Look at the slope of the exponential curve. Our rate of money creation means roughly half the new money created is more than a healthy – rather than feverish – economy can absorb. There is not enough population growth, not enough increase in spending and productivity, not enough increase in borrowing to absorb all the new money created. So, money is wasted to support the level of growth the system dictates. We waste money in small ways and big ways. We toss it down black holes.
It helps the economy to waste a lot.
We waste and throw away about 30–40 percent of our food. Families throw out about 25 percent of the food and beverages we buy, and the rest is lost in the chain from production to retail.46
Processing foods adds to economic activity, and as we are slow to learn, wastes crucial nutrients. We know some of the processes that make processed food cheap also add tiny bits of toxins. This leads to preventable disease and early death. This is a waste of life. But, when you buy whole organic foods at a farmer’s market and cook at home, it requires only a couple money transactions – and this is bad in our money system. Consequently, we make it very hard for the organic farmer, who must submit plans, pass inspections and report on monitoring.47 In contrast, our government heavily subsidizes big chemical dependent agriculture to the tune of $13 billion in 2016.48 That’s double what we spent on th EPA.
Buying good quality to last doesn’t generate as much economic activity as an abundance of cheap clothes. So we buy cheap and throw away a lot. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2014, we discarded 16 million tons of textiles, and only recycled 3 million tons. Clothing materials – rubber, leather and textile – account for 11 percent of total landfilled waste. That’s 100 pounds of discarded clothing for every person every year.49
We stuff our houses and a mushrooming personal storage industry with the excess we consume. Prior to 1950 self-storage facilities barely existed. As of 2018, there were about 50,000 facilities with 2.3 billion square feet of storage – a good size closet of 18 square feet for every household in the country.50 Stuff. How much do we need?
There is good news. While in 2014 we generated 258 million tons of waste – 1,600 pounds per person, we recycled or composted over 89 million tons. Another 33 tons was combusted for energy recovery. We’re getting better at reuse-recycle.51
And, then there’s some bad news. Increasingly the countries that have been taking our stuff for recycling do not want it anymore. My hometown, Portland, Oregon, even with recycling, has been sending one million tons of waste to a landfill every year – roughly 3,300 pounds per person. That’s almost double the national average. Shame on us, Portland! And, last year China said they will no longer take our recycling, so the amount landfilled is increasing.52
All the effort, materials, and energy that goes into making, discarding, trashing-reusing-recycling is largely an unnecessary frenzy and waste. Less would be more. But, if everyone purchased high quality, long-lasting, minimally packaged goods that met their needs without waste and excess, our economy would stall. We have become a nation of bloated wasters under pressure to absorb extra money created every year, and to achieve the growth imperative our system demands. This is a choice, not a necessity.
Money is guzzled when natural disasters strike; wealth and earning power are destroyed. Recovery from a big disaster soaks up more than just excess; it siphons away money that might have been used elsewhere. It’s a win for the bankers because when money shifts to recovery, people and businesses need to borrow to cover the downturn in their business.
Not all broken windows and natural disasters are accidents. We knowingly invest very little in prevention to keep us safe. Prevention is always cheaper than crisis management. However, prevention requires an upfront investment that cuts into short term profits and cash on hand for speculation in the market-casino. So, overall, our society makes prevention the last priority in the budget. When spending is cut on prevention, more money must be spent on crisis management and remediation. And sadly, we make this choice again and again, leaving many people and our infrastructure unnecessarily broken. Did you know:
- We spend more on prisons than schools. We now have more people behind bars than any other nation on the planet – EVER! And a year in prison costs taxpayers more than a year in an Ivy League University.53 54 In contrast the Netherlands has closed 32 prisons since 2009 because they weren’t needed.55
- We spend more on health care than any other nation – double the next highest countries, and 18 percent of the US GDP. Among the 10 highest income countries, we have the lowest life expectancy, the highest percentage of residents without basic medical coverage, and highest infant mortality rate.56
- We spend more on special education than we spend on parent education and support, or on assuring children’s food supply and environments are free of the poverty and poisons that compromise their development. In 2000, we spent $50 billion on special education, and $7 billion on the environmental protection that would reduce the number of children needing remedial help. This ratio likely applies in 2017, too.57 58
- We have let our bridges and highways deteriorate to the point that we are in danger when driving to work.
