Growth and Money: Means, not Ends

Written By: - Date published: 11:40 pm, October 8th, 2010 - 17 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, Economy, equality - Tags:

This government seems to have confused the means and the ends.  Growth and money have become the ends, when they only ever should have been the means.  It is a legitimate question: what do growth and money give us?  Obviously we need some level of wealth (to eat, have shelter etc at a bare minimum), and until we have that level we need to grow to it.  But what does more growth give us now?  We have plenty of wealth as a society, what do additional toys gain us?  He who dies with the most toys is still dead.

Surely what should matter now is that we have a happy, fulfilled society, where people have the opportunity to do what they want.  And call me utilitarian, I mean all people, not the wealthy elite.

The political right often confuse “opportunity” with choice.  We’ll improve things by letting you choose, they say.  Choose which hospital, which school you go to, and you can get the best.  Except when some choose the best schools and hospitals, others are left with the not-so-good schools and hospitals.  That will be the poorer in society; who aren’t able to move about as easily, who aren’t as well educated as to how to choose, who are too busy working for a crust to have time to choose.

Opportunity arises by making the not-so-good schools and hospitals great as well.  Then all have the opportunities of education and good health.

Fulfilment tends to arise from the ability to take the opportunities one is given.

Happiness is much more tricky.  Watching TV lowers happiness significantly, so bland entertainment doesn’t fix things.  Having people richer than you decreases happiness – more equal societies tend to be happier.  Better work-life balance, and spending much more time with family and friends rather than being all about money and growth definitely increases happiness.

So I think this government – and possibly society – has it wrong with the relentless focus on growth and prosperity.  Prosperity (as a society) is here, and the environment can’t sustain growth forever (or even current levels of consumption).  So we should be focussed on people, their fulfilment and happiness – not on just getting more of the benjamins.

17 comments on “Growth and Money: Means, not Ends”

  1. Vicky32 1

    Work-life balance – yeah, I have too much life and not enough work! 🙁

  2. Working man 2

    I think perhaps a year 8 student could make a better argument than you.

    Ever considered that running my company makes me happy? Should i concede my happiness, so that another, by which i mean you, can feel better about this supposed equality?

    My prosperity is a by-product of what makes me happy and you if you take away my growth, you take away my happiness.

    No matter, your argument is so one dimensional it almost makes my comment too good for this website, but alas, i was caught in your sneer.

    Please dont run for any public office.

    • ak 2.1

      My prosperity is a by-product of what makes me happy and you if you take away my growth, you take away my happiness.

      Read this again carefully, and think whether your comment is really “too good for this website”. Nice name, you sound like a reasonable bloke, be a pity to lose you just due to a glaring internal contradiction.

    • bbfloyd 2.2

      W.M. your line about the year 8 student was a dead givaway. can’t remember how many apologists for reactionary conservative political parties have used that line. although it’s usually “5th form students”.

      that’s a 3 out of 10 for trying to sound rational, and a 2/10 for confusing selfishness and greed for a genuine social philosophy..

      extremist arguments are simply avoiding reality. no one in their right mind would suggest you give up your company in order to appease other peoples idea of equality. that would be ridiculous. which, of course wasn’t what was mooted in the post.

      so we are left with the reality that you bring this aspect into the debate simply to attempt a rather shallow misdirection, as you have to know that you premise is absurd.

      it would be a good idea to read something other than the national party manifesto(for what it’s worth) occasionally. there really is a whole world out there that doesn’t revolve around the acquisition of money.

  3. No-one’s saying that people don’t want to create and achieve. The question is whether a relentless societal focus on one type of achievement – economic growth – as measured by one flawed stat – GDP – at any cost is what we should be all about.

    If you like working to build your company that’s great. We (especially Lynn and the others who have been writing for The Standard since the start) have worked our arses off to build it into what it is. We understand the pleasure of hard-work and achievement.

    But you note that the material reward is a side-effect.Maybe we need more like you and like me and many others, who enjoy creating for its own sake, rather than a focus on economic growth for consumption while ignoring all the social and environmental damage that is caused.

