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Will Smith holds up neuralizer in Men in Black

Will This Cure Eternal Growth Dumbness?

I’ve heard a lot of talk about “economic growth” this morning on a cable news network. Politicians want to keep historically high levels of immigration into the U.S. in order to grow the economy. The folly of that line of reasoning is subject for another day, but the folly of our obsession with economic growth gets its turn now.

I’m glad to report we are not ALL idiots when it comes to believing, promoting and pursuing endless economic growth on a finite planet. Wall of Fame honors today go to Joshua Spodek, author of Leadership Step by Step. Spodek offers a dose of sanity and reason in this column published by Inc.:

Economics Is Wrong About Growth

That is a bold statement. It’s true, but it does take some spunk to headline your column with it in a business magazine. Spodek accurately observes:

“Nearly every economist I’ve heard say anything about economic growth says it’s necessary for a population’s well-being, as has nearly every comment I’ve seen on the subject from non-economists.

They add that economic growth requires population growth, with its tragic results, so far, of pollution, resource depletion, and global warming.”

The author hasn’t, unfortunately, stumbled onto the magic combination of words that will smack some sense into eternal growthists. Nothing he’s written here is new and impossible to ignore. It’s not enough to make perfect sense. We need that magic, memory-erasing device used by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Men in Black. Flash that neuralizer in front of someone and they forget a lifetime of “economic growth is the Holy Grail” brainwashing. That will be something.

For now, we are left to applaud occasional doses of reality like this column.

“…they don’t consider the results of exponential growth.

Exponentials grow fast. In less than the time from the Roman Empire until now–that is, within a few thousand years–even modest exponential growth would run into physical absurdities,

If we had infinite resources, infinite growth would work. We don’t, though, so trying to grow forever will result in unintended consequences.”

Actually, a few hundred years of 3% economic growth would put us into absurd territory. No need to wait 1,000. Does this help convince a few growthists?

“Among the economists that imagined steady-state economies is Adam Smith….”

Still, not enough. Maybe coming to terms with limits to growth IS rocket science. After all, Spodek was an astrophysicist. He takes an admirable shot at smacking us on the head with this:

“Think of islands that could support tens of thousands of people, where people knew much of the rest of the population.

They knew that if a couple had three children, another couple had to have fewer. They could see that resources would run out otherwise.

Maybe because of the Earth’s size relative to a person or because of the distribution of resources, we seem unable to see the limits of resources like an island nation can. The Earth’s resources are still limited even if we can’t see the limitations.”

Perhaps that explains why we have such a bad case of dumb about this subject. And here’s the soundbite I’d love to have heard on the morning news/opinion shows, in response to the growth-seeking politicians:

“To get food, shelter, energy, and other necessities for life to everyone doesn’t require exponential growth. People just believe it does.”

And, a final bit of advice for all the growthmongers out there:

“If you accept that nature has the last word, you change your theories to conform with nature. Only then can you prepare for the conflicts that arise when you try to overcome natural limits. Nature will win that conflict.”

“…we can prepare for steady-state economies and lowering birth rates without collapse.”

Thank you, Joshua Spodek, for putting some words of wisdom about our folly into the pages of Inc. magazine. Never stop never stopping.

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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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