Myth 10: Growth is the only way

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Myth 10: Growth is the only way


© Belle Mellor

Economists, politicians, the media, and the public have been thinking about the great financial crash of 2008. They have been looking for signs of recovery through growth. They look for every small sign of growth and this gives them hope – “Will everything be OK now?”, they ask.

Between 1900 and 2008 world population has increased 400% and the economy has increased just as much. GDP per person increased 600%. GDP for the world has increased 2500%.

But are things better for everyone? There is some success in literacy and death rates in mothers but other things are the same - rewards for the very few but there is no change or things are worse for most people.

After this century of growth, 925 million people do not have enough to eat, and just under half the world’s population lives in poverty. And there is enough money to end all of these problems. But traditional economists tell us the same story – growth, growth, growth. Anne Krueger has worked for the World Bank and the IMF. She says that it is best to reduce poverty through making the cake bigger, not by trying to cut it up in a different way. So it is not surprising that economic growth hasn’t helped inequality.

Employment has gone up and down and has not grown steadily as we would expect. New technologies that increase productivity bring greater profits but fewer jobs.

The importance of GDP growth has led to a waste of resources especially in the richer countries. There has been more waste than before and with no real thought.

The Global Footprint Network shows real danger for the environment. The use of resources and the waste every year needs one and a half planet Earths (see graph). This means ecological crises in forests, fisheries, freshwater and the climate. And these problems are greater for the poor.


As resources are more difficult to find, it is more and more difficult to keep the idea of growth that traditional economists think is so important.

But a good economy is about meeting needs without environmental problems and bringing benefits. The idea is greater equality, sharing, quality of life, free time, housing security. In other words - balance – an economy which gives us enough, where no resource is wasted and there is 100% recycling.

This means a big change in the way we think. In the richer nations people fear that reducing all the things we have means we will lose. We seem to agree with housing insecurity because that’s the way the market is. And we are happy to borrow money to spend on things just to show there is growth.

If we get the three-per-cent growth rate that many rich countries want, their economies would double every 23 years – using in 23 years as many resources as all previous times together. Is that sustainable?

But politicians think that criticising the idea of growth is death at elections. Only a few brave Green politicians will do it. So at the moment it is growth, growth, and growth...


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).