The Sigma Of Growth

We need a social revolution to sweep the country (and the world): changing the business-as-usual economy into a stable, sustainable, human-oriented economy. A transition to a just, dynamic steady state economy will require movement of the people. This has me thinking that one thing we need is to create a stigma around pro-growth supporters: those that support continued economic growth in the face of ecological and social degradation.

In the seventies it was “the man.” The Man was keeping us down. The Man was taking our money. The Man was pushing his agenda of consumption, 40-hour work weeks and corporate profit. Today that stigma has been replaced with acceptance and encouragement! We need to bring back the Man, but we also need to create a similar stigma on the pro-growthers, the liquidators.

I propose “growther.” It sums it up pretty well. It should be used in disgust and disapproval, like “that’s the agenda of a growther trying to destroy your work-life balance” or “those growthers are driving our planet towards collapse” or “you ignorant growther!” I’m open to other ideas, too, so please chime in!

Misgivings On Giving

Wednesday night I attended a nice little event for Yes! Magazine supporters and enjoyed many great conversations. One conversation in particular, with Jule Meyer Principal of Parkman Foundation Services, revolved around philanthropy and the great Giving Pledge campaign started by Bill and Melinda Gates. Now, I should preface what I’m going to talk about with this statement: I think the world’s wealthiest donating most of their wealth to noble causes is a wonderful idea. I just have a few misgivings around the intention and the implicit idea that the giving is a sacrifice for others.

The Gates’ number one ally in getting the campaign rolling, Warren Buffett attempted to start the giving by pledging that “more than 99% of [his] wealth will go to philanthropy during [his] lifetime or at death.” At face value this appears to be quite the statement: more than 99% of his wealth given away! However, it seems to me that Buffett’s pledge might be more for show and is slightly disingenuously when labeled as philanthropy. Here’s why…

The Richest of the Rich

Perhaps it is difficult for the majority of us to actually realize how much money the top 1% of the world have in their bank accounts. A simply way to think of it: the richest 1% of Americans possess more than all the combined wealth of the bottom 90%. In Warren Buffett’s case, he’s currently valued at around $47 Billion – with a B. That’s more zeros than can fit in most calculators – $47,000,000,000. He recently fell from the #1 richest person in the world to the #3 spot, poor guy.

I wonder if there is even a concept of “enough” with this class of richest of the rich. These top 1% wield an amazing amount of influence and power with their vast sums of monetary wealth. Do they really deserve this power? Is it right for them to have so much while most of the world has hardly enough?

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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:


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.

Joshua Nelson

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?

Joshua Nelson

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

Citizen or Consumer? A Year in Reflection

One year ago I started writing out of passion (and some anger). My how things have evolved! This blog has seen 75 posts in the last year, some of them great, some of them alright, some perhaps less so. I have tried my best to write about the issues important to me: a sustainable society, a healthier planet, a ethcial economy, and a more just world.

I have also learned so much about life, happiness, sustainability, and where I want to be in the world. More importantly, I have learned there is quite a large group of people out there feeling the same way, and we are all beginning to see the division between economic growth and true prosperity. What do you think? I would really value your input on ways I could make this blog better, both in function and in form. Please comment on this post or email me!

Since today marks Steady State Revolution‘s one year blogiversary I decided to take a look at the very first post and revise it with some fresh ideas (and hopefully improved writing skill). Here’s the 75th post on the 1-year blogiversary!

Citizen or Consumer?

The US Consumer Unit
The US Consumer Unit

Yesterday was the start of the “Christmas Shopping Season.” Aside from the typical trampling of an elderly person at a Wal-mart, this day signifies the beginning of the American Consumer’s busiest time of the year. Between today and New Years we Americans will increase our waste by 25%.

Each year we start sooner and sooner with our Christmas consumption, this year marketers started preparing for the season around Halloween. The average consumer spends about $1,100 a year on gifts, over $800 worth of which is holiday-related purchases. This means 73% of all our gift-related buying is done in the holiday season. That’s a lot of consumption.

Consumerism accounts for a large cog in the economy. Consumption drives the sales of goods, which is incentive to produce more goods. Producing goods is the basis our growth model. In order to grow the throughput (GDP) of our economy, we must increase the production and consumption cycle. What better way to do so than to make it your intuitive nature to spend? What if we could find a way to move people from identifying as themselves, or their jobs, but instead as what they buy? From this the American Consumer is born.

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Neoliberalism as a Waterballoon

You too can try this experiment in your house with some simple materials! This is a great short and informative video about neoliberalism, the economic thought that has been triumphed for awhile, that encourages more private economic control instead of public. Of course, we might point out that the economic system is not sustainable – neither ecologically or financially.  Enjoy this video:

One Trillion Dollars: A Tenth of the Bailout

I wanted to pass this video along, to give us all a little perspective on the historical amount of money our government is pumping into a failed system. We keep propping up reckless banks and corporations too large to exist, but do we ever take a second to think about how much money that really amounts to? That’s not today’s taxpayer money, either – that’s debt for our great-grandchildren to pay off, which is morally repugnant to say the least.

My thanks to Jeremy for showing me this video, as well as Phil and the people at Mint.

The Creation of Money And Illusion of Wealth

Greedy Banks Create Inflation
Greedy Banks Create Inflation

Our money was once valued by the worth of goods, but today it is our goods that are valued by their worth in money. Banks create money out of thin air by loaning it into existence. Increasing the money in the market creates inflation. This also means the system is required to continually grow in order to offset this inflation.

Money is not a real object, its value is abstract, and controlling large sums of it is imaginary wealth. We have given the power over our currency to private companies – they are greedy black holes, constantly starved for more. The good news for them is they can create more money. The bad news for us is that they can create more money.

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Financial Policy the Definition of Insanity

Abandon Ship!
Abandon Ship!

The old saying goes that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing again and again expecting different results.” There is talk now of more money needed to keep the big banks afloat. It has become apparent that Bank of America “needs” billions of dollars more (roughly $34 billion, with a B). If it didn’t work the first time, why should it now?

As we shake our heads in disbelief from that news, I should also mention the updated regarding the audacious bonuses that insurance giant AIG paid out after the government bailouts. Turns out AIG’s estimates of the bonuses paid were off by a littleby a factor of FOUR!!!

The total number is believe the be around $450 million in bonuses, given (for incredibly poor behavior) as “retention bonuses.” Seems to me their employees are not going to find jobs elsewhere, so a retention bonus is superfluous at best and deceptive at worst. That is nearly half a billion in taxpayer money given to greedy CEOs already worth more than the average American will make in their lifetime.

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