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Why the Economy Should Stop Growing -- and Just Grow Up

Sunday, May 15, 2016 By David Korten, YES! Magazine | Op-Ed
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Listen to the political candidates as they put forward their economic solutions. You will hear a well-established and rarely challenged narrative. "We must grow the economy to produce jobs so people will have the money to grow their consumption, which will grow more jobs…" Grow. Grow. Grow.

But children and adolescents grow. Adults mature. It is time to reframe the debate to recognize that we have pushed growth in material consumption beyond Earth's environmental limits. We must now shift our economic priority from growth to maturity -- meeting the needs of all within the limits of what Earth can provide.

Global GDP is currently growing 3 to 4 percent annually. Contrary to the promises of politicians and economists, this growth is not eliminating poverty and creating a better life for all. It is instead creating increasingly grotesque and unsustainable imbalances in our relationship to Earth and to each other.

Specifics differ by country, but the US experience characterizes the broader trend. Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at a record high. The US middle class is shrinking as most people work longer hours and struggle harder to put food on the table and maintain a roof over their heads. Families are collapsing, and suicide rates are increasing.

The assets of the world's 62 richest individuals equal those of the poorest half of humanity -- 3.6 billion people. In the United States, the 2015 bonus pool for 172,400 Wall Street employees was $25 billion -- just short of the $28 billion required to give 4.2 million minimum wage restaurant and health care workers a raise to $15 an hour.

Humans now consume at a rate 1.6 times what Earth can provide. Weather becomes more severe and erratic, and critical environmental systems are in decline.

These distortions are a predictable consequence of an economic system designed to extract Earth's natural wealth for the purpose of maximizing financial returns to those who already have more than they need.

On the plus side, as this system has created the imperative for deep change, it has also positioned us to take the step toward a life-centered planetary civilization. It has:

  • Globalized awareness of humans' interdependence with one another and Earth,
  • Produced a system of global communications that allows us to think and act as a global species,
  • Highlighted racism, sexism, and other forms of xenophobia as threats to the well-being of all, and
  • Turned millennials into a revolutionary political force by denying them the economic opportunities their parents took for granted.

We cannot, however, look to the economic institutions that created the imbalances to now create an economy that meets the essential needs of all in balanced relationship to a living Earth. Global financial markets value life only for its market price. And the legal structures of global corporations centralize power and delink it from the realities of people's daily lives.

Restoring balance is necessarily the work of living communities, of people who care about one another, the health of their environment, and the future of their children.

The step to maturity depends on rebuilding caring, place-based communities and economies and restoring to them the power that global corporations and financial markets have usurped. Local initiatives toward this end are already underway throughout the world.

"How do we grow the economy?" is an obsolete question. The questions relevant to this moment in history are "How do we navigate the step to a mature economy that meets the needs of all within the limits of a finite living Earth?" How do we rebuild the strength and power of living communities? How do we create a culture of mutual caring and responsibility? How do we assure that the legal rights of people and communities take priority over those of government-created artificial persons called corporations?

Living organisms have learned to self-organize as bioregional communities that create and maintain the conditions essential to a living Earth community. We humans must take the step to maturity as we learn to live as responsible members of that community.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

David Korten

David Korten is cofounder and board chair of YES! Magazine and cochair of the New Economy Working Group. He is the author of Agenda for a New EconomyThe Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is principal author of How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule, which shows how the US can restore economic health and financial integrity by rebuilding a system of accountable local financial services institutions much like the one that financed the achievements that made the US the envy of the world.

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Why the Economy Should Stop Growing -- and Just Grow Up

Sunday, May 15, 2016 By David Korten, YES! Magazine | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Listen to the political candidates as they put forward their economic solutions. You will hear a well-established and rarely challenged narrative. "We must grow the economy to produce jobs so people will have the money to grow their consumption, which will grow more jobs…" Grow. Grow. Grow.

But children and adolescents grow. Adults mature. It is time to reframe the debate to recognize that we have pushed growth in material consumption beyond Earth's environmental limits. We must now shift our economic priority from growth to maturity -- meeting the needs of all within the limits of what Earth can provide.

Global GDP is currently growing 3 to 4 percent annually. Contrary to the promises of politicians and economists, this growth is not eliminating poverty and creating a better life for all. It is instead creating increasingly grotesque and unsustainable imbalances in our relationship to Earth and to each other.

Specifics differ by country, but the US experience characterizes the broader trend. Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at a record high. The US middle class is shrinking as most people work longer hours and struggle harder to put food on the table and maintain a roof over their heads. Families are collapsing, and suicide rates are increasing.

The assets of the world's 62 richest individuals equal those of the poorest half of humanity -- 3.6 billion people. In the United States, the 2015 bonus pool for 172,400 Wall Street employees was $25 billion -- just short of the $28 billion required to give 4.2 million minimum wage restaurant and health care workers a raise to $15 an hour.

Humans now consume at a rate 1.6 times what Earth can provide. Weather becomes more severe and erratic, and critical environmental systems are in decline.

These distortions are a predictable consequence of an economic system designed to extract Earth's natural wealth for the purpose of maximizing financial returns to those who already have more than they need.

On the plus side, as this system has created the imperative for deep change, it has also positioned us to take the step toward a life-centered planetary civilization. It has:

  • Globalized awareness of humans' interdependence with one another and Earth,
  • Produced a system of global communications that allows us to think and act as a global species,
  • Highlighted racism, sexism, and other forms of xenophobia as threats to the well-being of all, and
  • Turned millennials into a revolutionary political force by denying them the economic opportunities their parents took for granted.

We cannot, however, look to the economic institutions that created the imbalances to now create an economy that meets the essential needs of all in balanced relationship to a living Earth. Global financial markets value life only for its market price. And the legal structures of global corporations centralize power and delink it from the realities of people's daily lives.

Restoring balance is necessarily the work of living communities, of people who care about one another, the health of their environment, and the future of their children.

The step to maturity depends on rebuilding caring, place-based communities and economies and restoring to them the power that global corporations and financial markets have usurped. Local initiatives toward this end are already underway throughout the world.

"How do we grow the economy?" is an obsolete question. The questions relevant to this moment in history are "How do we navigate the step to a mature economy that meets the needs of all within the limits of a finite living Earth?" How do we rebuild the strength and power of living communities? How do we create a culture of mutual caring and responsibility? How do we assure that the legal rights of people and communities take priority over those of government-created artificial persons called corporations?

Living organisms have learned to self-organize as bioregional communities that create and maintain the conditions essential to a living Earth community. We humans must take the step to maturity as we learn to live as responsible members of that community.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

David Korten

David Korten is cofounder and board chair of YES! Magazine and cochair of the New Economy Working Group. He is the author of Agenda for a New EconomyThe Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is principal author of How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule, which shows how the US can restore economic health and financial integrity by rebuilding a system of accountable local financial services institutions much like the one that financed the achievements that made the US the envy of the world.

Related Stories

Economic Growth Is Killing Us
By Vijay Kolinjivadi, Truthout | Op-Ed
Poverty Is Killing Us
By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed
Economic Update: Poverty and the US Economy
By Richard D. Wolff, Truthout | Audio Segment

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus