Zero Growth / Selective Growth
Learn to pause...or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you.
- Doug King
Speedometer vs Milestone
Speed vs Direction
Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell, says Edward Abbey.
World progress has increasingly come under scanner of late. The question being asked has three dimensions - first whether have we really made progress when progress is taken to mean overall well being and happiness of society. Secondly whether the progress has been in the right direction. While busy looking at the speedometer, have we missed the milestone. What would be the use of speeding along if the road we have taken is the wrong one. Thirdly, whether the so called progress is really required.
Some proponents of zero growth theory propose that faculty of human enjoyment is limited. A poor man may eat two meals but a millionaire can not eat 200 meals. A poor sleeps on a 6 feet couch, a tycoon can not occupy 60 feet space while lying. Our capacity to eat, sleep, mate etc. is limited. Therefore, so called economic development can not increase our enjoyment. Technically speaking, a poor man can sleep happily in his shack and a rich man may not get sleep in his plush apartment. Then who is enjoying more becomes a subjective discussion. As per this theory, human happiness is independent of material facilities or accumulations. Developed countries have higher rate of suicides, stress and psychiatric cases as compared to the underdeveloped world.
In 2002 Australian liberal political theorist Clive Hamilton published a book about economics and politics by the name Growth Fetish which became a best-seller in Australia. The book has been the subject of much controversy, and has managed to infuriate commentators on both the left and right of the politico-economic debate.
The thesis of the book is that the policies of unfettered capitalism pursued by the west for the last 50 years has largely failed, since the underlying purpose of the creation of wealth is happiness, and Hamilton contends that people in general are no happier now than 50 years ago, despite the huge increase in personal wealth. In fact, he suggests that the reverse is true. He states that the pursuit of growth has become an addiction, in that it is seen as a universal magic cure for all of society's ills. Hamilton also proposes that the pursuit of growth has been at a tremendous cost in terms of the environment, erosion of democracy, and the values of society as a whole, as well as not delivering the hoped for increases in personal happiness. One result is that we, as a society, have become obsessed with materialism and consumerism. Hamilton's catchphrase "People buy things they don't want, with money they don't have, to impress people they don't like" neatly sums up his philosophy on consumerism.
Hamilton proposes that when a society has developed to the point at which the majority of people live reasonably comfortably, the pursuit of growth is pointless and should be curtailed. The surplus wealth could then be diverted into the essential infrastructure and to other nations that have not reached this level of wealth. Hamilton adapted the term Eudemonism to denote a political and economic model that does not depend on ever increasing and ultimately unsustainable levels of growth, but instead "promotes the full realisation of human potential through ... proper appreciation of the sources of well-being", among which he identifies social relationships, job satisfaction, religious belief for some, and above all a sense of meaning and purpose.”
Hamilton relates the fetish for growth to a "development mentality", and to a neoliberal "instrumental value theory [which] maintains that, while humans are valuable in and of themselves, the non-human world is valuable only insofar as it contributes to the well-being of humans."
Clive Hamilton is the head of the Australia Institute, an independent think-tank. It is widely regarded as one of the very few viable left-leaning research centres in the country. Growth Fetish itself reflects many of the findings from the AI's report Overconsumption in Australia, which found that 62 per cent of Australians believe they cannot afford everything they need, even though in real terms their incomes have never been higher. The report also found that 83 per cent of people felt that society was "too materialistic", with too much emphasis on money and things, instead of what really matters. The Institute is also researching the growing phenomenon of downshifting, which Hamilton feels may be a response to the growth fetish, laying the foundation for a post-growth society.
When a doctor sees a patient’s vital signs going off the chart, he knows it’s time for emergency medication, perhaps too late. But what about a society? A chart of mankind’s vital signs over the last thousand years would look like a patient going terminal. Take whatever indicator you like - environment, ethics, crime, energy consumption, CO2 emissions - and graph it. The left three-fourths of the chart would be almost a horizontal line, followed by an almost vertical line covering the last 200 years. Is it time for remedial action?
We have come to think of growth as the Great Benefactor. Rapid growth has been the hallmark of the industrialized world, bestowing on its lucky denizens a standard of living unmatched in human history. Governments of every creed - capitalist, communist, Islamic, whatever - strive to promote ever greater economic growth. But should we be thinking of growth not as the Great Benefactor but as the Great Destroyer? Has growth become like a malignant cancer, devouring the very body which sustains it?
It may sound little radical but it’s relevant today. According to Vedic conception, everyone has an allotted amount of happiness and distress which they are destined to experience during their lives. This quota of happiness and distress is fixed and cannot be changed by any material advancement. If the scientists eliminate one cause of suffering mother nature will find another way to inflict the suffering.
It is not possible to increase the amount of pleasure we experience by exploiting the resources of the planet. We get what we deserve as a result of our past karma. One person, who has good karma, may not work very hard and still lives a very comfortable life, whereas someone else, despite working very hard, can’t manage two square meals.
In western countries we can see that despite so much advancement, they are no happier than their parents or grandparents. In fact, because of the dramatic increase in rape, incest, murder, violent crime, theft, stress and child abuse they are generally in a state of greater anxiety which is not at all conducive to happiness or peace of mind.
Now there is petrol problem. I see so many buses, and not a single man, one or two men. And for two men a big huge bus is being run, and so much petrol is consumed unnecessarily. I have seen. I went from Nairobi to London in a plane—only five passengers. Out of that, four passengers we were. Why? Why this nonsense? And there is petrol problem now. They are creating simply, the so-called advancement of civilization, creating problems, that’s all.
~ Srila Prabhupada (Room Conversation with Richard Webster, May 24, 1974, Rome)
To survive the chaos and crisis down the road, we can't continue our present oil-based, growth-crazy, throwaway economy.
~ V.B. Price