Trade Growth-Based Economy for Steady State

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), May 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Trade Growth-Based Economy for Steady State


Byline: By Rob Dietz GUEST VIEWPOINT The Register-Guard

The evidence continues to mount: The way we run the economy is damaging the life-support systems of the planet.

We are treading water in a sea of profound environmental problems. Globally, we are bumping up against severe limits with results such as climate disruption and massive species extinctions.

Here in Oregon, where we are blessed with a bounty of natural capital, we face such problems as declining salmon runs, deforestation and degraded water quality. At the same time, our financial systems have entered a crisis mode in the midst of increasing unemployment and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.

We have arrived at this unprecedented moment in history because of the unrelenting quest for economic growth. If growth is the best way to manage our affairs, then why should we be worried about global warming and losing our jobs at the same time?

It is time to examine the irrational assumptions behind the grow-at-all-costs mind set and get busy changing it to fit the realities of our world. Governments and businesses have an acute unwillingness to explore the costs of growth.

Economic growth is simply an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services, and it is indicated by increases in the Gross Domestic Product. GDP, therefore, has become the standard measure of economic progress, even though it was only intended as an accounting tool. Prompted by Wall Street, the Federal Reserve System and the media, citizens generally applaud increases in GDP.

The problem with GDP is that it doesn't separate costs from benefits. It simply adds them together under the heading of economic activity. Even if the costs of growth outweigh the benefits, as the evidence suggests, we still pursue it.

This pursuit permeates all corners of the economy - from CEOs to laborers, from presidents to bureaucrats, from cities to families - we are all caught up in the misguided chase for ever-increasing production and consumption.

Given that growth and prosperity are not the same things, there is a better way to structure the economy. A steady-state economy is characterized by stable population and consumption. It focuses on true economic ends such as human well-being, opportunities for meaningful employment, and healthy ecosystems.

A steady-state economy is structured to meet needs using the least amount of energy and material necessary to get the job done. …

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