GDP Shrinks. Hooray!

In a sane world, a shrinking GDP would be greeted with relief.  However the world is not sane, and people suffer when the GDP shrinks, mainly by losing their jobs.  Meanwhile, insanity has faltered slightly and disturbing thoughts are being put about.  However our leaders are working to ensure normal insanity is restored as quickly as possible.

Here is the present situation.  Many people work more than they want.  The natural world is sagging, and close to collapse, under the assault of our growth economies, that mine, use and dump resources at ever-increasing rates.  Unlimited growth is correctly identified as the behaviour of plagues and cancers.  We can’t continue running our economies this way, and they will soon cease this pathological behaviour one way or another.

Australians are now up there with the Japanese and Americans in the number of hours a week they work.  Many people complain that work now dominates their lives, and they don’t have enough time for family and social activities.  This has come about because the policies of recent governments have made employment less secure, which allows employers to squeeze employees harder.

Rather than having a large fraction of the population working harder than they want and others not working at all, why don’t we figure out how to spread the available work around better.  If you think people would never be willing to reduce their work hours, the evidence is clearly to the contrary.  According the Australia Institute, around a quarter of working Australians downshifted over the past decade.  This means they voluntarily took a cut in income in order to improve their quality of life.

The downshifters are subversives.  They are subverting the current insanity, which says money and stuff are good so more money and more stuff are better.

We are well past the carrying capacity of the planet.  Western lifestyles are estimated to use around four planet’s worth of resources. In other words if everyone tried to live like us we would need four Earths.  With growth policies in place that would soon become six Earths, then eight Earths and so on.  Even with two-thirds of humanity impoverished, it is estimated we passed the carrying capacity of one Earth in the nineteen nineties.

The symptoms are in the news every day.  Shrinking forests, water shortages, declining biodiversity, dying reefs, wars over land (read the more thoughtful pieces about Darfur), degrading soils, and so on.  Then of course there’s the big one:  global warming.  Many climate scientists are afraid we’re close to a tipping point beyond which the warming runs out of control, even if we stop all greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course the economic system is so pathological it is capable of collapsing without any external help, as the Global Financial Collapse, fast becoming the Global Economic Collapse, demonstrates.

We actually know how to live more lightly on the Earth or, if you prefer, how to dematerialise our economy.  It is possible to dramatically reduce energy needs, and even to save money at the same time.  Five major corporations cut their greenhouse gas emissions by over sixty percent and saved four billion dollars in the process.  German car manufactures are required to take back old cars and recycle their materials and components.  They have extensively redesigned their cars to facilitate this.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has been advocating radically improved efficiency for decades.  William McDonough and Michael Braungart, in Cradle to Cradle, advocate a move towards 100% recycling of all materials.  They call it the Second Industrial Revolution.

The possibility of sanity, and survival, is there if we choose to pursue it.  However our economic managers are completely trapped by a pathological meme.  These are the people who brought you the GFC.  For how much longer are you willing to leave our affairs and lives in their hands?

The satirical website The Onion ran a piece last year claiming that the government should create another bubble to replace the subprime mortgage bubble.  ”…the need for another spontaneous make-believe source of wealth has never been more urgent.”  Yes, precisely.

7 thoughts on “GDP Shrinks. Hooray!

  1. Andrew Glikson

    I often wondered whether the “growth fettish” is not an inherent characteristic of the entire animal world, including Homo “sapiens”, all the way from the DNA to the GDP?

    There have been societies which, perhaps wisely but certainly cruely, limited their populations, for example by sacrificing the young, a common practice in ancient Middle East civilizations and the Aztecs.

    Events such as World War I or II, namely the sacrifice of entire generations of young people, may likewise constitute manifestations of subconscious mass urge of population control?


  2. Kevin Cox


    I don’t think these things are “planned” but like most things in nature are emergent random properties of systems. Societies will throw up variations and some variations will survive if only in the records.

    As reflective organisms we now have the opportunity of changing our systems to get results that we think may be beneficial to the species – like keeping climate relatively stable.

    This is what makes our times most interesting. We can influence the way we as both physical and social beings evolve.

    If you thought that genetically engineered crops have brought a fierce debate wait until we get a genetically engineered elephant with cognitive abilities beyond a human, or with cyber people who amputate their legs so they can win the olympics 100 meters or with cyber people who remove their natural eyes so they can see as well as blind people with their cyber eyes that sense many different spectrums and at much higher resolution.

    The events you describe are random – they become something different when we engineer their existence.


  3. Tom Wilson

    Hi Geoff,

    I’ve enjoyed reading the first few entries in your blog. I write about environment from a more historical and literary perspectives from my base in WA.

    I’ve added a link to your site on my blog.




  4. Ed

    Nice post.

    I agree. Commercialised materialism is the bane of my life as are those who push it – the high priests and priestesses of filth in advertising and market research.

    Many years ago, a National Geographic (I believe, perhaps Consumer Reports) ran a piece about how many advertisements average American children see a week. The numbers were shockingly high. It included a discussion about how advertisers and large corporations were pushing to infiltrate schools by donating equipment (that just happens to have a logo on it) such as benches, book covers, etc. As the schools became dependent, the Corps had their inroad.

    It is VERY difficult for parents to swim against that tide (with kids in tow). The article goes on to explain what marketers call the ‘mommy factor’. This involved painting some attractive character on a box to get the kids to ask ‘mommy’ to buy it.

    In total, I can not remember reading a more off-putting article in print.

    Paid charlatans. A classmate from Uni is now a director of market research for Citicorp – her title: ‘Director of Decision Management’.



  5. Pingback: How Free-Market Fundamentalists are Hopelessly Wrong, III: money, debt and blindness | Better Nature: commentary by Geoff Davies

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