The Stupidity of Economic Growth
(including green, teal, or chartreuse growth)
by C. A. L'Hirondelle, March 24 - 2011
So many people believe that economic growth is inevitable simply because the mantra is so often intoned, and all authoritative people seem to believe it.
--Clive Hamilton,The Growth Fetish, 2003
Yes, it is 2011 and people are still advocating 'Jobs and Growth' or 'Jobs and Green Growth'. This is like advocating for our own enslavement: demanding that we want soul-sucking, time and resource-wasting 'jobs for jobs sake'.
Blanket-over-head advocacy of jobs, jobs, jobs, ignores that:
a) many jobs are wasteful, unnecessary or outright harmful (e.g. workin' hard at snaring new generations of smokers);
b) many 'non-jobs' such as being an unpaid carer, or doing volunteer work —activities that are often essential to human health and happiness—are considered 'unproductive' according to conventional economic measures such as the GDP.
c) the idea of green jobs and green growth is just greenwashing the ugly roots, facts and outcomes of the economic growth imperative.
In the 1930's in Canada the unemployed marched for "Work and Wages".
This at least made sense for that generation. (Of course with the official organized 'labor/labour' caveat excluding womendoing shitloads of unpaid work from the mantle of mythological noble 'worker'.) The unemployed in the 30's would not have predicted that by the 1960s, technological advances would prompt calls for a universal income distribution via guaranteed annual income by people such as Robert Theobald, Buckminster Fuller, Martin Luther King Jr. and even Richard Nixon, and in Canada, Pierre Berton and the Royal Commission of the Status of Women. F.A. Hayek was also in favor of this idea which crosses the usual political left/right boundaries.
Yet, here we are in 2011, robbed of our Jetsons future. A future where Leisure is abundant because humans have focused on maximizing technological efficiencies, minimizing resource waste and stopping the tragic job theatre charade of wasting human lives (minute by painful minute) on make-work tasks solely to satisfy an outdated moral loyalty to something called 'the work ethic'.
The foundational problem of the economic growth model is that it REQUIRES an increase in consumption and a related need to have increasing population to feed the need for ever more, ever higher consumption.
(This is of course screamingly funny for mothers who have been told they are 'unproductive' drains on the 'productive' members of society, as well as being scapegoated by environmentalists for bombing the planet with too many babies. Mothers and other caregivers of young children are generally too busy to point out that it is the economic system that demands high consumption-- not them. e.g. fighting off the 'pester power' strategies of marketing companies. In fact mothers fight battles on so many fronts that many moms, once the most intensive stressful sleep-deprived mom-tasks are over, suffer from a kind of mother-PTSD from the combination of dealing with total exhaustion and having to deflect the idea that their work is considered 'doing nothing'.)
THE ROTTEN ROOTS OF GROWTH
"We're doomed to shop till we drop. Two thirds of our economy is based on consumption. Which leads to a rather petrifying paradox: If we cut back on consumption, which obviously is good for the environment, and good for a number of things, the US economy collapses. In a sense we've built an economy that needs rampant consumerism as a fuel, just to keep the engine going."
—Bruce Bartlett interview, In Debt we Trust, 2007 documentary.
A non-growth steady state economy would not require high consumption and growing populations in order to keep the whole stupid soul-destroying machine going. Nonetheless, those in positions of influence still advocate "Jobs and Growth", or "green" jobs and "green" growth.
WHY STRAIGHT GROWTH AND GREEN GROWTH FLAWED AT CORE
(and what we humans could choose to do instead in order to stop the zombie-like all-consuming push for growth.)
Economic growth requires either:
a) growing numbers of consumers or
b) growing rates of consumption.
For example, the beer industry needs either more customers drinking moderate amounts of beer, or a moderate number of customers drinking more beer. If beer producers have fewer customers drinking less beer, they will have less growth and less profit.
