Why do we need to get richer?

The holy grail of perpetual economic growth...

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

What is it with our obsession with wanting to grow ever richer and with the notion and holy grail of perpetual economic growth and GDP? When is enough enough? For some people it would appear never.

scrooge-mcduck-make-it-rain2The Ethiopian famine in the late twentieth century was less caused by drought and more caused by the prolonged civil war that had be racking the country but still it was claimed it had to do with drought and, as they claim now, climate change. However, it was predominately the civil war that was the causal agent of the Ethiopian famine of those years and if. More often than not, the cause of continuing famine in the region. For, when we see that Saudi Arabia is using Ethiopian, Sudanese lands and those in Somalia to grow wheat for its use then we must question the drought idea more than ever.

Starvation and malnutrition cause by poverty more than any climatic changes and drought, etc., still exists even after this time and not just in the Horn of Africa and Africa general.

This fact makes, at first sight, the question “why we need to get richer” absurd.

Of course there are millions and millions of people in this world that need to get “richer” but is the way we are getting richer the right way and do we all need to get richer.

So far the pursuit of riches together with the increase of wealth has not diminished suffering. On the contrary. The very rich are getting richer, the 1%, and the rest of us all are getting poorer and it affect the poor more so than any other group.

The dominant Western science, economics, with which they like to measure progress, does not take account of suffering, of poverty, nor do mainstream business models consider it to be a costs. The only costs that they worry about are those that directly affect profits and shareholder value.

Wealth alone cannot overcome suffering and poverty. It requires a qualitative improvement and not (just) a quantitative one.

The emphasis on constant economic growth has led many in the developed world to worship wealth. Wealth has become the measure to be applied to how well someone, some company, a country, is doing. But what should be the real measure of wealth of a person, of a company and indeed a country, is happiness.

The constant economic growth advocated by almost all governments is not sustainable and we cannot continue down that road if we do not want to destroy the Planet upon which all life, and not just human life, depends.

How rich should we be to be satisfied? The Roman philosopher Seneca had a very precise answer to this question when he said that we should acquire an amount that does not descent to poverty but one that is not far removed from poverty. In other words we should be satisfied with having enough.

There are too many people who have more than enough but they still want more, and then still more, and after that still more, never being satisfied with what they have. They are spurred on by the desire not just to keep up with the Joneses but to keep (well) ahead of them, and many stop at nothing top get there. This is greed and nothing more.

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas has a different way of measuring the country's wealth. It is Gross National Happiness that they are using as standard instead of Gross National Product as what the economists in the developed nations use as a standard of measure and it is the happiness of the people that should count, like in Bhutan, and not the wealth of corporations and the nation.

The assessment should be how happy the country is and its people are rather than how rich the country is and its inhabitants are. The two, of course, are very different. Wealth cannot buy you happiness and in most cases the acquisition of it also does not make the person happy. Just greedier for more and more wealth and possessions.

Simply getting richer does not make us happier and neither is simply getting richer the answer to poverty at home and abroad. While it is important that people have a decent standard of income and living standard how this is achieved is another question.

People must be able to earn their living in ways that make them happy and not in ways that make wealth for corporations on the back of the poor working class. This also means that our means of production and ways of production and producing goods and providing services has to change.

It has to become a case that the means of production, and thus the income itself, is in the hands of the workers, the craftspeople, the service workers, and not in the hands of some, often multinational, corporation. And these requires a complete change of system.

Does that mean that the economy should not grow? The answer here is not an easy one but first of all we have to realize that perpetual growth just is not possible in a finite world and that the great majority of non-renewable resources have almost gone and that means that the economy just cannot carry on growing and people consuming as if there be no tomorrow.

What is required is a resource-based economy and a constant economy and not a constant growth economy. And, in order to bring a better life to the areas that are poverty stricken the West, so to speak, must stop exploiting the areas and their people. Let's, by all means, buy what they produce but not have them used as a cheap labor source.

