Why Growth is the Main Cause of Poverty

Growth Equals Poverty

Vendana Shiva (2013)

In this presentation, environmentalist and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva challenges the Wall Street mythology that economic growth reduces poverty. Using her own country India as an example, she demonstrates how poverty (and inequality) increase in direct correlation to GDP increases.

The examples she offers clearly apply to the US, UK and New Zealand. All three countries are experiencing alarming increases in poverty and inequality as GDP increases. As in India, the quality and availability of health, education and other public services have declined steeply as “growth” has increased.

She goes on to demonstrate what GDP growth really represents: the privatization (ie theft) of natural and public resources by a small number of elites.

In India at present, 1/4 of the population lives in abject poverty and 1/2 of children are malnourished. Vendana blames the increase in hunger on the forced adoption of industrial agriculture and GMO crops. Monsanto and GMO advocates like Bill gates argue that GMOs will decrease world hunger. In India, where Monsanto has successfully lobbied to make it illegal for farmers to save seed, just the opposite has happened.

This due partly to Monsanto’s seed monopoly, which has caused an 8,000% increase in the cost of seed; partly to the high cost of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides GMO crops require; and partly to the destruction of soil, bees and biodiversity caused by industrial agriculture and GMO crops.

Did Global Economic Growth End 15 Years Ago?

life after growth

According to London Broker, Global Economy is Shrinking

The main premise of Life After Growth: How the Global Economy Really Works – and Why 200 Years of Growth are Over  is that global economic growth has ended. Western governments conceal this fact through debt creation, inflation and clever manipulation of statistical economic indicators. According to Tim Morgan, leading analyst at the London financial brokerage Tullett Prebon, economic growth ended in 2000 and the economy has been shrinking ever since.

Morgan attributes the end of global economic growth to the high cost of fossil fuels.* This is because the real economy (which many people confuse with the financial economy) is a direct function of surplus energy. In pre-agricultural times, there was no energy surplus: human beings derived exactly the same amount of energy from their food as they expended acquiring it. With the advent of farming, they managed to produce a small surplus of energy that enabled a small minority to engage in work other than food production.

In the 18th century the invention of the heat engine enabled surplus energy (and the real economy) to grow exponentially over the next 200 years. Now that the cheap fossil fuel has been used up, our energy surplus is declining. This, in turn, is reflected in the gradual shrinkage of the global economy.

Measuring Surplus Energy

Energy surplus is measured as EROEI (Energy Returned Over Energy Invested), the ratio between the energy produced and the energy consumed in the extraction or production process. 1930s oil fields had an EROEI of 100:1. Once the easily accessible oil was used up, the EROEI began to decline. It was 30:1 in 2000 and it declines by about 2% a year. In 2014 it stood at 14:1. Unconventional oil sources have an extremely low EROEI (eg tar sands and fracked shale oil have an EROEI of 3:1).**

Declining EROEI’s are always accompanied by a spike in oil prices. This translates into higher prices for everything, due to the energy required for food production and manufacturing. Owing to higher prices, people consume less and the economy slows.

Globalization Has Been Extremely Damaging

Morgan is highly critical of politicians who fail to distinguish between the real economy of goods and services and the shadow economy of money and finance. He also feels globalization and rampant consumerism have been extremely damaging to the real economy. The mistake western countries made with globalization was reducing their production without reducing consumption. Instead they increased consumption levels by increasing borrowing and debt. Globalization was extremely beneficial for banks, due to the voracious demand for their product (loans). Meanwhile the diversion of large sums from production to the finance sector – aggravated by consumerism and the rise of consumer debt – hastened the decline of the real economy.

This wholesale debt creation and the widening split between the real economy and the financial economy is largely reflected in inflation and the destruction of the value of money. The US dollar lost 87% of its purchasing power between 1962 and 2012, which the government systematically conceals through misreporting of key economic indicators.

All economies function best when the financial economy coincides with the real economy. At present the primary methods of debt destruction are quantitative easing*** and inflation (it’s always easier to repay debts with devalued money). Other methods in the wings are cuts in pensions and Social Security payments and eventually bank failures and government defaults. Morgan feels that resource poor countries like Japan and the UK are at highest risk for default.

How Governments Lie with Statistics

My favorite chapter details the decades of statistical manipulations that have made government indicators of inflation, growth, output, debt and unemployment totally meaningless. John Kennedy was the first to exclude “discouraged” workers (who weren’t actively seeking work) from the unemployment rate. Johnson was the first to conceal the size of the government deficit by including the Social Security surplus in the federal budget. Nixon was the first to exclude energy and food costs (which rise the fastest) from core inflation calculations.

I was most shocked to learn that 16% of GDP consists of “imputations” or dollars that don’t actually exist. The largest single imputation the US government adds is “owner equivalent” rent. This is an amount equivalent to the rent all rent homeowners would have to pay if they didn’t own their own home. In 2011, this added up to $1.2 billion (out of a total GDP of $12.7 trillion).