Black holes: perpetual poverty, disease, violence, and war
In our particular money system, poverty is good. People in poverty, or an increasingly strained middle class, are more likely to borrow for necessities and become debt slaves. Poor people are likely to be in distress, afraid, and make bad decisions. And bad decisions cost more money.
The poor ultimately cost more: children in poverty cost more to educate, cost more to keep healthy, and cost more to support when they can’t function well as adults. Currently 30 percent of American children would be living in poverty without some government assistance – even though most of their parents are working! fim government assistance, this percentage drops to 19 percent – 14 million children.59 60 So, roughly one in five of America’s children are poor, going hungry and getting a lousy start in life – a waste, and a recipe for a more costly future.
Allowing 20 percent of our children to live in poverty and hunger is a shameful way to treat America’s future. However, in our current system this is all good, which makes a war on poverty a futile exercise — help one family and another falls into its place.
Our health and our lives
Our food system and industrial systems waste lives. Our system prioritizes growth and profits. So we allow businesses to create preventable illness with their practices because we don’t want to slow down their profit-making enterprises. This wastes lives.
Our current money system requires prioritizing profits and increasing the size of our economy. So, in many cases, we avoid even testing to see whether a product will cause harm. In its history, the EPA has mandated safety testing for about one percent of the 85,000 industrial chemicals available for use today – and only banned a handful.61
Our body care products, household cleaners, upholstery, bedding, and electronic products often have chemicals in or on them that have been shown to cause harm – or they simply haven’t been tested to assure that they are safe.62
Room fresheners are a case in point. Ignore a dirty room and freshen the air with proprietary big molecules that capture the odors and drop them to the ground. Spray your kids’ rooms with fresh scents. Then put your baby on the floor. Is it safe? We do not know, officially. But what does common sense tell us? Fewer than 10 percent of volatile ingredients in air fresheners are typically disclosed on labels and safety data sheets.63
When my oldest granddaughter was born in 2003, I called Johnson & Johnson to ask about phthalates in their plastic baby bottles. I was passed from person to person, who all claimed they knew nothing about phthalates in plastic. All emphasized they were a family company and would never harm children. Two years later in 2005, J&J admitted its baby bottles had phthalates and announced with fanfare that they were virtuously finding substitutes. This is decades after the research on their danger was readily available to scientists. The good news is that by 2018, they were taking more unhealthy chemicals out of all their baby products. Europe’s early ban on these chemicals, the efforts of many to educate the US public, and raised consumer voices made this happen.
Some industrial processes use dangerous chemicals. Our Stolen Future: Are we threatening our fertility, intelligence, and survival? A Scientific Detective Story by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers (1997) is a compendium of research and evidence to that date showing chemical pollution is shrinking penises and sperm counts, messing with the development of our children and killing us slowly with disease.64 We’re 20 years further down this road. We’ve made agonizingly slow progress to clean up our industry and commerce.
Beyond the lawful use of chemicals, a few extraordinarily wealthy people have records of killing people by ignoring unsafe work conditions and pollution discharge in the industrial plants they own. For example, the very wealthy Koch brothers are heavy polluters. Their company is one of only three that rank among the top 30 polluters of America’s air, water, and climate.65 They use their enormous wealth to fight, remove, and ignore regulations that protect the environment, their employees and their neighbors. They are very rich – one of the ten richest families in the world. They often win.
Their successful argument is that comprehensive testing for product safety would hamper job creation and profits. Hence the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act requires the EPA to first have evidence of harm before it can demand a chemical be tested for safety – a catch-22.
Update & good news: In June 2016, H.R.2576, The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was passed nearly unanimously by Congress. This law shifts the burden of proof of safety onto businesses, and strengthens the EPA’s ability to require testing of chemicals.
