Economic Growth

Wanting more persists today regardless of what we already have. Faced with today’s environmental challenges, our preoccupation with more should be judged neurotic.

Economic growth has worked well to raise people from the misery of the past. It has indeed proved to be an excellent tool in fostering human development worldwide. As a result, economic growth remains the number one mantra among many politicians as the path to solve today’s problems.

But the ideas by which people guide their lives were forged in the past.

In the past, poverty has always been man’s regular lot. For many generations, our present economic affluence would have been unimaginable 1. It should not surprise us to learn that we have the maxim “the more the better” engraved into our hypothalamus. As a result, wanting more persists today, regardless of what we have 2.

We must be on the alert. The inability to question our ancient beliefs may lead us through a treacherous and dangerous path.

In many corners of the world we have reached levels of affluence beyond the dreams of our forefathers. As the West has experienced since the 1950’s, once basic needs are covered, more stuff does not necessarily translate into more satisfying lives. Furthermore, modern societies have to face challenges that were unknown to previous generations such as obese populations or environmental troubles. Affluence brought us out of poverty, but it also allows us to do many things that are unnecessary, some are unwise, some are unhealthy and a few are insane. Some are, I would argue, a threat to affluence itself 1.

Knowing the new challenges of this 21st century, our preoccupation with material productivity and increasing consumption should be judged in a large measure as neurotic and irrational 2. Faced with CO2 emissions, promoting further growth by manufacturing needs through advertising, by all accounts, is unsound, foolish and outrageously ridiculous. Given the facts, visiting aliens would certainly categorize humans and chimpanzees as species with similar IQ.

I myself cannot claim to be immune to the appeal of the more the better. I also enjoy the security, the convenience and the pleasures that material progress has brought upon us. I do not long for poverty, and I am not that naïve to think that poor people in developing countries do not suffer. People need security and dignity in order to lead satisfying lives.

What I am proclaiming is that we need to reevaluate our values, especially when it comes to more consumption. The environmental toll we are paying is staggering. There are many obese people suffering despite the rich material life within their reach. In some instances, the more the better does not work.

Just 200 years ago, people didn’t need a TV add to tell them what they needed1. Now we do. We should think about it.
1 The Affluent Society. John Kenneth Galbraith
2 The Poverty of Affluence. A Psychological Portrait of the American Way of Life. Paul E. Wachtel.

1 comment:

  1. On this topic I enjoyed an article by George Monbiot published very recently: http://www.monbiot.com/2014/05/27/the-impossibility-of-growth/

    Here's a excerpt: "Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? [...] Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems."

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