At least some people are starting to see that an economy of continuous debt accumulation only works if you have continuous growth. And continuous growth in a system with (at least some) finite constraints is not workable. In history there has typically been a falling back, or sometimes a collapse to bring the everyone back to earth. The advent of the industrial revolution at least for a time delayed that inevitability. Collapses in a modern sense have usually been of a relative nature. Not a collapse back to zero in absolute terms, but a temporary cessation of growth.
Growth: the false god
Flashman, Macrobusiness, 9 October 2012 (hat tip: NC)
From the self-development books of Oprah and Tony Robbins to the world records in the Olympic Games, the act of standing still, or of tomorrow not being better than yesterday, is the ultimate sin. From computer processing speeds, to pixels on phone cameras to waistlines queuing for the food buffet, everything must be faster, better or bigger. Achievement and victory, inculcated since school – themselves ranked against each other for parental selection – are the ultimate virtues...
Yet economics beyond growth is exactly what we need if some kind of equilibrium is to be restored in the domestic and global economy. Forgetting for the moment Malthusian arguments about resource scarcity, or indeed the science of climate change, for the insidious political economy of a highly unequal world to subside and for the backbone of democracy – a middle class where most are in the middle – to reassert, we essentially need a no-growth environment.
But how can such an agenda be pursued? If capitalism is inherently not the answer then is socialism? Probably not. Marx fetishised growth as much as the market, just with different methods. China’s Great Leap Forward and Stalin’s Five Year Plans, after all, were blatant growth-pursuing exercises that would make Wall Street blush. Is deep ecology the answer? Not if you don’t wish to wear a hairshirt. Reducing our standard of living to the level of people Bono sings about is never going to be popular. Ditto for primitivism, survivalism and fundamentalist religion as well.
What is interesting is that he notes that most modern economic philosophies on the right and left require growth to make their theories work with the possible exception of left wing anarchists, and right wing isolationists would fit in the hairshirt category.
What is unfortunate is that the only real solution he comes up with is more technological hand waving. Nanotechnology to the rescue!
We can hope.