“To hasten growth is to hasten decay.”
– Lao Tzu
Our growth focused economic models are destroying the earth’s natural systems. When we factor environmental and social considerations our fixation with growth is revealed to be a road to ruin. This is evident from hotter temperatures, rising sea levels, extreme weather, melting ice, collapsing fisheries, water scarcity, expanding deserts, forest fires, dying coral reefs, and species extinctions.
Our conceptions of growth are supported by the idea that we base our decisions on rational assessments that maximize utility as a consumer and economic profit as a producer. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there are some critical variables being omitted from our assessments. Ecological degradation, resource scarcity, recessions, and rising rates of inequality make the case that there is something seriously wrong with this economic model.
Common sense dictates that we must factor the earth’s carrying capacity and the planetary boundaries that make up the biological limits of our biosphere. However, our current economic models have failed to incorporate such an analysis. The prevailing ethic is grow or die may be more accurately restated as grow and die.
For decades researchers have been compiling evidence that reveals the dangers associated with our reliance on growth. A 1972 book titled Limits to Growth, predicted the collapse of civilization within a century. The book was premised on an MIT computer model called World3 that predicted if we continue with business as usual the world would succumb to “overshoot and collapse” before 2070. Using UN, NOAA, BP and other statistics Dr Graham Turner from the University of Melbourne corroborated the conclusion of the book. He concluded that his observations are consistent with the World3 predictions.
In the book The End of Growth, Richard Heindberg concludes that “economic growth as we have known it is over and done with.” The book Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson explores the unsustainability of current rates of consumption drilling down on the false dichotomy between environmental action and economic growth.
In an article called The Myth of Progress, American journalist, author, Presbyterian minister, and Princeton University lecturer Christopher Hedges says we are moving in a perilous direction. “The industrial elites are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence,” Hedges said. “We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward…We have failed to control human numbers. They have tripled in my lifetime. And the problem is made much worse by the widening gap between rich and poor, the upward concentration of wealth, which ensures there can never be enough to go around.”
The negative consequences associated with the emphasis on growth has been called “growthism”. According to Erik Lindberg Growthism is inexorably embedded in our systems, directing and controlling them, and giving the impression of an inescapable natural law.
Growthism is a belief forged over the last two centuries that subscribes to the dogma that the achievements of our society are principally measured by an increase in economic measures such as GDP and per capita or volume of trade. This view is premised on unquestioned assumptions. The facts indicate that growthism runs counter to humanity’s need to live within the thermodynamic and biological limits of our environment.
Growthism is diminishing our quality of life and threatening life on the planet. According to Erik Lindberg, “our modern framework, with its Growthist Self leading the charge, is responsible for the destruction of the world’s biosphere and is bringing on what scientists refer to as the 6th Great Extinction.” In addition to eco-ruin, growthism feeds a global oligopoly, debt, corruption, class conflict, poverty, and homelessness.
Growthists are ubiquitous and as Lindberg points out, “Every American hero from Christopher Columbus to the present has been a Growthist; and this has not of course changed with the entrepreneurial hero.” This perspective is shared by both ends of the political spectrum. Although they may differ on how to get there, both liberals and conservatives subscribe to economic models predicated on growth.
The almost universal reliance on growth has serious consequences, because as Kent Welton indicates, “Growthism lacks both context and assent by the vast majority. As such, it is doomed to produce social and ecological ruin and political turmoil.”
Growthism is disconnected from the real world. The values assigned by those who subscribe to growthism are devoid of relation to natural process. The corporate world’s single-minded focus on profits is driving this state of unbalance. As corporate profits have increased we have seen declines in real wages. This is “trickle-up” economics which transfers wealth from the many to the few.
We are living in an age of Growthmania which Paul Ehrlich describes as, “the most pervasive social disease in America… most economists are hooked on growth the way junkies are hooked on heroin.” The growthist model means by definition that there will be losers, lots of them. It is a race to the finish line and the spoils go to the select few. This is an unsustainable system.
Far from addressing this problem, we seem to be doubling down on this doomed economic system. As reviewed in a paper by Herman Daly, Donald Trump is also a growthist.