Economy and social affairs

More, more and more, more ...

The wrong approach to our economy

(Published in Grail World Special Issue 3/1999)

The limitless growth of (not only) the economy is seen as inevitable today. The pursuit of "more, more, more" has become an end in itself, and hardly anyone questions the meaning of this idea - which is actually highly questionable in view of the limitations of our ecosystem. We illuminate the background of this momentous utopia of the 20th century.

The growth of the economy, which is now regarded as inevitable, is a relatively recent phenomenon. For many millennia, the population grew slowly and the basis of life remained pretty much the same. The grandfather was able to pass on his experiences to the grandchildren, and their knowledge was just as valuable to their grandchildren as it had previously been to themselves. Handicraft skills or knowledge of geography could be passed on from generation to generation over decades or even centuries with the same benefit as timeless human experiences. In this way, earlier cultures also treated old people with respect; After all, they embodied a wealth of experience that one could fall back on if necessary.

“The growth in the amount of goods produced annually is still the most important criterion for a healthy economy. But there could come a time in the near future when a decrease in this quantity of goods would be more beneficial to the welfare of mankind than an increase, and at which one will have to carefully distinguish between the goods that are absolutely necessary and those that are also good can do without. "                                                  Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)

Why growth?

Quite different in our days, when the old appear to the youth as annoying figures who are deported to homes. Old people can often hardly adapt to road traffic and do not contribute anything to the production process.

The "progressive" development ignores people who have just learned how to use telephones and television, but who shy away from the secrets of computers. We live in a time of accelerating developments. New ideas and new products are constantly appearing on the market, and those who do not want to lag behind and be thrown out of the race have to adapt and keep pace with innovations in their behavior.

Whether people become happier, whether inventions are a blessing for them, this question does not arise in the race of everyone against everyone: it is just as it is, and progress must be ...

Do technical progress and economic growth really have to be? Modern theories of science, entrepreneurs, politicians clearly say yes. The reasons for this yes are complex.

“Economic growth is a means of achieving different goals. A primitive reason for wanting growth is the general standard of living of the population. A country whose output per capita is growing by 3% every year doubles its standard of living every 24 years. "[i].

The necessity of economic growth has become a regular belief, which is advocated with dogmatic uncompromisingness:

"Every measure, every act that disturbs or could disturb the supply of ever more and better and better goods is rejected with the same instinctive disgust with which the believer rejects blasphemy or the belligerent rejects pacifism."[ii].

The question of the meaning and purpose of explosive economic expansion is as good as forbidden; because growth has become an end in itself:

"The 'development' of this economic system was no longer determined by the question: What is good for people? Definitely, but by the question: What is good for the system to grow? An attempt was made to disguise the severity of this conflict with the thesis that everything that serves the growth of the system (or even just a single corporation) also promotes the well-being of the people. This construct was supported by an auxiliary construction, according to which precisely those human qualities that the system needs - egoism, selfishness, greed - are innate in the human being; they are therefore not to be blamed on the system, but on human nature. Societies in which egoism, selfishness and greed do not exist were disqualified as 'primitive' and their members as 'childlike'. They refused to admit that these characteristics were not natural urges that are needed by industrial society, but that product social conditions.

Last but not least, another factor is important: the relationship between humans and nature has become deeply hostile. As a 'freak' of nature - part of nature due to our existential conditions, but transcending it thanks to our reason - we have tried to solve our existential problem by giving up the messianic vision of harmony between humanity and nature and submitting it to us ... remodeled for our own purposes until the subjugation of nature became more and more its destruction. Our urge to conquer and our hostility have made us blind to the fact that natural resources are limited and may one day run out, and that nature defends itself against the overexploitation of humans. "[iii].

If one asks about the causes of the widespread growth ideology, one learns that it is our wishes; we seem to want only consumption and pleasure:

"The primary driving forces of economic growth are to be found on the demand side; it is the constantly effective striving to satisfy more and more needs or refined needs. In part, it is a matter of providing for the needs of the increase in population. But apart from that, demand shows very strong tendencies to expand, because needs are practically boundless in most people."[iv].

So growing population and increasing consumer demands would be the main drivers. But that is not all. Economic expansion is also very pleasant. Thus, even against their better judgment, those in charge are tempted to push ahead with unlimited production. This is the opinion of John Kenneth Galbraith, for example:

“As the economic system as a whole grows, firms in general will expand too. In addition to the opportunities for advancement within the company, there are additional opportunities in other companies. Since so many influential people see their advantage in the growth of firms and the growth in the economy that goes with it, it would be surprising if they did not have a positive attitude towards economic growth. The consequence of this is that economic growth has become a social goal of such high importance. What contributes to the growth of the economy and thus to the financial prosperity of the technostructure is thus repeatedly praised as a community-related virtue on all public occasions. "[v].

