A 5-step Program for What Ails us. Fourth Installment (of 5 – almost there!)

Step 4 – Help envision and create an economy based on human well-being directly, not on growth for its own sake as a proxy for well-being.

At various times, healthy living systems and individual organisms physically grow, but at other times they don’t.  In fact, physical growth in most indviduals usually slows down dramatically or comes to a complete stop after some time and total growth within an ecosystem does the same.   The great exception to this is cancer and disease organisms that ultimately destroy their host.

When we insist on growth for its own sake as economic policy, our well-being is compromised. At both the personal and societal levels, growth for its own sake leads to obesity, cancer, suburban sprawl, climate change, top-soil loss and hurried, anxious and dysfunctional way of living.    Almost all American individuals and families have more of just about everything physical (food, housing, transport and beyond) than almost any person on Earth in the past and most others on Earth, today.   When we insist on having more to measure our success, we suffer diminishing returns along with a loss of happiness while simultaneously contributing to environmental imbalances that threaten to destroy us.

At the level of economic policy, there are many apologists for growth for its own sake.   If you’ve never considered this before, do some internet searches on “economic growth” and find sites like these two:

I’ve used these articles as examples because they talk about the importance of economic growth but also elude to emerging questions / critiques about the use of economic growth as a policy.  The first article ends with “Economic growth is necessary for our economic system because people generally want more wealth and a better standard of living. Furthermore, it is easier to redistribute wealth and advance new technologies while an economy is growing. We must, however, be aware that after all, economic growth is a means to an end and not an end in itself.”  In our economic system, as currently defined and managed, growth is necessary, but other economic systems are possible.   See this website to consider just four economic systems.   There are others.

The second article, above, includes a telling line: “A society only measures what it values.” Therein lies the Achilles heel of growth as a measure of success.  Unless we value living systems that support us, we will not measure the impact on those living systems as a balance to the measure of economic growth.   Unless we value the social equity and human health and happiness in the system, we will not measure the negative impact on people as a balance either.  Do we value growth for growth’s sake over the health and well-being of living systems and people?   Yes, right now, as a society we do.

Think about the impacts of growth for its own sake on any system.   You aren’t going to find many people advocating for perpetual growth in eating, activity vs. sleep, groups of cells within us and other things affecting our individual bodies.   Such gluttony and frenetic behavior are almost self-evidently catastrophic.    Ask, at least, if perpetual growth can be any different at the level of a human society.

If you do think that this “Step 4” is valid at both the individual and societal level, then be a part of enabling an alternate measure of our economic success.  We can all contribute by doing at least the following:  1) buy, make and waste less stuff and energy in your life overall.   (in some areas, on some occasions, you may need to grow your consumption, but certainly not in most or all things at all times!)  How might your life be improved by buying, using and wasting less stuff?  2) Educate yourself on alternative economic models and support efforts to bring them to fruition!   Do this in a way that works with your present life situation.

A healthy economic model might take some time to evolve at a national level, but individual communities will likely soon be driven by a more diverse set of alternatives to perpetual growth than is the case today.   If you’re a stay-home parent, then model an alternative to growth-for-growth’s sake in your home economics for your kids.   If you are a business owner or an elected official – or, for gosh-sakes, an economist – dive deeper into the wide variety of alternative economic models that are already being envisioned.   Here are just a few:

Finally, see my Musing:Some Thoughts at the Barstool of Sustainability,which addresses growth and sustainability.   And, even if you are swayed by arguments that economic growth for its own sake is necessary and good, I hope you’ll still at least consider the value of other steps in this seriesA 5-step Program for What Ails Us.   The final installment is coming soon.

Steps 1,2, 3 and5

Step 1 –  Yes, No or Maybe – be proactively honest, clear and respectful with ourselves and each other

Step 2 – Slow down and simplify overall.

Step 3 – Spend more time outside, mostly nearby, including more physical exertion and labor.

Step 5 – Quickly empower youth create a new economy, not replicate the present one

(Steps 1 – 3 have been addressed in previous musings; Step 5 will be addressed in a future Musing)