  4. Descendant Of Smith 4

    So if the growth of your company means that you make lots of money but at the same time creates misery and poverty and pollution that shouldn’t matter because growth and money is the end result?

    If your growth is helped along by paying low wages so I have to work two jobs to support my family this is OK?

    If your growth means actually you say fuck off to all your loyal NZ workers, even though your company is making a profit and take your business to India or Asia where wages are lower and you can make even more money and be even happier this is also OK?

    At what point does your happiness interfere with my happiness when I’m not happy that my friends are unemployed, that my neighbourhood has been over run by gangs, that the river I used to fish in no longer can be swum in, that much of our population is being locked up and put in jail.

    When do people like you understand that we are not all driven by running a company or making lots of money – that what makes us happy is a fair and equitable society where the fruits of our collective labours is shared on a more communal basis, that specialisation benefits the whole not just the specialist, that the least skilled, the less intelligent, the disabled, the addicted, the poor are supported to improve themselves or if they can’t ever get off the ground they at least have a basic standard of living and that we can accept this in an adult manner without castigating them because deep down we know we are always going to have some people who end up this way.

    Unless people like yourselves wish to employ someone who is a drug addict, or a released criminal, or someone in a wheelchair, or someone with downs Syndrome I’m not quite sure what you think should happen to them.

    A place where caring and empathy are valued, that art and literature are valued not for their financial value but on their own merits, education is more than about creating slaves for a workforce. A place where people get time to spend with their families – I’d shut down Sunday trading in an instant to ensure there was at least one day a week where families could be together. I’d ensure people got paid overtime after working 40 hours.

    That’s what makes me happy.

    Now if my happiness means that your business can’t operate what then?

    • PC Brigadier 4.1

      great reply….a Year 8 would understand it too.
      I think this is pretty awesome and is related:

      • Bored 4.1.1

        Nice replies by all above, but to defend Working man perhaps he really does like what he does and it may also make others beside himself happy and prosperous: one can only hope so.

        I think the self awareness on the video might be the best guide to the above, seems it echoes Mahatma Gandhi’s great statement that, “there is enough for everybodies need, but not enough for everybodies greed”. Does Working man pass that test? I wonder.

        • Zeebop

          Working Man is not a business man, a business doesn’t want to put their customers off.
          Companies spend millions a year doing good works, supporting good, fear being outed for not
          having a budget for to help charitable organisations.
          Because the notion of a uncaring society is a propanganda exercise by a few, that feed
          the ‘not so few’ who need to be followers, who have been rewarded in the past for being
          followers even if of contradictions to their own best interest.

    • KJT 4.2

      I agree there are far too many companies like that, but there is the other side of the coin also.

      The companies that build your house, bake your bread, fix your bicycle, fix your appliances. The grower that brings fruit and veges to your local market. They are all businesses. They all put capital, most often mortgaging their house, into starting a useful business.
      The owner is happy with a 40 hour week and wishes his/her competitors were not allowed to cheat with below subsistence wages and ripoff workmanship so he/her and his/her employees can make a decent living.
      Many pay fair wages and look after their employees beyound the level the law requires.
      If they are lucky and do well the employees get to share in it.
      Many have employed people who would not have otherwise got jobs.
      Profits are put back into the business and income is spent locally.
      Are quite happy with a fair return. A comfortable house and the Beamer maybe. Don’t need the helicopter and more houses or cars than they can use.

      Note most businesses like this are local and owner operated.

      Big business operates in a way that in an individual would be considered dangerously Psychotic and Narcissistic..

    • Olwyn 4.3

      Well said descendant of Smith.

    • freedom 4.4

      The thing Capitalism seems to forget can best be explained with a child’s Balloon.

      Blowing air into a confined space only leads to the destruction of the confined space

  5. Craig Glen Eden 5

    Nice reply DOS says it all really, but I am just a little worried, you wouldn’t be one of those dangerous socialists would you?

    • Descendant Of Smith 5.1

      Hmmm probably not.

      If I was to throw some labels at myself it would probably result in a strong egalitarian and humanistic viewpoint that welcomes diversity. A societal balance between individual endeavour and purpose and collective responsibility and support.

      A mixed economy where free enterprise can work alongside a more socialist enterprise like a collective. Where a small business can operate because they produce a good product and provide good service and not go under because they have to compete against large corporates or fly by nighters on a low wage basis.

      It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

      A progressive tax system seems the most sensible way to approach things with those at the bottom paying less and those at the top paying more. A system where benefits are used rather than the whims of benevolent charity to support those who need support.

      A strong supporter of democracy from the principle that the few are elected to govern in the interests of all citizens – not just their voting base. Any democratic society must ensure that in governing minorities are protected. Majority is a method of voting on a particular decision – not a right for the majority to do what they like – not a mandate to rule.

      I don’t know if that helps or hinders.

      Zeebop: If what you say is true about these companies about wanting this open public visibility of good intent why do so many of them hide their donations behind anonymity / trusts / third parties. Why do so many of them seem to give money to purposes that undermine democracy and to influence the public to their – not societies needs? Why do these benevolent large companies not clean up their mistakes e.g. Bhopal when clearly they have the means to do so?

      It seems to me that many of them fear being outed about who they are actually giving money to and what causes they are giving this to rather then fear of being seen to do nothing.

  6. freedom 6

    The thing Capitalism seems to forget can best be explained with a child’s Balloon.

    Blowing air continuously into a confined space only leads to the destruction of the confined space

  7. [Hi Robert. Comments like this (long verbatim reprint of some other document) are not encouraged here. Instead go for a brief note and a link to the original document. Will let this through, good stuff, but please consider for future comments. Thanks. — r0b]

    Information sent to this government several times


    by Derek J Wilson – October 2005

    Read any newspaper or listen to TV and radio and the chances are that one’s attention will be drawn to statements by politicians or economists or business executives — sometimes all three — that our future economic well-being depends on more growth. This traditional view of the ‘growth’ economy, believing that it can continue with impunity to feed on Earth’s natural capital instead of living on the interest, admits no recognition of other views. This economic destitution — responsible mainly for the mass poverty of a fifth of the world’s population leading to malnutrition, disease and death, not least among children — is here briefly examined. “Quite simply,” writes Dr John Peet, “in the long term, economic growth as currently understood is unsustainable.” [1] Technical or economic ‘fixes’ without changing the underlying causes will not solve the basic problem. The road we are travelling can only lead to bankruptcy.

    As Aristotle put it so clearly in the fourth century BC:

    In the art of acquiring riches its end has no limit, for its object is money and possessions; but economy has a boundary, for acquiring riches is not its real end… for the mere getting of money differs from natural wealth and the latter is the true object of economy.

    In 1967, Lynn White, Professor of History at the University of California, suggested what seems to me a rational reason for our increasingly dire situation.

    Christianity in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions, has not only established a dualism of man and nature, but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for its proper ends… Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt for the human attitude that we are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whim… We shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man. [2]

    Politicians, economists of traditional persuasion, and certainly most business executives who, in the main, place growth and profit before people, subscribe to this view.

    The word economy comes from the Greek oikonomia which derives from two words — oikos meaning ‘house’ or ‘household’ and nomos meaning ‘rule’ or ‘law’. Thus when we talk about economy we mean literally the careful and thrifty management of the household assets for the increasing benefit of all its members over the long term. Expand this into the wider world community and we have a sound basis for global economics. However, the original concept of oikonomia has been totally replaced by what is known as chrematistics, from the Greek khrimatistikos, which is that branch of political economy relating to the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximise the short-run monetary exchange value to the owner(s). In oikonomia there is such a thing as enough; in chrematistics more is always better. Most investment in the world today is ‘hot’ — speculative, i.e., of the chrematistic kind — and very short term. In 1970, trade and long-term investment accounted for 90 percent of transactions; in 1995, speculative investment accounted for 95 percent. [3]

