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Critics Question Desirability of Relentless Quest for Economic Growth

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Today’s Wall of Fame honoree is quite remarkable - actually a first since the launch of Growth Bias Busted. Thanks to newspapers like the UK Guardian we’ve been seeing more and more commentary addressing the drawbacks of pursuing endless economic growth. However, Critics Question Desirability of Relentless Economic Growth is actually a news story about the subject.

I routinely implore the mainstream media to at least acknowledge this alternative view when reporting on economic growth. In our critiques I encourage financial reporters to interview not just growth-fetishists for their reaction to the latest GDP data. To finally see an entire story about this perspective is cause for celebration. It shouldn’t be such a milestone, but after a long slog through the desert, even a few drops of water look pretty good. That qualifies this as breakthrough reporting.

For some reason this story appears in two places at www.sfgate.com, under two different headlines:

Critics Question Desirability of Relentless Economic Growth

Efforts to Curb Unbridled Growth That’s Killing the Planet

The gist of the story:

“…Berkeley activists and Beltway conservatives, Pope Francis and even some corporate CEOs -- are criticizing economic growth and its harm to the well-being of humans and the planet.”

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carolyn Lochhead turned to Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily for some expert quotes. Of course, unlike the completely one-sided, pro-growth biased reports we generally get, Lochhead did feel obliged to include a conflicting opinion – from former hedge fund manager Larry Summers, economic advisor to two U.S. presidents:

"The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error, and one that, were it ever to prove influential, would have staggering social costs."

Lochhead’s report is not perfect. I think many economists would take exception to this blanket statement:

“Mainstream economists universally reject the concept of limiting growth.”

"Universally" might be a bit strong, though it's not far off the mark. It might be more accurate to state that “Most mainstream economists reject….”, but who would know, if they’ve been reading the myopic mainstream economics reporting we currently suffer? In fact, I'm wondering, myself. Maybe Lochhead is right.

Joe Bish of Population Media Center also pointed out yesterday that this story makes not a single mention of population growth, surely a factor in this quote from Gretchen Daily:

"The physical pressure that human activities put on the environment can't possibly be sustained,"

Yes, it would have been nice to see a nod to population growth as one of the factors, though this story is clearly about the role of economic growth.

On the plus side, I was glad to see Lochhead reference Herman Daly, who has done pioneering work to correct the growth-obsessed course of modern economics, and some attention given to GDP alternatives like Genuine Progress Indicators.

This story is a big step in the right direction, and I congratulate Carolyn Lochhead and the San Francisco Chronicle for daring to go where it seems no reporter has gone before.

Please vote to reflect your applause for this fine reporting. Scroll down to comment, and head over here to make a tax-deductible donation to keep this project alive. Thank you!

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Guest Tuesday, 09 February 2016

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