No wonder politicians adopted this view and felt they should translate it into practical politics; They correspond to the will of the electorate as well as to the doctrine represented by experts. So has z. B. the government of the Federal Republic of Germany managed to commit itself to an impossibility based on natural law:

“In their economic and financial policy measures, the federal government and the federal states must observe the requirements of macroeconomic equilibrium. The measures are to be taken in such a way that, within the framework of the market economy, they simultaneously contribute to the stability of the price level, a high level of employment and an external balance with steady and appropriate economic growth. " (Section 1 of the “Law for the Promotion of Stability and Growth of the Economy” of May 1967).

"Steady" (?) and "appropriate" (?) economic growth is indispensable in the eyes of politicians and entrepreneurs if the economy and politics - which are often confused with life itself - are not to come apart at the seams. Last but not least, the debt of many countries can hardly be reduced without growth (and inflation?).

The voices of warning are drowned in this general conviction of the necessity of growth, and attempts to replace the growth economy with an environmental economy remain, at best, sandpit games for progressive universities.

You can even hear that someone who speaks out against growth at all costs is not a democrat. This is justified by the fact that democracies would have to collapse if the usual economic growth could no longer be sustained. Whether the preachers are aware of such thoughts that they are showing democracy as a violation of natural laws?

Because inescapable circumstances allow economic expansion - like any expansion - only for limited periods of time, and those who link democracy to economic growth stamp democratic forms of government as one-offs for good weather periods.

In contrast to this widespread opinion, it has not yet been proven in my view that the majority must remain so unreasonable as to demand the impossible. It is time, however, to tell the public from a responsible side that it is Limits to Growth there and that we are one Equilibrium economy must strive, which takes into account the natural cycles of a limited earth and its not infinitely great regenerative capacity.

Does a law of nature stop us?

Numerous publications have tried for decades to draw attention to the fact that the expectation of limitless growth is unrealistic. In most cases it is rightly pointed out that our world, the “spaceship earth”, is limited, that it does not have infinite resources (= raw material sources), and that we have to budget accordingly.

The non-renewable Mineral resources must even be sufficient for all people and all imaginable time. They form - if at all - only in geological time periods.

Even the renewable energy and raw material sources of nature, such as plant growth, are only available to us as long as we do not damage the regenerative capacity of their cycles in the long term.

So it's not difficult to prove that exponential growth[vi] - which is the basis of our prosperity - is only possible temporarily. Because continuous growth tends to overshoot all limits and ultimately lead to chaos. That already illustrates the old one Water lily parable:

A water lily grows in a garden pond and doubles in size every day. It only covers half of the pond for 29 days. How long does it take until it has overgrown the whole pond? "

With this catch question one tries to mislead children into the wrong answer that it will take another 29 days before the whole pond is covered. And that's how we think often enough. Emotionally we only know linear growth, and it takes some practice to bring the properties of the exponential function to life in our imagination; z. B. that the water lily needs 29 days to cover only half of the pond, but after one another day will have conquered the whole body of water!

In this little story lies the knowledge of the limits of growth: Once the whole pond is overgrown, the further increase inevitably has to stop; but everyone knows that the overgrowth also distorts the balance of the pond as a habitat. There must be drastic changes that affect every living being in this ecosystem (= community). It is not much different at the moment on our earth, which is inundated by an avalanche of people.

The untenability of the utopia of limitless growth

As obvious as these facts are, as often as they have been pointed out from different quarters, and as inexorable as the facts of mathematics may be, to this day it has not been possible to win over the vast majority of the population, but above all those responsible, from the The untenability of the utopia of limitless growth to convince.

This growth fiction has had a major impact on the 20th century, and everything speaks for the fact that we will carry this utopia over into the 21st century in the form of a false belief.

You can also read "How much we overload our earth"Under" Ecology ".

[i] Richard G. Lipsey: "Introduction to the positive economy", Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne, 1971, page 794.
[ii] Geoffrey Gorer: "The Americans", London 1968, quoted from (5) page 137.
[iii] Erich Fromm: “To have or to be”, DVA, Stuttgart, 1976, page 17/18.
[iv] Alexander Mahr: "Economics", Springer, Vienna, 1959, page 322.
[v] John Kenneth Galbraith: “Society in Abundance”, Droemer, Munich, 1959, page 124 f.
[vi] With exponential growth, the increase, corresponding to the amount already accumulated, increases continuously, so that the "exponential curve" sooner or later exceeds all limits. Our economy strives for such continuous growth - as illustrated in the water lily example.

Addendum 2023: 

In addition to material growth, the purely earthly (unfortunately not also the spiritual) Knowledge humanity at a pace that no one can keep up with:
"This can be illustrated by the growth in human knowledge: While it took 50 years to double knowledge in 1950, 30 years later, in 1980, it took only seven years and in 2010 only four years. In the current decade, human knowledge has doubled in just 73 days."
(From "The Pioneer Expert from 12. 12. 2023).