We cannot allow any further to have countries such as Kenya grow green beans and flowers for the West taking valuable growing space from the people and water resources. Buying any of their surplus foods is one thing but actually having them grow cash crops (for which they actually get very little) that the local people do not eat.

Our manufacturing has to be brought inshore again so that workers at home have jobs and so that the exploitation of workers in foreign countries stop. And then the means of production must be in the hands of the workers and not any longer in the hands of the capitalists who exploit man and Nature equally.

Our making of things, whether in “factories” or workshops, must be done, once again, on a human scale rather than on the industrialized scale that it has been done for the last century or two.

The large industries and plants are not sustainable anyway and we just cannot go on this way. It gobbles up land and other valuable resources of the Planet aside from what the manufacturing process takes from the Planet.

People will still buy goods made in a sustainable way, even if somewhat more expensive, as long as they are well made and made to last and are repairable, and that means the makers will still be able to sell goods. It will be a different kind of economy though. One led by income and based on resource availability rather than led by capital and high finance.

Every individual (adult) should have a means of livelihood, and ideally this working for himself or in a cooperative with others. And this is the first strike to liberation from oppression and liberation from dependence.

Getting rich from market driven economics is not healthy and it benefits more the wealthy than the poor. We have seen where this kind of economics lead us; to market crashed time and again.

It is easy to blame the bankers for the problems but they have a lot to answer for, especially the financiers that run the banks today. The very rule of those banks seems to be “never lend any money to anyone unless they don't need it” for, unless you have money, you don't stand a chance to lend any to to anything with.

But let's get back to the way things are at the moment. It would appear, and in fat it is so, that current economics of growth lack a moral purpose as their ultimate aim.

It should be that you don't consume more than you need and thus the consumerism that we see all around us in the developed world today is a case of people just buying things because it is a sort of a passion, or should we say an obsession. They seem to believe that the more they have in material goods the happier they will be and if they can just have the latest this or that then their happiness will be complete, but that never happens. Or if they can just get another x-amount per months this will be the case. We need to learn to be satisfied with what we have and what we can make for ourselves instead of buying more and more things that we do not need.

Consumerism is, basically, based on greed and advertising is suggesting to us that we need more and more and is makes us more and more greedy. To overcome this we have to, instead of spreading the message that more is good, the message of consumer and consumption restraint.

Thus we need to change the way we produce and only produce what is required for our communities, considering the 100 mile radius, say, then we don't have to have this buying all the time to keep the economy, in this case a localized economy, going.

This kind of economy does not mean that there will not need to be any growth at all. Farming will have to produce more and more to ensure food security for a growing population. But much of that can also be achieved, to some extent, in that people grow at least some of their own food in their own back- and front yards, on allotments or community gardens.

Other “industries” should not grow but should, in fact, be diminished, such as the defense manufacturing and arms industry, and instead of more motorcars, considering that oil is running out anyway, buses and trains should be build so that people can use public transport and also bicycles for the local traffic.

For this one needs, to some extent, however, a regulated, or shall we call it, a planned economy where, as Gandhi said it is not a case of not producing but what to produce, by who and for whom. With this three points of “what to produce”, “who produces it” and “for whom”, you have the perfect moral package of a good economy. It is a wonderful cycle of production and consumption that is so logical and that is the reason why Marx and Lenin did instigate the planned economy, even though it did not always work, but that was also due, to some extent to the fact that, in the days after Lenin, it was state capitalism and not (true) communism anymore.

The growth economy has so infiltrated each and every aspect of our lives that everything is being measured only in economic terms and that is the main reason, it would appear, that those of us, despite, well, before the crash of the early twenty-first century, of getting wealthier as nations, are not happy. And buying more and more things does not, as those that have the means to do so, keep finding out time and again.

Enough must be enough and as, as I said before, the Roman philosopher Seneca put it when he said that we should acquire an amount that does not descent to poverty but one that is not far removed from poverty. That should be the aim, and no more. When you have all that you need and a little above it should satisfy.

This is how we honor our fellow man and Mother Nature...

© 2013