Green Planet Blues: Environmental Politics from Stockholm to Tyoto

By Harrison Program on the Future Global Agenda; Ken Conca et al. | Go to book overview

WILLIAM OPHULS


6
The Scarcity Society

For the past three centuries, we have been living in an age of abnormal abundance. The bonanza of the New World and other founts of virgin resources, the dazzling achievements of science and technology, the availability of "free" ecological resources such as air and water to absorb the waste products of industrial activities and other lesser factors allowed our ancestors to dream of endless material growth. Infinite abundance, men reasoned, would result in the elevation of the common man to economic nobility. And with poverty abolished, inequality, injustice, and fear--all those flowers of evil alleged to have their roots in scarcity-- would wither away. Apart from William Blake and a few other disgruntled romantics, or the occasional pessimist like Thomas Malthus, the Enlightenment ideology of progress was shared by all in the West. The works of John Locke and Adam Smith, the two men who gave bourgeois political economy its fundamental direction, are shot through with the assumption that there is always going to be more--more land in the colonies, more wealth to be dug from the ground, and so on. Virtually all the philosophies, values, and institutions typical of modern capitalist society--the legitimacy of self-interest, the primacy of the individual and his inalienable rights, economic laissez-faire, and democracy as we know it--are

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Copyright © 1974 by Harper's Magazine. All rights reserved. Reproduced from the April issue by special permission.
Marxists tend to be more extreme optimists than non-Marxists, differing only on how the drive to Utopia was to be organized.

-65-

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