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Byron Shire
March 6, 2021

Growth at the core

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With the upcoming federal election, it’s worth noting that every political party, so far as I’m aware, including the Greens, has growth as a core part of their macroeconomic policy. This shouldn’t be surprising since standard economics treats economic growth as producing only goods, rather than bads, and as something independent of physical resources.

Growth means physically accreting matter and using more energy, which is precisely what happens as economies grow, even while they are measured in abstract units of dollars, euros, yen etc.

On a finite planet, clearly that can’t go on forever. Development means to reorganise a given amount of matter and energy while growth is held at zero. The Rails pig cartoon (20/2), to choose just one random example, continues to use the word development in place of growth. Byron Shire has in fact not seen much development in recent years, but it has seen lots of growth. ‘To speak new words in new ways is not a cosmetic activity, it is to become a new person,’ stated Neil Postman many years ago.

Let’s choose our words carefully.

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  1. Jason

    I can understand your concerns but it is by no means clear that growth does imply the accretion of physical goods. As personal and national incomes rise an increasing proportion is spent on high level services, particularly educational and health services, all of which cost real dollars. Some of that requires physical goods but it is a the smaller part compared with expensive human services.

    The growth in physical goods is happening but much of that is among the large part of humanity who are only now beginning to enjoy the basic needs envisaged for Australian households by Justice Higgins in the Harvester Award in 1907. Are you and I to deny others what has been the birthright of Australians for 110 years? Our challenge is to ensure the physical growth is done in a way that is sustainable, and to extend it to the remaining 10% or less of humanity who still live in physical poverty.


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