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5 Reasons Why Prioritizing Growth Is Bad Policy

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This essay based on the book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, was a must for the Wall of Fame here at Growth Bias Busted because it gets right to the heart of why this website exists:

“One of the few things on which left, right, and center agree is that growth is good and more of it is needed. Here's why that is so problematic.” 

When James Gustave Speth writes or speaks about our economy and our environment, people should listen. He’s been around the block a time or two. He was a Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law School grad, and Supreme Court law clerk before he really got serious about public life. Speth co-founded Natural Resources Defense Council, served the Carter White House for two years as chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality. He later founded World Resources Institute and went on to head the United Nations Development Programme. He is currently a professor at Vermont Law School, but is working very hard on several initiatives to help our culture progress beyond economic growth worship.

For those who already realize economic growth has stopped serving us well, this is an excellent reminder and a useful primer to share with friends whose eyes have not yet opened. It's noteworthy that it drew only 2 comments where it was published on AlterNet, I presume because so many in its progressive audience have yet to realize that economic growth is in conflict with sound stewardship of our environment and resources. Kudos to AlterNet for sharing this important perspective. This essay (and the book) is highly recommended reading for the journalists we routinely shame here for letting their assumptions about the universal goodness of growth cloud their reporting.

The essay provides reasoning and detail behind these 5 problems with public policy pursuit of economic growth:

1.    Growth doesn't work. It doesn't deliver the claimed social and economic benefits.

2.    Our measure of growth -- gross domestic product or GDP -- is fundamentally flawed.

3.    The focus on growing GDP deflects us away from growing the many things that do need to grow.

4.    The over-riding imperative to grow gives over-riding power to those, mainly the corporations, which have the capital and technology to deliver that growth, and, much the same thing, it undermines the case for a long list of public policies that would improve national well-being but are said to "slow growth" and to "hurt the economy."

5.    Economic activity and its growth are the principal drivers of massive environmental decline.

Check it out and share it (especially with journalists who write about our economy). We make it easy to share the pieces we fame and shame. Just click on the tweet or other sharing icons to the right of the story image. To share on facebook, share this story from the post on our GrowthBusters facebook page.

James Gustave Speth will be one of the interviews we share on the new TV series, Conversation Earth. Please support the launch of the series here.

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  • Ben Leet
    Ben Leet Sunday, 03 November 2013

    I just read the Speth essay at Alternet, where I also found the link to this site. Comments were closed. But I'll make a comment here. I study economics and I have discovered an anomaly. Since 2008 the nation's total net household worth has increased by 31% (that's growth), from $57 trillion to $74 trillion, as recorded by the Federal Reserve report Flow of Funds, Sept. 2013.
    An increase of $17.6 trillion occurred in five years while the typical household, the median income household, lost 8% of its income, a drop from $54,000 to $50,000. About 75% of all financial assets are held by just 5% of all households, about 6 million households. So, doing the math, each of those 6 million had on average a gain of $2,200,000 over five years. That's growth. U.S. annual GDP wass about $15 trillion a year, so after 5 years of $15 trillion in economic output, a total of maybe $75 trillion, some $17.6 trillion is saved or created. How is this possible? Why did it happen? I think it was the result of Federal Reserve policy to feed money through QE 1, 2, 3 into the financial sector, which boosted or bubbled up the value of limited financial resources. Each household now, on average, is worth $616,000, the average savings per household in the U.S. Yet the lower-saving half (50%) about half the U.S. population, owns just 1.1% of total household net worth, again a report from the Fed, the Survey of Consumer Finances, as reported by Lawrence Mishel at EPI.org, their blog, June 2012. Evidently our economy is quite perverted, how else can it expand its surplus savings by 31% while most of the families and workers are losing income? The GDP and related problems of work, hiring, employment to population levels, income distribution, and so on, need conscious attention and management, and this whole field of deliberate economic management towards social ends will soon be seen as an imperative. Today a friend sent me an essay by Naomi Klein published at the New Statesman about scientists who understand the inevitable consequences of atmospheric warming and now see capitalism as a system as the major obstacle to human survival. Hope you can put to use my example, above, and I write a blog, Economics Without Greed.

  • Dave Gardner
    Dave Gardner Sunday, 03 November 2013

    Ben, thank you for weighing in. I hope you'll subscribe to our blogs here, consider even submitting stories here yourself, and continue commenting, voting, etc. I'm not sure, but is sounds like we may not be in 100% agreement on everything (do you agree that growth is coming to an end?), but that's okay.

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