Update & bad news: Scientific American reports that the Trump administration was tasked with writing the rules for how the EPA will implement this new law. There are concerns that their rules seriously subvert the law’s purpose in favor of industry, since they have stated that is their plan.66
And, the worst news: Republicans who now control Congress and the Executive branch, tell us they are committed to doing away with the EPA and as many nationwide protections as they can. And, they’re doing it. According to the US Government Financial Reports, the 2016 EPA’s already inadequate net cost was $8.6 billion. In 2017 the Republican Congress cut the net cost to $8.4 billion. The 2018 Budget is $5.66 billion – a 33 percent cut. President Trump’s proposed 2019 budget requests $5.4 billion for the EPA – another cut.67 68
Our GDP is nearly $19,000 billion. To spend one tenth of one percent on safety standard setting, monitoring, and compliance, we would have to increase the EPA budget to $19 billion, instead of cutting it to under $6 billion. Would that really be excessive? What is a reasonable cost for safety assurance? When we ignore safety the costs increase and fall on the public and taxpayers. Bankers benefit.
For scale, efficiency and higher profits, Big Agriculture uses chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Monsanto and other companies have developed genetically engineered crops that allow heavier and heavier applications of chemicals – increasing usage exponentially.
Some businesses like Monsanto have deliberately ignored their own research that says their products do harm. They’ve gone a step further and spent millions to attack and discredit independent research agencies that find their products are cancer-causing.69 With mounting evidence of their deliberate deceit and killing-for-profit, Monsanto’s GMOs have been banned by government in 38 countries.70
To increase yields and profits, in 2011 US chemical-additive farmers used 46,297 million pounds of fertilizer. The most recent data from 2007, says they used another 877 million pounds of active ingredients (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and other pesticides).71 Very little, if any, testing has been done on the impact of cocktails of micro portions of these active ingredients on human development and life.
Farmers in America use about 30 million pounds of antibiotics on their animals, 90 percent of it used to make the animals put on weight faster.72 This increases the private owners’ profits, but shifts an enormous burden of ill health onto Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 250,000 people each year require hospital care for antibacterial resistant infections. At least 14,000 of them die.73 In 2008, Tufts University estimated these infections cost about $20 billion in excess direct healthcare costs, with additional costs to society for lost productivity as high as $35 billion a year.74 But, in our system, this extra spending counts as a desirable increase in our GDP.
Chemical pesticides are in our water, our food supply, and our bodies. Today we have chemicals in our systems, including DDT, flame retardants, substances used to make non-stick pans, phthalates, and a variety of chemicals found in many beauty products and plastics.75 76
There is a price to pay for ingesting tiny bits of herbicides that kill off your gut flora, and tiny bits of pesticides that disrupt body functions.77 These chemicals are designed to disrupt life process and kill. These chemicals can cause birth defects, developmental delays and early death.
Our bodies are beyond the safe limits for absorption of chemical toxins. After decades of increasing longevity, life expectancy is now getting shorter in the US. The United Health Foundation’s 2016 Annual Report ranked the US 26th of 35 OECD countries for life expectancy and 29th for infant mortality. We spend twice as much as the next biggest spender on health care. Our poor outcomes are a clear indication that private profits are outweighing risks to our lives.78
We are near the limits of Earth’s capacity to absorb and process waste and pollution. Over 85,000 chemicals are available for use. Most are tested to see if you’ll die if you drink them. Only about one percent are tested to see if they harm us in small quantities over years — or in combination over the short term. Even fewer are tested for their impact on fish, wildlife and the comprehensive food chain.79 However, Hawaii had enough data on the impact of sunscreens on coral reefs and sea life to ban those containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Bravo Hawaii!80
Money is soaked up by endemic fear that generates violence. Weapon makers admit their sales go up every time there is a mass shooting. They salivate over higher profits when violence increases in the world. In the US, the money interests have successfully made laws that ban using government money to study the causes of gun violence so we could make smarter and better informed choices to prevent it. In 2018, Republicans are still supporting the 22-year ban on gun violence research.81
In 2012, there were enough applications for gun ownership in the US to stock NATO troops five times. Over 16 million people apply for a gun license every year, and only a few hundred are refused.82 We have the highest gun ownership in the world, with 89 guns for every 100 residents. (Yemen is next with 55).83 Out of 196 countries, 165 countries do better on gun related deaths than the US. In 2016 we had 3.85 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people – no record to be proud of or to ignore.84
Gun violence costs an immeasurable amount. Guns were used in 14,925 homicides and 22,938 suicides in 2016. Guns were used either intentionally or accidentally to wound 81,114 people every year on average from 2011–1015. On average, seven of our children are killed with guns every day. Many people and communities are changed by grief, fear, violence and death.85 Our police are on record killing an average of one to three of us every single day.86 They are accepting battle gear from the Defense Department, and say they shoot to kill because they fear for their own lives.87 When violent crime is at an all-time low, what is all this about? Fear makes people easy to manipulate.88
Yet equipping our civilians for war is a drop in the bucket compared to how much we spend on equipping our military and militaries all over the world.
