May 1, 2014

Ever heard of Growth blindness? If not, you too may be suffering from it.

There are generally two kinds of eye problems that people face. There is myopia, short-sightedness. And then there is hyperopia, far-sightedness. But over the years, another major eye defect has emerged. It is called growth blindness. Almost all educated, even if they happen to suffer from either myopia or hyperopia, are falling to growth blindness. Universities and educational institutes are churning out graduates and post-graduates (not to talk of people passing out from Business Schools) who are made to believe in the magic potion of growth.

The newspapers are full of reports and quotes about growth. Finance Ministers (everywhere in the world) swear in the name of economic growth. TV anchors (most of them have not ventured out of their plush offices for years) are hung on economic growth. That is what they have read in the university, and if they ever try to question the growth paradigm the business house owning the channel will throw them out. And they know for sure -- getting a job again even at times of rising growth is not easy.

So basically, it's all about protecting and saving your job. Whether it is a journalist, economist, academician, credit rating analyst or a politician, singing the growth chorus helps them to save their job.

Growth blindness is a manufactured disease. It's an economic system that money has been able to create. Take the example of oil spills. Do you want more oil spills to happen or do you think these spills are a disaster for environment and health? Well, a Houston-based Oil pipeline company recently acknowledged that "Spill response and clean-up created business opportunities for affected communities, regions and clean-up service providers." In other words, oil spills help in raising GDP or growth. Oil Company argues oil spills are good for the economy. (http://www.thewire.com/business/2014/05/oil-company-argues-oil-spills-are-good-for-the-economy/361551/

When Oxfam International tells us that the wealth of 85 people equals that of 3.2 billion, we categorise it as growing inequality. When we are told that the income of 0.1 per cent among the top 1 per cent of the American population has gained the most from the multi-billion dollar bailout packages that somehow stalled the collapse of global economy in 2008-09, we heave a sigh of relief.  We don't want to read the second para that tells us that the income gains for the remaining 99 per cent was in the negative. We know this is inevitable. We also know this is unfair and unjust. But we prefer not to question. Questioning will automatically put a stop to your own growth. Better to keep mum.

When we are told that 80 per cent of Americans live in 'near poverty' we just ignore. When we read that pollution levels in China and India are reaching dangerous levels, we take it as if it is a small time sacrifice that people must make for the sake of growth. When the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that the world is getting closer to a tripping point, we go back to textbooks which tells us that every disaster is a business opportunity. Meaning more growth.

There is a limit to growth.

In their paper The Making of an Economist (Journal of Economic Perspective. 1987), Colander and Klamer gave an explanation for economic blindness. They concluded that it primarily lies in an educational system that pumps out economists who are utterly clueless as to how the world economy operates. These textbook economists go out and then preach whatever the textbooks prescribe. Often I mention when it comes to rising inflation, I find most of these economist blame supply-demand constrains for the rising food prices. That's what they have been taught in their colleges. They can't think beyond that. But when I say there is no supply constraint, they are baffled. Not knowing what to say, they go on repeating ad nauseam that inflation is the outcome of supply-demand constraints. 

Over the years, a handful of thinkers, includes some economists, have begun the question the sustainability of growth economics. Their number is growing with each passing week. While the objective of this piece is not to take you through the corridors of alternative to growth economics that is building up, I want you to take a look at this latest initiative by Olivier de Shutter, who till recently was the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. He has called for a conference: The EU's 5th Project: transitional Governance in the Service of Sustainable Societies to be held at Brussels May 8-9 2014.  

Olivier says: We need alternatives to GDP growth as the goal of public policy, and we need alternatives to work and wealth accumulation as the driving forces in our lives. A genuine transition in the way we live is the only true path to sustainability. But it must be accompanied by a transition in the way we govern. This is Europe’s fifth project.” I agree.

The EU5th Project Conference (link here: http://stanford.io/1o5EVyM) is asking a few key questions. These are the basic questions that every sensible person should be asking:
I am sure some of you will have some additional pertinent questions. This is just a beginning, and in the days to come the alternatives to growth blindness will gradually emerge. There are already distinguished people working on a radical overhaul of the food systems, making it more local and sustainable. There are social entrepreneurs, academicians, thinkers, writers and activists who are talking of Economics of Happiness. There are environmental movements across the globe that are fighting for bringing in some sanity in the economic growth paradigm. Their voice is growing. Another World is Possible was a powerful slogan some years back. And that I think is the best hope that I see on horizon.

The movement for alternative to the faulty growth economics model is now growing. Occupy movement, Arab Spring and India's fight against corruption were essentially part of the same thought process. The World Social Forum takes it to another level. Meanwhile, concerned citizens, smaller groups are coming together, forming alliances and networks. One such event being planned  is titled "For a successful XXI century, let's build alternatives to fear, violence and war!" at Lyon, July 4-6. http://dialoguesenhumanite.org/lyon/1175/programme-2014.

I will continue to update you with relevant information as and when I can lay my hands upon. 

Meanwhile, stand up and be counted. It's time to remove growth blindness. At stake is your own survival, and the future of your children. You can't leave a dead planet behind. #

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Liked your article.

How do we convert these thoughts into action?

Gananath