Why continuous growth?
The idea of quantitative growth appears to be a human invention, where we calculate how much the GDP has increased every year, company profits raise every quarter and shop sales go up every month. Within a few hundred years after the industrial revolution and a few decades following globalisation, growth has become the core of everything, the way it was never perceived by nature for millions of years.
Let us look at this simple example. The barber in any small village will get nearly the same number of customers every month, say about 200 villagers in a month. He may occasionally increase his charges to match the inflation, but in no way his income is going to raise every quarter or year. Yet, with diligent planning, he manages his family needs and lives happily. A dentist may become famous getting increased number of patients every month, but as an individual, the doctor has a limit to how many can be treated every day. A sweet shop in a small town may produce the same quantity of sweets every day to sell them by night, where the owner may stay content about a settled life, apparently without growth the way we are talking today.
We are talking about a system which does not aspire to grow large but maintains the output in service, production or marketing at a stable pace. If this output balances the income with expenses and savings, life can be smooth without any tensions. The problem starts when we aspire to earn more, which demands that we produce more goods or expand our service network, hence directly or indirectly consume more of Earth’s resources. Of course, we justify the need for increased income against the costs of buying a site, going on a holiday, family wedding, medical treatment or buying a new car.
Lack of concern
However we also know that expenditure meets the income, hence no income appears to be adequate as our consumption also increases. The difference between need, greed and comforts fade into a hazy background. Today, we have thousands of individuals with such surplus income they do not even know what to do with. As such, the market comes with ideas to help them spend, without any concern for depleting resources.
Can there be an approach that resists the idea of continuous growth? Steady state economy is one such idea, which suggests a stable source of income, adequate for basic living as per the needs of every family. It does not advocate that a poor person should continue so, instead get an equitable opportunity to earn the basics. What the steady state may hope for is minimising the chances of surplus income in the hands of a few.
This theory of steady state economy gains importance today, as we are consuming earth’s resources exponentially. If we are judicious in our needs, services and productions, the available resources can be stretched for ever, lest the generations ahead of us be counted in numbers.