Illuminating the Move From Growth to Sustainability

Economic Growth is not an accurate measure of well-being. The following story helps explain.
    One dark evening a man was on his hands and knees under a street light looking through the grass.
    A pedestrian asked what he was looking for.
    "The keys to my car." replied the man.
    Having some time and feeling helpful, the pedestrian joined the man in his search.
    After a while, with no success, the pedestrian asked: "Where were you when you lost your keys?"
    "Over there by my car." the man gestured.
    The pedestrian was puzzled. "Why are you looking for them here?"
    The man without keys explained: "The light's better!"

This story illustrates why so many interest groups seek to solve society's problems by promoting Growth. People are familiar with the idea of economic growth. And there is no question that the light of the media and the power brokers shines more brightly on such solutions.

Herman Daly put it well: "The growth ideology is extremely attractive politically because it offers a solution to poverty without requiring the moral disciplines of sharing and population control."

Two examples reveal shortcomings in the growth ideology.

The cod fishery on Canada's east coast was considered an economic success because it expanded year after year. More fish caught, more money made. The fact that more fish were taken than were replaced by their natural processes was not considered relevant. The abrupt end to that fishery when the cod population crashed makes one wonder what other economic success stories are dangerously misleading.

The practice of obsolescence presents even clearer contradictions. Making things to wear out, break, go out of style or in some other way pass from use as quickly as possible is essential to maintain current levels of economic activity. Durable and easily repaired goods would be a recipe for economic decline in conventional terms. As would any reduction in people's consumption levels. From the perspective of sustainability however, the energy and resources saved and the reduction of waste would increase our prospects for well-being. (See Life, Money & Illusion.)

The possibility of damaging the economy by eliminating obsolescence is based on what John Maynard Keynes once called "false analogies from an irrelevant accountancy." (from Growth Illusion Review)

People keep throwing out governments because they want change. But they are only shown options under the same old street light. The examples here and many more show that something is mistaken in the established order. Sustainability is the bottom line in human and planetary well-being. If the people already aware of this can clarify the difference to the general public there may yet be the opportunity for countless new generations of people to enjoy a place under the Sun.

Much advantage can be gained by pressing into the public forum the question of which value public decisions should be based on: economic expansion or sustainability?