We live in an era of absurd and completely unnecessary overproduction and consumerism. A subsistence based economic model is a far better alternative to a growth based economical model, which has now been imposed on the entire world, with disastrous effects.
An economy that must either grow or die is madness. An economic system dependent on infinite growth in a realm of finite resources is madness. An economic system that destroys and pollutes things that are necessary for our survival (land, water, air) to produce things that are not necessary to our survival (endless consumer goods) is madness.
The growth based economic model which has been imposed on the whole world has led to the development of the spiritually vacuous modern world, rife with depression, anxiety, and similar problems. Even in our scientific and technological wonderland, we have still not been able to reduce work, because the infinite economic growth model will not allow it.
In a subsistence based economy, all mechanized/industrial production for anything other than the base necessities such food, clothing, and shelter would stop immediately, and even in the crucial areas production would be limited. There would be no such thing as GDP, GNP, growth rate, etc. This economic model would not be dependent upon endless consumerism and production. This, I believe, would be a far more sane and rational economic model.
Just of of sheer curiosity, could you give us a description of what exactly people would do with their lives, day after day after day for seventy or ninety years, under such a scenario? They can’t work, because most work involves feeding consumption, and they can’t play, because most play involves consumption. So what do they do? Meditate? Vegetate? Organize suicide parties?
I’m quite serious. There are seven billion people alive today. Say we decided to make this switch tomorrow. What happens? How do their lives change? How do they get from morning until evening?
I have great sympathy with OP, but finding ways for humans to spend leisure time is not the key problem in the near-term. With 7 billion (and counting) mouths to feed, our hectic lifestyles will be needed just to continue distributing fertilizer and food. Instead of weaning humanity off its iPhones, a higher priority would be to wean it off beef. But even now, poor countries rightly resent being asked to make sacrifices the developed world never had to make.
A major contributor to the economic growth OP decries is population growth, and some of us think a dramatic population reduction, were it possible, would improve the outlook for humanity. But even without population growth, a free economy will tend to drive a vicious cycle of economic growth.
Well, IMHO there are two concepts that need to be taken into account to get a bit less worried:
Dematerialization (Or in this short video from a talk from Buckmister Fuller: Ephemeralization - Doing more with less (animated clip))
So the principle of *dmass* is the principle of producing much much more useful benefit with much less resources is evident in the bridge industry and it's evident in the computer industry because we're all used to seeing that the computer is getting smaller and smaller but getting more and more powerful and using less and less energy and resources but most of society is really still organized much like the Stone Bridge.
With a little hole at the bottom we are using millions and millions of tons of resources for things which we don’t need to use them for. We still build houses the same way we did a hundred years ago. Even though our knowledge of materials and resources and being able to design integrated systems that would use a fraction of the materials and a fraction of the energy, and a fraction of the water that we have. That knowledge, *dmass *is about learning to apply these principles of mimicking the way nature solves problems and applying them to all aspects of our lives in order to reduce the total amount of mass that is invested in producing the wealth and the progress that we all want and to being able to take care of ourselves and the entire population of the planet on a sustainable basis.
And: helping to raise the living standards of the poorest:
What % of the modern economy goes to medical care, or education, or financial assistance to the elderly, disabled or children?
Any return to subsistence living will eliminate all of these things.
Its common to think that all our economic growth goes to unneeded luxuries. But most developed nations probably spend at least 25% of their economies on medicine, education or assistance for the elderly, disabled or children.
Also in older cultures most people never traveled more than 10 miles from their home town. People didn’t know how the world worked.
People were constantly sick. Also because people were sick and uneducated, people didn’t strive to make their lives better.
Now if a person wants to live a subsistence life within a technological society, have at it. But you’ll never get society at large to change.
As far as pollution and resource depletion, these are problems but we may figure something out someday. Maybe becoming a civilization that moves more towards virtual reality, or one that moves toward sustainability, or towards being a society that lives on other planets, mines asteroids or maybe someday engages in interstellar travel.
I am not so sure that that is hardwired in us. We do want personal growth and discovery, by nature, but a great deal of consumerism is, I believe conditioning. We used to fix things. Not so much anymore. When your microwave breaks, you get a new one, because no one fixes microwaves anymore.
There is probably middle ground. There are things we need, like bowls and spoons and shirts and chairs and so forth. But there is no need for factories to make this stuff. Cottage industry, with people making things they have a talent for, could in theory fill the gap, keep people busy and still be largely sustainable.
I do think there is a medium that could address our needs without ruining the ecosystem and our psyches the way contemporary society seems to, but it would probably not be easy getting there from here. Most likely, we will instead crash hard before too long, and who knows what will follow that, but I doubt it will be pretty. Which makes me sad for the children.
You’d have to get every country in the world to agree to it as well. If everyone’s living on tofu and getting entertainment by watching slugs crawl around, they’re going to get miffed when some fat, happy tourists covered in smartphones and sex toys come rolling through town.
I’d worry more about armies than I would worry about tourists. But the answer is simple. All we need to do is implement a planet-wide Totalitarian government that would make North Korea look like a liberal democracy. What could possibly go wrong with that?
In order to save the species, we must kill the species.
The reason people don’t fix microwaves is that building a microwave in a factory and shipping it across the world is extraordinarily cheap. Calling a skilled mechanic to drive to your house, take apart your microwave, replace the broken part, put it back toghether, and drive home is extraordinarily expensive.
Factory production is orders of magnitude more efficient and less wasteful than hand crafting. You can buy a shirt at Target for $5. Now imagine how much work it would take to make that shirt yourself. Grow the cotton, pick the cotton, gin the cotton, spin the cotton, weave the thread on a hand loom, sew the fabric. The amount of work to make one shirt by hand, starting from a bare plot of land, is staggering.
The whole concept is nonsensical. The good news is that if you don’t want hundreds of cheap shirts from Target, you don’t need to buy them. But 100 mass produced shirts take less work than one handmade shirt. So save the planet, buy one mass produced shirt for one one hundredth the cost of your handmade shirt and save the planet the extra 99% of the waste.
Emphasis added. Is that a serious proposal? Because that sounds like a return to the Middle Ages (as opposed to a return to the Paleolithic per the OP). In which case the crash you fear, stated in your last paragraph, would be a certainty.
Any nation that adopts subsistence living will be easy pickings for a more advanced society if they choose to invade. Sharpened sticks being held by starving, illiterate peasants are no match for heavy military equipment.