No-Growth Economics and You

Kevin Drum with Mother Jones has a great blog. However, I was surprised to read a recent response to a no-growth article – Kevin is apparently a growther, not willing to accept the fallacy that is continued economic expansion on a finite planet. What Kevin might not realize is that increasing the size of the macro-economy on a planet that doesn’t grow, with resources that remain constant (actually, since we’re in overshoot, our resource base is steadily decreasing), means increasing scarcity, not wealth.

There are, as with many of his posts, tons of comments. I have made a few and I invite you to comment there as well. Here are the first two of mine:

Kevin,

I’m seriously disappointed in you. I mean, truly disappointed on a massive scale. Of all people, I figured you would see the truth behind this argument and the ridiculousness of the idea you can continue economic expansion on a finite planet equitably.

You seemingly failed to do any other research around it and jumped to the conclusion (falsely) that a non-growth centered economy wouldn’t work or wouldn’t be pleasant. Actually, most of human history was a steady, non-growing economy and we did just fine. Why do we suddenly think the last hundred years is how the next thousand will go?

Read Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth. It’s a book, but also available as a shorter report or even as a summary if you really don’t have time. Or read Peter Victors book, mentioned in that article, where he actually shows how a future in a steady state economy is desirable over the continued expansion of the economy.

Basically we have two options:

(1) Focus on development (not expansion) of our society in a sustainable fashion, thus improving the lives of most of the population and actually confronting climate change, hunger, and poverty; or

(2) Keep betting on the horse that has been losing the game: growth. Meanwhile, as our economy expands and our biosphere REMAINS THE SAME SIZE, we will each of us have less and less – less water, less food, less fuel, less nature. Further growth = increased scarcity.

Growth has failed to increase our happiness (after a certain point of basic needs, further growth adds little or nothing to our happiness).

Growth has failed to end poverty: it has, in fact, increase it.

A non-growing economy would not be stagnant. A dynamic steady state economy is the result of focusing our energies on improving our society instead of making it bigger. We actually have a chance of accomplishing the things that the growth economy has failed at: eliminating poverty, improving equality, tackling climate change.

The last one is without a doubt, absolutely impossible in a growing economy – for the very same reason why we cannot improve our technology fast enough to make up for growth (also known as decoupling, which is a myth).

Lastly, we our ultimately bound by the physical laws of the universe – the laws of thermodynamics will eventually make any further improvement in efficiency, and therefore growth, impossible.

Please read up on this topic before you go spinning the dogma of growth. Economic growth is the largest threat to human society.

Cheers,
Joshua Nelson
steadystaterevolution.org

And, in response to a comment about decreasing work hours and increasing leisure time:

Actually, total work hours were decreasing steadily because of increasing productivity from the beginning of the industrial era until the 70s/80s. Then came the worse president in our nation’s history: Ronald Reagan. History will remember him as the president who eliminated publicly funded college, threw a bunch of mentally ill out on the street to fend for themselves and pioneered the vision of growth-at-all-costs, greed-focused economics.

What happened in that era was a reversal of that decreasing work hours trend. Prior to this shift increases in productivity would partially decrease work hours and partially increase production (grow the economy). Today, all productivity and efficiency increases go directly to expansion of the economy, because work hours remain the same (or increase), dumping it all into growth.

A good book on this topic is Juliet Schor’s Plenitude: The Economics of True Wealth, or you check out her lecture at a Seattle City Hall event.

We could eliminate our staggering unemployment by cutting back the average work week. We could do away with economic expansion by, in part, placing all productivity gains into producing the same amount in less time – working less, put still producing. This is where the more leisure time comes from: less work, similar pay.

They’ve partly been doing this in many European countries (where they continued on the path we gave up in the 70s/80s). The French work 35 hours a week and Germans have a flexible work week. Most Europeans also get around 8 weeks of vacation a year (not like our measly 2 weeks in the US) and in some countries (Sweden) there is 3 months of paid maternal and paternal leave after a birth. [Update: Sweden specifically has 16 months paid leave as it turns out]

Any wonder why these countries consistently rate higher on happiness and well-being metrics?

We should be focusing on prosperity and improving human well-being, not making more stuff and destroying our planet. The results are in on the economic expansion: it only works to a certain point, after which is actually undermines our happiness. Besides, why are people so opposed to working less and having more free time? I’d love to have more time with my son, focusing on my writing, reading, or actually getting to the gym. I find it so strange that there is an uproar against having more free time.

Perhaps the view of a better world is too must of a fright because it shows clearly the flaws of the current world?

Cheers,
Joshua Nelson
steadystaterevolution.org
postgrowth.org

Check out Kevin’s blog (outside of the growth post, generally a great blog) and comment here.

Bike Out, Bike In

Surly's Long Haul Trucker
The New Car

Thursday was a very interesting day. I was fighting the flu for the previous two days, of all things in the middle of summer! (I blame climate change 😉 ) Anyway, I woke up and decided that I should go to work regardless of my overall malaise, only to find that my bike was gone.

