Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Freedom of Slowness and Inefficiency

We have a society, a culture, an economic system that is obsessed with speed and efficiency. These two items in business are deemed the prime characteristics of free market capitalism. Most Economists would say these values are the hallmarks of a good, successful society. Adam Smith detailed such principles in the laws of comparative advantage. On a personal level, we all are obsessed with speed: fastest computers, lap tops, cell phones, G4, fastest commutes, directions, meals, fastest emergency rooms, 10k running times, fastest thru hikes on the PCT. Time is considered "valuable". We want to know the quickest way to get places and we measure distance, not by miles, but by time.

"How far are you from home, Allan?"

"Oh, about three and a half hours."

There was a reason why I titled the piece I wrote yesterday about the 13 year old boy who was struck and killed by the Mercedes in the crosswalk "The Tyranny of Living Fast"; speed and efficiency, as  primary cultural and economic values, are tyranny. The people of Paradise should not accept having an uncontrolled four lane highway enter their town amongst the residential neighborhoods where children are walking, playing and are generally busy being kids just because it is the fastest way to get to work or the mall.

Cars are less important than people. Three pedestrian deaths in less than a year is too big of a sacrifice to the speed and efficiency automobile god.

So should Forty Thousand people who must use that road have to wait longer to travel the only road down the ridge to Chico? Why, yes. Of course they should! Safety and living trumps the needs of a commuting public. Or at least it should.

And here's another idea that won't win any popularity contests because it doesn't even involve humans: Speed limits should be imposed on known animal corridors both during the day and night. A Forty mile an hour speed limit on our local Highway 70 would decrease the number of deer that die on that meat mauler. In California, twice as many deer are killed by automobiles than by hunters. We should be able to drastically reduce those numbers. Wildlife is more important than speed and efficiency.

Henry David Thoreau put his finger on the problem back in 1852:

"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."

Should we value sloth? Retire it from the list of the seven deadly sins? Teach courses in business school on inefficiency and slowness? If it is rooted in values that include biodiversity and egalitarianism, I'd say: Yes! That's an idea worth pursing.

1 comment:

  1. Doing a bit of research on freedom and efficiency today and came across your blog with a Google search. I agree with your take on time and values. I live in Kenwood, up Adobe Canyon Road and value my peace and quiet very much. I thought you'd like this take from an author by the name of Jack Williamson:
    Inefficiency is one of the penalties of freedom. You can’t be efficient unless you can force people into channels and make them go where they don’t want to go.

    too many conflicts of interest can never be reconciled.
    Inefficiency and freedom are vital.

    just food for thought.