Growth Friendly? – natural v. compulsive growth

James Greyson said:

Phil, Do you think it helps to distinguish between modest returns (which could be part of a flow of money) and big accumulations of wealth (which seem to take money out of circulation and to often redirect flows of money destructively)? I wonder whether a slight tweaking of the language here and there could make the writing more engaging and less bleak.

For example the harvesting of renewable resources such as solar is low only because we don’t bother and it is maybe not limited to being steady if we expand nature? You must be thinking of ways forward, as well as how growth as usual is ending?

Diminishing returns and complexity make an excellent introduction. Have you tried wiserearth as a community for posting and discussing ideas and solutions? I’ve been surprised at how well it functions and the sense of being among supporters. See for example the comments on the Dubai talk (linked below).  Of course if you have criticisms please feel free to add those too!

Hang in there Best wishes, James


The difference is that allowing “modest” returns really needs to mean “responsive” instead, since returns are measured in %’s.

Even a 1% return if reinvested for continual growth is still exponential and will exceed any limit and be “immodest”.

It’s not that 1% is “big”, it’s that the right thing to regulate is not growth rate but the response, to growth accumulation, at whatever rate.   So, the real issue is “when” to say a relative change in scale has become an absolute change in kind.   

Then investors needs to be responsive to the environment’s need for adaptation.   What that means in practice is that everyone needs to be able to trust that everyone else will be subject to fair limits on using their profits to multiply their profits.

Sustainability demands that growth be responsive to approaching conflict, and not go over the line.

The solution I was thinking of recently was that everyone would have a  basic allowance for using money to accumulate money, say equal to their savings from earned income. Then you’d be allowed to accumulate more only for some voter approved or public purpose.

Those societal purposes could be designed as shares of a total level of stimulus, regulated by scientific quality of life and environmental health measures.  That’s kind of “whacky” given our semi-religious culture around ever multiplying money…, but what do you think?

an allowance for using money to accumulate money,
say equal to your real savings from earned income

I’m not sure what you mean by saying our use of solar “is low only because we don’t bother”.   I think that’s incorrect.    We “don’t bother” mainly because solar is both inconvenient and has a lower physical and financial return on investment than cheaper energy sources.

I don’t say that because I wasn’t very motivated to become a solar systems designer and did years of research on it with my motivation to do so as its own reward.  I really say that because I noticed why it’s uneconomical.

Solar energy still demands more time, material and attention and leaves many common needs unfulfilled.   All of that I was happy to suffer, or actually “enjoy” as I did my work on solar system, but almost none of my potential clients were willing to.

Your statement on WiserEarth sounds good, up to your unexplained “growth friendly” comment.   Having been so explicit about the need for radical change, and then not explaining what “growth friendly” would mean seems to raise a red flag.

There are such major misunderstandings about what growth is and how it works.  If you agree that the natural purpose of growth is to create and complete the design of things within their limits, you could change the phrase to “natural growth friendly” as opposed to “compulsive growth necessity” as we presently have.  But you don’t seem to distinguish.

The automatic reinvestment of ever multiplying investment earnings is the societal practice that really makes continual growth compulsory for economic stability.  People are only unaware that there is an available alternative, potentially providing a vitally healthy free market economy that doesn’t push it’s own environment toward collapse.

The real problem is that almost everyone is confused entirely on the subject.   Take the odd contradiction in the design of sustainability plans, the intent to reduce our impacts by reducing our waste.

The contradiction is that reducing waste does not usually reduce impacts over time.  You wouldn’t see something counter intuitive like that unless looking for it, of course.   Generally speaking it makes more resources available for growing the whole economy’s impacts is the fact of the matter.

I think most people have cause and effect completely turned around on that, and it’s tragically THE central plank of the “common plan” for how sustainability needs to be achieved!      What do you think about that?

I think it’s one of the main reasons our solutions have been multiplying our problems, and why we don’t see where our surprises keep coming from.  We don’t look at the *impact of the waste being saved*, and don’t notice it is a major source of growth feedbacks.

Whether you call it “using less to do more” or “doing more with less” it’s all still going to be just technology innovation to do more with more, as that’s what the usual rule for growing investments does.   Calling it ‘green design’ and attaching a lot of very high moral values to it, still just renames and provides an opening for the basic ‘business as usual’ model of endless development and multiplying impacts.

We think if anything is “good” then “more good” is better, just never looking at the sharply diminishing returns of using things too much. With that confusion we keep wearing out our welcome on the planet.

…growing competition within a heavily constrained system, throwing everyone into conflict.  Ouch!!

I agree entirely with your sense that the usual proposal to use heavy constraints to end growth would be a waste in itself, though.  My reason is different, as you’d still have compulsively growing competition within a heavily constrained system, throwing everyone into conflict.  That would not be fun!!   ;-o

What we actually need is a sufficiently effective means of relieving the compulsion from growth, now that nature is providing prohibitive constraints naturally.  Not respecting those constraints is making our lives complicated and threatening collapse for things we cherish.

That growth compulsion comes most from the automatic feedback of investment earnings.   Once you study it you find it’s that practice that fosters the social values of greed and authoritarian rule, and would do so *by itself* even against everyone’s sincere wishes, as the sole cause.

Relieving the growth compulsion would mean finding and using investment returns for some better purpose, than pushing our economic ecology to collapse.  We’d need to divert them from their usual role in multiplying the stimulus of competition.   If can’t find some better way to divest them, is the only time we’d be compelled to tax them.

That would relieve the growth compulsion as those resources are redirected to better purpose, as well as save the waste of resources consumed for all the internal duplication and conflict.  That’s the main “product” that compulsively growing stimulus of competition as an economy hits natural limits otherwise.

Then the kind of growth the system would still be friendly to
is natural growth, as the economy matures.

We’d naturally turn to building and completing systems to provide good service, responsive to the earth’s means to provide resources.

Does that fit your picture of what “growth friendly” should really mean?

Best, Phil Henshaw      ¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸

ed 2/13/12

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.