Demolishing the Myth of Perpetual Growth

Life After Growth: Economics for Everyone

Leah Temper and Claudia Medina (2010)

Film Review

The purpose of Life After Growth is to challenge the perpetual growth paradigm in an era in which markets have taken the place of religion in determining major social values.

At present media pundits and policy makers champion continual economic growth as an unquestioned fact of life. In reality, it’s a fairly new phenomenon. Prior to the 19th century and the industrial revolution, all human civilization was characterized by a steady state economy in which both population and productive capacity grew very slowly.

The documentary argues that the urgent crises of poverty, inequality, shortages of water and energy and ecological destruction mean the time has come to explore better ways to design the economy other than infinite growth – especially as the latter is impossible on a finite planet.

At present a “healthy” economy is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3% a year. At that rate, the size of the economy doubles every 23 years, as do carbon emissions and resource depletion.

Filmmakers also explore what the transition from a growth economy back to a steady state economy might look like. They do so by profiling a number of “DeGrowth” groups that have opted out of “corporate” society:

• The voluntary simplicity (aka voluntary simplicity) movement launched by Vicki Robin’s 1992 book Your Money or Your Life – where members vastly improve their quality of life by working 1-2 days a week, living more simply and consuming less.
• The Transition Towns movement – involving communities throughout the industrialized world collectively organizing to downsize their lifestyle and reduce their carbon footprint.
• The Catalan Integral Collective in Spain – funded by the civil disobedience of Enric Duran, in which he used credit cards to “borrow” 492,000 euros from 39 banks, an amount he couldn’t possibly repay. (See Spain’s Modern Day Robin Hood )
• Ecuador’s Keep the Oil in the Soil campaign – in which the president of Ecuador pledges to not to mine Yasuni National Park (one of the most biodiverse places on earth) for oil provided developing countries commit to replace Ecuador’s lost income.
• Bhutan’s decision to measure their country’s success through Gross Happiness Index (GHI) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
• The Church of England’s God is Green program dedicated to reducing Britain’s carbon footprint.

How Private Banks Create Money

dollars

Money and Life

Katie Teague (2013)

Film Review

I highly recommend this film for its clear explanation of the mechanism by which private banks (not government) create money out of thin air by initiating loans. Because the bank doesn’t create the compound interest they charge on new money, the borrower must find it elsewhere in the economy – when other new debt is created. The only way to sustain this exponential growth in public and private debt is through a frantic obsession with economic growth – leading to rapid depletion of all the earth’s natural resources, while simultaneously poisoning our air, water, and food with toxic waste.

The film features interviews with world famous antiglobalization and sustainability activists, including Vendana Shiva, David Korten, Ellen Brown, Charles Eisenstein, Bernard Lietaer and Vicki Robin.

For me, a highpoint of the film was the discussion of the role of artificially created consumer demand in this frantic drive to “liquidate” the earth’s resources. I also really enjoyed the section on the psychological factors driving billionaires to constantly acquire more money – and the replacement of “trickle down” with “suction up” economics.

A Cancer on the National Economy

My favorite part, however, was the section describing American’s finance sector as a “cancer” on the nation’s economy. As investment banking has morphed into casino capitalism, only 5% of Wall Street transactions relate to the production of real goods and services. This is in contrast to a healthy economy, where the finance sector functions like a utility and consumes only 10% of a nation’s wealth.

The trillions of dollars investment banks like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Bank of America speculate on derivatives is little different from betting on horses or roulette. The only difference, according to one economist, is that Las Vegas won’t let you gamble with money you don’t have. With some derivatives purchases, traders commit their banks to positions that are 30-40 times greater than their entire holdings.

Solutions Disappointing

The solutions offered by the filmmakers were a little disappointing. The need to end the role of private banks in money creation, by handing this role over to federal and state banks, is a no-brainer. The film calls for viewers to join grassroots groups (such as the US and UK Green Party) organizing to demand this type of reform.

The suggestion for people to opt out of the corporate money system by joining local groups using barter and local currencies is another extremely practical suggestion.

The third suggestion is to find concrete ways to value relationships more than money. Examples include socially responsible investing and extreme charitable giving (in the example, one family gives away 60% of their income). While the life histories of these individuals is extremely inspiring, I suspect they’re unlikely to resonate with the vast majority of Americans. They’re too busy working three jobs to put food on the table – or borrowing on their credit cards to buy shoes for their kids.

Enjoy

photo credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via photopin cc