Saturday, January 03, 2009


I just came across a particularly dumb site called Growthbusters. They claim that a growing economy is a bad thing and that if we can just get our situation static or reduced even, the general situation of humans will improve.

"The first commandment of economics is: Grow. Grow forever. Companies get bigger. National economies need to swell by a certain percent each year. People should want more, make more, earn more, spend more - ever more.

The first commandment of the Earth is: enough. Just so much and no more. Just so much soil. Just so much water. Just so much sunshine. Everything born of the Earth grows to its appropriate size and then stops.
" - Donella Meadows Co-Author, Limits to Growth
Of course Donna isn't too smart. Are there really enough computers in the world? Wouldn't it be good to increase those numbers? Do we really have enough accessible bandwidth? Or would it be good to increase the amount of bandwidth? Is everyone on the planet well fed? Or would it be a good idea to continue to increase the food supply? Is everyone on earth well housed or would it be a good idea to deploy more housing? Does every one in the world have access to enough energy supplies? Or would it be good to improve it?

What we know empirically is that population increases fastest in places that are the most economically deprived. That very fact was brought up in the comments to this Democratic Underground post.

One thing not brought up by the Enough! folks is that we can make more by making things smaller. Nanotechnology to the rescue. We can also make more with what we have by translating ideas into technology. For instance we can get more out of a pound of iron by making it stronger with various alloys. We can make plastics stronger by strengthening them with carbon nanotubes instead of glass. Concrete can be strengthened by reinforcing it with steel. We can make more food with the land we have by improving the productivity of our crops. Biotechnology to the rescue.

So what commodity are we really shortest of? What is our most glaring lack? Knowledge. We need to be doing more to grow our knowledge base. There is a place where growth can continue unhindered for centuries if not millennia. The results should support humans quite nicely.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


Dave Gardner said...

Well, you ended well. Growth in knowledge is a wonderful thing and does not liquidate the planet's resources (leaving a wasteland for our grandchildren). One good place to start is investigating the ideas at a little more thoroughly before you offer your judgement. MORE of all the things you seem to want is just physically not possible perpetually.

However, personal growth is a wonderful thing. We could all use more learning, loving and laughter.

Thanks so much for checking us out!

Dave Gardner
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
Join the cause at

M. Simon said...


As long as we keep making things smaller there is a lot of room for growth. And when (if) we do run out of room on the planet there is still a lot of room in space and on other planets.

In any case as long as there are a lot of poor people on Earth there is a lot of growing that NEEDS to be done.

Dave Gardner said...

Limits to growth is a complex subject, and it doesn't just involve how much "room" we have on the planet or in space. There are no guarantees that space can support us.

And while there are many in poverty who we all want to have a good life, that doesn't change the fact that Earth has just so much fertile soil, fresh water, carbon sinks, etc. The news is full of evidence we're pushing our ecosystems to the brink.

To think that a reasonable solution is to add more people or for the wealthiest cultures on the planet to consume more? How is that logical?

Dave Gardner
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
Join the cause at
See our new Population Solution PSA

M. Simon said...

Well Dave,

We have been hearing that Malthusian/Club of Rome shit for over 200 years now. And there are more humans on the planet living better than ever.

We have never been short of materials. We have been short of ideas. Tested ideas. And those are coming at such a fast pace no one can keep up.

At the current point in time ideas are growing faster than the problems. Bucky Fuller called it ephemerilization. Doing more with less. Julian Simon called it human ingenuity. The more humans the more ingenuity.

Paul Ehrlich was wrong. He is still wrong.

I have a Cray 1 equivalent on my desktop. How about you?

Dave Gardner said...

Was actually wondering if you're related to Julian Simon. Yes, for a few hundred years we've managed to support a portion of our exploding global population and barely keep alive the rest. And we've done it by plundering millions of years' worth of stored energy (oil) and liquidating most of the Earth's other resources. It looks like it's working just fine...right up until the resources actually run out.

How to describe your irrational exuberance?

When in doubt, gamble?

A hope and a prayer?

Fiddle-dee-dee, we'll let our children worry about that tomorrow?

What, me worry?

Whatever you call it, I think it is foolish to assume that the past 200 years out of a few million that man has been on Earth represent the final answer. I don't think we've gotten it right, and while technology and innovation MAY be the answer, there is zero assurance that it is, and plenty of evidence it is not.

Why so afraid of progressing to a new model with much more assurance of sustainability?

Dave Gardner
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
Join the cause at

Scott Baradell said...

Every time someone gets diagnosed with cancer, the GNP goes up. Every time we start an unnecessary war, the GNP goes up. That's growth by our conventional definitions -- but it does not equate to a commensurate increase in prosperity.

M. Simon said...

Was actually wondering if you're related to Julian Simon.

I wish.

BTW the stone age didn't end because we ran out of Rocks.

The Copper age didn't end because we ran out of copper.

The oil age will not end because we run out of oil.

And when we get done "plundering" the Earth there is always the rest of the solar system.

Did you read about graphene replacing copper with 5X the current capacity? So eventually there will be a lot of spare copper and aluminum. Just as silicon has replace copper for info transmission.