The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality
by Richard Heinberg
(New Society Publishers Aug 2011)
(This is the sixth of a series of posts about stripping private banks of the right to issue money. It stresses the link between our debt-based monetary system and the drive for perpetual economic growth.)
The basic premise of The End of Growth is that the world economy has flat-lined. Not only is it contracting, rather than expanding as most politicians claim, but there are important reasons why it will never return to pre-2007 growth levels. The reason? The last two centuries of continuous economic expansion were only possible due to the ready availability of cheap fossil fuels. Growing fossil fuel scarcity has caused energy costs to skyrocket. And this, according to Heinberg, is the main reason for declining economic growth.
As well as making an strong case that economic expansion has ended, Heinberg also writes about far-sighted governments (Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) that are enacting policies to ensure the welfare of their citizenry as they confront new economic realities.
Heinberg and others in the Peak Oil/climate change movement have always argued that infinite economic expansion is mathematically impossible on a finite planet with finite natural resources. The End of Growth highlights the massive ecological devastation caused by this reckless obsession with economic growth, while warning that we are depriving our children and grandchildren of natural resources (fossil fuels, water, industrial fertilizers, fish stocks, top soil) that may be needed for basic survival.
In Heinberg’s previous work, he predicts it will take a decade or more before fossil fuel scarcity causes the capitalist economic system to hit the wall. In The End of Growth, he argues it already has: in October 2008. While a few countries can claim an occasional quarter of increased GDP, aggregate global economic growth is either stagnant or slowly contracting. Even China’s so-called economic “miracle” hasn’t been sufficient to generate a genuine increase in total global wealth.
The Ultimate Ponzi Scheme
Heinberg goes on to explain how private banks use the fractional reserve system to invent money out of thin air. In a global economic system where money can only be created by issuing bank loans, there’s never enough money in the system to repay all the debt. This means the global economy can only function via continual creation of new loans. And continuous economic growth is essential to make this happen.
Heinberg’s analysis of the 2008 meltdown starts with an introduction to classical economic theory, and a discussion of of the “financialization” of the US economy that occurred in the 1980s. There’s a detailed discussion of the risky financial derivatives that led to a decade of speculation and “debt” bubbles. The largest was the subprime/derivative boom, in which massive amount of borrowed money was speculated on derivatives and subprime mortgages that couldn’t be repaid. The debt bubble created was so large it plunged the entire world economy into depression when it burst.
The End of Growth in China
Heinberg also presents a painstaking analysis of why the China’s current phenomenal growth rate (7-8% per year) and somewhat slower growth rates in India, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam also represent “bubbles” that will eventually pop and trigger recession. China is pursuing the identical economy strategies that caused the Japanese economic miracle to collapse in the 1990s – resulting in a two decade long recession.
Life in a Steady State Economy
Obviously the end of economic growth, and continuing job, wage and benefit cuts mean that people in most industrialized countries will be forced to massively downsize their lifestyles. Outside the US, some far sighted governments are intervening in ways to make this transition less painful. Heinberg gives examples of countries (Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Norway) who openly acknowledge the reality of their steady state economies and pursue policies that make it easier for their citizens to adjust.
Sweden, for example, has transformed depressed industrial towns into “ecomunicpalities,” by “dematerializing” their economies. They have made them into fossil fuel-free towns with organic farming, public transportation and alternative energy projects – while simultaneously fostering social equity.
Life is a steady state economy. Nice.
Good point, Toritto. Human societies always operated as steady state economies prior to the industrial revolution. The whole concept of economic growth only came in 200 years ago. As Heinberg explains, it became a necessity owing to the debt pyramid created by fractional reserve lending.