C14 of the Great Disruption - Elephant in Room

The elephant is growth.

The Great Disruption is just the beginning.

Even after we have...
  • awakened to the climate crisis
  • gotten on a war footing
  • fixed the climate crisis (because we are good at war)
  • suffered the disruptions caused by shifting to renewable energy sources (necessary to fix the climate crisis)
  • reaped the economic opportunities created by shifting to renewables
  • celebrated the cool new technologies invented to implement the shift
...we will still have to deal with material growth.

The climate crisis is only a symptom of the underlying problem. We live on a finite planet with finite resources. We can have spiritual growth, intellectual growth, moral growth - but not unlimited material growth. Physics doesn't work that way.

Gilding acknowledges that...
  • The transition from material growth will be very painful. Economic growth is the foundation of our market-based system. It is the standard by which we judge our economy and our governments.
  • For most of the 20th century our market-driven, growth based system did work. A lot of poor people moved into the middle class. A lot of middle class people became rich. (And a lot of poor people stayed poor or got poorer.)
  • Even today the market based system still seems to be working. But this is a mirage. As our visible wealth increases, our hidden social and environmental costs increase even faster. At the macro level we are losing rather than gaining wealth. Like the overextended homeowners of the 2008 financial crisis we are living in the midst of a giant Ponzi scheme that is about to go bust.
However, even if we could have unlimited growth (which we can't) it would not make people happy. Over a certain level of income (about $15K/year for individuals, $60K/year for families) studies indicate that additional income does not correlate with increased happiness. There is passing satisfaction at the moment money is spent but no lasting pleasure. The new thing becomes the old thing. People do get satisfaction from making more money than their peers but it is not the absolute income that matters only the difference compared to somebody else.

And although some rich people claim that raising the wealth level for rich people also raises the level for poor people - at least allowing them to move into the 15K "happy bracket", research shows that increasing inequity within a society degrades the quality of life for all citizens. Gilding will elaborate on this in a future chapter.

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