The fear for the future is a failure to grow; what doesn’t make for growth is nothing good – but could we finally grow up?
We are getting any rise in GDP described as growth and argued as being good for us.
It is called upon like an idol, based upon its historical association with development and progress, called for and hoped to give jobs and better lives.
Calls for creativity – innovativeness and inventiveness – are chanted to save growth and save us, to “disrupt” economics and bring a renewal of the magical forces of growth.
Sacrifices are said to be necessary to build a foundation on which to renew growth, as if it were a golden calf that needs blood, or at least sweat and tears, to deliver salvation.
Profligate spending, even if you can’t actually afford it, is both seen as the cause of decline and the potential driver of new growth that we’d do best to get to, no matter how much it might wreck us.
Meanwhile, even 3% growth is not getting back the jobs that were there, but only lower-paying ones.
Growth goes hand-in-hand with pollution that is threatening people and ecosystems – and where it does not go hand-in-hand with outright pollution, it is tightly coupled with carbon emissions that are threatening potentially catastrophic climate shifts.
“You Can’t Feed a Family With G.D.P.” as a recent New York Times piece argued, but it’s still nothing but growth that is discussed, called for, obsessed over, and seen as savior.
If we are really creative enough to overcome any potential future challenges to our lives and civilizations here on Earth, as is so often claimed, reasoning that we don’t need to change and combat climate change right now, we are sure not showing it when it comes to our thinking about growth, development, and progress.
Argue that diminishing returns on the energy invested in ‘producing’ fossil fuels is likely to imply an end to growth as we have known it, as Post Carbon Institute has been doing, and Paul Krugman will throw you into the same camp of “purveyors of ‘climate despair.’” as the Koch brothers because (he thinks that) you think that economic growth and the fight against climate change can’t go together.
The growth we keep talking about is measured by an increase in GDP, and GDP is not a physical constant or a law of nature, however, it is but a measure that was invented because a measure to use in a kind of economic national accounting was seen as necessary.
People were comparatively few, resources comparatively abundant, and the importance of ecosystem functions was badly understood, though. So, it turned out a pretty good measure of how much a country was producing, and that turned out a boon for citizens…. uhm, consumers.
It did not, however, measure the loss in natural capital that was turned into economic value. It still does not.
Nor does it address the value of cooperation, of learning, of life, and liberty, and happiness. Of pride and beauty and purpose.
For some things such as human well-being and environmental health, we have been developing alternative measures that would reflect better that we are living in and as a part of this world, not in a separate sphere from it, but we are so caught up in the older way of looking at things in terms of money and GDP, we don’t want to complicate them and change.
We keep hearing the argument that we are a creative species that will overcome any obstacles thanks to its inventiveness, but we don’t seem to be open enough even to that change in how we measure how well we are doing.
We have good indications that we could live better working towards ways of living better and working better, we increasingly seem to want that, too, but we are so comfortable in the ways we have been living and working, we don’t seem to want to change it.
Here’s a thought:
What if we thought a bit better about development, and progress, and growth, and looked at more than just the indicator of money sloshing around an economy but rather at actual human well-being and environmental health?
Then, we might quit counting the destruction of beautiful places as a plus, quit counting our own worth and the beauty and purpose of our days in nothing but income and stuff acquired.
It is not easy to change such things, but we can do it, individually and collectively, in our own lives and for the wider world.
We will end up with a notion of growth that rises the way we so love to see it doing, not because money is seen to be pouring in alone, but because things are actually getting better.
How’s that for a disruptive idea?