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 Two thousand years of growth

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Heretic

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PostSubject: Two thousand years of growth   7/7/2011, 8:55 am

Since conservatives only seem to understand the concept of sustainability when it applies to deficits and economics, here's growth in a nutshell, explained hopefully in terms that they will understand.



This ran in the economist recently, and was met with the usual "Squee!! Loogit us! We so cool!" fanfare. Michael Tobis had the appropriate response:

Quote :
[T]he reactions to this graph show that people are struck by different things. Others are struck by the triumphant march of civilization. I am struck by how little all this growth nets us.

I am struck that here we are, in the Great Recession or the Lesser Depression or whatever the hell it is. Yet the size of our economic activity exceeds that of any year in history prior to 2008. It substantially exceeds that of the rip-roaring 1990s and the Morning-In-America 1980s and utterly dwarfs the productivity of the postwar boom of the 1950s.

If production is wealth, we are in the richest period ever. We could afford to go to the moon in the 1960s. But now we are in "austerity" measures. We are forcing Greece to sell itself off to bankers. We are firing all our schoolteachers.

What exactly is this thing that has grown, then? And why should we be so happy about it?

Clearly, the thing that has grown is worse than worthless unless it keeps growing, since when it stops growing, we can't afford to educate our children. And of course, as it gets bigger and bigger, it gets harder and harder to sustain the growth. So that being the case, what glorious achievement does the graph really show? It's not only clear to me what is ominous about this graph. It's actually unclear to me what is so inspiring about it.

It's terrifying that this is a thing that has to grow exponentially all the time or else we have to immediately act on an emergency basis to shut down our civilization, cutting back on parks and cultural events, removing medical coverage from great swaths of the public, firing our schoolteachers. I don't find a thing like that something to celebrate.

Yes, civilization's great. But if we want it to be great for our children and grandchildren, we seriously have to talk about how that's gonna be possible years from now when we're even further strained by wars, the energy crisis, and climate change.
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