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The End of ‘Bigger is Better’

Lets talk about growth and improvement. As I outlined in this post, sooner or later (and most likely sooner) the world economy is going to have to stop growing. At the moment our progress is pretty much entirely measured by economic growth… But as they say, you can’t stop progress! And I’m not suggesting for a second that we should or will give up on advancement. Things will always change, and preferably, for the better. We will continue to invent new technologies and make existing ones better… We will continue to improve medicine, refine scientific understanding and create new art, literature and music. Hopefully quality of life will steadily improve as times roll on. But we must do all this without economic growth. You see, we don’t have indefinite resources. We need a rethink.

In The Great Disruption the author talks about us graduating to what he calls a ‘steady-state’ economy. This basically means an economy that doesn’t grow, but stays at a steady state. He didn’t go into much detail about how this could be achieved or what it would look like. He did however stress that it would mean things would still advance and develop, but there would be a focus on quality and improvement rather than quantity and growth. Well, that makes sense. He also writes at some length about a more equal distribution of wealth, which would apparently increase the well-being of the whole population, not just the section that benefited directly. He says he thinks people should be paid different salaries depending on the job they do, and that exceptional effort and achievement should be rewarded financially – but suggests the filthy rich and the struggling poor should just be kind of squashed in a bit towards the middle. I must say I agree but that’s possibly going off at a bit of a tangent. Let’s get back to this steady-state economy.

I’m thinking about what it would be like and I want to share some speculation. I think a steady-state economy would have these features or aspects:

  • Powered by renewable energy –  free, clean, always there and won’t send shocks around the market as they dwindle.
  • Huge focus on recycling – everything will be recycled to reuse the materials and avoid the need for virgin ones that may not even be available. Things will be designed to be taken apart and recycled at the end of their use.
  • Cradle to cradle design – items designed with their whole life cycle catered for, reincarnation included!
  • A shift from goods to services – to encourage efficiency from the service provider and make designed obsolescence obsolete. e.g. you don’t buy carpets but pay for a carpeting service.
  • Quality is better than quantity –
  • Experiences are better than things –
  • It will be much much cheaper to have things repaired than replaced.
  • People spend more money on services and experiences rather than physical stuff. e.g. a massage, a concert ticket, or a subscription to a gaming website rather than a back scratcher, a new DVD player or an Xbox.
  • A fashion for ‘less is more’ and simplicity –
  • People socialising more and shopping (at least for new stuff) less.
  • People sharing large items – e.g. one lawnmower for several households on a street.

Those are just some thoughts. What do you think it would be like? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section!

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3 thoughts on “The End of ‘Bigger is Better’

  1. I’ve been reading Ecomind, by Frances Moore Lappe, and while she agrees that the current growth economy is unsustainable, she considers the framing of a solution as “no-growth” or “steady state” to not be the best approach. No-growth is a hard sell because growth inherently sounds good; its opposites are recession, stagnation, inelasticity, rigidness, decline. The concept of no-growth is downright unappealing for people who are struggling already with layoffs and associate their misfortunes with not enough growth.

    Instead, Lappe wants to drop the whole growth vs. no growth framing and call the current economy as one of waste and destruction. We need to take a new path and embrace notions of where we want to grow, towards elements that enhance health, happiness, ecological and social vitality, resiliency, and the dispersion of power – the stuff that is essentially on your list.

    • Hm interesting, thanks Isaac. I agree ‘no growth’ may sound unappealing to those who associate it with goodness and progress. I’m really interested as to where all this might be going and especially to other’s views on it so I’m keen to give this ‘Ecomind’ a read. Cheers (:

  2. Pingback: Look, David Cameron Thinks So Too! « Earth Baby

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