The second largest imputation involves non-cash benefits employers give their workers (medical insurance, meals, accommodation, etc) and free banking services.

The US Government is Technically Bankrupt

This over-reporting of GDP, combined with under-reporting of inflation, makes it appear that the US economy is growing when it’s not. .

Morgan estimates that as of 2011 true US debt (government, business and personal) was 449% of GDP. Technically this means the US is insolvent as collective liabilities far exceed any realistic prediction of future income.

Politicians Need to Stop Lying

Morgan maintains that industrialized societies urgently need to living with less surplus energy. Rather than continuing to delude themselves (and us), our political leaders must face up to the reality that our claims on future energy surpluses (aka debt) are totally unrealistic.

They need to end globalization and rampant consumerism and enact policies (support for renewable energy, public transport and strong local economies) that will help people adapt to the new economic reality.

*Most analysts predict oil prices will return to $100+ a barrel in June 2015, once the US surplus is used up.
**Some other EROEI’s (for the sake of comparison):
• Coal 8:1
• Solar PVC panels 8:1
• Solar concentrating power: 17:1
• Large hydro generation: 22:1
• Small hydrogenation 32:1
• Landfill/sewage gas cogeneration 40:1
• Onshore wind 20:1
*** Quantitative easing (QE) is an unconventional form of monetary policy where a Central Bank creates new money electronically to buy financial assets, like government bonds. This differs from conventional money creation, in which private banks create money out of thin air as new loans (see An IMF Proposal to Ban Banks from Issuing Money).

Also published in Veterans Today

Economics to Save Our Civilization

(This is the eighth in a series of posts about ending the role of private banks in issuing money)

“Somewhere in our history we took a wrong turn and today we are reaping the consequences. If we don’t step back to evaluate the root causes of the rolling economic crises, our civilization is in danger of collapse.” – Clive Menzies

A few years back, Clive Menzies, president of British Fund Building and member of the Free Critical Thinking Institute entered into an ongoing dialogue with the London Occupy movement. The result is a radical monetary reform proposal to fix the global economic mess. In the video below, he is presenting it to the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (translation: a high-powered group of investment bankers and stock brokers).

In his presentation, Menzies attributes the current crisis, as well as capitalism’s recurrent boom and bust cycles, to the alienation of the vast majority of the global population from the commons (i.e. communal ownership of land and natural resources that ended with the Enclosure Acts) and the prohibition of any discussion of this catastrophic event in contemporary economic discourse. (This is a topic Fred Harrison discusses at length in The Traumatised Society.)

Most of Menzies’s talk focuses on the urgent need to abolish our current debt-based (bank-controlled) monetary system. For five main reasons:

  • It drives systemic inequality by allowing those with more money than they need to exploit those who need money.
  • It drives unsustainable, exponential debt growth because the interest cost rises faster than society can create wealth to pay it.
  • It discounts the future, driving environmental destruction – it makes a forest worth more as sawed timber than as an ecosystem preserved for future generations.
  • It demands exponential GDP growth, rapidly depleting finite resources – 3% GDP growth means the economy doubles every 24 years which means extracting resources at twice the rate and throwing twice as much away.
  • It drives inflation.

He also demolishes the prevailing myth that a person’s existence on this planet is only justified by paid work. In a way it’s deliberate falsehood more than a myth. There is only enough “productive” work for 50% of the adult population and the vast majority of income in contemporary society is generated via “rent-seeking” (i.e. charging interest or rent or extracting and exploiting publicly owned natural resources).

Menzies lays out a monetary reform proposal that would abolish interest exploitation by the private banks who currently issue and control global currencies. Instead it would empower governments to issue interest-free sovereign currency.

GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth


(This is the seventh of a series of posts about ending our debt based monetary system and reckless emphasis on perpetual economic growth. Dave Gardner makes the ecological case for ending our addiction to continuous economic growth.)

Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth

2011, Directed and produced by Dave Gardner


Film Review

Growthbusters is the inspiring story of Dave Gardner’s efforts to challenge conservative Colorado Springs’ failed growth promotion policies. The film also takes a broader theoretical look at the overall failure of economic growth to solve the global economic crisis.

While Gardner is clearly an environmental crusader concerned about the link between unlimited growth on carbon emissions, resource scarcity and species extinction, he inserts a heavy dose of economic reality into the discussion. All of us involved with local government have heard the same insipid assertions about the urgent need to cut corporate tax and regulations to attract new industry and jobs, as well as the need to spend to spend billions of dollars on new infrastructure to accommodate the hoards of people we want to attract to our cities and towns.

In reality, the people and institutions who promote growth most heavily are the only ones who benefit from it – at the expense of everyone else. This includes real estate developers who derive profits from building more homes, office blocks and shopping center; the mining and fossil fuel companies that fuel this economic activity, as well as heating all the new homes and powering the new cars; and the banks who finance all this. In other words the super rich.

The Population Bomb

In addition to tackling the pro-growth agenda head on, Gardner also makes the important link between exploding population growth and environmental degradation. Paul Ehrlich, who appears briefly in the film, warned in his 1970 book The Population Bomb that mankind was rapidly outstripping the Earth’s natural resources. Dennis Meadows, who directed the 1973 Club of Rome project resulting in the book Limits to Growth, also appears. Based on advanced computer modeling, this controversial report warned forty years ago that population growth and resource scarcity would cause the global economy to falter at the beginning of the 21st century. Apparently, as Meadows reminds us, the 2008 global economic crisis was right on schedule.

As Gardner, Ehrlich, Meadows and other experts point out, humankind is living beyond our means, “liquidating” resources we should be should be saving for our children and grandchildren. If we were still growing all our food locally, as we were at the beginning of the 20th century, it would be obvious there is no longer enough land in cultivation to feed 7 billion people. However because of globalization, most of the industrialized world has no idea where their food comes from. While the one billion people who die of starvation or gradual malnutrition are virtually invisible.

Family Planning: the Best Way to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Gardner doesn’t advocate for mandatory population control like they have in China. However he argues strongly for major environmental groups like the Sierra Club to use their public profile to begin educating governments and communities about making informed decisions around family size.

There’s no way we can possibly change enough light bulbs or plant enough trees to compensate for all the babies born to our children and our children’s children. Population control is a critical ecological issue. The “official” environmental movement is letting us all down by refusing to take it up.

New Paths Forward

Gardner himself does his part. When he’s not running for city council or making movies, he’s out in the street distributing free Endangered Species Condoms on the street. The condoms come in choice of packaging featuring endangered panthers, polar bears and cute critters.

He also encourages people to join the Transition movement to help in strengthening their communities, re-localizing economic life and rebuilding skills that don’t depend on corporations and fossil fuels.


A Film About Economic Relocalization

economics of happiness

The Economics of Happiness

Helena Norberg-Hodge (2012)

Film Review

The term “economic relocalization” describes a global movement of loosely knit grassroots networks working to strengthen local and regional economies and systems of food and energy production. Most of the last eight years of my life have been focused on grassroots relocalization activities.

What I like best about Economics of Happiness is learning I am part of a global movement. I hate the title, which suggests the film concerns some kind of airy-fairy New Age spirituality. It doesn’t.

The 2011 film, narrated by Helena Norberg Hodge, is based on her 1991 book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh and her 1993 film by the same name. The book and both films draw their inspiration from the nearly forty years Norberg-Hodge spent living and working in Ladakh, a small Himalayan region in the India-controlled (and disputed) state of Jammu and Kashmir. Economics of Happiness includes local footage from the 1993 film, as well as substantial documentary footage relating to the world’s current economic crisis and impending ecological crisis (stemming from catastrophic climate change and mass extinctions).

The Psychological Devastation of Globalization

The film opens with the same narrative Norberg-Hodge recounts in her earlier Ancient Futures film. We are shown the “before” image of Ladakh, a rich thriving culture in which residents live in large spacious homes, enjoy generous leisure time and have no concept of unemployment. Then we have the “after” image where, thanks to globalization, cheap (government subsidized) food, fuel and consumer goods have flooded the region and destroyed residents’ traditional livelihoods. Previously pristine communities face rising levels of air and water pollution, while Ladakhi teenagers face continual bombardment with pro-consumption messages.

It’s heartbreaking to see the psychological effect of all this. Most young Ladakhi have come to regard themselves as backwards and poor, while the communities they live in face rising racial tensions, juvenile delinquency and epidemic levels of major depression.

The Destructive Nature of Urbanization

The film goes on to sketch the mechanics of globalization, stressing the deregulation that forces small self-contained regions like Ladakh to open their markets to foreign goods, which quickly supplant local products. Norberg-Hodge paints an even uglier picture of urbanization, an inevitable result of forcing millions of small formers off their land. She stresses that city living is vastly more resource intensive than rural lifestyles. All city residents rely on food, energy and water transported from some distant source. They burn up additional fossil fuels transferring their waste as far away as possible. She stresses that most city residents go along with the massive ecological and social devastation they produce because it occurs on the other side of the world. Thus they don’t see it.

Rebuilding Local Communities and Economies

The solutions Norberg-Hodge offers for all these problems are similar to those proposed by an increasing number of dissident (non Wall Street) economists. First and foremost we must acknowledge that humankind has exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity – that the corporate drive for continual economic growth must end. Secondly people of conscience need to opt out of the corporate economy to facilitate the creation of more efficient and environmentally accountable regional and local economies.

Norberg-Hodge also sees the process of rebuilding local communities as a remedy for what she describes as the “crisis of the human spirit.” She blames this pervasive spiritual crisis on the demise of community engagement that has accompanied globalization and urbanization.  Although the process is most striking in remote regions like Ladakh, where it occurred suddenly, nowhere in the developed or developing world has escaped it.

The film ends on an extremely optimistic note, with numerous examples of international and community organizations supporting people in reclaiming their lives from multinational corporations.

Economics of Happiness can be rented (and watched online) from the filmmakers for $5