"But Molson Coors, like all beer makers, is fighting population trends as it tries to get bigger. A crucial customer segment -- young men -- is shrinking. In Canada, there are 325,000 fewer males between 20 and 34 than there were 15 years ago." --Derek DeCloet, Trouble brewing in beer industry, Globe & Mail, May 7, 2005
This is why there are occasional worried articles about dropping birth rates. If automation can increase production, this requires a corresponding increase in consumption or else the increased unsold production becomes a loss, not a profit. Ergo headlines read: "Not enough babies; new threat to economy" Wall Street Journal (Aug. 23, 2005).
The current economic system -- and this system is tacitly accepted by everyone who does not openly voice their disagreement to it -- means accepting a system that demands ever increasing consumption, population growth and the environmental problems and energy demands that go along with this.
INCOME AND LIFE
With rare exception, today "jobs" are how people "make a living." A relatively short time ago people made their living without money:
"The monetary economy, rather than being a permanent fixture of human society, has only become the dominant force in the lives of most of the world's population during the last half century." --Richard G. Wilkinson,
Unhealthy Societies; the Afflictions of Inequality, 1996
Few people have the knowledge and resources to live without money (skillfully subsisting directly from nature). Today if people lack a job--unless they have some other income source--they lack the means to "make a living". Health research shows that not having money means poor health and a shorter life.
"It now seems well-established that poverty and social rank are the most important factors determining health --more important even than smoking." --Poverty and Health: The Role of Physicians, Annals Of Internal Medicine
This explains why people fear a non-growth economic model. They fear losing the way they 'make a living. People have a justifiable fear of poverty, shame, hardship and a shortened life. Fear of poverty also functions to block changing from an economic growth or bust system - even with the growing and obvious flaws of this system.
ECONOMIC GROWTH OR BUST (a cross-political consensus)
With the exception of some in the Green Party, all major political players--conservative, liberals and social democrats/labour--espouse the importance of economic growth. There is also broad consensus that economic growth is only solution to poverty and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is used as an indicator of a nation's economic success.
E.F. Schumacher, Marilyn Waring and others have pointed out that harmful activities such as oil spills, clear cuts, ill health, and car accidents count on the 'plus' side of the GDP ledger because they generate economic activity while beneficial activities like unpaid family caregiving or growing your own vegetable garden are not counted as they are considered "unproductive."
GDP is also used as a decision-making tool.
" The monthly release of GDP are meticulously followed by policymakers and financial analysts, serving as a barometer of the economies health."
--Brent R. Moulton, GDP and the Digital Economy: Keeping up with the Changes, 1999
Some organizations now advocate different measurements to gauge a countries' health such as Bhutan's Gross National Happiness
or the Happy Planet Index
These measures are criticized for being subjective and unscientific. However, nothing could be more subjective than using an economic measure that counts bombs as productive and unpaid care work as unproductive.
"Thanks to the biased 'sciences' of forecasting, econometrics, and statistics, if you bomb a city and then rebuild it,
the data shows a huge spike in economic growth.
The real story is that we are living a lie."
— John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, 2004
Nothing could be less scientific then failing to differentiate between harmful activities and beneficial ones, between health and illth. E.G. A worker pushing a lawnmower at a pesticide-ridden golf course: productive; a mother pushing a stroller carrying the next generation of producer/consumer upon which the entire economy depends: unproductive.
"Quantitative differences can be more easily grasped
and certainly more easily defined than qualitative differences; their concreteness is beguiling and gives them the appearance of scientific precision, even when
this precision has been purchased by the suppression
of vital differences in quality."
—E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful:
Economics if People Mattered, 1973
This failure to differentiate between health and illth is imperiling human and planetary health. Economic growth is world's economic default position and will be until enough people go on the record and say "No".
"Good things create their own end. Good economies would create good health, not bad health, it would lead to less [monetary economic activity], not more." --J.S.Larochelle - Jobism
A new twist in the growth model is to advocate 'green' growth and 'green' jobs. But 'green jobs' are still following the philosophy of jobs-for-jobs-sake. Green jobs proponets are not advocating creative idleness to save resources and energy.
