G: How economic growth has become anti-life

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Wed Feb 19 23:44:35 GMT 2014

How economic growth has become anti-life

An obsession with growth has eclipsed our concern 
for sustainability, justice and human dignity. 
But people are not disposable – the value of life 
lies outside economic development
Shiva - 
Friday 1 November 2013 04.22 GMT

Limitless growth is the fantasy of economists, 
businesses and politicians. It is seen as a 
measure of progress. As a result, gross domestic 
product (GDP), which is supposed to measure the 
wealth of nations, has emerged as both the most 
powerful number and dominant concept in our 
times. However, economic growth hides the poverty 
it creates through the destruction of nature, 
which in turn leads to communities lacking the 
capacity to provide for themselves.

The concept of growth was put forward as a 
measure to mobilise 
the second world war. GDP is based on creating an 
artificial and fictitious boundary, assuming that 
if you produce what you consume, you do not 
produce. In effect , “growth” measures the 
conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities.

Thus nature’s amazing cycles of renewal of water 
and nutrients are defined into nonproduction. The 
peasants of the world,who provide 72% of the 
food, do not produce; women who farm or do most 
of the housework do not fit this paradigm of 
growth either. A living forest does not 
contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down 
and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy 
societies and communities do not contribute to 
growth, but disease creates growth through, for 
example, the sale of patented medicine.

Water available as a commons shared freely and 
protected by all provides for all. However, it 
does not create growth. But when Coca-Cola sets 
up a plant, mines the water and fills plastic 
bottles with it, the economy grows. But this 
growth is based on creating poverty – both for 
nature and local communities. Water extracted 
beyond nature’s capacity to renew and recharge 
creates a water famine. Women are forced to walk 
longer distances looking for drinking water. In 
the village of Plachimada in Kerala, when the 
walk for water became 10 kms, local tribal woman 
said enough is enough. We cannot walk further; 
the Coca-Cola plant must shut down. The movement 
that the women started 
led to the closure of the plant.

In the same vein, evolution has gifted us the 
seed. Farmers have selected, bred, and 
diversified it – it is the basis of food 
production. A seed that renews itself and 
multiplies produces seeds for the next season, as 
well as food. However, farmer-bred and 
farmer-saved seeds are not seen as contributing 
to growth. It creates and renews life, but it 
doesn't lead to profits. Growth begins when seeds 
are modified, patented and 
locked, leading to farmers being forced to buy more every season.

Nature is impoverished, biodiversity is eroded 
and a free, open resource is transformed into a 
patented commodity. Buying seeds every year is a 
for debt for India’s poor peasants. And ever 
since seed monopolies have been established, 
farmers debt has increased. More than 270,000 
farmers caught in a debt trap in India 
committed suicide since 1995.

Poverty is also further spread when public 
systems are privatised. The privatisation of 
water, electricity, health, and education does 
generate growth through profits . But it also 
generates poverty by forcing people to spend 
large amounts of money on what was available at 
affordable costs as a common good. When every 
aspect of life is commercialised and 
commoditised, living becomes more costly, and people become poorer.

Both ecology and economics have emerged from the 
same roots – "oikos", the Greek word for 
household. As long as economics was focused on 
the household, it recognised and respected its 
basis in natural resources and the limits of 
ecological renewal. It was focused on providing 
for basic human needs within these limits. 
Economics as based on the household was also 
women-centered. Today, economics is separated 
from and opposed to both ecological processes and 
basic needs. While the destruction of nature has 
been justified on grounds of creating growth, 
poverty and dispossession has increased. While 
being non-sustainable, it is also economically unjust.

The dominant model of economic development has in 
fact become anti-life. When economies are 
measured only in terms of money flow, the rich 
get richer and the poor get poorer. And the rich 
might be rich in monetary terms – but they too 
are poor in the wider context of what being human means.

Meanwhile, the demands of the current model of 
the economy are leading to resource wars oil 
wars, water wars, food wars. There are three 
levels of violence involved in non-sustainable 
development. The first is the violence against 
the earth, which is expressed as the ecological 
crisis. The second is the violence against 
people, which is expressed as poverty, 
destitution and displacement. The third is the 
violence of war and conflict, as the powerful 
reach for the resources that lie in other 
communities and countries for their limitless appetites.

Increase of moneyflow through GDP has become 
disassociated from real value, but those who 
accumulate financial resources can then stake 
claim on the real resources of people – their 
land and water, their forests and seeds. This 
thirst leads to them predating on the last drop 
of water and last inch of land on the planet. 
This is not an end to poverty. It is an end to human rights and justice.

Nobel-prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz 
and Amartya Sen have admitted that GDP 
not capture the human condition and urged the 
creation of different tools to gauge the 
wellbeing of nations. This is why countries like 
Bhutan have adopted the 
national happiness in place of gross domestic 
product to calculate progress. We need to create 
measures beyond GDP, and economies beyond the 
global supermarket, to rejuvenate real wealth. We 
need to remember that the real currency of life is life itself.

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