    In the worldwide form in which economics has developed — for there are now few national boundaries — this is a new phenomenon peculiar to the 20th century. Nations have lost their sovereignty and governments their control to an exceptionally powerful and covert, self-elected behemoth at the top of which sit the world’s leading banking empires and the transnational corporations (TNCs). These have become the “real power of the Earth; the de-facto governments, operating outside the law… The governments have become merely the chauffeurs for the transnationals” which have created “the new global anarchy of the international marketplace.” [4] In fact, the world is now ruled by a global financial system running dangerously out of control. Every 24 hours in the sole pursuit of the accumulation of financial gain, i.e., unrelated to productive investment or trade in actual goods and services, this octopus electronically moved around the world in 1994-95 in the shape of blips on computer screens $1.3 trillion ($1,300,000,000,000) – $9 trillion a week, $40 trillion a month, $475 trillion a year. [5] The 1980 daily movement was $80 billion; by late 2002 it had ballooned to $6 trillion. This speculation — “this sea of cash sloshing from shore to shore” — can easily cause the downfall of economies and thrust people into poverty. Will economists (or anyone else) tell us exactly what will happen when these enormous, unstable, electronically-controlled plates finally slide, as they surely will?

    We have been seduced by this exceptionally pathological mania, this apparently unassailable mantra of the perpetual growth ethic or creeping death — “the ideology of the cancer cell” [6] and an absolute impossibility on our Earth. In this, the driving force behind today’s economy, money has become the primary source of value and meaning for many humans, a substitute for the morality and spirituality that traditionally was a unifying force. Just as a continuously growing cancer eventually destroys its life-support systems by destroying its host, this continuously expanding global economy is surely and mercilessly destroying its host — Earth’s ecosystems. To take one example from the many surrounding us. Commercial fishing fleets are rapidly causing a maritime ecological disaster with fish stocks facing extinction all around the world.

    This whole ‘growth’ syndrome — the major source of our worsening global problems — urgently demands the closest scrutiny, for as Herman Daly, until recently senior economist with the environmental department of the World Bank in Washington, reports:

    It’s really been only in the last 200 years that growth has been really a part of our lives [since the start of the Industrial Revolution]. Prior to that, on an annual basis, growth was negligible. The idea that we must either grow or die is just not supported by history and I think that the contrary is much more likely: if we continue to grow, then surely we will die. [7]

    Jenny Wright clearly indicates the fallacies of the growth paradigm:

    Conventional economic wisdom, which is predicated on the everlasting growth of materialism at some three percent per year, is having difficulty with the concept of sustainable development. This is partly due to the facts that a large proportion of what passes for development is really ecological destruction and rape of the biosphere, and that much of what currently passes as investment is really consumption. More seriously it is due to a failure of economics to recognise that there is more to life than money, and a lot more to land than rent. The practice of taking from nature can only be continued with impunity if planetary resources are infinite, or if Mother Nature is infinitely capable of repairing the ravages of man. Unfortunately, neither of these conditions is true… Total ecological demand is exceeding total ecological supply and will place an ever increasing load on the biosphere. [8]

    One is forced to agree with the growing body of eminent internationalists that, in the main, politicians, economists and business executives are brain-damaged. Wright mentioned consumption. With economic growth inevitably came increasing consumption. (The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines the word consume as meaning “to take away with or destroy; to waste or squander; to use up”.) The unprecedented expansion of this world consumption expenditure is evinced by these figures:

    * 1900 $1.5 trillion
    * 1950 $4.0 trillion
    * 1975 $12.0 trillion
    * 1998 $24.0 trillion [9]

    Unfortunately and deliberately, inequalities in consumption have become stark. The false market system so rapidly built up and expanded at every opportunity has to sustain repeated upward growth for it to keep going. This demands that the already over-consumption of the Western and westernised world be maintained and spread as rapidly as possible to the rest of the world. Retail analyst Victor Lebow has warned us of the dangers of this so destructive course: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… We needs things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”

    The general director of General Motors’ Research Laboratories, Charles Kettering, gave one succinct answer to how this is be achieved when he said that the mission of business is “the organised creation of dissatisfaction.” [10] People are increasingly persuaded and manipulated into consumerism by a multi-million dollar insidious advertising industry that has the most devastating consequences for the environment and our future. And the chief target of this ceaseless, voracious, merciless industry? Our children — the younger the better.

