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Better Instead of More

Economics should be a part of life, not a steamroller crushing self-determination and creativity. Economics changes with the times. Once savings was the elixir and then spending was the elixir. Growth and work can become fetishes pursued for their own sake. Frank Rotering in "Needs and Limits" discusses the reality of "ecological overshoot."

The phase of growth ends inevitably

By Jorg Lessing

[This article published on 10/4/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet,  link to www.np-coburg.de.]

Does money bring happiness and contentment? Not necessarily! According to the Happy Planet Index (HPI), the happiest people live in Costa Rica. Germany is number 51 and the US is number 114. This Happiness Index combines life expectancy with life satisfaction and sets them in relation to the ecological footprint. A country where people spend many happy years with the least possible damage to the environment fares well.

Happiness and contentment are goals that are not unconditionally on the political and economic agenda of an industrial nation. Germany and the US are at the top of the world in gross domestic product (GDP). Constant growth for decades makes politics and the economy proud. The two countries are models for others. Growth was long a synonym for the good life. But this equation is not true any more. The life satisfaction of Germans and Americans has fallen in the last decades. The pursuit of high growth rates and fast money can do great damage. The financial- and debt-crisis proves this incontrovertibly. Referring to growth, precarious working conditions are promoted, school times shortened and expressways built. Banks may commit fraud like casinos and managers uninhibitedly fill their pockets. Shareholders want at least double-digit profits and to pay as little taxes as possible. Employees are released if the business does not grow fast enough and the profit is below expectations. So capitalism functions today. The rich become richer and the poor poorer. The gulf widens. It is high time to discuss this without blinders. The growing chasm has economic effects and not only a moral dimension. Social cohesion is endangered when income development differs enormously, the Mannheim economist Gruner warns on Zeit online.

The fundamental question is: how stable is a prosperity model that relies on constant growth? "More and more" does not mean "better and better" - even if politics and the economy always stress this. Economic growth is especially high after wars and catastrophes. A country that cuts down its forests and sells the wood produces growth. An alcoholic raises the GDP in two ways, by buying the schnapps and by increasing the revenue of a detoxification center. The GDP does not distinguish between meaningful and meaningless. The economy of a country can grow enormously while the largest part of the population remains poor. Still politics needs growth. Growth spares the government trouble with voters. Then the government need not grapple with ideas like reduced working hours, basic income, ecological tax reform or redistribution. A country can pay off debts through growth and need not save. Thus we grow in ruin - blasting pollutants in the air, heating up the atmosphere, chopping down the forests, fishing the oceans dry and exploiting the soil. It is only a question of time until the raw materials run low and the maximum credible environmental accident occurs.

Many nations must reassess prosperity. How great are the education chances and the health standards? Is the society holding together? Does it spare the environment? Are people contented? These are important questions. Better instead of more is imperative because eternal growth is impossible.


Jackson, Andrew, "Toward a Wages-Led Recovery," November 2011

 link to www.ilo.org

Rotering, Frank, "Needs and Limits," 2010

Zeigler, Alexis, "Culture Change," 2007



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