Limits to growth

I had intended to stay away from politics in this blog, but it has been hard to avoid here lately, with the Euro elections dominating the news. I even engaged in some political activism – stuck some posters on my windows and handed out leaflets in the town centre.

This morning two articles from the Guardian struck home – George Monbiot on the impossibility of perpetual growth and a report about the Governor of the Bank of England’s statement about the need for moral constraints of capitalism.

These are things which seem so simple and obvious – perpetual growth is impossible and undesirable. Suppose it were possible, suppose we lived in an infinitely replenishing universe where everyone could have more and more stuff, would we persist in wanting more and more stuff? Would we be getting infinitely better off?

I think not. My idea of a good life is to have just enough stuff to be comfortable and secure and thereby free to do the things that I value. More stuff than that is a burden and a hindrance – it gets in the way, it needs maintaining and protecting. NB, security is connected to that other buzzword, sustainability. As we don’t live in a world of infinite growth, sustainability matters, both in the natural environment and in our social relations. Living within your means is an old-fashioned idea but a powerful one.

But somehow we have set up our society so that more is not just better, but it is essential to keep the machine running. We have to produce more stuff, not because we (in the west at least) need more stuff, but because we need to create jobs. ‘Create jobs’ – what a weird concept – the job didn’t exist before, it didn’t need to be done, but it has been created to keep someone busy, to justify paying them so that they can earn money and spend it on more stuff, thereby creating more jobs… (isn’t there a joke about moving a hole in the ground from here to there and back again?). (And if you haven’t actually got the money, don’t worry – borrow it. Keep the currency flowing so that wheels of the financial markets can keep turning faster and faster and we can call it growth.)

If we are in the fortunate position of producing excess, why don’t we save it for the future? Why don’t we share out the work instead of chasing the idea of full-time jobs for everyone? Work less, use less, have more leisure to do more, to be more – more what? More thoughtful, more creative, more musical, more sociable, more active, more observant, more patient, more caring…

Here’s a little doodle from a while ago. Growth tends to be drawn as an upward curve, but it seems to me more like we are running down a steep hill, trying desperately to stay upright. I prefer the other image of growth.



This is not a coherent argument I’m afraid,* more a stream of consciousness, but I’d better stop now. Got to get some work done…


*If you want the coherent arguments, check out the Monbiot link above.


Copyright © 2014 Fliss Watts



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