Going easy on growth. Part 1.

We all like to have a chuckle at communism from time to time. Success was measured in terms of production, so factories just went on churning out more and more shoes and spectacles. It did not matter whether or not anyone wanted them. In the end the whole thing collapsed.

There is something similar in the modern economy. And we should laugh a lot louder because the people who set the rules of capitalism think they are a lot cleverer than Marx and Lenin and Stalin and their cronies.

Instead of “production”, we have “growth”. With communism you made far too much but just stockpiled the excess. With capitalism you make more and more every year, and then spend a lot of time goading people into wanting more and more, just in order to mop up the increased production. Growth is an axiom of practically all political systems today. For most people economics and business is unimaginable without growth.

An interesting example of thoughtless pandering to growth came recently in the case of the New York congestion charge. The Financial Times reported that Mr Bloomberg, the Mayor, may endorse the introduction of such a charge in New York, following the success of Ken Livingstone’s charge in London.

The story goes wobbly when Kathryn Wilde, chief executive of the Partnership for New York, a business group, says: “We believe that congestion pricing is the key to New York City’s transportation future. It provides a source of revenues that will fund a transport system [expansion] that will allow the city to continue to grow.”

Why would anyone want the city of New York to continue to grow? Is an eight million population with density of 26,000 people per square mile not big enough? Is 500 odd murders a year and 2,800 crimes for every 100,000 people not rough-and-tumble enough? Is 58 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a bit on the light side?

It is human nature to be distracted by the exciting bits of an enterprise, so we hog down the freshly baked apple pie and forget the indigestion and the washing up. We idolise growth and forget its darker implications.[1]

Growth per se is a silly thing to be obsessed with. We don’t want bigger and bigger and bigger. Most people just long for a quiet moment to chill out with a glass of something.

[1] One reason for the obsession with growth might be that Americans are often fidgety types with deep-rooted inferiority complexes: they need the justification of ever increasing numbers to feel that their lives are worth living. But that theory only accounts for some of the world.

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