16 March 2016

Mister Trudeau and the impossible dream

Oh, if only the economy could grow forever. We could buy more stuff tomorrow and more the day after tomorrow, and in their time our children could buy even more, and our grandchildren yet more again. There would be no limits.

This is the future our leaders envision, the future they dream of. When they meet, the conversation about growth has one focus and one focus only—how we can have more.

This was apparent at the recent meetings between our Prime Minister and U.S. President Obama. Commenting on the seething anger among Americans at their political masters, Trudeau commented, "There's a danger that people will begin pulling back their support for policies that stimulate and support growth if we don't figure out a way of including them in the prosperity that's created by that growth." That he recognized the roots of Americans' frustration was good, but that he assumed growth must march ever onward was not good at all.

Endless growth is a lovely dream, but if we believe in it and act as if it's a possible dream, the result will be a nightmare.

There are limits. The planet is finite, and we are already using up its resources faster than it can replenish them. We are sucking it dry. If we continue to follow the impossible dream we will create a dystopian future, one where we will end up fighting, people against people, nation against nation, perhaps with nuclear weapons, over the remaining scraps.

The President was lavish in his praise of our Prime Minister, as were others. A spokesman from the Center for American Progress referred to him as a future "paragon of the progressive movement" and predicted he would become "a linchpin, if not the future leader, of that movement."

He has certainly, in a very short time, turned our country in sunnier directions on many fronts, but if he is to become a paragon of progress, he must lead on the most important front of all, the fight to end growth and live within our planet's means. This issue, like no other, awaits a leader. It is Mr. Trudeau's opportunity to seize, but first he must recognize the reality that growth presents.


  1. I always thought that was impossible but actually it is if you think outside the box. There is only a limit to physical growth and stuff that uses resources and energy.

    BUT there is no limit to intellectual stuff, music, literature, even a lot of physical art uses very little actual stuff. The Mona Lisa is not valuable because of the paint and canvas.

    If we put more value into this. Instead of building bigger houses that use more resources build better handcrafted homes where the value is in the craftsmanship and not the materials.

    If we value better over more and bigger we still grow the economy without destroying the planet.

    If we increase the value of what we do build by paying people decent wages we can increase the value of the physical things we create without having to use more natural resources.

  2. i'm not seeing any radical change
    to the "endless growth as the answer" cycle
    i'm sure there are a thousand ways
    to live on this planet
    for the minute time we are here
    that leaves no trace or damage
    and is completely fulfilling of our humanity
    we will never choose one of them
    over the death march we are on
    but so far exactly human as we know it
    bad choices
    free will
    and all that

  3. Two things I find wrong with this blog.

    1) Trudeau is not a pro-growth leader. He is using the same failed regressive neoclassical ideology that killed economic growth and put the global economy on the verge of collapse. (Last time around this caused world war.)

    2) Sure nothing in Nature grows indefinitely. A bacterium in a Petri dish will grow binary exponential until it hits a resource wall. But Nature itself grows/develops indefinitely. From the first self-replicating molecule 3.5 billion years ago into all forms of life today, including us. Civilization is an extension of Nature. The only wall we are facing is our own irresponsible behavior: we are our own worst enemies.

    If one looks at GDP growth, it becomes obvious that all human development that can be measured in prices is a subset of GDP. New human development is a subset of GDP growth. So the only way to stop growth is to stop developing. To freeze frame our disgusting racist civilization in its present form, forever.

    An economy that is founded on 100% renewable energy and recyclable materials is one that can develop forever without hitting any resource wall. Economic growth, as we can see in the post-war development of first-world nations, enriches the lives of all if its done right -- if incomes and wealth are properly distributed.

    We need new wealth to harness renewable sources of energy and subsidize green energy so it's cheaper than fossil fuels. We need new wealth to build schools, hospitals and other physical and social infrastructure across the undeveloped world. And all this development/wealth will create more forms of development and wealth until machines do almost all of the work -- freeing people to pursue their dreams free from the hardscrabble struggle for survival we have imposed upon ourselves with primitive economic ideology.

