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Sydney traffic jam

Benefits of Australia Growth is Booster Spin

Growth boosters and profiteers have little trouble finding outlets for their pro-growth propaganda. Newspapers and other media companies profit from population growth because ad rates increase with the number of eyeballs. So, KPMG consultant Bernard Salt didn’t have to twist any arms to get this commentary into print in The Australian:

Growth of Australia’s Big Cities to Drive Prosperity

(The Australian puts its content behind a paywall, but this commentary has been accessible for the past week; if it has disappeared behind the paywall by the time you read this, my apologies.)

In this commentary, Salt is addressing a populace that is very unhappy with increasing congestion, high housing costs, and other fallout from rampant growth. (The graphic illustrating this post is from a May 2015 story on Special Broadcasting Service, a public broadcaster in Australia.) The public is becoming painfully aware that the costs of growth now exceed the benefits. Growth profiteers want to give citizens reason to doubt these feelings.

“The single most important issue in city planning and visioning in Australia is addressing the logic of why our cities need to grow so far and so fast.

Why is it necessary to plan for Sydney and Melbourne with a population of eight million, and for southeast Queensland at five million?”

“The second thing we need to do is galvanise the Australian people behind a common vision for our cities.”

He wants the public to end its clamor for an end to growth-seeking public policies, and instead put up with the growth because it will provide “prosperity.”

“This growth will be a source of prosperity and diversity in the future as it has been in the past.”

It’s actually most important the public and policymakers don’t buy this pro-growth spin. This is a big challenge, because the spin is so insidious. Salt makes no effort to defend his premise that growth brings prosperity. He treats it as a given. “Of course, growth brings prosperity; everybody knows that,” is the message between the lines. Too few question this.

I do have to wonder: Do The Australian and Bernard Salt (and KPMG) know that urban growth no longer drives prosperity for the average Australian? Or do they really believe the myth?

They may genuinely believe the prosperity-from-growth fairy tales they spin. They hang out with other boosters so much that the ideas get constant reinforcement. Or, they may know growth is actually destructive and unsustainable, but they spread the propaganda because their own material wealth depends on the growth and they want to keep the gravy train rolling, even if it harms the general public (and all members of future generations because it injures life-supporting ecosystems).

Either way, we don’t have to buy the spin. No, you don’t have to suffer the negative consequences of unsustainable growth in the interest of “prosperity.” Those are indicators that growth has moved beyond optimal scale; becoming uneconomic. So that prosperity is now a myth. Did you spot the unexamined assumptions about benefits from growth (the fairy tales) as you first read Salt’s commentary? Learn to identify it. Call it out. Point out its fallacies to others. We need to starve the growth industry of oxygen so we can put our energy into transitioning to a healthy, sustainable way to organize our cities and economies.

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

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