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growth for the sake of growth isn’t a sustainable model

July 6, 2011

Personally, I don’t think that growth simply for the sake of growth is a sustainable model. While economic growth isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as it tends to promote higher quality education and standards of living), it’s not without its dangers, especially when it forms the very basis of our economic system.

Generally speaking, for national economies to continually experience growth, they need access to natural resources, a supply of relatively cheap labour and, more importantly, to eventually expand their markets. For many countries, especially those with limited space and natural resources of their own, this has been done through imperialist policies. The most blatant example being fascist Italy, where Benito Mussolini, with the help of Giovanni Gentile, wrote that:

For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that imperialism is the only effective means of acquiring natural resources and cheap labour, or expanding markets; but historically speaking, it’s been one of the most popular, as well as one of the most effective (which is probably why it’s so popular).

The focus on continual economic growth also requires a continual increase in consumption, and in turn, continually expanding markets and/or an increase in population to create and sustain such growth. This, naturally, tends to lead to consumerism, which has its own downsides, such as environmental degradation, the depletion of natural resources and the promotion of unnecessary and even harmful jobs as long as they contribute to growth.

In addition, things like sharing and reusing are actively discouraged by capital and the methodological individualism that underlies consumerism (and capitalism in general), which slows growth even though things like Portland’s ‘tool libraries’ would arguably help people and the environment more than coercing them to purchase their own equipment or whatever simply to stimulate production.

In essence, I completely agree with C. A. L’Hirondelle that:

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.

(I think B is an especially important point.)

I also get the feeling that things like ‘green economy,’ ‘job growth’ and ‘sustainability’ are little more than buzzwords being used by the current administration, as well as others, to promote the continuation of an inherently unsustainable system at a time when many are unemployed, disillusioned and beginning to question the status quo.

Sure, historically speaking, capitalism and the technological advancements it’s fostered have arguably provided a greater standard of living for a large portion of the population in what amounts to the blink of an eye. But the system is designed to give people what they want, regardless of the consequences, and places profit in their production and distribution above everything else. Why? Well, for one thing, I’m inclined to agree with Martin Luther King Jr. when, on April 4, 1967, he said:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

The way I see it, we really need to start looking at capitalism and what we’re being told by businesses, politicians and the mainstream media more critically before we do even more irreparable harm to the planet, not to mention our future on it. Unfortunately, I think my friend, Joe, was right when he wrote:

Yeah, and a lot of sustainability issues are dealt with strictly in terms of material causes (in the Aristotelian sense). The teleological, efficient and formal causes for capitalist bullshit go unchecked. You can’t base your economy on monetary profit without it leading to cancerous growth of the economy or without completely crashing it and starving people with austerity measures.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who’d probably disagree with me and my predominately critical/pessimistic point of view, but that’s the way I currently see things. I’m fairly certain that things need to change, and I mean seriously change, for us to survive another millennium, let alone to truly flourish as a society. I’m talking about the need for a radical shift in human consciousness and/or a socio-political revolution on an epic scale here, people.

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