Talking about growth -- or not
Source Eugene Coyle
Date 09/06/28/07:08

I'VE BEEN reading books that are anti- and pro- growth in connection with writing a review of one of them. Discussing environmental problems in terms of growth seems to me to be close to futile.

I believe that economic growth (however you want to measure or define it) in the North must come to a halt. But discussing growth as a policy target is a mistake.

The problem: Economic growth promises jobs. Economic growth promises higher income so as to meet our current aspirations and lets us dream of aspirations yet to be. Economic growth promises lifting low income people to a higher income level. Growth is very appealing. Never mind that with relentless growth we are perenially short of jobs, always short of the income level to cover our material aspirations, and poverty is not eliminated. Growth remains very appealing in spite of not delivering what we think it will.

The books advocating slowing/stopping growth list reducing working time as one step to take on the journey to slow/stop growth. Almost all also list many other policy options to use. There are many people advocating slowing/stopping growth in GDP. Some are economists, others come from environmental and/or spiritual perspectives. Some are utopian, i.e. those that say that corporations should decide to stop growing and/or consumers should stop aspiring to more stuff (e.g. voluntary simplicity.) Others, e.g. Herman Daly, work out rules and regulations on throughput into the economy, resource extraction, ending fractional reserve banking, etc., all of which seem difficult/impossible politically, evadable, or unworkable. These rule-based proposals are hard to explain to the public and/or have their own built-in opposition.

I've concluded that cutting working time is the sine qua non to slowing/stopping growth. All the rest is tinkering. Some may be useful tinkering but not essential. Cutting working time is it.

People like the idea of cutting working time. It seems like a good idea in multiple dimensions. But frequently heard is the objection "We can't do that." But in the USA we have done it -- repeatedly. It always turns out well. Hours go down, incomes go up. What's not to like? And of course other countries have and are cutting working time.

I've concluded some things. Growth must stop, and the only way to slow/stop growth is to cut working time, sharply and repeatedly. And I've concluded that I should not talk about growth but only about cutting working time.

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