Oliver's Blog

Monday 1st January 2018

The Folly of Perpetual Growth

The economy of the UK and most developed countries depends on continuous growth – the mantra is the more the better, and no growth is a disaster! But is it possible to have continuous growth for much or all of the world’s economies?

Commonsense tells us ‘no’, how can the world’s population consume more and more of the world’s limited supply of resources – impossible. The foundation of Oriental thinking, yin and yang, tells us the same thing. Yin and yang represent all the opposites in nature such as hot and cold, up and down, and expansion and contraction, in breathe and out breath, tension and relaxation.

In the long run yin and yang always balance each other out, we cannot breath in for ever, the weather does not remain hot forever, day does not go on for ever. So it is the same with economic growth and contraction, growth at some point will be followed by contraction, and the greater or faster the growth, the greater the contraction that will follow. When Gordon Brown was the UK chancellor near the beginning of this century he promised, “no more boom and bust”, he then presided over the biggest boom and bust this country has experienced since the 1920s!

But perhaps we should not be too hard on him, as he is part of this mass social delusion that “growth is good” and “more growth is better”. Granted, the economic growth we have had has made most people’s lives much more comfortable, but if we are going to be wise, we need to know when to say “this is enough”. If we find the point where our taking (from nature) is balanced and can be maintained, then we can truly escape from big economic fluctuations.

If you want to get an idea of whether your personal consumption is sustainable, go to the World Wide Fund for Nature website and fill out a simple questionnaire to find out if you are consuming more, or less, than a sustainable level – it can be a sobering experience! Unfortunately our current economic system is based on “more consumption is better”, when again our commonsense clearly tells us that the larger reality is the opposite, “the less we consume the better for the planet and our own survival and health”. We need nothing short of a new economic model that preserves constructive jobs but also preserves our environment.

What could this look like? I am no economist, but to me it is clear that as the developing countries of the world acquire cars, televisions and many of the mod cons that people take for granted in developed countries, there needs to be an economic contraction in the richest nations. This is not going to be a popular political policy! But when you look at the ‘macro’ or large picture, this is the way it is going to have to be, whether we choose it, or whether it is imposed on us by the limits of our planet. In fact, we may already be experiencing the beginning of a flattening off of the economic growth of the last few centuries, with many people’s income in the UK still the same as it was 10 years ago.

Of course in developed countries there are many people struggling financially, whose lives could be made more difficult by economic contraction – it seems to me that the obvious solution would be a more equitable distribution of a nation’s wealth between the whole population, which means reversing the present trend for the gap between the poorest and richest in society to keep widening.


What does this mean for each of us, and the choices we make in our lives? I think it means taking a look at how much we actually need to live happily and healthy, and then deciding not to live beyond this. This takes a certain amount of maturity and social awareness. Maybe this is never more true than at this time of year when it seems that the world encourages us to buy tons of stuff to consume and give away at Christmas – so this could be a good time to decide what you really need and want for your Christmas, and not be pressurised to go beyond this.

I think there is also another big price to pay for our collective focus on money and how to make ever more – it distracts us from what I believe is the true purpose of our lives - to grow within ourselves, in our emotional maturity, social awareness and love and compassion for others, and in our spiritual awareness. This expansion does no harm to our environment, enriches our lives enormously, and is the true source of lasting health and happiness in our lives.