Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Limits to growth?–waiting for the 40yr update

While dabbling around arguments on how development hasn’t reached everyone, especially looking at the cases in India and Gujarat, I’ve also been reading the book Limits to growth – the 30yr update (thanks dada!!). This post is mainly to say that I desire to read the next update of this masterpiece of work that has been updated over the years since it was first released in 1972. Hunter Lovins says “If you only read one book…make this it!”. I’d say the next one “40-yr update” will be more interesting, given the global financial crisis!!

Just last night I watched, Michael Moore’s exaggerated critique on Wall Street – “Capitalism – A Love Story” and that made me think how different would the world be today, if as the movie puts it, we had a love story with Democracy instead of Capitalism. Instead of Socialism, he suggests it should be called Democracy… I wonder though if economics can be simply governed through a set of political principles. I know Adam Smith talked about political economy some centuries ago, but was his perspective too simplistic to look at the globalized world that we live in today? Would we be able to label China as a non-democratic Capitalism or FDI in India as global capitalism and not Socialism? Its hard to argue for any of these labels; to look through Marx or Smith’s worldview. Because in my opinion, the complexities around globalized economies makes it much harder to box political economies any more. The US Wall street has much more effect on the farmer suicides in Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh than what Smith or pure Capitalists or free-enterprisers would have us believe. As Meadows said in 1972, we have “overshot”. We haven’t prepared ourselves better before globalizing. The three causes as they say for overshoot are the same, whether personal or planetary -

  • There is growth, acceleration and rapid change
  • Some limit, some barriers beyond which the system may not safely go
  • Delay or mistake in perceptions and responses that strive to keep the system in limits

Growth is believed to be necessary for employment, upward mobility and technical advancement. For places with poverty, growth is believed to provide resources out of poverty. Growth can solve some problems, but it creates others. That is primarily because of limits and the book highlights the limits very nicely. The book was written 10yrs back before sub-prime crisis, debt problems etc. that have affected nearly all of the world’s interconnected populations. Greed, overshoot, delay in perception or response, whatever you may call it… it has highlighted that there are limits to growth and how we can’t sustain this single-minded approach to achieve growth

I’m a bit sceptical on how World3 (their model) bases itself on the central assumption that population and capital are structurally capable of exponential growth. They cite examples of different countervailing pressures that they’ve added as feedback to the model, but I’m less convinced that they’ve had enough considerations on emigration, where people are moving back to growing economies as soon as things have started to slowdown in rich countries.

What is brilliantly highlighted in the book - that growth in the way in which it has happened since 1930s has created enormous disparity. A fourteenfold increase in world industrial output since 1930s has created more disparity and hasn’t ended poverty. Another fourteenfold increase (if possible with earthly limits) would not change it either if we continued in the same way… Running the system harder or faster will not change the pattern as long as the structure is not revised. And over the last 10yrs, since they wrote the book, if anything, we see increasing disparity and faster running on this non-sustainable system.

While the book and World3 model supposes many ways to collapse, it also in Chapter 7, shows a model that can lead the world to not collapse. They call this “Sustainable System”. In Chapter 8, they suggest “Tools for the Transition to Sustainability”. They mention that “Everywhere we find folks who care about the earth, about other people, about the welfare of children and grandchildren”. Not just their own, but of others. The problem is are these folks doing enough to change the model? Are we so many and doing so much as to move towards sustainability? They say the next revolution has to be Sustainability, just as the previous 2 revolutions were Agricultural and Industrial. I wonder though will all those who have not been touched by the previous 2 revolutions be able to “leap-frog” to the third revolution? What tools do we have to reach a sustainable system – Visioning, Networking, Truth-telling, Learning, Loving. Sounds like the Buddha??

Though there is no way of knowing for sure, other than to try it.


Samrat Purkayastha said...

The problem we are seeing today about "Sustainable Development is that Sustainability is being looked at as a business and not as a threat to our existance. Till the point we think of Capitalistic profiteering, we wont achieve sustainability. Sustainability according to me being spiritual, where is the spirit never ends..

Saptarshi Purkayastha said...

Yes, which is why I see the suggestions in Tools chapter of the book is what Buddha told us many centuries ago. We've sadly ignored Buddha all this while :'(

The other problem I see is that if the lower desires are not fulfilled its hard to drop them and move to higher desires as Vedanta puts it... So can we reach the Sustainability Revolution without everyone first being touched by Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions??

Dave Gardner said...

Great thoughts and questions. It is a sign of progress that more people are questioning the mythological benefits of growth. Thought I'd let you know the 40 year update was published a few months ago, though it deviates from the pattern of the first Limits to Growth books. Written by only one of the original MIT team, Jorgen Randers, it is called 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years. I reviewed it in my blog at growthbusters.org

Dave Gardner
Director of the documentary
GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth

Capt. Ajit Vadakayil said...

Punch into google search-
This is for the intelligentsia of this planet.
Adam Smith the supreme god of economists , was a THIEF who lifted French economist and banker, Richard Cantillon’s work.
Adam Smith , the holy cow, was a CRIMINAL AND MURDERER who killed 120 lakhs ( 10.2 million ) Bengalis in 1769. See some gruesome pictures of the sunk holocaust.
Adam Smith , the crypto agent, was an employed by British East India Company as the one man think tank-- who is now back to India for FDI in multibrand retail.
History always repeats itself—this is why we learn history.
DORKS and angrez ka aulads in Indian internet disguise —keep away.
Capt ajit vadakayil

INC said...

This Captain is blabbering all the time. Look at his comments in TOI website articles. He does the same things. Spreads hatred, criticizes everyone and thinks he knows everything on every topic. And in his posts doesn't provide evidence to any of the claims that he makes. Just ignore!

Saptarshi Purkayastha said...

Thank you Dave for pointing out the book by Randers. I hear he works close by to where I'm based :-)

Thank you for comments Capt. Ajit and INC. I'd avoid getting into meaningless discussions. Everyone has their own opinions.