Good News

By Patrick J. Deneen for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

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?

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