Expansion is a bonanza mentality; trying to gain a big payback from minimum work or investment. Seldom works out for most of us, but we “go for the gold;” think of consequences later.
Compression is a conservationist, total-system, high-performance mentality; no such thing as “easy money.” To survive, one has to perform. Take care of the world so that it takes care of you.
Expansion led to industrial society economics — nearly all the financial tools and rules that guide market-driven work organizations. Expansion began slowly with European colonization. Excess population had somewhere to go, a means to get there, and technology to develop what they found. The industrial revolution accelerated this expansion. It’s still accelerating (consider China’s growth rate).
Expansion reinforced a concept of infinite resources. To Europeans exploring the world, that must have seemed true. Land, minerals, everything for the taking by taming nature and a few “natives.” Adventuresome, hard working pioneers pried open the world’s resources to use.
But most Europeans and everyone else remained stuck where they were. Farmers for instance, almost instinctively understood that long term survival depended on caring for the ground. They learned local lore, not global science, but some of their terraced plots thousands of years old remain fertile. This kernel of Compression Thinking is very old, not brand new.
Headlong expansion was characterized by boom and bust — wasteful trial and error learning. But it wasn’t all waste. We deepened our scientific and technical understanding, and — maybe — slightly — our level of civility. Democracies replaced feudal monarchies. Wage systems displaced slavery. It left us a big base from which to move on.
In Compression we can no longer afford expansionist waste — belief that anyone with the money can have anything they want, or do anything they want, without limit. The Compression era has to be characterized vigorous learning: different objectives, different motivations, different guidance systems. What we thought was success turned out not to be, and the depth of change is no small shift (see Out of Expansion Economics).