More, more, more

Economics, as it’s currently understood, is all about growth. The economy is failing unless it continues to grow; wages must keep rising; there must be inflation; we must spend more and consume more. If not, we are failing. But why? What skewed theory is based on continuous growth? It doesn’t work in natural systems, so why would it work in human systems?

Adam Smith, who seems to be at the bottom of much of current economics, considered that technology would result in increased outputs. The enhanced economy would lead to reduced mortality and increased fertility thus delivering an increasing workforce to deliver this ever-expanding economic growth.

Unlimited growth isn’t possible in a limited space

At much the same time as Smith was developing his theories, Thomas Malthus was writing about about limitations. In recent years, Malthus has been somewhat maligned and his Limits to Growth model has been criticised for its simplicity. It’s true that there are more factors to consider than Malthus’ simple contention that food production could only increase arithmetically, whilst the population could expand geometrically, thus the former would limit the latter. However, in a more general way, you have to accept that he had a point: the world contains finite resources, and at some point these are going to limit the populations (human and other organisms) that can be supported.

And it is resources that I have been thinking a lot about lately. The two main environmental issues in the news recently have been plastics and climate change, but really the overarching factor is over-exploitation of finite resources. Whatever aspect of the environment you are concerned about, reducing your use of resources will have a positive impact. Use less “stuff” and you will reduce energy consumption (in production and transportation of goods). Buy less “stuff” and make what you have last longer and there will be less material that needs to be disposed of or recycled. Make the best use of the resources you already have and you will be reducing your impact on the planet.

The economy may not grow as a result of your actions, but the economy is simply a human construct, whilst life in the oceans (for example) is very real and will certainly benefit. In my opinion, a change in what we consider important – from economics to ecology – cannot come soon enough.

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8 Comments

  1. In effect, we have to change the ‘eco’ on which we focus, from ‘nomics’ to ‘logy’. It’s hard for people to resist all the messages that bombard us, encouraging us to consume, telling us that we ‘need’ the latest, brightest, shiniest. I think that without these messages in our faces, many people wouldn’t dream of exchanging a perfectly adequate widget for a new, improved super-widget…

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  2. I’m right there with you. Inbuilt obsolecence in white goods – it must be stopped!

    Liked by 3 people

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  3. A well argued post. What we need is a fairer way of sharing resources. Why do people want the latest thing? And then there is tourism… I moan like crazy at the number in my town, and then go off and be a tourist myself in someone else’s town. And don’t get me started on private jets and environment conferences that people travel too, when they could use a conference phone call.

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  4. Nikki

     /  November 11, 2019

    Couldn’t agree with you more! Have you come across ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth? She discusses the importance of remaining within planetary boundaries. I think you’d enjoy it! She’s an excellent speaker.

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