The Downside of Economic Growth

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Every few years news reporters will warn everyone that the economy is in a recession, which means a lot of things, but to the average person on the street, it means there will be less jobs, and wages will go down (or at least not go up). This means poor people will struggle to pay their bills, much less upgrade their lives.

But then, every once and a while a reporter will inform everyone that the economy is growing again, and at least for a while the economy will prosper and people will have a better chance at a better life. While it may be true that economic growth will increase some people’s chances of getting a job or a raise, that doesn’t mean everything is getting better. Quite the opposite, economic growth isn’t bringing the world closer to Utopia. It’s making life unbearable for the poorest of the poor and bringing the entire human race closer to extinction, and on a long enough time scale, extinction will be the end result of economic growth.

In order to understand why economic growth is so perilous you have to understand what makes the economy rise and fall. Thousands of mind bending books have been written on that subject, and it has gotten extremely complicated with the invention of things like the stock market, futures, short sales, trade sanctions, treaties and taxes. But in the end, economic growth mainly boils down to how much money people spend.

This concept is easy enough to see with your own eyes. The more customers buy goods and services, the more money businesses have to pay employees, hire new employees, expand/improve their business and ultimately sell more goods and services. The less money people spend, the less money businesses have to spend. If they make too little money they’ll eventually have to fire some or all of their employees. When all the businesses go bankrupt then the workforce is left fighting and scrounging to survive.

That’s basically common sense, and on the surface it doesn’t sound sinister. The problems begin with how businesses increase profits and what they do with those profits. Business is war, and war is hell. Only the most ruthless companies rise to the top. They underpay employees, gouge customers, lower health standards for workers and customers, eliminate employee benefits, create meaningless and often hidden fees, manipulate stock prices, outsource jobs to countries where slavery is less ambiguous, manipulate customer’s minds through disingenuous marketing and exploit tax loop holes and tax havens. Every blue chip company does this. This is the standard business model for the entire economy. Blue chip companies just do it better than anyone else.

The “health” of blue chip stocks is one of the ways we measure the “health” of the American economy. But when these companies (and any other company using the same slash-and-burn business model) grow, that doesn’t mean people’s lives are getting better. That means those companies are overtaking less cruel companies and creating more jobs in a financially crippling, bureaucratic hell. That’s not taking us closer to a better world. That’s taking us closer to Brazil.

Also, bear in mind that when these companies are making record breaking profits, that means they’re selling a record breaking number of goods and services at record breaking prices. This means our factories and highways are working at record breaking speed to convert all of the world’s natural resources into toxic landfills.

Look at what kinds of products all the biggest companies are selling. They’re selling products that facilitate suburban life. These companies build soulless cubicle office buildings and sweatshop factories that produce products to sell to workers who live in gridlocked urban sprawl, prisons with open doors where there’s nothing to do but shop, get inebriated, have sex, go out to eat, attend church, and go on vacation to places that are nothing like the place they live. Suburbanites are slowly dying of boredom, burnout and diabetes; and the only joy in their daily lives are the cheaply made, expensively priced toys they’re forced to build from 9-5 every day.

If you want to know what the future of the world looks like, go to the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Modern builders took the quintessential example of paradise and paved it over with urban sprawl until there wasn’t any room left to build. Now half the beaches are too toxic to swim in or are “home” to scores of homeless people. The cost of rent is astronomical even in the slums, and it takes an hour to drive fifteen miles in any direction. After September 11th, 2001, airplanes and ships stopped coming to the island, and it took 3 days for the stores to run out of toilet paper. Despite the Aloha Spirit of the natives, meth use is epidemic among the discontent, poor. Brown-skinned workers toil in the tropical heat and humidity harvesting pineapples for barely enough money to survive, while across the street a Wall Street multimillionaire gets a blowjob from a high price call girl in his pent house. This is not the world you want to live in, but everyday we’re laying more concrete in every direction, solidifying our future in that world.

If that happens, hope you bought stock in blue chip companies early, because they’ll have guaranteed customers for life. In Suburbia your only access to food, water, clothing, shelter, education and amusement come from salesmen working out of big, grey boxy buildings. When every place finally looks exactly the same, you can run as far as you want, you’ll still end up somewhere identical to where you started, where you still work for the same companies and buy the same cheap, toxic products.

Even if you like eating at McDonalds and working for Max Lumburg at Initech, the rest of the world is still left with the problem that everybody’s employers’ are converting the world’s natural resources into toxic landfills as quickly as possible. I doubt we’ll reach the point where every square inch of usable land in the world is covered in grimy suburban sprawl, because we’ll have burned through our resources before the system has a chance to reach its inevitable end. If we can manage to get that far though, we won’t be able to sustain that kind of world for very long, which is a good thing, because it would be a terrible place to live anyway.

If I had to bet money on whether or not suburbia will succeed at consuming the world’s resources to apocalyptic proportions, I would bet that it will. Because the more economic growth there is, the more money predatory business owners are able to horde and spend influencing public opinion and government policies.  The bigger the marketing industry grows, the more Orwellian our world will become. The more influence companies have over politicians, the more they can design the laws to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else. Frankly though, the richest men in the world already have practically unlimited access to political power. So at this point, it’s not about the rich gaining power; they’ve already got it. Now  they’re just tightening their grip, and the greater economic inequality grows, and the more time they have to mold the law, the more guaranteed their financial security and growth will be. The more guaranteed “economic growth” is, the more guaranteed the suburbanization of the entire world is. In short, the horsemen of the apocalypse are coming, and they’re riding bulls.

How do you fight the most powerful men in the world when your livelihood depends on them and they own the electoral process as well as the most powerful military in history? You find a way to build a new, sustainable system from the ground up somewhere that hasn’t already been assimilated by suburban sprawl. Or, with enough investors and desperation you could move out to sea. Just build the kind of world you want to live in after your oppressors fall, and skip the step of overthrowing them altogether. In the process you’ll cause their downfall nonviolently, because in order for the rich to maintain and increase their power they need more money, which means they need more customers, more desperate workers and more unsustainable infrastructure. Building sustainable cities dries up the well that the rich get their power from. The more sustainable cities we build, the more teeth we pull from the ruling class. The more of a chance we have of not consuming this planet to death through economic growth.

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