That’s right! Stolen from my carport! Generally it’s stored closer to the house, a little more out of sight. Of course, this time it was left a little more visible, and in our nice little neighborhood someone nicked it! That’s the bike out.

A little back story before the bike in portion: We recently moved in a great house across from a wooded park, close to our sons new day care, and within 2 miles of my work. An added benefit is that we had no excuse to have two cars. So we finally sold my rig (the less fuel efficient one). With that money I planned on upgrading my bike, paying down some of our debt and putting some money into savings.

My Son's New Bike
Start Steady Staters Young, My Son's New Bike

So, as horrible as it is to have your bike stolen from you, it is just as fortunate that I have the money to finally get the bike of my dreams. I have been putting a lot of thought into what would fit me (tall guy) and my riding style (road, light touring). I went with the Surly Long Haul Trucker (photo above). It’s the first bike since I was my son’s age that actually fits me perfectly. I love it!

How does this relate to the steady state economy? Being a “steady stater” involves living within your ecological means without undermining the ability of future generations to live a similar life. Part of that is removing fossil fuels, a dirty, non-renewable resource that is destroying our planet, from your life. What better way than to bike instead of drive? Pick up a bike on craigslist or freecycle or a local bike shop and try to integrate biking to work a few times a week.

Resiliency & Peak Oil

Something I have been thinking a lot about lately is resiliency, both personal and communal. It’s a main topic in the book of the month, The Transition Handbook, too. What is resilience? It is the ability of a system to absorb or adapt to external changes and shocks. Essentially, it’s the ability to roll with the punches. This seems to me to be an incredibly valuable trait to have as a strong, independent human being. More importantly, it’s something we should instill in our communities and the systems upon which we rely for sustaining and enriching our lives.

We seem to be talking a lot about climate change lately, yet we should be just as worried about peak oil. I am begining to think we should worry a bit more about it, actually. Oil is in everything. Either directly or indirectly, oil rules our lives and touches everything we rely on. So what happens when we run out? Well, it’s not as important as what happens after the peak. After we cross the point of less supply yet increasing demand.

After the peak prices go up, quickly. The rise in oil prices will result in a rise in food prices, clothing prices, transportation costs, and just about everything else. This wave of cost increases will make it very difficult for everyone who is not extremely rich, especially those of us in the middle class, and even more so for those near or just under the poverty level.

Watch this little video and think about how your community. Are you fostering resilience? Perhaps you should investigate the Transition Movement, too.

Oh, a site note: I am officially a licensed professional engineer. I passed my exams. Cheers!

Mr President, Put Solar On The White House

Lead By Example, Symbols Are Powerful

Symbols are important. The Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Great Wall are all examples of important cultural symbols. But even small symbols are important, in fact I would venture that smaller, local symbols are even more important on a day-to-day basis – the example of a father, the blessing of a ship, the courtesy of a door held open.

In order for the United States to survive the coming few decades as a society it will need to invest in something called resilience. This term has devoid from our lives for the past 50-100 years in part because of our belief that we will forever have cheap energy. The truth of the matter is that oil is peaking, and will run out soon.

Even before it runs out completely, it will get super expensive. This might not seem like a big deal to some, but to many this will increase the costs of everything we do, because nearly all of it relies on oil. Electricity, supermarket food, pencils, transportation, fresh water, lawn mowers, sewer, medical supplies, and waste water systems – everything either requires oil directly or indirectly.

Therefore, in order to increase our society’s resilience, we need to be able to take the shock of post-peak oil in stride. This means, among many other things, having readily available renewable energy. We should take advantage of our cheap(er) oil now to build the structures that will sustain a more resilient society after the peak. Once the shocks come it will likely be too late to make any proper transition to a renewable energy-powered society without hardship.

Back to symbols – we need a strong leader in this venture towards a sustainable society. President Obama has a great opportunity to provide a great symbol of our commitment on top of his house – for free! The Glõbama Campaign is provide a means for us to send a message to the president that he should do just that – put solar panels on the white house!

Check it out here.

Feeds For A Sustainable Society

Whether you’re a twitter follower or not, I tend to put a lot of articles up on there. Something like 3-15 a day. Micro-blogging they call it. Most of my tweets run with a hashtag or two: #neweconomy, #postgrowth, #steadystate, et cetera. Once upon a time it was a place for me to store for later use articles I thought interesting. Today it is a way to further the message and gaining readers for this blog and Post Growth. One twitter follower asked me recently what blogs I follow. Well….

Below is a list of the blogs I am currently following that I think give a wide array of articles on topics related to a sustainable society, economy and way of life. This is a fairly long list, so I suggest you get yourself a feed reader and have the articles sent to you in one location – I love google reader for this – or follow me on twitter for updates on articles I find especially pertinent. I wanted to write out a short description of each one, but realized after I compiled them all in one place that task would have taken me forever, so I encourage you to check them out on your own:

Anyone have others to suggest? I always love to add new blogs to my reading list!