New Internationalist

Life beyond growth

These are not normal times, that’s for sure. Stock markets swoon and the global economy shudders as politicians grapple with the sovereign debt crisis in Greece. There’s talk that the ‘contagion’ may spread next to Italy, Spain or Portugal. Maybe even France. Meanwhile, there are clear signs that ordinary citizens are no longer willing to accept the status quo.

‘Join the 99%’, the slogan of the ‘Occupy’ movement which started on Wall Street in New York and has now spread across Europe and North America, may not be a crisp policy directive. But it makes a point. There’s a growing recognition that the global economic system is rigged in favour of the wealthy, the top 1% who run the show. The super rich prosper in the midst of recession; the rest of us, not so much.

People are beginning to notice. Change is in the air.

First came the ‘Arab Spring’, which captured the attention of the world, igniting political change across North Africa and the Middle East. In tapped-out European countries citizens faced with painful austerity measures continue to stage mass public protests. There were riots in London. Chilean students took to the streets to bring attention to economic inequality and rising tuition while Israel experienced its largest demonstrations in decades when hundreds of thousands of middle-class Israelis protested high housing prices and falling living standards. Even in the two economic powerhouses of the developing world there were signs of dissatisfaction. A popular protest against corruption in India attracted millions. And in China there is mounting labour unrest and festering anger over corruption and inequality.

The global economy is again grinding to a halt while ordinary people take the hit. The ghost of the Great Depression of the 1930s hovers in the wings. So what’s the solution? Growth. A growing economy equals more jobs, rising incomes, peace and prosperity. Without growth the system would collapse. Get growth back on track and everything will be OK. That’s the theory. But no-one is talking about the biggest dilemma of all: economic growth may not be the cure but the source of the problem. After all we live on a finite planet with limited resources. How can we expect to grow forever?

The current economic situation is an opportunity for us question orthodoxies and re-examine our priorities. For a timely analysis of the growth cul-de-sac we invite you to take a look at:

Natures bottom line’, where I explore the folly of endless growth.

Oops, no brakes!’, in which Rowenna Davis speaks to zero-growth advocate Tim Jackson and Oxfam policy analyst Duncan Green about economic alternatives.

These articles first appeared in our Life beyond growth issue, published July/August 2010.


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