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Voodoo Economics?

Now let's see if I’ve got this straight. Thanks to two very expensive wars, tax cuts for people who don’t need them, and assorted combinations of malfeasance and corruption, the federal budget deficit is at an all-time high and growing like kudzu.

So what's the response to the financial and monetary crisis? Why bailouts, of course. A new stimulus package. Where's the money coming from? That's what I can't figure out. Printing presses, I guess. Pretty soon we'll be like those Europeans in the famous Depression-era photographs with, literally, wheelbarrows full of paper money headed off to buy a loaf of bread.

I'm no economist, but spending our way out of a shortage of money reminds me of Dave Brower’s deathless line: "That's like sobering up on martinis."

The same Mr. Brower (I worked at his elbow for 20 years) also said that "economic growth is a sophisticated way of stealing from future generations," and yet everybody seems to be saying that the only way to get out of the present economic morass is to grow our way out of it.

(The redoubtable Hazel Henderson once called economics a kind of "brain damage," but that's another story.)

So where do we go with this? Beats me, but I'm thinking that maybe the next Treasury Secretary ought to be Herman Daly, who wrote the seminal book years ago called Steady-State Economics. Herman, a once and future professor, did a stint at the World Bank, trying to reform that loose cannon, but gave it up as hopeless.

I'm not sure Herman would agree, but it seems to me that we should be taking this opportunity to reform the world economy in such a way that growth is no longer the holy grail, but in fact a sign of greed. We should look for steady-state, sustainable, zero-sum solutions to everything, whether it's the rate at which we harvest trees from the forests and fish from the sea to how much pollution we dump into the atmosphere and the lakes and streams.

We should leave the earth in better shape than we ourselves inherited it. Just a thought.