Lacy MacAuley


a home for my pen, projects, and passions

who’s afraid of negative economic growth?

If economic growth has been waged through a full-on war on the environment, isn’t it time we drafted a peace treaty? The Copenhagen climate summit has resulted in a flimsy accord, with deep divisions over economic issues and countries acting to protect their economic growth. But we need a healthy planet to ensure the survival of our species. Isn’t that more important than economic growth?

If we want to save our planet and ensure the survival of our species, we must accept negative economic growth.

Throughput of the economy must be reduced. This means we need to stop taking products of intact ecosystems and convert them into inert or even harmful forms (i.e. turning a mountain with coal deposits into a pile of rubble that kills local watersheds, smothers communities, puts deadly toxins in the air and fuels harmful climate change).

Throughput is bad for the environment. However, any economist will tell you that it is the throughput, the “real economy” of tangible goods and services that make life cushier, that drives the rest of the economy. Ninety percent of the economy can be financial instruments or speculative currency markets or any number of things that people pretend have value (and therefore do have value), but if those things aren’t connected somehow to real goods and services, they disappear like a trick of the light.

So, we are going to have to deal with something that may seem frightening to those in financial policy, board room execs, and bankers of all ilk: NEGATIVE ECONOMIC GROWTH. Yes, a contraction of our economy. Less stuff being bought and sold. Less money in bank vaults. Less throughput.

But who’s afraid of negative economic growth? Not me. All that economic growth that we’ve been experiencing in the past few decades has mostly fattened the wallets of those who were already very rich. Real wages for most of us (that is, what our pay dollars can actually buy), have not gone up in thirty years. In the article “US Income Inequality Continues to Grow,” Don Monkerud explains:

[W]ages for most Americans didn’t improve from 1979 to 1998, and the median male wage in 2000 was below the 1979 level, despite productivity increases of 44.5 percent. Between 2002 and 2004, inflation-adjusted median household income declined $1,669 a year. To make up for lost income, credit card debt soared 315 percent between 1989 and 2006, representing 138 percent of disposable income in 2007.

If negative economic growth means that the rich have to curb their appetites for money, goods, and services, I am all for it.

In the meantime, I’m willing to buy less clothing per year, turn off my appliances and lights, control the temperature of only small spaces in my home, and walk and bike places. Yes, I’m willing to consume less. That will lead to less throughput and negative economic growth.

As I’ve said, economic growth doesn’t scare me. What does give me the shivers? Climate change, pollution, starvation, disease, environmental disasters, and the terrifying consequences of what could happen if we don’t reduce our consumption.


Filed under: activism, climate justice, consumerism, environmentalism, global justice, international relations, lacy's life, thoughts and philosophies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: