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Financing Future Economic Growth

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Gary Reber is right about a lot of things in Financing Future Economic Growth With FUTURE SAVINGS Solutions to Protect America from Economic Decline. However, this op-ed piece at Nation of Change also suffers from an array of unexamined assumptions. The first, of course, is the assumption that continued economic growth in the U.S. is possible, and the second is that it’s desirable.

It’s hard to blame Reber for thinking inside the same box most of the country is stuck in:

“The entire country could follow Detroit's lead as tectonic shifts in the technologies of production and globalization to produce at the lowest possible cost destroy jobs and devalue the worth of labor.”

Reber fails to realize that globalization and global competition for jobs are yesterday’s problems. The healthy economies of the future will not be overly concerned with these issues. In a post-carbon world the healthy economies will be those that meet most of their needs locally, and that takes global competition out of the picture. It’s going to be hard to compete on price if your product has to be shipped halfway around the world when the price of oil is $200/barrell.

Reber wisely surmises we have a system in need of change, but he doesn’t carry his reform far enough: 

“To change the rules and reform the system, the outcome of FUTURE policies must be to facilitate financing economic growth with "FUTURE SAVINGS," and simultaneously create new capitalist owners of wealth-creating, income-generating productive capital assets.”

He remains stuck in a growth-seeking mode and thinking that debt is a positive tool (that just needs to be re-tooled). He has not been enlightened to the fact that debt makes our system dependent on economic growth, and the laws of physics say economic growth is coming to an end.

He really loses my support here:

“If we are to achieve the goal of general affluence for every human being, the first requirement is to increase progressively the total amount of the income to be shared. This requires increased production, not redistribution, in order to generate incomes that would be distributed according to market principles. This is the ONLY means to promote a fuller utilization of our productive facilities and a consequent progressive increase in the aggregate income to be available for distribution, and to which increasing quantities of newly created products and services would become available to everyone.”

This is, I’m afraid, the tired old cornucopian view that we can keep on making the pie bigger, that producing more has no negative impacts on our resource base and ecosystem health. Reber just seems to be Julian Simon with a dash of economic justice and equity thrown in. We can no longer grow the pie, Gary. That's one of the reasons economic growth has not been delivering on its promise for quite some time.

Reber is founder and executive director of For Economic Justice. A quick read would indicate there are some good intentions and good ideas here. I would love to see this kind of work informed by a thorough understanding of limits to growth.

The solutions we need do not include producing more products and growing our economies. We need to rethink what an economy is for. We should get busy transforming our economies to meet our basic needs and give us room to embrace what really counts in life, not make us all more “affluent.”

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Guest Sunday, 14 February 2016

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