It’s been drilled into us. We hear it everyday. The economy is built on growth. The economy will stagnate if there’s no growth. Corporations plan and strategize based on growth. They have to grow their business every year to make “stockholders happy.”
These assumptions need questioning. What’s wrong with making a good profit, year after year, solid as a rock? If a company is successful, what’s wrong with doing what it does best and sticking to it? Is it growth when one corporation buys out another in order to show off a bigger balance sheet? What actually happens when one company takes over another? What happens when a business is in a mature market, one that’s well established and saturated, where there’s no room for growth, e.g., soap? What happens when a company is in a dying market, fading away as a result of technological change, e.g., photographic film? What’s wrong if a company shrinks to adapt to the changes? But these questions are marginal. What’s at the core here?
The first big monster question; Is continuous growth sustainable?
Do the math. The answer is an unqualified, unequivocal no. It’s absolutely impossible and because of the insistence to keep spitting in the wind by trying to grow, grow, grow, we keep having cycles of boom & bust, boom & bust, boom & bust. Every growth cycle must reverse itself with a bust. We’ve just gone through two closely spaced booms. The late ’90s dot-com craze that was allowed to spiral out of control because, “It was good for the economy.” And the recent real estate housing boom caused by the insane lending practices of the big banks and allowed to spiral out of control because, “It was good for the economy.” It don’t feel no good now, do it? And since when is a bust “good for the economy?”
The second big monster question; When they say, “good for the economy,” whose economy are they talking about?
Certainly not the economy and definitely not my economy. If you’ve been paying attention, you should already know why the answer to both questions is a big monster negative. In case you haven’t, I’ll give you a clue. Three percent annual growth, year after year would require 3% increase in consumption. That compounds to doubling the gross domestic product of every nation on the face of the earth every 24 years. Starting from today, we would have to double our consumption of everything, food, paper, clothing, housing, energy, etc., by 2036. That requires doubling the production of everything. Imagine, if the population doesn’t double, you personally would have to eat twice as much food, use twice as much energy and work twice as many hours to sustain that kind of growth, and double again by 2060, and double again. . . If instead the population doubles, then there’d be over 13 billion people swarming over the planet. You’d be off the hook for all the extra food, weight gain and work, but imagine what will happen to the rivers, the water supply, the oceans, the air, the forests, the landfills. OMG!
What keeps things relatively in check are the unavoidable busts. Growth cannot be sustained, and if we could force it to continue, there’d be monstrous consequences. Growth is a myth. Growth is an illusion. More than a myth or an illusion, it’s a big monster lie. And the scariest part is, we know it.
There’s only one answer to both monster questions. The goal needs to be stability—boring, level, steady, constant, serene, tranquil stasis. Forget growth. It’s the lie we can’t afford, never needed and should no longer tolerate.
Here are some good articles on the subject.
This one is long and sometimes a little dense—push through it—it’s the best of the bunch : [Steady State Economics]
Short and sweet and to the point : [The Fallacy of Economic Growth]
We can’t keep doing this [Growth in a Finite World]
Growthbusters [Redefining Prosperity]
Skip this one if you’re a republican. It swings way far left, yet it has a few good points hidden under a thick layer of Marxism : [Anti-anti-Growth]