There are three related propositions in defence
of economic growth. The first is that material
opulence is (after all) necessary for flourishing.
The second is that economic growth is closely
correlated with certain basic ‘entitlements’
– for health or education, perhaps – that are
essential to prosperity. The third is that
growth is functional in maintaining economic
and social stability. There is some statistical
correlation between economic growth and key
human development indicators. Basic capabilities
are threatened when economies collapse.
Growth has been (until now) the default mechanism
for preventing collapse. In particular, market
economies have placed a high emphasis on labour
productivity. Continuous improvements in technology
mean that more output can be produced for any
given input of labour. But crucially this also
means that fewer people are needed to produce
the same goods from one year to the next. As
long as the economy expands fast enough to offset
labour productivity there isn’t a problem. But
if the economy doesn’t grow, there is a downward
pressure on employment. People lose their jobs.
With less money in the economy, output falls,
public spending is curtailed and the ability
to service public debt is diminished. A spiral
of recession looms. Growth is necessary within
this system just to prevent collapse. This evidence
leads to an uncomfortable and deep-seated dilemma:
growth may be unsustainable, but ‘de-growth’
appears to be unstable. The failure to take the
dilemma of growth seriously may be the single
biggest threat to sustainability that we face.
- 比如医疗保险和免费教育等等 - 密切关联。第三，增长使经济得以稳定、社会获得安定。一些统计数据显示经济增长和人文发展之间有相关关系。经济的崩溃足以让人在社会中无立足之地。
|The ‘Iron Cage’
In the face of the evidence, it is fanciful
to suppose that ‘deep’ resource and emission
cuts can be achieved without confronting the
nature and structure of market economies. There
are two interrelated features of modern economic
life that together drive the growth dynamic:
the production and consumption of novelty.
The profit motive stimulates a continual search
by producers for newer, better or cheaper products
and services. This process of ‘creative destruction’,
according to the economist Joseph Schumpeter,
is what drives economic growth forwards.
For the individual firm, the ability to adapt
and to innovate – to design, produce and market
not just cheaper products but newer and more
exciting ones – is vital. Firms who fail in this
process risk their own survival. But the continual
production of novelty would be of little value
to firms if there were no market for the consumption
of novelty in households. Recognising the existence,
and understanding the nature, of this demand
is essential. It is intimately linked to the
symbolic role that material goods play in our
lives. The ‘language of goods’ allows us to communicate
with each other – most obviously about social
status, but also about identity, social affiliation,
and even – through giving and receiving gifts
for example – about our feelings for each other.
Perhaps the most telling point of all is the
almost perfect fit between the continual production
of novelty by firms and the continuous consumption
of novelty in households. The
restless desire of the consumer is the perfect
complement for the restless innovation of the
entrepreneur. Taken together these two self-reinforcing
processes are exactly what is needed to drive
growth forwards. Despite this fit, or perhaps
because of it, the relentless pursuit of novelty
creates an anxiety that can undermine social
wellbeing. Individuals are at the mercy of social
comparison. Firms must innovate or die. Institutions
are skewed towards the pursuit of a materialistic
consumerism. The economy itself is dependent
on consumption growth for its very survival.
The ‘iron cage of consumerism’ is a system in
which no one is free. It’s an anxious, and ultimately
a pathological system. But at one level it works.
The system remains economically viable as long
as liquidity is preserved and consumption rises.
It collapses when either of these stalls.