    The only alternative to growth is a centralized totalitarian government. And like the progressive communist revolutions, the cause will be the first causality.

  4. All true, Bill, but we overlook the lethal reality - we are deeply, profoundly dependent on being able to deplete the Earth's resources faster than they can be replenished. We're as hooked on over-consumption as an addict on crystal meth.

    We are already robbing future generations. The evidence is visible to the naked eye from space. Crew aboard the International Space Station photograph the proof. Rivers that no longer flow to the sea, algae blooms in lakes and rivers, desertification, deforestation,on and on. Every year NASA releases photographs of dust clouds that rise over China, cross the Pacific and descend over the west coast. NASA's Grace satellites measure surface subsidence caused by our rapacious draining of ancient aquifers for irrigation.

    I was over at the nearby seafood shop the other day. Trawlers were landing massive catches of hake. Hake. That's a garbage fish or at least it used to be. But we're well advanced in "fishing down the food chain" and so a market for hake has emerged.

    Despite the evidence visible to our own eyes we ignore reality. That's because we're hooked. Our dependence on consuming resources the Earth cannot replenish now underlies every mode of organization - social, economic, political - the lot.

    There are just six countries that still have a biomass surplus, Canada being one of them. We could, theoretically at least, be self-sufficient but most wealthy countries are heavily dependent on security of access to imports. Many of them are snapping up the best farmland in Third World countries that are already severely food insecure, countries to which we regularly have to supply famine relief.

    We're in too deep, Bill. There's no public appetite or political will to change.

  5. Bernie Sanders shows there actually is an enormous political will for sweeping changes. Just like the 1930s, under similar wretched economic conditions, when the people wrested power from looting "robber barons". This produced a post-war boom that created modern living standards, which were unprecedented in history.

    It happened before. It can and must happen again.

    The post-war boom was based on two things: the rise of unions and centrist Keynesian mixed-market economics (big government spending, taxing and regulating.)

    Although we're presently repeating extremely bad history (using the same economic ideology that let market-manipulating plutocrats plunder the economy causing the Great Depression,) we can also repeat all the great history that followed.

    The solutions are radically centrist:

    1) Managed trade based on enforcing common safety and environmental regulations, labor standards and public benefits (with punitive social and green tariffs.) (Free trade ideology creates a deregulatory race to the bottom taking a wrecking ball to human development and crushing all hope of developing a responsible, sustainable global economy.)

    2) Progressive taxation to ensure proper distribution of financial resources (which are like blood in a circulatory system) to maximize personal economic contributions and collective personal and public benefits.

    3) Unionization 2.0. The reason unions failed was because there was a division between union and non-union workers which plutocrats were able to exploit. The solution is a broader union of workers and activists that come together under a single tent to fight for common causes — all of which boil down to human development.

    This organization, which one could call 'The Movement,' would be direct democracy founded on the very successful egalitarian model.

    (Humans were originally egalitarian. The northern races, under hardscrabble niches, reverted to patriarchal hierarchism, a social structure the chimps have, which we both inherited from a common ancestor, Hominini. The levels of hierarchy exploded when agriculture was developed, increasing the population size a territory could support. This produced a 10,000 year war that culminates in the implosion of a 7-billion population world — unless we exercise our democratic rights and responsibilities to expose and eliminate corruption and unsustainable practices.)

    All of this is very doable. The real problem is fake centrism: i.e., the right-of-center "neoliberal" or neo-classical economic ideology of Milton Friedman. We are fooled into believing these policies (like free trade) are moderate centrist policies. But they are not moderate (free trade is 90% right, the other 10% is corporate rent-seeking protectionism.) They are not centrist, but fiercely anti-Keynesian. And they don't create jobs and prosperity: they obviously kill jobs and prosperity.