We can’t allow growth to continue forever, simply because the Earth is finite. But can we stop it? And if so how? And anyway, growth of what?
Not only do many people agree we need to change our economic system, many are already doing really good things, like forming cooperatives or firms with a social purpose, promoting repair and recycling, growing healthy local food, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and so on. But all these good efforts struggle against the ever-rising tide of ‘growth’. What if our economic system supported the good things instead of subverting them? Could that be possible?
Many assertions are being made about Australia’s rates of immigration and population growth, but it’s hard to find a coherent discussion of the issue. There’s not just an elephant but a menagerie of ignored creatures lurking around the living room.
The elephant in the middle of the room is the cost to society of ‘durable assets’ for each new person, imported or home-grown. Durable assets include not just infrastructure like roads, trains, water and electricity but houses, shops and schools. That cost is sensibly estimated by sustainability researcher Jane O’Sullivan to be around $500,000 per person. Some of that cost is public, borne by governments, and some is borne by the private sector.
Endless growth on a finite planet is impossible. Yet endless growth of the economy is the reflexive goal of almost every government in the world. This defines the existential crisis into which humanity is blundering.
Yet even many people who are alert to the problem struggle to prescribe a remedy, or even to give the remedy a name. Various terms float around, like no growth, steady state, degrowth or postgrowth. There are two fundamental problems with these terms: they don’t define what they are talking about and they just keep the focus on growth.
George Lakoff wrote the book called Don’t Think of an Elephant. What did you just do? You thought of an elephant. Don’t think about growth. Oh. You just did. If I want you to think about flowers, I need to talk about flowers. Let’s stop and smell the flowers. Ah, that’s better.
Growth of what, exactly? Steady state what? Well, when the political mainstream says ‘growth of the economy’, it really means ‘growth of the Gross Domestic Product’, the GDP. GDP is the sum of all activities involving money, adjusted to avoid double counting. But what about good activities that don’t involve money, like staying home and loving baby? And is everything involving money, everything that is bought and sold, a good thing?
The Nature of the Beast: how economists mistook wild horses for a rocking chair.
Mainstream free-market economics fundamentally mis-identifies the nature of market economies. Its record is of retarded growth followed by disaster. It counts costs as positives instead of negatives. It is blind to how the present banking system destabilises the economy. It is relentlessly materialistic and adversarial. It ignores most of what we know about real people and the real world.
The result is pseudo-scientific gobbledygook, and the unstable, inequitable, undemocratic, destructive and unsustainable mess known as the global economy.
The Nature of the Beast draws out the real nature of market economies using modern knowledge of systems, human behaviour, ecology, biology and physics. It points the way to stable, prosperous, democratic market economies that can support people, societies and the living world into the indefinite future.
A complete manuscript of The Nature of the Beast is available for comment. It is under a password, so as not to upset potential publishers, and so I can keep track of who is looking at it. I would love to have feedback of any kind.
Use the Books and Downloads menu above, or go here.
A sample, the first 16 pages, can be downloaded without password.
I just reviewed a small book by Geoff Mosley, Steady State: Alternative to Endless Economic Growth. Envirobook, Canterbury, NSW. RRP $21.95, 136pp, paperback. The review is for the newsletter of Nature and Society Forum, based in Canberra.
Scarcely a day goes by without news of some loss or degradation: a new invasive species, a habitat lost to fire or a shopping mall, a disintegrating ice shelf, a corner shop closing, rising obesity, on and on it goes. Behind much of this bad news is the relentless growth of our economies and populations. The casualties are in both the natural world and in our societies, affecting our health, relationships and communities, as I don’t have to remind this audience. Geoff Mosley argues that we must come to grips with economic growth if we are ever to stop the losses.