C5 of The Great Disruption - Addicted to Growth

Gilding quotes a professor named Tim Jackson....

"The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago. If it continues to grow at the same rate the economy will be 80 times that size by the year 2100."

(Yesterday, Bruce the leader of The Thinking Men - our semi-sober book club - and the voracious reader who suggested The Great Disruption sent around one of those email lists comparing things then and now. No air conditioning then, one or two lights per room, one car, no clothes dryer, manual push mowers, one small TV, etc. That's how it was a half century ago.)

Gilding's point is that such expansion cannot continue. It will hit the wall - several walls - the walls of finite reality. (In the last chapter Gilding cited a study which says that we are presently consuming resources at the rate of 1.4 planets.) The underlying issues are the loss of global biodiversity and changes to the global ecosystem. But the one that will grab us (by throat or crotch - pick your sensitivity) is the end of growth.

We are wedded to growth and its paired drivers, consumerism and stuff. Stuff, in quantity and quality, defines us. It is how we judge ourselves and other people - the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, where we eat, where we shop (Harris Teeter -vs- WalMart!). Growth is key to economic policy. An economy that does not grow at least two percent a year is a failed economy. Business is predicated on ever-increasing demand. Expanding populations require growth to create new jobs for new entrants into the workforce. But the demands of efficiency push automation which reduces the available jobs.

It is like a giant, system-wide Ponzi scheme that is about to collapse. It will probably go down in a non-linear fashion (maybe precipitated by a "Black Swan" event - maybe what is going on right now in Washington is that event) because that's how the curve goes - slow on the way up and fast on the way down with random stutter at the end - not a neat bell shape at all.

The other point Gilding makes is that none of this will be easy. He says that we are essentially addicted to growth and that like any addict will not willingly give up our drug. We will lie, fight, deny the reality in front of our noses. We will have to hit the walls of finite reality several times, really mess ourselves up before the truth penetrates our bloody, battered, dim-witted heads.

Multiple studies have shown that after basic needs are met (about $15K Per capita) increased wealth does not buy happiness.

A British study indicates that the "loneliness index" goes up with increased wealth.

Founders of economics did not propose continual growth. John Stuart Mill said that a "stationary state of capital and wealth... implies no stationary state of human improvement". John Maynard Keynes thought that the "economic problem" would be solved and that society would then "prefer to devote further energies to non-economic purposes".

And some quotes from Homer-Dixon's Upside of Down (another book read by the semi-sober Thinking Men - a much more elegant book in my estimation - the language of which makes you wonder where Gilding got the idea for The Great Disruption):

"Despite the fact that our lives are saturated with stuff, that we've already reached a level of material abundance unimaginable to previous generations, and that more money and possessions add little to our happiness, we must be made (by business) to feel chronically discontented with our lot."

"Our economic role in this culture of consumerism is to be little more than walking appetites that serve the function of maintaining our economy's throughput."

"Our psychological state is comparable to that of drug addicts needing a fix: buying things doesn't really make us happy except perhaps for the moment after the purchase. But we do it over and over anyway."

"Why? There are many reasons. But the central and often overlooked one, I think, is that consumerism helps anesthetize us to the dread of empty lives - lives that modern capitalism and consumerism have themselves helped empty of meaning."

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