The Negative-Sum Economy

In his latest blog post on Ecosophia  John Michael Greer introduced me to a new word, illth, first coined by Ruskin.

This is the conclusion of his piece:

During the long era of expansion made possible by the exploitation of fossil fuels, the world’s industrial nations had positive-sum economies: that is to say, the total amount of wealth in those nations increased on average from year to year, and it increased faster than the total amount of illth.  Since the arrival of the first energy crisis in 1973, the world’s industrial nations have effectively had zero-sum economies:  that is, the total amount of wealth—not of money, but of nonfinancial goods and services—remained largely static on average, while the total amount of illth rose to equal it.  We are now moving into an age of negative-sum economies, in which the total amount of wealth decreases on average from year to year, while the total amount of illth rises steadily for a while.

In a negative-sum environment, trying to preserve wealth by stockpiling tokens is a fool’s errand, and no, it doesn’t matter what tokens you stockpile. Are there strategies that can deal effectively with such times?  Yes, though they’re highly counterintuitive to minds raised to believe in limitless growth.