Our giant baby economy
We expect babies to grow. They need to grow to reach maturity and live happy, healthy lives. But what if they never stopped growing? What if babies kept getting bigger forever?
If that sounds like a stupid question that’s because it *is* a stupid question. But why does no one react the same way when mainstream economists, politicians, news outlets and corporations tell you (directly or indirectly) that the economy should never stop growing?
Seriously, can you name one thing in the universe that grows forever? (p.s. cancer doesn’t count!)
We live in a giant baby economy. Constantly consuming, growing, damaging the world around us, all while depleting our health, happiness and wellbeing just to keep the line going up. Yes, growth can be good, and it’s sometimes necessary. But is it always a good thing?
Wealthy countries need to slow growth
Consumption vs. Wealth
We’ve largely optimized the global economy for growth. Growth, as measured by GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, measures everything produced in a year. It’s consumption. It’s throughput. Once it’s produced, it’s no longer counted. But more importantly, what about the stuff that actually matters to you: Like your family relationships, health, or your sense of community?
Here’s what Sen. Robert F. Kennedy said about GDP’s predecessor, Gross National Product, or GNP, less than six months before his assassination:
“[GNP] measures everything in short except that which makes life worthwhile.”Robert F. Kennedy
There is a tremendous amount of wealth being completely ignored in our current system. It’s not just stuff lying around your house like phones and computers, it’s also trees and rivers. It’s public art. It’s even democratic participation. It’s everything of value that contributes to human thriving. So instead of pushing one value, GDP growth, what if we balanced a dashboard of indicators for overall wealth?
Is there a better way?
Life Inside the Doughnut is Sweet
There’s a common fear-based reaction when people confront the idea of letting go of our current growth-based system. That’s because any time we’ve stopped growing, it’s been called a recession, and recessions are hard times. But becoming growth agnostic is not a permanent recession, it’s actually about building wealth. Real wealth. Wealth that benefits your life, the lives of future generations, and the non-human life on this planet. For many people, it means working less, while earning more. It means lower rents and housing costs. It means abundant clean energy. It means free education to improve your own capabilities. It means healthcare as a priority of access, not a source of revenue for publicly traded companies. It means having time for family, friends and community. It means pursuing your own hobbies, or business ideas. It’s greater freedom to live and participate in civil society, instead of it being dominated by the ultra-wealthy. Ultimately it’s about balance. As opposed to our current system, which feels like a treadmill running faster and faster. If we don’t get off, we will fall.
Unsustainable ends. One way or another.
For years you’ve heard that the way we do things is unsustainable. Any system – economic or otherwise – that expands exponentially is unsustainable, because nothing can grow forever. It will eventually hit a limit. If our economic activity is unsustainable, then we have two options: 1) We purposely stabilize what we’re doing to become sustainable. 2) We let the system collapse.
“Growth is one of the stupidest purposes ever invented by any culture,” wrote Donella Meadows, one of the lead authors of the groundbreaking 1972 study Limits to Growth. Instead of accepting constant growth she maintained we should always ask: “Growth of what, and why, and for whom, and who pays the cost, and how long can it last, and what’s the cost to the planet, and how much is enough?”
Entering into a post-growth era means we are not only able to stabilize, but also thrive. Ignoring reality by believing economies can magically consume more and more each year is childish. Anyone who throws a tantrum because they’re told the economy can’t grow forever is acting like a giant baby. It’s time for the big economies of the world to start acting like grown ups by acknowledging the reality of the multiple crises we face and working towards a safe and just vision of the future.