This is in response to and in support of David Ellis' thoughtful April 29 letter in the Statesman Journal "Population growth might be bad". I couldn't agree more, and I'd like to take it a step further, "Economic growth might be bad". I think in both cases it depends on where you're at in the spectrum of the physical limits of your environment. For the population issue experts concluded in the 1970's that we were nearing our planet's population limit, based on the fact that there are decades of lag time between an attempt to stop population growth and the realization of this goal. Here is the first conclusion of an abstract to "The Limits to Growth", a report to the Club of Rome (1972), "If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity."
The idea that economic growth might not be desirable is really just an extension of the population growth discussion. If you think about it, continual economic growth depends on a growing population both to supply more labor and to supply more consumers. Likewise, a continually growing population depends on economic growth to provide jobs. Since the population limit is upon us, it follows that we are also at the point where economic growth is no longer good. This is a generalization, as there are still some parts of the world that desperately need this growth, but the developed world does not.
So if we can't have an economy based on continual growth, what should we do? Bill McKibben explores this idea very responsibly in his recent "Deep Economy", and it is discussed in great detail in the classic "For the Common Good" by Daly and Cobb. I suggest that we think about a system where we only manufacture what we need. This means an end to marketing ploys aimed at getting people to buy new gadgets or more stuff. It really means the end of the economy as we have known it, and a totally different way of life. I don't think this can be accomplished solely by the free market.