could not find the U Tube in which Rupert really tells it as it is likely to be, but this one gives the gist.

I do not suggest selling babies any more than Swift did, but that would be more humane than what happened on Rapanui (Easter Island). They ate fully grown people, having comprehensively trashed their originally lush sub-tropical environment. Rapanui’s main problem was overpopulation, though the destruction of the forest, purely to transport statues, was a form of unnecessary economic activity.

But why could the Easter Islanders not see what they were doing? Why cannot we? Has Rupert asked this question? But the consequences of indefinitely continuing economic growth have been known since the 1972 MIT Report Limits to Growth. I thought of a possible answer in 1973, but more of that later.

There are two powerful reasons why this life threatening can has been kicked down the road for nearly 50 years, but both are due to the exponential onset. How many doublings, 2, 4,8,16 …  before you pass a million? It is probably sooner than you think (20). Suppose the sustainable limit is say, 10,000. The point is the last 2 or 3 doublings take you by surprise (2 is now 16). They did on Rapanui.

The strategies which were optimum whilst growth was feasible quite suddenly become the worst possible, but they persist, because they have been so successful.

Homo Sapiens is not the first life form of life to deal with this, the real root of the Tragedy of the Commons.  Amphibians colonised the land, and the first birds learnt to fly. But – as on Rapanui – they eventually found out how to stop. Sapiens hasn’t, yet.

If you are squeamish about Swift’s ideas, or Rapanui, how about Guppies? They do routinely eat their babies. But they only eat the right number, so that there are not too many Guppies for the resources available.

This ‘existential’ (why not just call it life-threatening?)  threat has been ignored because if growth is the expectation, then anything less cannot be offered politically to the majority with not much to start with, and as long as growth is the mind set, the rules of the game, if one ‘capitalist’ gives up because he (usually) is wrecking  the planet, others just take over his market share.

Greta Thunberg welcomes her Asperger’s diagnosis. They didn’t test for that when I was at school. I am hopeless at practicalities, but I did see an immediate answer to the ecological threat:

An unconditional basic income (UBI).

A regular sum to feel secure whatever the state of the economy is necessary as a catalyst, or lubricant for the mind set change to make possible, after 50 years, the changes, available in 1973, and now recommended by Rupert (and XR). Such a payment firmly tied to ecological realities – and taxes – might gradually reduce economic activity to what the ecosphere can cope with.

Rupert, please include the UBI in your narrative, as per this blog. It will be a pity if your worst fears have to come true.


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