Ideas that add up #94

The faults and flaws of GDP as a measure of economic progress are well known and don’t need to be repeated in detail here. It was never intended to serve as a measure of economic wellbeing, and one of the largest problems in using it for that purpose is that it doesn’t subtract environmental damage as a cost of economic development. Instead, it simply ignores these losses as externalities–until and unless money is spent to correct them, at which time the remediation of the cost is transformed, as if magically, into an apparent economic benefit.

…Because these externalities have their origin in ecosystem limits, and GDP treats the externalities as if they didn’t exist, it’s fair to call GDP an infinite planet statistic.

Eric Zencey, “Transformative Common Sense in Vermont”, The Daly News

It’s staggering that this debate still chunders on. Conventional economists doggedly defend GDP as a measure of societal value on the grounds that higher GDP correlates with higher levels of material well-being. “That’s more money in your pocket and mine” they seem to say. “Longer lives, bigger houses and…coming soon: holidays in outer space! What else would you need to know?”

Without wishing to defame the vertically challenged, they must be mental midgets!

Hold on – perhaps I’m just part of a gullible minority seduced into accepting the false paradigms of that sly, steady-state-economics crowd. They who inhabit an alternative reality founded on a craftily constructed illusion of empirical science and rational interpretation. Except that it’s not an illusion. Because there’s no disputing the fact that our expanding global economy operates within a finite global ecosystem. None whatsoever. And the evidence is clear: the global ecosystem’s capacity for self-regulation has been overwhelmed in the past few decades by us and our busy ways. Runaway climate change, acidifying oceans and the Sixth Mass Extinction are not figments of the imagination.

We hold these truths, though we wish they weren’t, to be self-evident…

So say it like it is, you lousy, lazy defenders of the status quo. An economic system geared to the pursuit of ever-more GDP is a system whose logic dictates there shall be ever more people and/or ever more “consumption” of stuff per person, ever more extraction and appropriation of natural resources, ever more transport and trade, ever more fictive financial input from future generations and ever more waste for the natural environment to flush away. Except that there is no “away”. Just say it: in such a system, each of those “ever mores” must expand infinitely and exponentially, in order that the master metric may continue to “grow” infinitely and exponentially.

In every respect the antithesis of sustainability.

And as Zencey writes: “the one thing you can know about an unsustainable system is that it won’t last.”

But, hey! We’re getting better at chopping down trees here on Easter Island. Timber production is up, year after year. Look how fast our new Moai are rolling into place. Exciting times, buddy!

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