Money and the malignant myth of endless growth


After you hit age 20 or so, growth is something we no longer desire and begin to fear.

It’s the transition between “Oh my, how tall you’ve grown” to “I’m afraid you have a growth.”

Maturation is the most natural of processes, culminating in that point when the focus of our metabolism switches from development to maintenance.  We have “grown up.”

Funny that we don’t see our economies the same way.

What’s natural for a biological organism is declared unnatural for the way we go about the business of living. Growth, rather than a means for reaching maturity, becomes an end in itself.

What if we looked at things differently?

What if we looked at our institutions in the same way we see ourselves?

What if, for example, we started to ask ourselves if our corporations and our banks have metastasized into growths? Into cancers on our social bodies?

Every corporation, every bank, now exists to fulfill one prime directive: to amass ever-greater profits — to maximize the returns on investor dollars, pounds, euros, shekels, yen, yuan. The actions taken to maximize profits are secondary to the profits themselves.

Growth in an of itself has become the driving force of the most powerful institutions we’ve created, and these same institutions will zealously employ every means at their disposal to ensure that the growth of profits continues unhindered.

When profit —growth — becomes the driving force of the institutions of power, other considerations fall by the wayside, relegated to the realm of “externalities.”

But if we have learned anything from our exploration of the world around us, it’s that there are no externalities.

A wise man I was once privileged to know said that the greatest gift science had given us was the ability to recognize that we are all inhabitants of a finite “Spaceship Earth,” equipped with finite resources, and, ultimately, faced with two alternatives: Utopia or oblivion.

As Buckminster Fuller saw it, we were endowed with just enough resources to allow us to reach maturity, at which point, we would either learn to shepherd our natural larder or surrender to a ruthless competition that would end our brief span on the planet.

We are now reaching the critical moment. The inexorable downslope of the Hubbert Curve has arrived, and the fossil fuels which gave rise to industrial civilization have begun their inexorable decline, leaving us a world befouled and overheated in their wake.

Recovering the remaining fuels takes ever -greater amounts of energy and the final reserves will remain untapped, requiring more energy to extract than the fuels can produce.

While a wise civilization would have heeded folks like Fuller a generation before and devoted a considerable amount of our dwindling natural heritage to finding ways to implement a mature society, we are continuing on our merry way, seduced by the siren songs of the banksters and corporateers.

BP, which has fouled the waters of the earth and overthrown governments in its zeal for profits, assures us their “bioengineers” will tweak some genes and, presto, cook up a cure, a menagerie of patented plants and microbes designed to crank out an endless supply of miracle fuels. And the former Anglo-Iranian Oil Company is just one of the players in this latest game to privatize the biological commons in pursuit of profit.

Never mind that those crops depend on huge tracts of land in the poorest parts of the world, occupied by inconvenient families who’ll have to be “nudged” out of the way.

There are billions to made! Money to be grown!

And the oilsters and their corporate media spinners will cook up warm-and-fuzzy slogans to justify their greed, at least to those who aren’t being evicted from their ancestral lands to make way for the profiteers’ plantations.

And the banksters will be there to lend the money, assured of profits by what they like to call “the miracle of compound interest.”

While fossils fuels have fired the boilers and engines of industry, it’s the banksters who’ve really poured on the coals [to borrow a phrase from ensl’s father].

Interest, to the uninitiated, is the fine art of conjuring up something out of nothing, and using that freshly minted creation to transform the middle class into the poor and the haves into the have-mores.

We tell banks they can lend out ten dollars, no a hundred, for every one they take in as a deposit. Lend at interest, we tell them, so that the ten will become a hundred, a hundred a thousand. Growth is infinite!

The beast confronted by religion

The dark side of interest — usury in old school language — was clearly recognized by all three of the world’s leading monotheistic religions.

Judaism barred lending at interest to the Jewish [but not gentile] poor, and mandated a Jubilee every half century in which debt was abolished and ancestral properties returned to their rightful owners.

Citing the mandate from Leviticus 25:10-13, Rabbi Shraga Simmons explains:

“[T]hese verses indicate that the Jubilee requires all debts between Jews to be annulled. Also, any Jew that sold his or herself into slavery is released, whether they worked the amount of time they promised, or not.”

Arguably, the verses specifically excluded non-Jews because their inclusion would have meant the loss of all that land conquered by Joshua and his soldiers.

From what his followers wrote of him — which is all that we have — Jesus didn’t take too kindly to inordinate wealth either:

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

For an excellent collection of essays from the Christian anti-usury perspective, see here.

Of the three monotheisms as practiced today, only Islam retains its strong anti-usury mandates, as exemplified in this verse from the Quran:

O you who believe, fear Allah and give up what remains of your demand for usury, if you are indeed believers. If you do it not, take notice of war from Allah and His messenger, but if you repent you shall have your capital sums; deal not unjustly, and you shall not be dealt with unjustly. And if the debtor is in difficulty, grant him time til it is easy for him to repay. But if you remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if you only knew.

All three religions recognized usury for what it is, not growth but “a growth,” a predator metatasizing within the social body.

The malignant chimera of effortless growth is working its inexorable “miracle,” consuming each of us as we consume its products, blithely unaware of the havoc we wreak upon the planet which gives us life itself.

Meanwhile, we have deregulated, then weakly reregulated the machinery of the banks and the rentier class, perpetuating the very cancer that is destroying us.

More to come. . .

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One response to “Money and the malignant myth of endless growth

  1. uncommonscolds

    When people start talking to me about “growing the economy,” I usually find a way to insert a definition of cancer into the conversation.

    You can imagine my popularity.

    Cassandra

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