Provocation # 99
Growth increases inequality.
Growth is considered essential by most economists. Why? Growth tends to create more climate warming. Growth is necessary to pay the interest on debt. Many people earn their income through growth (brokers of all kinds, banks, etc).
Growth also incentivizes investment in automation (robots, algorithms).
But there is a deeper problem: growth, while treated with reverence (more growth, growth is good, growth is necessary) .
Growth in fact, taken in the current context, is the leading edge of the machine that drives profit toward the one percent. Growth is obtained not by making more, but by siphoning off wealth from the poorer part of the population. The shift to the finance economy is part of this. New products, services and regulations, for example, increased price of traffic tickets, or pay to drive freeway lanes are ways of getting money from the poor to the rich who own the companies that make the stuff that users pay for.
Growth is mostly a scam. Sure, no growth has consequences and is painful, But we must face that so is growth. Economics could help us understand these fateful consequences .
On the origin of growth. A very challenging book is Dotan Leshem’s Neoliberalism from Jesus to Foucault. (humor in the title)). Here is the argument:
Plato and Aristotle used the word eco- nomos – economy – estate management. They realized that a well managed estate produced a surplus. What was the best use of that surplus? To create leisure to be used for politics (time in the assembly), and in philosophy.(reading an
This lasted through late Greek and early Roman society and was companion to an argument against increased consumption. Politics and Philosophy were more worthwhile benefits for human nature.
Early Christianity – god’s household, used the word economia, it is Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and often in early christian writings. The well running of god’s household – the world in large and the Christian communities in the small – was a problems for economics. The use of profit should be for meditation time to understand self and god.
As that civilization, say 200-400 AD grew more complex, the idea of reaching god was amplified into a larger effort requiring more profit for more time in contemplation by more people, , and that meant growth. till to serve meditation but now including growth in the idea of economia. The guidelines of use of the profit from a well managed household (god’s gift to man) weakened as the Christian world view and feudalism gave way to villages, craft trade and commerce.
This history of good management, with the investment of surplus in the human goal of self and community development makes the point that the goal of an economy can be different than just investment for more profit and more consumption of more things.