Romney/Obama: Is constant economic growth actually worth it?
I’m watching the second presidential debate right now, and listening to all that is being said I can’t help but vent a little bit.
First off, I am pro-Obama. I think he is a lot more European than all other presidents or presidential candidates I know about (even though I have to say I’m young and do not recall precise policy before Bush, aside from obvious historical facts like the rebuilding of Europe after World War II). I appreciate universal health insurance, an emphasis on renewable energy and education. In my mind, these are or should be priorities for all countries and for all citizens.
The Romney campaign, aside from many obvious ‘mistakes’ that have been made, including photos where Romney is eating money (lol) and talking about how 47% of Americans do not pay taxes, is very flashy and seems like a big lying advertisement that tries to cover up who Romney really is. He started off with a position that he changed multiple times and says whatever is needed at the moment to make him look good. He doesn’t look or sound honest, but condescending, and moreover, he has the big self-sufficient face of a fat rich guy. That’s what he looks like to me, but this is only superficial, of course.
Beyond this personal aversion, I think that he tries to symbolise everything that the USA wants to be or used to be – i.e. biggest economic force, biggest military force, etc. – without realising that times are changing and that there are other things that are important besides being powerful and rich. Europe is currently facing difficulties and many things are changing this side of the pond. I hope we will come out of the crisis stronger than ever, but there is a very worrying tendency in Europe and an even stronger one in the USA to always emphasise economic growth at all costs. To me this seems counterproductive. Maybe as a European I’ve already gotten over not being the only big dog in town anymore, as we used to be during colonialism, and the USA still need to go through that phase.
The fallacy of constant economic growth
Of course it is nice to have more money, produce more goods, and so on, but the money needs to come from somewhere. Since the economy is growing, the money supply needs to grow, with all of the associated problems as detailed in many documentaries like the excellent but a little flashy Zeitgeist regarding the creation of money and current bank systems.
So what is the problem?
We live on a finite planet, and we’re nowhere near moving populations or factories to other planets for more resources. So how could economy grow and grow and grow without an end in sight? Once you’ve used up all the resources, you will have to start re-using material you’ve used already, and the golden age of recycling will begin. New products will be made out of old ones, and technology can advance further, certainly, but the economy cannot, at some point, grow anymore through the opening up of new markets. Right now millions of Chinese are becoming wealthier and are becoming consumers of technological goods, too, as will Indians and Africans at some point. Once that is all done, we’ll have a world full of countries where people live comfortable lives, but we won’t have the huge potential for growth that we used to have anymore. Once you’ve built houses on every available spot of land, you can not build new ones, but you have to improve upon existing ones or tear some of them down and rebuild them.
Perspectives for the future
Maybe we still have one or multiple Industrial Revolutions waiting for us (in renewable energy, quantum computing, medical technology and such) , but we live in an ever more connected world where everyone will take part in this growth, not only the top tier of countries. Wealth has to stop being defined as having because others have not, as this is the current state of the world economy where you can offer rich countries’ citizens two mobile phones a year because people in China and India are still willing to work for rates that make these low prices possible. Humanity, and economic growth, are not eternal. Instead of adding bulk and trying to make the economy grow in numbers as best we can, we should try to get the average quality of life of all people on Earth up, because population will not grow forever, and by 2050 when we will supposedly reach 10 billion people and reach a plateau in world population, it will not make sense anymore to let some people get the lion’s share of economic benefits. It’ll be more sensible to distribute wealth more equally so that we can all share it. Our main task by then will hopefully be to make the social net more impervious, to care for all of us and make all of us happier, healthier and more balanced.
Moreover, as a big fan of education and culture in all its forms, I believe that the arts will be revived and become the world’s biggest focal point, as technology is today, because once everyone is healthy and cared for, has food and spare time as much as he wants, which will be the case if the world balances out, then we’ll need things to fill our free time with. Today we already make machines do a lot of the work that human hands needed to execute, so the actual daily duration of human work will go down over time, and more free time means more culture and entertainment. This is where the future lies.
Finally, if we ever get to other planets to make them our home as well, we’ll start the cycle all over again there, using up resources, building territories and fighting against each other until it balances out again and we can focus on culture and the human mind again. It’s a wonderful perspective to me, but it’ll take a long time to get there, and it obviously is only conjecture right now. However, it’s easy to see that people increase their spending on cultural goods over time, especially as they get wealthier. We already pay for movie and concert tickets, for MP3 albums, comic books and regular books or ebooks, and we spend time in the theatre, the opera house or in good restaurants. Culture is luxury that people didn’t have in the past, at least not in the quantity and wealth that we have today, and its unique advantage over other domains like manufacturing and medicine is that it is infinite as long as humans exist. We can always invent new stories and present them to others, because the interest in human nature will never be obsolete as long as we live, because we’re social animals and we’d like to understand each other.