Embracing a new reality

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

As job losses continue to mount, sad tales of foreclosed homes and bankruptcies and desperate people trying to adjust to economic hardships are heard. Others still employed fear for their jobs while trying to maintain the American norm of an optimistic outlook.

Almost all U.S. industries have been losing jobs to China, India and other nations with low labor costs during the past 30 years.

Heightened global job competition continues to put downward pressure on wages while the profits of some businesses rise along with executive salaries. A recent article by Yao Yang in Forbes magazine points out that even after years of rapid economic growth, China still has a huge rural supply of workers.

The rapid pace of technological change continues to expand worker productivity, both in manufacturing and services. This increased productivity eliminates more jobs, leaving less income to be spent in the affected communities.

We are faced with a global situation of too much industrial capacity, too much labor, too much debt and too little capital for governments to continue the level of services their citizens need or expect. As government services are cut and jobs are lost, citizens forcefully express their discontent with government actions that shift the burdens of austerity onto the middle and working classes.

In a series of articles in the Asian Times, Henry CK Liu calls the Barack Obama presidency a monumental disappointment. The president’s populist rhetoric of “change we can believe in” fares badly against the hard data of the sad shape of the economy. Liu believes Obama can recover if he takes effective action to help deserving workers instead of the financial interests now benefitting from taxpayer bailouts. Liu calls on the president to initiate a “Full Employment Program” to give a job to every American who wants one.

The call for jobs and economic growth implies we can get back to business as usual and all will be well. But perhaps business as usual is no longer possible or sustainable, and the elite may continue to gain at the expense of the public good.

Rather than wait for their fate to be determined by the uncertain outcomes of global and national power struggles, some citizens are initiating local efforts to improve the quality of their lives in the midst of economic decline.

Chris McGreal of The Guardian points out that John George of Detroit has been boarding up abandoned homes, tearing them down or fixing them up with the help of an organization known as the Blight Busters. More than 200 homes have been torn down, and some rehabilitated homes have been sold for as little as $1. Empty lots are planted with vegetables free for the picking.

According to David Runk of the Associated Press, Detroit’s Mayor Dave Bing is seeking funds to eliminate 10,000 homes, upgrade others and move residents into improved neighborhoods to lower the cost of providing public services. His actions acknowledge that economic growth is not occurring and is unlikely to return. Given current energy, environmental and economic realities, such actions could prove to be an important component of future sustainable communities.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the March 17-23, 2010 issue

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