Few of us question the status quo on essential matters that seem beyond question in a free society, like the necessity for constant war, eternal poverty, other plagues of human misery like desperate addiction and mass incarceration. One reason is that we don’t have the language to ask these questions intelligently, even if we know something is sickeningly wrong with the way business as usual is conducted. If you come across the right term, as I did recently from an activist — “extractive economic model,” and consider it against her alternative, “regenerative economic model,” you have the beginning of your question. Spoiler alert, the irrefutable answer to this well-framed question, if you are not very, very wealthy and have some means to influence people, is “oh shut the fuck up, you fucking loser fuck.” Nonetheless…
The great fortunes of some of our greatest families are founded on wealth they had workers extract from the ground. This model for ‘creating wealth’ continues unabated to this day, with the tireless extractors of wildly lucrative fossil fuels still raking in vast fortunes every year. In fact, with the new corporate tax break, Exxon and their ilk will keep many additional billions in the coming years for their essential contribution to the bustling world economy. Same for the Koch boys and the industrious geniuses who invented the invasive, highly toxic hydrofracking procedure to extract safe, clean, lucrative, natural gas from deep within the earth.
Back in the days when America was great, and people of means could own other human beings, the economy of the South was based on non-food cash crops, cotton and tobacco, that required massive manpower to harvest and which also depleted the soil. Plant any single crop long enough in the same place and you end up destroying the soil. That’s why crop rotation has been around for thousands of years. That was one reason the Planters (that’s what the slave-driving motherfuckers were called) were so keen to add new slave territories to our great nation, they had destroyed the soil of the south growing the same two highly profitable monocultures every year.
It’s just the way we do business here. There are externalities attached to most enterprises that create vast wealth. The death of the Amazon jungle, the lungs of the planet, is considered (by winners) a small price to pay if it allows McDonald’s to continue selling healthy three dollar meals to poor people, and reaping massive worldwide profits. We live in an extractive economy, extract what you need, as cheaply as possible, to ensure maximum profit, and sorry about any lifeless ecosystems we leave behind. Read the fine print, also, you can’t sue us in court but we can hire an arbitrator together to tell you you have no rights a wealthy corporation is bound to respect. In the worse case scenario, like in the battle between big oil and local activists in Nigeria, you can just hang a few of the local leaders and the rest of the protesters will go away.
But this is all just bellyaching. Until, perhaps, you have the alternative model to present: the regenerative economic model. Regenerative grows back, extractive removes with no thought or hope of replacing anything. Regenerative is the essence of sustainability, Extractive depletes unto extinction. Regeneration supports living creatures, extraction eventually kills them all.
“OK, fine, Mr. Idealist, a sustainable economy is better than an earth-raping one, but where is the money in your precious regeneration? Extraction has a long proven history of profit going back to the Conquistadors who forced natives to mine and give up their gold. In fact, it goes back way further, to when great conquerers just extracted what they wanted from loser cultures who went whimpering under the sword.”
No argument there.
“So, sir, with all due respect– why don’t you fucking shut the fuck up you fucking loser fuck?”
I couldn’t say, sir. I suppose it is not in my nature.