Administrator’s note: For this post, I’m pleased to feature on GIM a guest article by Kent Welton. Kent maintains a number of websites featuring incisive commentary on key social and political issues. One, growthism.com, overlaps amazingly closely with the ideas here on GIM.
This essay very nearly says it all, and says it extraordinarily well. In fact, had I written it myself, I’d no doubt have used it as a sort of foundational essay for the whole site. But Kent wrote it, and it’s filled with cogent statements on the problem of the growth religion which has come to dominate our culture, and which could destroy it if awareness of these issues does not take hold soon. Fortunately, there are signs of increased awareness. And this essay can only help in that regard.
The essay is from the chapter on “Growthism” in Kent’s book, Cap-Com, The Economics Of Balance.
The root of our problems with the environment comes from a lack of constraint on the growth of population… it has grown to over six billion, which is wholly unsustainable in the present state of Gaia.. we have to make our own constraints on growth and make them strong and make them now. — James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia
Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted…the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years. — Millenium Ecosystem Assessment
The dominant philosophy and motivating social force of our era is clearly economic. No other values so determine our fate today as do capital-defined notions of growth, profit, and efficiency. Under these narrow and material rubrics we are to appraise and measure virtually all human activity, relationship, and end purpose.
Worship of an ill-measured “growth” has naturally lead to an ideology of growthism – within which we now devalue and subordinate every other reason for living and being. No other rationale so prevails and undermines consideration of other elements and purposes of life, and nature’s own equations, as does the goal of “economic growth.”
In effect, economists and politicians seem to know no other objective, and no other ideation comes close to “growth” in demanding a social supremacy and utilitarian right to define and order our lives.
In any case, what is referred to as “economic growth” consists of two elements – i.e., one part productivity increase and one part population increase. However, only productivity and technological advance may constitute real growth, whereas population expansion means a perpetual decline of our per-capita earthly space.
Until we distinguish between real productivity and per-capita declines emerging from population growth, no true progress can be formulated, attained, or sustained. Indeed, “growth” is then simply growth-to-ruin, and the most un-economic of dogmas and behavior.
As the sine qua non of capital-controlled societies, “growth” has become both infallible ideal and secular ideology. It is a quasi-religious notion complete with its own church, high priests, and catechisms free of need for any earthly proofs.
As with other monomanias, growthism admits of no uncertainty or inherent bias. Further, growthism not only hides the facts of enclosure and labor’s loss of natural freedom, but fails to acknowledge any reason or necessity for balance in society or nature.
Like other faiths, growthism is to be swallowed whole and simply internalized as truth. Whether or not a majority desire capital’s dismal “growth” matters little where so many have lost their natural freedom, effective democracy, and any alternative to this mindless course.
If the global economic paradigm that we live under dictates infinite growth, then we must disengage individually and by community from that paradigm. — Michael C. Ruppert
This concern with “economics” to the exclusion of all other areas of life is also a reflection of our disparate estates – i.e., of the anxiety-ridden dependency of landless majorities and fears of ruling classes.
Bondage in “growth” schemes stems not only from disenfranchisement, dependency, and reproductive irresponsibility but also from enclosures of language and meaning as well. For example, the word “economic” is routinely followed today, in perfect Pavlovian cadence,- by the word “growth” – as if the two were inextricably synonymous.
In this way a state of Balance is effectively locked out of any relation to our definitions of economy and progress. As if fearing utterance of a great blasphemy, we seldom hear the words “economic balance” pass the lips of capital’s economists. As a result, a nebulous and assumed-to-be-salutary More imprisons the very definition of economy.
The ancient art and science of salutary social organization, and maintenance of a happy, human, existence, has shrunk to an obsession with numbers, to their endless increase, and studied avoidance of any meaningful, per-capita, measures or spiritual values. Dismal indeed is the modern definition of “growth” and “economy” – i.e., a classic art and study once dedicated to living in balance with nature.
When “economy” and “growth” are uttered in such lock-step fashion, economics becomes growth, and growth economics. Within this tautology any implementation of balance is seen as anti-growth, and anti-economic. As a result balance is presumed to be undesirable despite the fact “growth” as we know it is destroying society, nature, per-capita wealth, communal freedom, and democracy.
In the nature of this religio-economic dogma, “growth” is never to stop, and no limits is its credo. For capital’s sake, growth must proceed despite the fact it may be unwanted by a majority and is, in fact, generating social friction, per-capita ruin, and ecological disaster.
