It has long been recognised by the more leftist minded among us, that GDP has some serious shortcomings as a measure of prosperity. I write about this now because of the widespread joy and street parties that have arisen all over Britain due to the government forecast for an improvement in our economic fortunes.
The roots of this growth obsession come from the Thatcher years, in which neo-liberalism was ‘all the rage’, and in which we sacrificed the fabric of civil life, public services and publicly owned enterprises on the altar of GDP growth, without actually achieving it. This is the ultimate irony of modern life. Thatcherism put GDP growth as the top priority above all else, and neo-liberal policies disrupted growth. Because when workers spend less, the whole economy suffers. Thatcher should have known that, Cameron should pay attention now.
One of the biggest reasons that we shouldn’t trust GDP as an absolute measure of happiness and prosperity, is that it treats disasters as equal to humanitarian boons. A hurricane will get people to spend, but the human cost will be devastating. Not to mention the ‘unseen opportunities’ that have been lost for economic activity, so skillfully described here.
A war will create a flow of money. Weapons will be bought and sold on both sides, men will be employed in armies, and medics and ambulance drivers will all receive their dividends as well. But there will be thousands of refugees. Thousands of casualties from the fighting, whose lives are painfully disrupted. This wouldn’t be such a problem if we didn’t treat growth as essential to human happiness, but at present we do.
I’ve heard it said that the Capitalist system is by nature exploitative. Resources are extracted from the earth, capital surplus is extracted from the working class. I do not view employment as essentially one-sided, but the environmental impacts of our current system are painfully bare for all to see.
We consume vast amounts of natural resources. Food and oil, especially. These are things which will become far more scarce in the future, and for that reason we should scale down our inputs and focus on our outputs. In other words, we need to recycle much more than we are. Reuse everything you can to the best of your abilities, and when all else fails buy something with a minimal carbon footprint.
At present, 30% of all food created for human consumption is wasted. Why is this number so painfully high? Who are these bureaucratic, socialist idiots who are misplacing a third of our food? They are you. Restaurants frequently discard food. Not because it is unsafe to eat, but because their commercial ethics would be called in to question should it ever be discovered that they are using three-day old food. We all contribute to this wasteful society, and we are all guilty of inaction.
Economic growth does, I think, involve a certain amount of resource extraction. In fact, it is pretty much what the entire system is based on. An alternative economy, which focuses on need and balance, as opposed to greed and glutton is surely the answer to this. We cannot keep using up the world’s raw materials, because soon enough there will be none left. The Transition Town movement is aimed at preparing us for that fateful day when the oil does run out, because dependence now will mean destruction then.
I am not, contrary to popular derision and speculation online, a total Marxist. I hold Marxism in high esteem, and have adopted some of its ideas for my own. The name: ‘Marxistmax’, is merely an excellent idea for a pen name that was too good to miss. I am not a commie scrounger who would have private property destroyed. I believe in gradual shifts in our society, simple and obvious things which we should have done already. A Tobin Tax, a Living Wage, Re-Nationalisation of the Railways and Utilities are all included on the list, as regular readers will know. The Tobin Tax would punish those responsible for the crash, as well as correcting the bad practices which caused it. $38 Billion were raised across the globe from the Tobin Tax in 2012. That’s money which could be used to reverse these terrible welfare cuts.
These are not actions which will have the world in uproar. They will not be detrimental to those hard-working CEOs who preside over 97% of the world’s wealth.
It should be clear by now that constantly extracting surplus from the earth’s environment is unsustainable and essentially unhealthy. However, this is exactly what the current system is based on. Unless we find a way of generating happiness and well-being through ways which don’t destroy the prospects of others, we will never have a leg to stand on when dealing with dictators like Hussein and Assad.
We must get our own house in order before we attempt to tidy other people’s.