Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Growth Obsession


Economic growth is an obsession. Every political party seems to claim that they will be the bringers of growth. I have many problems with this obsession, and I will try to elucidate the main two here.

Firstly, growth is unsustainable. This should be plainly obvious to absolutely everyone. We live on a planet with limited resources, which we are rapidly consuming. We are accelerating towards environmental disaster, as we're currently living well above the carrying capacity of the earth. So not only is economic growth and its associated growing levels of consumption going to put the planet in a dire situation, but our population is still growing. As Chris Hedges aptly wrote: "A world where 8 billion to 10 billion people are competing for diminishing resources will not be peaceful. The industrialized nations will, as [America has] done in Iraq, turn to their militaries to ensure a steady supply of fossil fuels, minerals and other nonrenewable resources in the vain effort to sustain a lifestyle that will, in the end, be unsustainable. The collapse of industrial farming, which is made possible only with cheap oil, will lead to an increase in famine, disease and starvation."

Beyond the problem with growth environmentally, where is the growth going? The language of Occupy Wall Street gives us a simple insight into this question. The 99% and the 1%, or more accurately, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have in the last 30+ years since the neo-liberal revolution began have received enormously inequitable portions of this so-called growth. This trend doesn't appear to be relenting, and with the increasingly liberalised paths of capital flow around the globe is almost guaranteed to snowball.

We need to seriously re-evaluate this obsession with growth. Systemic change will also be necessary, as this compound growth is not arbitrary, but is dictated to us by our economic system of capitalism. Cessations of constant growth are considered recessions, and the working class bears the brunt of this, primarily through job losses and government austerity measures, while the capitalist class laughs all the way to the bank.

Our global political establishment seem to fall into three categories broadly:
The first group seems to be either oblivious to the problems (not realising that they exist) or content with them. In this category I would lump our own Prime Minister John Key and his government, along with most of the global right wing. This group doesn't necessarily deny that climate change is a real problem, but generally see this disparity of growth as natural, or even desirable.
The second group openly admit there is a problem with growth on the environment, and acknowledge the massive inequality. This group however only offers platitudes. President Obama falls into this group, as he has acknowledged the problems in powerful speeches that inspire many, but does nothing. This group placates the masses by fooling them into thinking that progressive action is being taken.
The final group also acknowledges the problem, and often attempts to do something about it. This group, like the other two, still works entirely within the same framework. They still assume constant growth, say nothing about population levels and do not challenge the system of capitalism. This group is most amenable to change, as they truly believe in their causes, but haven't made the connection between them and their root cause, the capitalist system.

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