There are no green job slogans like: "Hey you!!! Stop working so hard and save the planet!!!" John Calvin is still the philosophical driver of green jobs. He might be wearing a green hemp robe, but he's still fretting about lazy people with idle hands.
Even if we ignore the Calvinist problem, the number of green jobs can never come close to matching the number of jobs created by an economic system based on waste, inefficiency and destruction. Billions of people rely on jobs in the military industry (needing war), the medical and pharmaceutical industry (needing ill health), the processed and food industry (creating ill health), the fossil fuel industry (how to get to the mall the buy all that crap), and planned obsolescence products (replace the old crap with new crap).
"To achieve shorter product lives and sell more goods, manufacturers
in the 1930s began to base their choice of materials on
...when each of the products specific components would fail."
-- Giles Slade, Made to Break;
Technology and Obsolescence in America, 2006
Doing away with harmful unnecessary wasting and wrecking jobs, also does away with a lot of fixing jobs. If people grew most of their own food, became vegan, walked, biked and used public transit, used trains not airplanes, ate homemade lunches instead of restaurant meals, made their own beer or wine and drank it at home, practiced voluntary simplicity and non-violence -- the entire economy as it is currently structured would collapse.
Healthy, low-consuming people can never create the same number of jobs as a society of unhappy, cable-TV-advert-watching, junk-food eating, booze swilling, tobacco smoking, gas-guzzling car-driving non-exercising people beset by disease, addictions, chronic illness and other problems who create millions of jobs in all kinds of sectors.
Like a perverse self-perpetuating pendulum, the 'wrecking' industries create wrecking jobs and an equal number of 'fixing' jobs.
AND THEN THERE IS THE AUTO SECTOR
According to a report by Centre for Automotive Research (Fall 2003)*, 1 in 10 jobs in the US is directly and indirectly related to the automotive sector: research and development, energy, petroleum refining, trucking, warehousing, parking, highway construction, tolls roads/bridges/tunnels, insurance, credit/finance, advertising; "upstream" sectors supplying materials (metals, electronics, fluids, plastics, rubber, paint, textiles, glass, heating/cooling systems, industrial machinery and equipment); "downstream" sectors including new and used motor vehicle dealers, tire dealers, repair services, car rental, car washes and gas stations.
Millions of people working in the oil and auto industries will tell you they need their jobs, as will people working in other environmentally damaging industries.
*Economic Contribution of the Automotive Industry to the US economy - A Study Prepared for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Centre for Automotive Research (CAR), Fall 2003
1999 AFL-CIO Reiterates its Opposition to Kyoto Global Warming Accord
Needless to say there are enormous built-in incentives to keep the status quo. Economic imperatives and fear of poverty have humanity spinning our wheels deeper and deeper into the rut of jobs and economic growth. And creating green jobs for the lucky few, is not going to get us out of the perpetual crap rut that we are in. However, creating a universal just transition fund with a guaranteed livable income the way to a green steady-state economy, is a path we could choose instead.
LIVABLE FOR ALL
The quickest way out of the economic rut is through a Guaranteed Livable Income, aka guaranteed annual income, citizen's income, basic income grant, stakeholder grant, earth fellowship and many other names.
In other words, yes! just pay everyone a universal allocation. And yes! some people might do 'nothing'. Before choking on your Calvinist corn flakes read why this is a logical solution.
"It doesn't take a computer to tell you that it will save both Universe and humanity trillions of dollars a day to pay them handsomely to stay at home." Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path 1982
Guaranteed income can act as emergency 'economic harm reduction'--a way to stop the massive crap system we have now from collapsing onto the people who are the most vulnerable. No, it won't fix all problems, and neither will any other idea. But it will provide a crucial way to climb out of the ever deepening "growth" rut.
In conclusion: End the growth mantra; lets go for a livable world instead.
NEXT: QUOTES page on economic growth.
See also a related cartoon and 10 Reasons why we need a Guaranteed Livable Income
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