Efficiency and Entrepreneurship: Key Ingredients for Infinite Growth

by Milton Mountebank

Editor’s note: In order to present a “fair and balanced” point of view, the Daly News occasionally invites Dr. Mountebank (the award-winning economist and originator of infinite planet theory) to write an editorial.

Limits-to-growth ideology often bullies its way into what would otherwise be an astute dialogue about how to grow the economy. It’s easy to understand why. Some people deny the power of perpetual economic growth because of facts like these:

  • There is a finite pool of raw materials and energy resources on the planet;
  • The atmosphere is filling up with carbon dioxide, disrupting the planet’s climate;
  • Billions of people are struggling to get by on less than $2 per day;
  • Natural habitats and the species that inhabit them are disappearing at increasing rates;
  • The world’s oceans contain four hundred dead zones.
  • Debt loads in nations around the world are spiraling out of control.

The ignorant masses who don’t understand infinite planet theory tend to wallow unnecessarily in the muddy bogs of these facts. Even worse, in the hands of certain wrong-headed scoundrels, these facts can be aligned into an enticing argument against the economic imperative of perpetual growth. The counterintuitive heart of infinite planet theory is that ever-increasing efficiency can turn that which seems finite into a limitless reservoir of consumer products. Efficiency enables us to grow the economy forever, to fulfill any consumptive desire that may occur to us, and to keep the flow of products skyrocketing to infinity and beyond.

To illustrate this magical ability of efficiency, consider a case study from the malodorous field of solid waste disposal. Carl Grifter is a genuine garbage entrepreneur. After the financial meltdown and home foreclosure frenzy of 2008 and 2009, Grifter noticed that his local government couldn’t bring in enough revenue to pay the bills. Some people would view such a situation as cause for alarm, but not Grifter. He says, “While other people were out occupying the public squares and wasting their time on protests, I was busy cornering the garbage market.” In a wave of privatization in which the county sold off its public services to corporations, Grifter got in on the ground floor by purchasing the landfill at what he calls “a deep discount.”

Although it’s worth pausing to applaud such a fine example of entrepreneurship, we need to save the real ovation for Grifter’s efficiency innovations. After acquiring the landfill, he undertook a profitability analysis and classified five key processes that affect landfill operations:

  1. Advertisers induce demand for cheap, plastic products.
  2. Factory workers in China produce the needed supply of doodads and gizmos, pack them onto immense cargo ships, and export them to America.
  3. American consumers transfer cartloads of plastic schlock from the colossal aisles of Walmart, Target, and Costco to the colossal holds of their SUVs and the colossal garages of their colossal homes.
  4. Within one year’s time, consumers discard the remains of their original purchases.
  5. Enormous fleets of garbage trucks gather the plastic refuse and deliver it to the landfill where it will break down over the next several geologic epochs.

It’s tough to be more efficient than this!

Any economist can tell you that efficiency is a measure of how quickly and how cheaply a desired outcome can be achieved. Obviously, the more efficient a business, an industry, or an entire economy is, the better off we all are. Grifter combed through these five processes trying to find room for improving efficiency. He says, “It was real tough going. You can’t get any more efficient than those giant cargo ships. And look at how efficient Americans already are at transporting plastic crap to their homes. I was stumped.”

Grifter could have given up at that point. He concedes that at times, he even started to believe that maybe there were limits to efficiency and growth. But you can’t hold down the spirit of a devout growthist for long. He went back to square one and wrote down a simple equation for his business model:

More refuse = more revenue = more profit.

The desired outcome for a landfill business is to import as much refuse as fast as possible. Once Grifter fully understood this fact, he saw the golden pathway to efficiency: cut out the middleman. He says, “What’s the point of waiting an entire year for consumer products to come through the gates of my landfill? I contacted the factories and shipping guys in China and arranged to have the goods delivered straight from the ships.” Now Grifter’s fleet of garbage trucks meets the cargo ships on the docks and delivers products straight to the landfill. He adds, “It’s pretty much the same process as before, but I expedite things and make a killing!”

