Veganism as a response to limits to growth

A makeshift memorial near the bus stop where the incident occurred, photographed on May 27. This image was originally posted to Flickr by Lorie Shaull at

Limits to growth are now here. Our economy used to work just fine but hasn’t been working so well for the past few decades. With limits to growth, it is now not going to work at all.

One failure is our way of dealing with social inequality. The only way that we have tried to deal with social inequality is through economic growth. We’ve assumed for some time that capitalistic expansion of the economy will solve problems of inequality. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” that is, a bigger economy will be bigger for everyone.

This approach didn’t ever work that well — remember “trickle down economics”? But by now it won’t work at all. Limits to growth means we can’t truly expand the economy. The only way to deal with inequality is to address the problem directly, by redistributing wealth. If we instead try to deal with inequality by expanding the economy, we’ll get just the kind of response we’ve seen recently to George Floyd’s murder.

The pandemic (remember the pandemic?) was originally caused by animal agriculture. The pandemic was an “accident waiting to happen,” and finally it happened. It is the natural consequence of bringing animals into increasingly close contact with each other and with humans. We had known about this for decades, but we didn’t do anything. Why? Because of the economy. Shutting down wet markets and factory farms would fix the problem but would cost businesses. The economy is more important than human needs and a livable planet.

This same principle is forcing the slaughterhouses to stay open, despite the fact that they are key sources, perhaps the key source, spreading COVID-19 around. It’s also the same principle used by President Trump to advocate increasing fossil fuel production and trashing environmental regulations.

None of this is going to work. We’ve postponed dealing with our vast and growing social inequality for too long, and when the pandemic sent the economy into Depression-level unemployment, people were just a bit upset. Businesses get billions in bailout money, but everybody else gets a check for $1200. Thanks a lot, guys! Shall I spend it on rent or on food? Then when yet another police murder came along, yet again captured on video, you have fully justified outrage.

Washington, D. C. after the MLK assassination. Public domain image from the Library of Congress.,_D.C._Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._riots.jpg

The President’s handling of this issue should outrage everyone. This unrest has now spread to Denver, where I live. The protests over George Floyd’s murder started on Thursday, and since Friday Denver has been under curfew. This is the second time in my life that I have been in a city with an imposed curfew because of the threat of violence. The last time was in Nashville in 1968, after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. There are credible reports that white nationalists are the instigators of the violence in some places, including Denver, perhaps hoping for a race war. The White-Supremacist-in-Chief did his part by tweeting, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

How quickly things can go downhill! We can’t deal with poverty and injustice by expanding the economy. My favorite statistic, that I have been constantly quoting recently, is that average relative wages (your salary compared to the GDP) have been declining for decades. Not this year, not since last year, but since the 1960’s.

The only way to address inequality is to do it directly, by redistributing wealth. Raise taxes on the rich, and give it to the poor. Continue the payments of $1200 to each adult citizen, but make them every month and continue them indefinitely.

In the meantime, take measures to protect the environment by restoring the national parks and environmental regulations, and protect the public against pandemics by shutting down factory farms and wet markets. This should be the starting point of discussion about the economy, not something that we have to arrive at through “free enterprise.” Once we have guaranteed housing, food, and a livable planet for everyone, then we can talk about the economy.

Veganism is a positive, mindful response to limits to growth. It’s not the only thing we need to do by a long shot, but it’s essential to dealing with all of these problems. Instead of despairing that the loss of economic growth is the end of civilization, we should embrace these limits and get to work building a new society.

15 Replies to “Veganism as a response to limits to growth”

  1. I agree with you completely that the starting point for our country should now be redistributing the obscenely unbalanced wealth by taxing the rich and giving regular monthly stipends for all, and shutting down the grisly meat farm factories and packing plants (and wet markets).

    But I don’t see how to get this message out to enough people. This seems obvious to us, but people are either not thinking about why the pandemic happened, or do not believe that it is from eating and abusing animals. And even after getting the message out, it would be a certified miracle to convince enough people to give up their meat rights, and to convince the wealthy to share their ‘entitled’ wealth without bloody riots by them, or the usual more subtle methods used by the rich and powerful.

    It seems like we have not actually left the Civil War behind yet because Afro-Americans are still held back from fair housing and a decent living while having no safety from police oppression, and the U.S. prisons are big holding tanks for adult black men.

    Animals are still tortured and eaten for the complete use and convenience of people.
    Women are still treated poorly to say the least, also under threat of violence and discrimination.

    I pray that we can change. I don’t know how we can.

    1. The Civil War really was a traumatic event, with repercussions still felt today. It didn’t really end “slavery,” except in name only, with only a slow recovery afterwards. The North didn’t really help the blacks after Reconstruction (Ulysses Grant did more than anyone until the 1960’s!), and the white South continuing to nurse their “grievances.” What a mess!

