John Miller at US Uncut Protest; Jonathan Rowe

1. U.S. Uncut Teach-In John Miller, D&S collective member and columnist, participated in a recent US Uncut teach-in. (Here is the article from The Nation that got people excited about starting a U.S. version of UK Uncut.)

2. Jonathan Rowe, RIP. We just found out (via D&S collective member Bryan Snyder) that Jonathan Rowe, the writer and former editor of the Washington Monthly who wrote one of my favorite D&S articles, The Growth Consensus Unravels, died unexpectedly on Sunday, March 20th. (He also wrote Bad Company for D&S.) Rowe’s website has an archive of his writings, plus links to obituaries and remembrances, including this particularly nice one by David Bollier.

We include Rowe’s critique of the growth consensus in our textbooks every year, but we also mentioned it in the editorial note to our May/June 2008 issue, in connection with a cover story we were running on consumerism. Rereading that note reminded me how broadly applicable Rowe’s insights continue to be.  Here it is:

As skyrocketing prices for food and other commodities dominate the headlines, why is Dollars & Sense running a cover article criticizing consumerism? After all, basic necessities like food and fuel are stretching people’s household budgets in the United States, and are entirely out of reach for more and more people worldwide. How can overconsumption be a pressing economic problem worthy of our attention?

A recent email from a reader offers one explanation. Jackie Ovadia, a clinical nutritionist and weight management educator from Southern California, wrote to praise a D&S article from 1999, “The Growth Consensus Unravels,” by Jonathan Rowe: “Great article and a lot of insights on what is going on in our economy … I am including this article in my reading list for the students attending my ‘weight loss made simple’ class.”

Political economy for dieters? Seems odd, until you consider this passage from Rowe’s article:

A wide array of physical and social stresses arise from the activities that get lumped into the euphemistic term “growth.” … The economy in such cases doesn’t solve problems so much as create new problems that require more expenditure to solve. Food is supposed to sustain people, for example. But today the dis-economies of eating sustain the GDP instead. The food industry spends some $21 billion a year on advertising to entice people to eat food they don’t need. Not coincidentally there’s now a $32 billion diet and weight loss industry to help people take off the pounds that inevitably result. When that doesn’t work, which is often, there is always the vacuum pump or knife. There were some 110,000 liposuctions in the United States last year; at five pounds each that’s some 275 tons of flab up the tube. … It is a grueling cycle of indulgence and repentance, binge and purge. Yet each stage of this miserable experience, viewed through the pollyanic lens of economics, becomes growth and therefore good.

In the same vein, Thad Williamson’s think piece in this issue is not about berating consumers for our gluttony. Rather, it’s about evaluating—and superceding—an economic model that relies on ever-increasing consumption, including consumption that has very little to do with meeting genuine human needs.

CS