Sunday, May 13, 2007

History of Oregon's economy

Perusing the BlueOregon website tonight, I ran across an excellent article on the economic history of Oregon - and how the development in the past 50 years is particularly unsustainable.

Cheap petroleum, cheap land, cheap mortgages, low-cost college education and unionized wages were the rocks on which Oregon’s post-World War II prosperity was built. They no longer exist. These conditions are derided by self-styled conservatives as "the Welfare State." The housing patterns that served the post-World War II affluent middle class will no longer serve the shrinking middle class. The global economy as we understand it will not survive rapidly rising petroleum prices. That will alter the way we live in ways we do not foresee.

A couple of comments on this particular conclusion:
  1. I believe that the global economy is one that will most likely survive peak-oil and rising petroleum prices. Globalization is a phenomenon that is as old as civilization; it wasn't until the 20th century that ships were powered by petroleum: goods were shipped for thousands of years by sail, and then coal-fired steamships in the 19th century. Even today, shipping companies are investing in wind-assisted ships, utilizing large kites to achieve modest 10% energy savings. This is, of course, not to say that strip-mining resources from other countries is necessarily a good thing...
  2. Since rising wealth is usually equated with increasing one's consumption of goods and services - and hence your environmental footprint, such as by buying more cars, material goods, and larger houses - perhaps a trend towards lower wages will in fact cause a decreased environmental impact? Unfortunately, the flip side is that innovation in sustainability as far as architecture, product design, and transportation is concerned might be easier the more money is available for it...
  3. Lastly - Portland, whether we like to admit it or not, is one of the five principal cities situation on the west coast of North America with a direct trade route to the largest economic powers of the world: China, India, Japan, and the rest of the Asian Tigers. Even if transportation costs increase and unionization falters, there are still over 2 BILLION people across the Pacific who are very intent on trading with us.

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