Nevertheless, given capital’s social supremacy, growth is never seen as the problem but, instead, is continually offered up as the only solution to every ill of our corrupt economies and degenerating environments.
Economics remains then, at best, a half-brained ideology missing essential concepts of factor and population balance, feminine values, qualitative measures, and right relation to nature’s sinks and capacities. The very language of growthism also reveals a male-defined drive for dominance – wherein we speak of “expanding” and “penetrating” markets and “dominating” the resources of other nations and people.
Growthists speak of forcing open markets with the same cunning, and sense of divine right, as those who once spread the legs of virgins to make bloody sacrifices to male gods upon a cold stone slab.
A growing nation is the greatest ponzi game ever contrived. — Paul Samuelson
The rise of this inherently self-defeating “economic” philosophy and its increasingly dismal social conditions emerges from enclosure, factor imbalance, and the unnatural ways in which we have come to live and work.
Nevertheless, many continue to believe we can neither survive nor prosper unless we grow by invading another’s marketplace, securing their resources, and absorbing expanding populations. As a result, we seek to force trade, win economic contests by colonizing others, ever-increase our share of distant economies, and manufacture a global “interdependency” while labor’s clout, democracy, ecology and balance are destroyed.
Today, no local autonomy, democratic decision, or national or cultural freedom is to interfere with capital’s effectively-forced “interdependency” dictated by GATT/WTO and growthism. Not only is this dogma imperial in nature but it also admits no qualification to process or any measurement of the character and quality of what is growing.
Indeed, the quality of life is expelled from this obsession with numerical increase. Measures of real wealth, of per-capita space and freedom, remain taboo as they demonstrate the lie of what has become no less than a religio-economic theology of growth-to-ruin.
Society must cease to look upon “progress” as something desirable. “Eternal Progress” is a nonsensical myth. What must be implemented is not a “steadily expanding economy,” but a zero growth economy, a stable economy. Economic growth is not only unnecessary but ruinous. — Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn
As a process without limits, growthism has no relationship to the most important qualities in our lives, much less social equity, democracy, human rights, factor balance, or environmental sustainability. As a goal and good measured only by increases in widgets and beings, a short-term, quality-less, profit and per-capita ruin becomes an end unto itself.
Corrupt values and dismal measures drive a corporate need divorced from effective freedom, democracy, and eco-sustainability. Growthism has become the intellectual equivalent of perpetual-motion machines – i.e., driving a pseudo economics and feeding an empty ideology meant to give the illusion of progress, as predation and per-capita ruin proceed.
With capital’s mis-measures we then progressively destroy all real wealth and avoid issues of factor parity, natural freedom, and population balance. With empty statistics, we may then decline in real terms as we “grow” to profit stateless corporations.
By counting population increase as “growth” rather than per-capita decline, growth is not only synonymous with progressive ruin but devoid of reference to quality, purpose, justice, equity, natural right, ecology, and root estate. As a result, “growth” means incomes and disparities may increase, and societal power of capital expand, while the very quality of life, and per-capita space and freedom, decline.
To hasten growth is to hasten decay. — Lao-Tzu
As a quantity-driven faith without relation to equity, balance, or the condition of one’s community and environment, growthism lacks context. As such, it is doomed to produce social and ecological ruin. After centuries of “growth,” our enclosure, desperation, and disparities are greater than ever – a clear indication we are not only moving in the wrong direction but have no other motive force or ethic.
Despite its failures, growthism remains the dominant shibboleth of our time, one demanding genuflection from capital’s economists and politicians. Yet Balance, as a principle motivating ethic, is sorely needed and still it remains outside the pantheon of economic virtues and goals.
In any case, wherever enclosure and factor imbalance prevail, rights of the penultimate individual, and powerful possessors of capital, will become supreme. Few community rights and majority powers are not overruled by the influence of money as powerful individuals and mega-corporations become nearly, if not completely, omnipotent in society and around the world.
In this setting, without balancing principles, ethics and forces, we are destined to grow disenfranchisement, discontent, social pathology and eco-ruin. Packed like rats into ever-shrinking cubicles, and driven to compete for capital’s growth and benefit, this dismal ethic must soon collapse of its own absurdity and excess.
In the interim, growthism remains the primary force in our lives due to enclosure, capital’s supremacy, the extortion of labor, and a host of western, patriarchal, religio-economic, values from an age with little relation to our own.
Image source: Erik Anderson’s photostream, posted on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license