Growing Pains: The Ecological Costs of an Insatiable Economy
Al Jazeera (2019)
This film begins by linking the new concept of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) introduced after World War II) with the popular myth that ever increasing GDP is a magic formula for preventing recessions and depressions and the mass unemployment and misery that accompany them.
Following the second world war, western countries experienced three decades of 8% GDP growth, resulting in near full employment and massive expansion of their middle class.
Unfortunately by the 1970s, most of western society had acquired all the cars, TVS, fridges and washing machines they could ever use; growth stalled and unemployment started to rise again. It was around this time the elite round table group Club of Rome* first questioned whether unlimited growth was possible on a finite planet.
In the 1980s, Wall Street’s answer to stalled growth was monetarism, a belief they could stimulate growth and prevent recessions by deregulating the the financial industry and simply controlling the money supply.
Instead of relying on the production of goods and services to increase growth, western economies began relying on the creation and trading of financial products (credit cards, mortgages, currency exchange, commodities futures, debt-based bonds, options and other derivatives) to keep the economy ticking over.
This seems to to work pretty well until 2008. Global growth collapsed that year and never really recovered.
The film directly challenges, from several perspectives, the pro-growth hype put out by various financial gurus. First they look at the heart breaking ecological damage wreaked by skyrocketing growth in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest. Next they examine evidence that the creation and trading of financial instruments is actually glorified gambling and speculation (in which winners have become fabulously wealthy at the expense of most of the middle class). And finally they talk to psychologists who challenge Wall Street’s claim that human beings have an endless desire to accumulate more useless stuff.
In my view the film’s major weakness is its failure to link the pressure for perpetual growth to our debt-based monetary system. At present, contrary to popular belief**, private banks create 97% of our money out of thin air when they issue loans (see An IMF Proposal to Ban Banks from Creating Money). This results in an ever increasing debt spiral, which can only be repaid via continuously increasing economic growth.
*See The Steady State Economy Movement
**When polled, most people in western countries express the belief that all money is issued by government.
The film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at the Al Jazeera website Growing Pains