For well over a decade people have questioned whether continued growth, especially exponential growth, can be sustained or worth pursuing. This is for several reasons, there are limits to growth as we live on a finite planet. Resources are not limitless, even nature has limits it imposes and doesn’t allow one species or another to go beyond the limits that lead to its own death. In fact nature allows for die-off to occur limiting any one species to not dominate a particular ecosystem.
Let me first look at Nature. Lets say a particular animal begins to have too many young. If there is plenty of food then nothing happens and all the young that are born not deformed or experience disease live. But if the food or water supply is limited for one reason or another then both the young and older animals die off. Usually the weaker members. Nature keeps a delicate balance so the food or water source is not over exploited to the point of desertification where both plant and animal die off completely as well as any other species within that ecosystem.
The only species that does not limit itself and does everything to prevent natural methods of die-off from occurring is us humans. Modern medicine pats itself on the back with claims of having fended off many diseases through vaccinations or disease prevention methods. In doing so it has allowed many genetic weaknesses to creep into the human gene pool and the eventuality of Pandemic scares many health officials.
So what does this have to do with a No-growth Economy or the I Don’t Pay movement? Everything!
First, we humans have overtaken much of the Earth at the expense of other species and that can not continue. We either reduce our numbers voluntarily or we will find that our numbers will be limited involuntarily. Second, as cheap energy comes to an end and other resource run out we will find that there is a natural limit to the amount of food we can grow when we can no longer spend 10 to 40 calories to obtain one calorie of food.
Herman Daly, an ecological economist, started in the 1970s to present, and publish books, on the topic of limiting grow and steady growth. His premise is that if an economy comes to a stead state, one that does not continue to grow, will eventually reach a state where it finds an equilibrium to remain below the carrying capacity of the planet. Currently we are consuming enough for two planets and if everyone alive were to live like a person in the U.S. we would need four to five more planets.
The idea of living within our means, the availability of natural resources, does not have to be a life in darkness or hunger as present delusional and misguided economists, and their followers, would have you believe. Where is it written that if we live within the Earth’s natural limits we have to go hungry or without anything? Nowhere.
If we look at Mondragon, Spain we can actually see an economic system that comes very close to being a no-growth economy. Everyone within the cooperative system of Mondragon is neither very rich nor poor. People have often said when driving through the city of Mondragon how nice it looks, how well off things look, middle-class. The businesses within the system are cooperatives which have a triple bottom line where the employees, the business and the community all share equally in any profits. When the financial crisis hit in 2008 the bank within the cooperative didn’t even take much notice. It is one of Spain’s most successful banks.
To have an economy that does not grow does not mean people go without, not do businesses or anything else. It just means no growth. No excess. A limit on greed. It also limits waste.
With Herman Daly’s no-growth economy all physical resource are recycled, repaired, or something else which keeps them within the system and not wasted. By doing away with waste you could naturally do away with pollution, environmental degradation and so forth. In other words, those things that current economics sees as externalities are no longer considered external to the system and are included so they can be dealt with.
With a system adopting a no-growth economy the current I Don’t Pay movement actually makes sense. Why should we pay twice for something that gets government funding and he out of our pockets. It only encourages waste. In a no-growth economy public transit systems would be as free as libraries and everyone would have equal access to them. Having free public transit would also encourage more people to leave their cars at home or not even own one if the infrastructure is there for public transportation. People would argue the opposite but look at European cities that currently have a surcharge to enter city centers actually helps to cut pollution and congestion. It works.
No-growth economics actually works with the limitations of Nature and all the natural resources. As fossil fuels run out there would be a move smoothly toward renewable sources of energy and the transition would be unnoticeable. That is not happening in the U.S. It would also encourage a move toward more local smaller economies as we once had not long ago. Food would be grown closer to home, closer to where it is consumed. In a no-growth society it would also separate industrial sewage from human to create energy, methane, and the resulting valuable fertilizer would end up back on the land where it belongs.
This idea of closing the loop on resources means they would be recovered for recycling, repair, reviving them, re-purposing, or for remixing them in some advantageous way so they never end up in a landfill. The whole process of using resource would be rethought and reworked to one that leads to being more sustainable.
I’ve just taken you from natural die off all the way through no-growth economics. If we continue with business as usual then we will end up dying off. If we take the advice of people like Herman Daly, and other people like him, then we can follow the lead European countries have set moving toward something that is truly sustainable, without all of the green washing.
Ok, I admit it, I took Herman Daly’s ideas a little further, but they make sense in an economy that does not grow.