Economic growth no longer possible?


According to a new report from the hair-shirt brigade at the New Economics Foundation, it just isn't possible for the economy to grow any more with destroying the planet. The press release contains this partcularly inspired piece of analysis:

We tend to think of growth as natural for economies, forgetting that in nature things grow only until maturity and then develop in other ways. A world in which everything grew indefinitely would be strange indeed. A young hamster, for example, doubles its weight each week between birth and puberty. But if it grew at the same rate until its first birthday, we’d be looking at a nine billion tonne hamster, which ate more than a year’s worth of world maize production every day. There are good reasons why things don’t grow indefinitely. As things are in nature, so sooner or later, they must be in the economy.

My response is quoted on the BBC website, but here it is in full:

The nef’s latest report exhibits a complete lack of understanding of economics and, indeed, human development. To compare to the growth of an economy to the growth of a hamster, as the report’s authors do, is juvenile and misleading. Growth is emphatically not a zero-sum game. Trade brings mutual gains, and drives a process of innovation and technological advance that no-one can predict in advance.

It is because of this endless human ingenuity that we can and will continue to create wealth and raise living standards, so long as we are not prevented from doing so by foolish government policies. And it is precisely this economic growth which will lift the poor out of poverty and improve the environmental standards that really matter to people - like clean air and water – in the process, as it has done throughout human history.

There’s only one good thing I can say for the nef’s report, and that’s that it is honest. Its authors admit that they want us to be poorer and to lead more restricted lives for the sake of their faddish beliefs. I suppose they deserve some credit for making that admission.