War creates enormous expense and consequent debt. It has long been a means of keeping a government in debt to the money power. In the 1790s, private investors in the first official Bank of the United States tried unsuccessfully to engage the US in wars with the northern native Americans, then with Britain, with Algiers, then France. They hoped the government would lose its shares in the bank to war debt.89 We avoided the wars they were promoting, but this practice of promoting war has gone on with increasing success ever since. The US has engaged in one war or another for 215 of our 236 years as a nation. And the bankers ultimately succeeded in keeping the government from having any share of the bankers money-creation privilege.
In 2016, the world spent about $1,688 billion on military equipment – 2.24 percent of world GDP and $221 for every person on the planet.90 The US accounts for one third or more of these global expenditures. The $611 billion we spent in 2016 was more than the total spent by the next eight biggest spenders combined.91 The GOP, controlling all branches of government beginning in 2017, increased our military spending to $700 billion – a 15 percent one year increase, then $717 for 2018.
We are the world’s largest arms dealer and military solution promoter. The US accounts for 34 percent of total arms exports. Since 1971 we’ve had an agency within the Department of Defense (DoD), The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, to promote foreign military sales and international military education and training. Up through 2014, its budget was included in the financial reports of the DoD. In 2015, this agency became a separate line entry, making it easier to see what the US spends to promote the use of a military as a solution to the world’s conflicts: our government spent an average of $37 billion each year from 2015–1017.92
The Obama administration loosened restrictions on sales, and from 2012 to 2016, US arms sales increased by 21 percent.93 The Trump administration further relaxed customer requirements and is making more arms sales a key component of its foreign policy.94 In 2017, the US State Department set a new one-year record for clearing weapons sales, with $76 billion cleared and more than $50 billion going to the Middle East.95
This is good for the bankers, because the more war and destruction, the more borrowing for munitions, for reconstruction, and for crippled lives.
Imagine what the world would be like if we invested that $37 billion every year training people to communicate across cultural divides, to solve problems by looking at underlying issues and goals, and to practice win-win negotiation. This would cost a tiny fraction of what we spend on mopping up after attempts at military solutions to global problems. And we would have a radically improved chance of a peaceful world. But, this would not soak up as much money, and that’s a problem in our system. It would also require an alteration of our general worldview from a dominator to a partnership model.
I’ve lived long enough to sense the rhythm of the drums of war. Government debt MUST increase to keep pace with the new money created in the private sector, but many misunderstand this and lobby effectively for cutting back the federal budget while allowing the banks to go on a money creation spree.
This creates an untenable imbalance. When Congress cuts expenditures in the mistaken belief that eliminating government debt will strengthen the economy, the extra money the private sector creates must go somewhere. And, what better way to waste money than to go to war? President Bill Clinton cut spending and reduced the deficit while deregulating Wall Street. Next, President G.W.Bush started a war that ran up trillions in debt. Then, Obama cut spending and reduced the deficit and allowed the bankers to continue their mostly unfettered money creation.
Now the drums of war are beating again. “Bomb, bomb Iran.” Carpet bomb Syria!” “Bomb any country with angry Muslims!” or “Bomb North Korea!”
When wasting money is needed, perpetual war is the supreme black hole solution. We know better. We know beating your wife and kids is no way to raise a healthy family. We know jack-booted police with military weapons is no way to police a healthy community. We know shock and awe bomb dropping is a foolish and ineffective way to bring peace to a region of the world.
I’d like to think, though, when we make decisions from our wisest selves, we know war is no solution. There are plenty of preventive strategies we know work and just need to choose them. But we are pushed by the money system toward the black hole of war.