Mea Culpa! The Fallacy of Zombie Economics Revealed

A few months back we wrote here on Huffpo about the concept of zombie economics. Basically, the idea is that fundamental contradictions inherent in our consumerist economy, like attempting to achieve infinite growth in a finite world, were resulting in an economic system that would stagger from one economic crisis to the next. This will continue, we said, until we immolate our collective economic zombie brain and come up with something that actually makes sense within the limits of reality, not just the selfish wishes of a bunch of eggheads at the University of Chicago.

So how embarrassing it is to have to admit that we're totally wrong! Apparently this is what happens when naive slackers like ourselves try to stick their granola-encrusted butts in business that should clearly only be discussed by those in possession of a few PhD's in economics. Since then the ability of the economy to grow infinitely in a finite world has been explained in great detail by many knowledgeable folks. We'll admit, we had a hard time getting this concept, so we asked for examples, and boy, did we get 'em! In order to pass on this understanding to anyone who might happen upon this blog, we'll clue you in to some of the best current examples of the always-expanding economy, and then we'll do our dunderheaded best to sum up this most enigmatic of concepts for you.

First, take the oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Seems like a bad thing, right? No! It's actually a huge boon for our economy, because it will take billions and billions and billions of dollars to clean up. Containing all that oil, cleaning it up off the beaches for the next few decades, massive government spending to try and restart moribund fisheries, ten figure settlements for scores of trial lawyers, and of course more drilling off the Atlantic coast to make up for all that oil we spilled all over the durn place in the Gulf!

The next example is international, just to show that the global economy has plenty of pep, too. Apparently the largest center of piracy in Somalia was just invaded and occupied by Islamist extremists. The reason is because piracy is sooo lucrative! This is basically the equivalent of a hostile corporate takeover, and that always happens when an economic activity is expanding, like piracy is. We were a little confused: does stealing really generate economic value, we asked. But then we were shown the example of the last few decades, when the American middle class was collectively fleeced like a tourist on the beach in Rio de Janeiro by the crafty opossums on Wall Street. Although the vast majority of Americans haven't seen their income increase in decades, the economy has been generally booming, with bankers and traders making gazillions every other day. Just look at where the Dow Jones is compared to 1970!

As if these two examples weren't proof enough, we'll share a third one with you that our enlightened economic brethren have presented as definite proof of forever and ever economic expansion. This is the escalating rate of obesity, not just in the United States, but pretty much durn everywhere, except where people are starving to death of course (but it turns out they don't really count in the economy, 'cause they don't have any money). People are expanding, that should be proof enough, but not only are we getting fatter, all that fat is making us sick in all kinds of new ways. Which is great, of course, because that means we need all kinds of medicines and diets and physical therapy and mortuary services, which pumps all kind of money into the economy! This shows the amazing efficiency of our economy, because the food is very cheap, but the health care is incredibly expensive! Cheap inputs equal expensive outputs, so you can see how this can generate so much value.

We're coming upon the secret formula for infinite growth: things that cannot be traded have no value! This is because they're priceless, and something with no price has no economic value. So things like our health, our environment, our community, our independence, none of these things can be traded, and therefore they have no value. Because there's so much of these non-tradeable things (although, unfortunately, not as much as there used to be), we can pretty much continue to squander them forever, turning them into real economic wealth. Now that we've "seen the light," we'll be going back to school to get ourselves a couple of those awesome PhD's in economics, and then it's "Wall Street, here we come!"

Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit from Chelsea Green. For more information about green living, the Hrens, or their book, visit