    While these disparities keep growing: “On average, the additional economic output in each of the last four decades has matched that added from the beginning of civilisation until 1950.” [11] I have italicised this reference to emphasise its significance. While this phenomenal growth has taken place, i.e., between 1950 and 1990 — over a 40-year span:

    * The world’s population has doubled.
    * The number of people living in absolute poverty has doubled.
    * The gap between rich and poor has increased six-fold. [12]

    Vandana Shiva points out that the continuous growth of economic activity guided solely by market economic forces ultimately can only lead to a situation

    where the total withdrawal of natural resources both for basic needs satisfaction and for sectoral growth, becomes more than the renewability of natural resources. At this point, the Gross National Product keeps increasing while the Gross Natural Product starts declining… If the process of decline in the renewability of natural resources is allowed beyond a critical point, the process of degradation becomes irreversible… The history of Roman and Mesopotamian civilisations is an example of total societal collapse due to the erosion of nature’s economy. [13]

    These and other collapses are brilliantly explored by Ronald Wright in his 2004 five Massey Lectures, later published as A Short History of Progress. Another special book which stands together with Wright’s is Jared Diamond’s substantial work Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive.

    George Soros, a most successful capitalist, has seen fit to add his weight to the mounting criticism of the road we are travelling.

    Although I have made a fortune in the financial markets, I now fear that the untrammelled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society. The main enemy of the open society, I believe, is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat. [14]

    It is important that we ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared among us all, but the real world doesn’t work that way. The upward movement/concentration of wealth, which has become obscene, ensures that under the present destitute economic system there will never be enough for everyone, especially with a still increasing population. As it is, one in five of the world’s peoples lives on less than one dollar a day while the five percent at the top of the pile enjoys some 85 percent of all the material good things. Bear in mind that in 1900 the Earth’s human population was 1,600,000; today it is 6,500,000 — the greatest population explosion of all time. Yet it’s the same finite Earth with the same finite resources. The environmental effects of this enormous explosion still seem to elude us. It’s essential to understand that it’s not entirely population expansion which is depleting resources and intensifying environmental pollution, but the very nature of the growth- and profit-orientated system itself. Thus “a baby born in the United States represents twice the disaster for Earth as one born in Sweden or the USSR, three times one born in Italy, 13 times one born in Brazil, 35 times one born in India, 140 times one born in Bangladesh or Kenya, and 200 times one in Chad, Rwanda, Haiti, or Nepal.” [15]

    In 1972 the Club of Rome surprised the world with its study, Limits to Growth, which concluded that:

    * If the population continued to grow as it had been doing [and as it has continued to do], society would run out of renewable resources by the year 2070, resulting in a massive die-off.
    * Even if the supply of resources was somehow doubled, a collapse would occur as a result of pollution.

    The report’s appraisal was the best that could be done at the time. Officialdom was not listening; seemingly had no intention of listening; may have been incapable of listening; while generally speaking the public had little idea of what was happening — a situation which shows little change. Two years earlier, in 1970, petroleum from US oil fields reached peak levels, since when it has slowly and irrevocably declined. Now global oil production has either reached its peak or will do so in the near future. Given that much of the world runs on energy provided by oil, this event can only have a catastrophic effect. When will officialdom realise that


    We are already living in a grossly dysfunctional world whose New World Order has greatly diminished our social capital and led to the kind of global poverty described by Christopher Richards as “characterised by feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, shame, depression and despair as well as disillusionment and sometimes aggression and violence.”

