Unfettered consumerism & blind pursuit of economic growth...a threat to our One Planet & God's Creation?
Right Rev'd Dean of St Edmundsbury, Dr Frances Ward & Dr Rupert Read (lead Green MEP-candidate in the East of England)Chair: Councillor Mark Ereira-GuyerThis is an open meeting – all those with an interest in debating our planet having a future are very welcomeThursday 8th May 18.00, for 18.30 startCAFE DEL MAR7 St John' StreetBury St EdmundsEntry by Donation (£10 suggested: Tapas style food & Refreshment from this independent restaurant in heart of town, served from 6pm onwards)Below is a summary of Clive Hamilton's 'Growth Fetish' proposition:
Every newspaper, every day, quotes a political leader or a commentator arguing that we need more economic growth to improve the level of national well-being and build a better society.
In the thrall of growth fetishism, all of the major political parties in the West have made themselves the captives of the national accounts. While they may differ on social policy, there is an unchallengeable consensus that the over-riding objective of government must be growth of the economy.
The answer to almost every problem is 'more economic growth'.
-The problem is unemployment; only growth can create the jobs.
-Schools and hospitals are underfunded; faster growth will improve the budget.
-We can't afford to protect the environment; the solution is more growth.
-Poverty is entrenched; growth will rescue the poor.
-Income distribution is unequal; more growth will make everyone better off.
But despite high and sustained levels of economic growth in the West over a period of fifty years - growth that has seen average real incomes increase several times over - the mass of people are no more satisfied with their lives now than they were then.
If the purpose of growth has been to give us better lives - and there can be no other purpose - then it has manifestly failed. The reader can simply ask this question: Do I believe that on the whole people are happier now than they were forty or fifty years ago? When asked this question, almost everyone says 'no'.
The more we examine the role of growth in modern society, the more our preoccupation with it appears to be a fetish, that is, the worship of an inanimate object for its apparent magical powers.
The product of growth, money income, represents of course much more than a greater ability to consume. increasing income has become pivotal to the creation and reproduction of self in modern society. Thus growth takes on significance because of the excitation it produces in people, the promise it holds to attain bliss.
There can be little doubt that in recent decades the most evangelical promoters of growth fetishism have been the economists. One particular school of economists has achieved uncontested control, the neoclassical, neo-liberal or free market school.
Open any university text and the subject is immediately defined as the study of how to use scarce resources to best satisfy unlimited wants. These 'wants' are assumed to be those that consumption satisfies.
By subtle fusion, human beings have become 'consumers' and human desire has been defined in terms of goods; it follows that the only way to make people happier is to provide more goods. In other words, the objective is growth.
Governments of all persuasions are now mesmerised by economic growth and find it awkward to think about national progress more broadly.
In the last twenty-five years politics in the West have been marked by the ideological convergence of the main parties. Social democratic parties abandoned their traditional commitments and converged on the free market policies of the conservatives.
The more the parties converge in substance, the more they must attempt to differentiate themselves through spin. The politics of spin are the politics of falsity, and there is a popular belief that the democratic process has become an elaborate charade. The major parties, now dominated by careerists who stand for nothing, whip themselves into frenzies over matters that are trivial, while tacitly agreeing not to break the neo-liberal consensus on the things that really matter. No wonder people are alienated, and political space is created for the emergence of parties of the far right.
Growth fetishism and its neo-liberal handmaiden therefore assail democracy itself. Social democracy is being superceded by a sort of market totalitarianism. When older people speak bitterly of the corruption of modern politics, they nevertheless feel that it is a historical aberration on the constancy of democratic rights, and that in the end the people can still have their say.
Disturbingly, younger people hear only the accusation that the system is incurably corrupt, and they believe it.