The cult of growth and manic materialism

The aspect of modern economic thinking I find most depressing is the lack of any emphasis on play or fun or family and friendships.

An economic worldview has evolved that sucks the meaningful marrow out of life.

The big question we should be asking is whether our economic system is serving us or are most of us consigned to serving it?

We pay homage to the little scrutinised goal of economic growth as progress towards some undefined Nirvana on earth.

Yet few of us understand what this concept of economic growth actually means. It is a narrow obsession with ensuring that as a nation we make and consume more material stuff.

This obsession is calculated by a statistic called GDP. Even Simon Kuznets, who developed this statistic in the 1930s, warned that it wasn’t a good measure of human happiness and wellbeing.

Yet to question this current economic orthodoxy invites ridicule and dismissal even though it may be destroying the planet we inhabit.

Not to worry, economic growth and progress should fix that. Leave it to market forces. Yeah, right.

This economic ideology has some parallels with the overwhelming tyranny of Christian belief in old Europe.

It is a world view that is dangerous to challenge. OK, criticising GDP and economic growth in public is unlikely to get your head lopped off or your height extended on an inquisition rack. You are more likely to retain your testicles, but only just.

Yet we should be seriously challenging the current economic orthodoxy. Maybe we are running so fast and hard to serve the system that few of us have the time or energy to stick our heads up and question it.

The technical term for this is the “hedonic treadmill”.

Many Kiwis these days are too busy paying off huge mortgages on overpriced weatherboard houses that bear a striking resemblance to the affordable old houses our grandparents once owned. Continue reading

  • Peter Lyons teaches economics at Saint Peter’s College in Epsom and has written several economics textbooks.
  • Image: Otago Daily Times

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