The economy is on the mend, if indicators of increasing quantities of garbage and waste are to be trusted. According to this Bloomberg article, shipment of waste has increased 45% over the same period last year. When Americans far and wide hope for and demand a return to economic prosperity, among other things we are demanding is an increase in garbage.

According to Carl Riccadonna, senior economist for Deutsche Bank Securities, the increase of garbage production and freight is very good news indeed. He compares it favorably to the production of car exhaust.

It’s a very strong piece of corroborating evidence; it’s sort of like measuring horse power by looking at the smoke coming out of the tail pipe. It’s consistent with our broader view that economic growth is accelerating.

The more powerful a car, the more exhaust it produces; the more “prosperous” an economy, the more junk it generates. If horse shit has some benefit for human life – it can easily become an input as a fertilizer for more food – the gases from an exhaust pipe prove to be as “useful” as the junk we haul off to landfills. We wholly sequester waste from production, thus creating a dead-end destination for our waste rather than a virtuous cycle that minimizes entropic waste.

Wendell Berry has argued that in our general approach to accounting, we have forgotten how to subtract. What should be seen as a net cost to society – waste that ends up in landfills, permanently sequestered to remain at least unproductive, if not outright destructive – is seen as evidence of a growing GDP. Is it any wonder that we see all the signs of civilization crashing around us?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Mark Perkins June 9, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Hmm, how depressing that a proper measure of economic “health” is in the amount of waste we produce!

I think Don DeLillo is mostly a hack, but he has his moments (namely, “Pafko at the Wall” and maybe Lee Harvey Oswald’s relationship with his wife in Libra). And while I think Underworld is a monumentally overrated work, there is something to be said for the theme of trash and waste disposal in American society. His obsessions with sinister underbellies, with everything “sub-”, with conspiracies are borderline idiotic, but he certainly has his point about the end result of the American dream being a big stinking pile of trash.

avatar David June 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I wonder if my doctor will use such a measure when next I visit?

avatar John Médaille June 9, 2010 at 8:38 pm

The correlation I would like to see is the price of oil, which is very sensitive to demand. Right now, it’s moving in the wrong direction.

avatar Cecelia June 9, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Agree John – if oil prices are going down – it is cause there is pessimism about this recovery. And of late oil has been going down (then up = then down etc). But would you agree that reliance on the commodity and financial markets as harbingers of doom or recovery is a bit unreliable? It seems the markets do get panicky over the tiniest things and then 24 hours later decide it was a tiny thing and bounce back up – then down – then up. Really makes one wonder about the mental health of those brokers.

I also wonder about oil prices re: they seem to be all about very short term concerns. Given that very reputable mainstream organizations and individuals are now warning of less oil supplies in the near term future, certainly less conventional cheap and easy to get oil, that the price of oil stocks should be going up and up? It doesn’t seem rational to me – although there are those who tell us all the time how rational markets are.

avatar Bruce Smith June 10, 2010 at 4:02 am

When bubbles can be deliberately blown through leverage by the financial industry including the Federal Reserve and then deliberately pricked by sections of that self-same industy how can it still be argued that markets are “rational” at least for the majority of us?

avatar Patrick J. Deneen June 10, 2010 at 6:11 am

David,
Yes, it’s called “cancer.” And cancer treatment and operations are surely part of our GDP, just as are the production of chemicals that increase the odds of all of us getting cancer.

And – speaking of chemicals – Mark Perkins, I’ve written on DeLillo’s marvelous and funny book _White Noise_, one of my favorites, and a book that I think makes a fundamentally conservative case that has been overlooked by many of its pomo admirers. The essay appeared in a book I co-edited called “Democracy’s Literature,” and is entitled “The American Mystery Deepens: Hearing Tocqueville in DeLillo’s _White Noise_.” If I can hunt it down on my computer, I’ll try to post some excerpts of that essay here some time this summer.

avatar Mark Perkins June 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

Patrick,

I would certainly enjoy reading that.

avatar Vance Freeman June 10, 2010 at 4:49 pm

John, natural gas may be a better indicator than oil.

Peter, how about this for a sign that civilization is ending: I paid a personal trainer this morning to make me swing a sledge hammer, carry some sandbags, and flip a tire over and over, among other “exercises.” In other words, I paid someone for an hour of simulated work so I can be less stressed out about the next nine hours I spend in an office in front of a computer. We are at civilization’s end for sure.

avatar Vance Freeman June 10, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I meant “Patrick,” sorry.

avatar D.W. Sabin June 10, 2010 at 5:26 pm

There is the garbage shipped around the countryside and accumulating in landfills and then there is the Garbage-in-the-making , a standing crop of garbage in the form of our thousands of miles of strip development malls that successfully assisted the gutting of our better-built towns and the thousands of acres of tract homes that will be crumbling toot sweet. Garbage is our chief growth industry. Garbage thinking its chief result.

In Waste We Trust

Looking at the parsing of the language surrounding our Gulf of Mexico disgrace and the images of square miles of petroleum floating about and unknown volumes of toxic dispersants , and the idiotic calls for the President to “show emotion ” but be careful not to be an “angry black man” because obviously, politics is simply theater now…a kind of comic Butoh for the Intensely gullible….well, one is reminded of a quip by Ed Abbey about how some people can have their mouths full of it but still not be able to say sh#t.

avatar Mark Perkins June 10, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I hope there really is a human being in this world named Vance Freeman, just as I am delighted to know that there is a convicted felon walking this earth named Assumption Bulltron.

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