03 March 2013

Our Economic Engine Has Backfired

The way we talk about the economy in our EuroAmerican culture is one long, extended metaphor. It's the engine that drives us. 

"Fuelling America's Economic Engine" 
"Is America's Economic Engine Stalling?"  
"Growth and Renewal in the US: Retooling America's Economic Engine"  
"China's Shorthanded Economic Engine Sputters" 
"Canada's Economic Engine Runs on Energy We Deliver"  
"Canada's Economic Engine Runs Out of Gas" 
"Economic Engine Should Keep Revving in 2013" 
"The UK's Economic Engine is Running on Empty" 
"Firing Up the Economic Engine" 
"Keeping Japan's Economic Engine Running" 
"Has America's Economic Engine Run Out of Steam?" 
"Local Economic Engine Gains Steam" 
"Priming the Economic Engine" 
"The Economic Engine that Could"
Now, even though I took a Car Care course in grade 10 and can change my own flat tires, I have to admit that I don't know much about the internal combustion engine. What goes on under the hood is a mystery to me, akin to magic. But when flames come out of the exhaust pipe and there's a loud bang, well, I know a backfire when I hear one. And our globalized economic engine has backfired on us. 

According to Wikipedia, the term comes from experiences with early unreliable firearms or ammunition, "in which the explosive force was directed out at the breech instead of the muzzle." (Sounds kind of dangerous, no?) 

The term "backfire" then came to indicate a mistimed explosion in a car's cylinder or exhaust. And now it also refers to "something that produces an unintended, unexpected, and undesired result." (Sound like the economic engine we've been test-driving for the last century?)

I had to laugh (as in gallows humour) when I read (again, at Wikipedia) that a "backfire in an automobile engine typically results from various malfunctions related to the air to fuel ratio." Does that strike you as funny? Get it? Our economic engine is using so much fuel that the atmosphere is malfunctioning? Okay, maybe I'm overextending the metaphor now, but you get the picture.

Do you hear that giant explosive kaPOW? That's the sound of our fossil-fuelled economy blowing up in our faces.

"The first commandment of economics is: Grow. Grow forever. Companies get bigger. National economies need to swell by a certain percent each year. People should want more, make more, earn more, spend more  ever more."      — Donella Meadows, co-author, Limits to Growth 
" ... all of us, including scientists, will have to give serious thought to the notion that economic growth and true sustainable long-term wealth may now be antithetical."— Kurt Cobb, "Should Scientists Embrace Economic Growth?" Scitizen, 16 October 2007
Maybe if we all just slowed down a bit, stopped driving ourselves silly trying to get ahead, when getting ahead with our backfiring, sputtering and dangerous economic engine means driving down the road to oblivion?

1 comment:

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