Thursday, February 21, 2013

Peak Welfare

The fallout from the Mangan Report on child benefit reform (i.e.: our politicians running for cover and putting everything on the long finger), is a reminder of just how difficult it will be for modern democracies to navigate 'Peak Welfare' in the years (or months) ahead.

As ever, the Archdruid Report provides a salutory reminder as to the bigger forces driving the need for reform, and not just in Ireland:
It’s far more important, it seems to me, to recognize that the welfare states of the late 20th century were the product of a vast but temporary abundance of energy and the products of energy; they did not exist before that glut of energy arrived, and it’s thus a safe bet that they won’t exist after the glut is gone. 
I think it’s at least as safe a bet, mind you, that nobody in America will be willing to face that fact until long after the abundance of the recent past is a fading memory...   
In the time of limits ahead of us, no country on earth will be able to afford a welfare state of the kind that was common in industrial societies over the last century or so. That’s one of the harsh realities of our predicament.  National economies powered by diffuse renewable energy sources, bound by strict ecological limits, and forced to cope with the cascading instabilities of a damaged planetary biosphere, simply won’t be able to produce the surplus wealth needed to make that a possibility. Methods of providing for urgent social needs that worked in the days before the economy of abundance are another matter, and for this reason it makes sense to suggest a revival of the old American custom of forming voluntary associations to fund and manage public amenities.
We have our own voluntary associations here in Ireland, especially what I call the '3Cs': the church, the Credit Unions and Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. They may not know it, but they're going to play a much bigger role in Irish society in the times ahead. Alongside existing and new associations and societies that will rediscover the best of voluntarism and co-operation.

The future's going to be a lot more local, and a lot more personal. And who knows, maybe a lot better for it as well.

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