    To try to sum up. At the heart of this worldwide crisis of vast and gross disparities lie two basic lethal flaws.

    * An all-powerful dysfunctional economic capitalist system of growth and free trade, to which above all other considerations the world’s power brokers are committed, has triggered enormous destruction through the wholesale promotion of consumption, materialism and waste and has promoted a strong desire for the same destructive life-styles in the developing world which it has already overwhelmingly degraded and exploited.
    * Earth’s varied and complex natural ecosystems, on which all life depends and on an understanding of which the whole human economy should be based, are treated as both limitless and, for the most part, free.

    Political solutions cannot humanise the faulty economics at the heart of our dilemma, for being inhuman they are unresponsive to reason.

    In Before It Is Too Late Aurelio Peccei and Daisaku Ikeda wrote:

    The time has come to make a thorough reappraisal of our present outlook and stance, even if it shakes to the very foundations our trust in the material revolutions and the concept we have built of progress, wealth, welfare and civilisation in this epoch. New guidelines for our thinking and action are indispensable if we are to march safely and serenely into the future. And essential among them is the consideration that no other problem can be properly approached, let alone solved, no economic or social development is possible, no plan can be realised and no heritage we wish to bequeath to our children can be effective, nothing can indeed be lasting until and unless we succeed in re-establishing peace and harmony with Nature. Together with that of human development, this is the basic imperative of our age and one of the foremost conclusions to be drawn from our reflections on the ascent of modern man to a position of exalted power and unparalleled responsibility on our small and vulnerable planet. All other considerations can only be ancillary. [16]

    That was written in 1984. What genuine improvements have we experienced?


    1. Dr John Peet. Future Times, Vol 2 2005. New Zealand Futures Trust.
    2. Lynn White. Science, March 1967.
    3. Noam Chomsky. Guardian Weekly, 24 May 1998.
    4. The War & Peace Digest, Vol 4, No 1, April/May 1996.
    5. New Internationalist, No 342, January/February 2002.
    6. Edward Abbey. The Fools Paradise, Henry Holt, New York, 1988.
    7. Gordon & David Suzuki. It’s a Matter of Survival, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1991.
    8. Jenny Wright. The New Economics of Sustainable Development. A paper presented to the Canadian Association for the Club of Rome, Ottawa, March 1992.
    9. United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 1998, Oxford University Press, 1998
    10. Juliet B Schor. The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Basic Books, New York, 1991.
    11. UN Department of International Economic and Social Affairs. World Demographic Estimates and Projections, 1950-2025, United Nations, New York.
    12. Ibid.
    13. Vandana Shiva. Ecology and the Politics of Survival, United Nations University Press, New Delhi, Newbury Park, Sage Publications, 1991.
    14. Atlantic Monthly, February 1997.
    15. Paul and Anne Ehrlich. Too Many Rich Folk, Populi, March 1989.
    16. Aurelio Peccei and Daisaku Ikeda. Before It Is Too Late, Kodansha Europe, London, 1984.

  8. Bill 8

    “It is a legitimate question: what do growth and money give us? Obviously we need some level of wealth (to eat, have shelter etc at a bare minimum), and until we have that level we need to grow to it.”

    What exactly is this thing you are referring to as wealth that we require a level of in order to eat and have shelter etc? If shelter and food are resources, and being resource rich is a measure of wealth, then we do not need any growth to achieve those things that are already an integral part of our environment.

    But if wealth is a measure of our ability to accumulate things that flow from productive capacities (and remembering that production and consumption is necessarily predicated on denuding our resources), then growth becomes a predominantly negative phenomenon that should only be entertained after much sober reflection on whether the wealth created (production/ consumption) is worth the wealth lost (resource).

    Most productive and consumptive wealth is a have, insofar as it is a very poor big picture trade-off. But the control of those processes is socially important; control of growth and money are means and ends in a world dedicated to a scramble for power.

    The hospitals, the schools, the housing and food etc then, become an expression of social standing as determined by the amount of power attained, or the importance of your job/career to the maintenance of power structures.

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