Economic Growth as a Social Value. (from Readers)
Lebensold, Ken, World Watch
Robert Ayres's critique of the economic argument underlying the Bush Administration's policy on global warming (September/October 2001) is sound, but it places too strong a reliance on growth as a legitimate economic objective.
As long as growth is responsive to human demand for goods and services, it is a reasonable goal. When it becomes an end in itself, however, the priorities are largely reversed: economic demand becomes shaped by the need for growth, and the link between growth and human well-being is broken.
The practical consequences are alarming. Ayres mentions, for example, that standard market models have no place for pollutants and thus tend to discount them. What he does not mention is that such pollutants actually drive economic growth, since the need to repair or ameliorate the harm done by them represents a whole new category of demand. In general, products that create new problems, from pollution to addiction to medical "side effects," are economic success stories. The resulting proliferation of physical, psychological, and social waste is highly detrimental to human well-being and the environment.
The economy, designed to alleviate scarcity, increasingly becomes a mechanism for generating it, since growth requires demand and demand requires scarcity. Naturally abundant and valuable resources such as human knowledge and insight, access to elected representatives, social structures which encourage sharing, and clean air, water, and other environmental gifts, become degraded or commodified, increasing scarcity and therefore demand at the expense of the common good. …