• The Expanding Island and the Myth of Economic Growth

last modified September 5, 2018 by strypey


Danyl Strype retells the 'bedtime for democracy' story that keeps people working exploitative jobs, and believing that voting the right set of modern asset-strippers into parliament will somehow make it better.

"An innocent fraud is a lie, but it's a lie that's more white than black. It's a lie that makes most everyone happy. It suits the purposes of the powerful because it masks the full extent of their power, and it suits the purposes of the powerless because it masks the full extent of their powerlessness." - Nicholas Carr

Tayando Islands

Imagine the population of our planet are the passengers of a plane which has crash-landed in the ocean next to small island. While the majority of the survivors are still shivering in the ocean, treading water, a handful of survivors have made it ashore, and claimed ownership of all the space and useful resources on the island. Another group have managed to crawl ashore after the first group, and taken up residence on the beach.

In order to avoid sharing the island and its resources, the group on the island (ruling class) tell the group on the beach (middle class) that if everyone else treads water tenaciously enough, the island will get bigger, and eventually there will be enough space and resources for members of the group on the beach to become part of the island group too. Believing this, the beach group stretch the truth further, telling the group in the ocean (working class) that if they just tread water hard enough, the island will grow, and there will be enough space and resources for all of them to be part of the island group. A few of those in the ocean group try to point out there was already enough island for everyone when the plane crashed. The majority of the ocean group ignore them, citing the beach group's attainment of the beach as proof of their superior education and resource management expertise, and tell the 'malcontents' to shut up and focus on treading water so the island can grow, and they can get out of the water.

As time goes by, people in the island group die, are killed, or get banished to the beach, opening up spaces which are quickly filled by members of the beach group. The same thing happens in the beach group, and some members of the ocean group get to come up onto the beach. One or two of those from the ocean group even manage to push and shove their way into the island group, stamping on the fingers of their ocean-dwelling or beach-dwelling fellows even more visciously than those who were originally members of the island and beach groups. These people bring new ideas to the island group, proposing that the ocean around the island is an 'exclusive economic zone', and that those treading water in it ought to pay tribute, perhaps by passing up seafood and other marine resources to the beach group, who could then take their cut, before passing it on to the island group.

Faced with this new indignity, the ocean group ask why they are still in the ocean anyway, despite having been treading water with all their might for ages, and being near exhaustion. The beach group answer by pointing to the lucky few who have made it ashore to fill spaces on the beach, and say "Look, we are making progress! The island has expanded to accomodate these people. Just keep treading water!" and pointing to the even luckier one or two who have made it onto the island itself, saying "Look! The fact that these people have made it onto the island shows that those who began on the island have no real advantage over those who are in the water. If you are good enough at treading water, one day you too could live on the island."

As the ignored malcontents in the ocean group were trying to point out, the only way for the rest of the survivors to get out of the ocean is for the island group to relinquish control of most of their 'property', and share the space and resouces they claimed 'ownership' of when they climbed out of the ocean more equitably. The myth of the expanding island, is like the legend of economic growth. No matter how hard people work, it will not increase the size of the planet, or increase the amount of resources it has to provide. The only way for the working class majority to have more, is for the ruling elite to learn to be satisfied with less.

Originally published on Aotearoa.Indymedia.org (June, 2010)  

(CC-BY-SA)