      The pandemic is one opportunity to get the message out. It hasn’t had quite the effect that we would have hoped, but for the first time political leaders are aware of the problem. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren are sponsoring legislation to ban factory farming.

      I think that people will continue to be really mad about growing inequality. I wish there would be some focused energy on “a basic income for all.” It’s going to be very difficult to get the economy going again for reasons outlined in my previous post. So the problem is not going to go away anytime soon. We need to make it as easy, and as comfortable as possible, for people to live on less.

    1. Check out Give People Money by Annie Lowrey.

      One surprising feature of a UBI (Universal Basic Income) is that it is anti-racist and anti-sexist. While we all know that women and blacks are discriminated against, it is hard to go into each individual case and show how systematic discrimination affected this particular person. The payment goes to everyone. But it benefits those at the lower end of the scale the most — so people who may have suffered economically their entire lives, but may not be able to “prove” that they were discriminated against in any particular situation, will automatically benefit the most, including unemployed blacks and women who engage in “care” work without payment.

      1. Yes and the few cases we have of UBI suggests that it actually motivates rather than making folks lazy (as claimed) because so many who never had pocket money suddenly have it. We need, as you point out, the discussion about limits to growth and degrowth before we do UBI. Thanks for book recommendation.

  2. I am happy to chime in with my support for both a National Basic Income and a Universal Basic Income, i.e., a basic income floor for every human soul on the planet. This said, I must distance myself from what appear to be assertions in this post that violence perpetrated by looters and rioters is “fully justified” by systemic racism. The brother of George Floyd took the bullhorn to argue exactly the opposite. Nor am I sure why it is fair and responsible to describe President Trump as a “White-Supremacist-in-Chief.” Are you sure you have not let your passions get the better of your vegan post title here, Keith?

    1. Their outrage is fully justified. How we react to the outrage is a different matter. I’m not ready to pick up bricks myself or encourage others to do so. And as I mentioned in the article, it appears that in Denver the violence against property was being perpetrated by white nationalists or provocateurs. I support Terrence Floyd’s statements about violence.

      I am not sure what President Trump’s personal views on race are, or whether he has any “personal views” at all. But his actions and words have certainly supported racism and the idea that whites are superior to other races. This is not particularly controversial anymore. A Brookings Institute report looks at the data and reaches this conclusion, saying: “When the data show that President Trump’s support stems from racist and sexist beliefs, and that his election emboldened Americans to engage in racist behavior, it is the responsibility of social scientists and other political observers to say so.”

      There are plenty of outrageous things going on in the world. I am hopeful that awareness of them is growing and that this will result in positive action.

      1. There are indeed “plenty of outrageous things going on in the world.” So we need responsible media to help us keep a balanced perspective. Not irresponsible media that skew statistics to exacerbate incendiary false narratives.

        Thanks to bystander reporting and peaceful protest, AG Keith Ellison was finally called in and appropriate charges have now been filed against all four officers in the George Floyd case. But what will happen in the case of David Dorn? Who should be charged, and how will the country frame its outrage?

        I found it odd that your article mentioned acts of violence against property allegedly committed by white supremacists, while ignoring abundant news footage showing persons of color engaged in violent rioting and looting. In Africa, where the overwhelming majority of people are peaceful, violently competing networks of black and brown nationalists have nonetheless plunged several countries into terror and civil war. While not denying allegations of extremist white infiltration in the case(s) you cite, are we really to imagine the total absence of a minority of black and brown supremacists, gangsters and provocateurs from the George Floyd riots?

        I think if we are presenting fairly on this subject, we need to examine Heather MacDonald’s arguments in “The War on Cops” alongside Michelle Alexander’s arguments in “The New Jim Crow.” According to MacDonald, who was recently featured on C-SPAN, the idea that we are living through an epidemic of racially biased police shootings against blacks is a lie. On the whole, police officers kill whites twice as often as blacks, even though blacks are disproportionately responsible for more violent crime. In the 75 largest counties of the United States, according to MacDonald, blacks represent 15% of the population but commit 66% of all violent crime. She says our mistaken gestalt, and subsequent vilification of police, is a consequence of media bias and disinformation campaigns.

        Are MacDonald’s numbers correct? Even if they are, or especially if they are, it is not that hard to see how systemic racism may co-exist as a cause and a consequence of black violence.

        The Brookings article you cite is disturbing and warrants careful reflection. President Trump has recently vowed to oust Republican Senator Murkowski from her Senate seat in 2022, and I suspect this vendetta, in addition to other impulsivities, may cost him the election in 2020. But I am not convinced the data prove he is the most racist and sexist living US President, or that his presidency has emboldened more racism and sexism than the presidencies of his predecessors. Thanks for your clarifications and the follow-up link.

        1. The evidence that blacks are discriminated against (the drug wars? prison populations?), that George Floyd’s murder was an outrage (there’s a video, you know), and that Trump is a racist (immigration? the “Mexican” judge? the “birthers”?), all seems overwhelming. The planet is burning. Let’s think about how to put the fire out, rather than get into arguments with a few people on the sidelines (like Trump apologist Heather MacDonald) who are arguing that the fire isn’t real.

