As Australian as you can get
24 May 2012
In his speech in reply to the federal budget a couple of weeks ago, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott talked up the need for governments to pursue policies favouring economic growth.
It's a familiar theme of Coalition spokespersons - the same message was invoked a few weeks earlier by Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey in a speech to the Sydney Business Chamber.
"Put simply", Hockey said, "the major economic mantra across the globe over the next few years will be growth, growth, growth", adding that "Australia must be no different".
Hockey sees a "strong economy" (by which he implies ongoing economic growth) as the foundation on which prosperity is built, a provider of jobs, and the basis for essential public services.
Moreover, he said, it promotes "social cohesion, opportunity and the hope that we can bequeath a better life to our children than we have enjoyed ourselves".
Well, that's the accepted wisdom, but how valid is it? Isn't our global obsession with "growth" the very thing that is bringing the world unstuck, both economically and environmentally?
A Four Corners program earlier this year presented a depressing report about Ireland, and how that country's ill-judged and debt-fuelled construction boom led to bank failures, a government bailout and a national austerity program that is tearing Ireland part.
Unemployment there is running at about 14 per cent, and youth unemployment at twice that rate.
A generation's prospects have been squandered, thanks to a misplaced reliance on never-ending growth.
Surely, the lesson from the financial disasters of recent years is that the global economy is overheated, over-extended and out of control.
Likewise, the world's natural resources are being stretched to the limit (and in cases, beyond the limit) to meet our insatiable demand for growth - and for "stuff".
To "bequeath a better life to our children" might have been a valid aspiration for parents who had just come through the Depression and a world war, but it doesn't stand up in the 21st century, when you look around at how today's young people are living - and consuming.
The time has surely arrived when mankind must accept that perpetual growth as a model for the global future is simply unsustainable, and that we must adopt a new creed, if our descendants 50 years hence are to have a world fit to live in.
Obviously it would be self-destructive for any nation-State in the present globalised world economy to adopt a zero-growth strategy on its own; a worldwide approach is what's needed.
But when anyone speaks up and proposes such a course, as forward-thinking environmentalist and author David Suzuki has been doing for many years, they are dismissed as nutters.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown used a major speech to his party faithful in Hobart earlier this year to canvass the notion of a "global parliament" - an "all-of-Earth representative democracy" dedicated to arresting global environmental decline.
For that, he was accused by conservative Sydney Morning Herald columnist Gerald Henderson of pandering to the "Lunar Right".
It will be interesting to see what reaction Dick Smith provokes from the recommendation (reported in The Land last week) contained in his submission to the Senate food inquiry.
He said the capitalist system was "doomed" by its growth fixation, and "our economic system needs to change and operate without endless growth".
It's a noble concept, but one unlikely to be embraced by any of the democratic governments controlling the world's destinies.
As John Carter argued in this place last week, democracies are ill-suited to the making of tough, but often necessary decisions.
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