          1. I very much empathize with your sentiments but want to draw your attention to the excellent general debate statement from Majority Leader McConnell at the opening of the Senate today. President Trump, the GOP and the Senate Majority are hardly “a few people on the sidelines”! Here are some excerpts from Senator McConnell’s speech [editor’s note: I’ve eliminated the C-SPAN caps]:

            “What’s more, this weekend saw millions of americans once again take to the streets and town squares to protest the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. But unlike what our nation faced about a week ago, this weekend’s demonstrations seemed to have been almost entirely peaceful. No more rampant looting, no more police precincts set on fire. By and large, just peaceful protests in our great American tradition.”

            [McConnell left it unsaid, but of course President Trump has already taken credit for a return of relative peace to the streets.]

            “Our country has remembered that peace and protests can and must coexist. The vast majority of men and women in law enforcement across our country are not evil, are not racist, do not wake up every morning looking for violence. We are reminded of their bravery every time a citizen needs to dial 911 and they rush toward danger. And we were all reminded again this past weekend as these professionals bravely kept watch over demonstrations, including ones where they themselves have been called racist or evil or denigrated in the worst ways because of their uniform and their badge. So, Mr. President, if peaceful protesters rightly do not want to be lumped in with a subset of looters and rioters who seek destruction, then the vast majority of police officers cannot be lumped in with the very worst examples of heinous behavior. It’s that simple. But instead we’re already seeing outlandish calls, defund the police, or abolish the police take root within the left-wing leadership class.”

            It was very sad to watch authoritarian anarchical extremists boo liberal Minneapolis Mayor Frey out of a rally for his refusal to swear an oath, on the spot, to defund the police department. That kind of bullying does very little, I think, to advance civil leadership and racial justice in the US.

            Senate Minority Leader Schumer also made a strong contribution to the debate.

          2. Certainly we can agree to disagree about policy. But none of this changes the basic facts: racism is rampant in the United States, George Floyd’s murder was an outrage, and President Trump is a racist. President Trump did nothing to return peace to the streets but rather made the situation worse.

          3. Fascinating contrast between two headlines today. From the BBC: “Donald Trump to Restart Election Rallies on Key Slavery Date.” But from “President Trump to Resume Campaign Rallies on Juneteenth in Tulsa.” Which is it – a key slavery date, or a key anti-slavery date? And what are we to think about Trump’s decision to speak in Tulsa – is it racist, or exactly the opposite? The Biden campaign is calling it racist; the Trump campaign is calling it abolitionist (and pro-black business). Each campaign cites black supporters. Remember the backlash to Biden’s “you ain’t black” (if you don’t vote for Biden) comment. I think we have to be careful not to accuse the many black people who voted for Trump in 2016, and may vote for Trump again, including Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, of implicit racism.

          4. Update: “Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) says Trump’s Tulsa rally is a deliberate welcome home party for white supremacists,” while “Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) defends Trump’s decision to hold Tulsa Oklahoma rally on Juneteenth.” Yesterday I heard Trump tell Harris Faulkner that the Juneteenth timing of the rally was not deliberate, undercutting Lankford’s argument, and I found myself thinking that Senator Harris (and you) must be right. But today I see that Trump has rescheduled the rally by a day in response to feedback from his African American supporters. What is obvious to you remains murky to me. Do you read Trump’s Tulsa rally scheduling as an incontrovertible allusion to white supremacy? What smoking gun am I missing?

  3. The “smoking gun” in the case of President Trump’s rescheduling of his Tulsa rally is the (fairly obvious) fact that the whole political system is racist. Certainly this is true in terms of the results: just look at white people in Congress, in corporations, in local governments, and in income levels. It doesn’t have to be a deliberate choice on my part or on Trump’s; it’s a reality, and we’re part of it.

    President Trump is acting to perpetuate this system. By rescheduling, he is flaunting his attempts to perpetuate this racist system in a slightly less odious fashion, probably just in order to placate the less-deranged of his supporters and make it more “presentable.” This may be marginally less racist, but we are now looking at the individual molecules of racism and noticing that the atoms are arranged in a slightly different fashion.

    1. Insightful. Trump is certainly on the defense in the polls right now, and must answer hard questions about the Covid-19 transmission risk posed by his rally, in addition to allegations of racism.

      Anti-racism and racism are both systemic to American institutions, including the two main political parties. From the beginning, a considerable and growing proportion of the American soul has been radically anti-racist. I am not sure how else to explain all the evidence at hand.

      Back to the key concept of your post, but from the opposite perspective: the President of the Dallas Federal Reserve branch was on television this morning explaining that systemic racism is a drag on economic growth, i.e., a more inclusive economy will be good for growth, too.

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