It’s a win-win-win situation. The first win: Grifter’s corporation earns higher profits, paving the way for growth and job creation. Projecting corporate growth out five years shows that 78 percent of adults in the county will soon be working at the landfill. The second win: with these products flowing straight to the landfill, advertisers and consumers can focus their attention on other useless and superfluous products — a surefire way to establish new branches on the tree of economic growth.

The third win should appease the environmental doomsayers clamoring about the limits to growth. There’s a clear environmental advantage to Grifter’s improvement. For starters, consider the carbon footprint reductions given the shorter travel distance that products take from factory to landfill. And as Grifter notes, “It’s a lot easier to bury the products in our landfill when they’re still in the packaging — there are less pieces of plastic to fold under the dirt, so we can save a lot of energy.”

“Look here,” he says as he points to a table with two identical boxes on top. “These are brand new Salad Shooters.” A big smile marks Grifter’s face as he takes one of them out of its box, picks up a hammer, and shatters the Salad Shooter into a pile of jagged pieces. “Which one of these do you think is easier to bury?”

Grifter’s corporation is a shining beacon of light for where the economy needs to go. Greater efficiency must be our mantra. Just as more efficient power plants and car engines have solved the so-called “problem” of greenhouse gas emissions, so will greater efficiency in the broader economy overcome any so-called “limits to growth.”

Dr. Mountebank is the John Q. Beelzebub Professor of Economics at Fantasia University.

Why Stop at Massive Economic Growth when Infinite Growth Is within Reach?

Editor’s Note: Although The Daly News is known for its commentary on the limits to growth, we are willing to consider other viewpoints. That is why we invited Professor Milton Mountebank to submit regular columns. He graciously accepted our invitation, citing it as “an opportunity to educate both the naive and the ignorant masses who genuinely believe the earth is finite.” We are fortunate to have him, especially in light of his recent prize in economics.

by Milton Mountebank

My colleague at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg, recently penned an article, in which he starts down the road with a sure step but then falters and ultimately stumbles over his erroneous notions about economic growth. I provide some subjective commentary below, but I also offer an objective economic analysis to set the record straight. I have devised a nonparametric econometric statistic, normalized on a scale from 1 (utterly false) to 10 (unassailably true) that rates the veracity of each of Mr. Goldberg’s premises (in the interest of conserving ink, I shall refrain from reproducing the 17-page formula here; in any case, it is likely that readers would find it well beyond their comprehension).

Premise #1: Gandhi’s mantra, “Live simply, so that others may simply live” is patently absurd. Simple living has no benefits, only consequences that begin with poverty and end with death.
Mountebank’s veracity rating (MVR) = 9.944511299
Mr. Goldberg is right on target with this assertion (note the unprecedented MVR). I am confounded by the fact that Mr. Gandhi and his simple living ethos remain in discussion to this day. What did Mr. Gandhi ever do to deserve such attention? I suspect that we have revisionist history to thank for the prolonged acceptance of his philosophies. As for simple living, I submit that every single person who has ever aspired to a simple life has ended up in the grave.

Premise #2: Steady staters (especially prominent ones like Paul Ehrlich, Herman Daly, and Joshua Nelson) are a paranoid lot who hate markets and freedom nearly as much as they love vegetables. They wish to impose a centrally planned totalitarian regime such that you and your family shall starve and/or freeze in the dark.
MVR = 9.287732215
Although the accuracy of this premise is significantly high, I feel obligated to consider one point of contention. I do not know how extensively Mr. Goldberg has sampled Herman Daly’s work, but it is my suspicion that he has not delved as deeply as I have dared. I have held both my nose and my temper (in check) while forcing myself to read a substantial portion of Professor Daly’s writings. And to his credit, he does assert the usefulness of the market for allocating goods that are both rival and excludable. One might conclude, therefore, that some proponents of a steady state economy want only a semi-totalitarian state.

Premise #3: America’s reforestation, the decrease of lead and sulfur in our atmosphere, and the removal of some contaminants from our waterways prove 2 points: (1) our environment is the picture of health, and (2) unfettered markets are the key to sound environmental policy.
MVR = 9.973997123
Cheers to Mr. Goldberg for regaining his footing! No doubt taking a cue from my paper, How Infinite Planet Theory Disproves the Existence of the Environment, he has applied an appropriately large discount rate to the findings of conservation biologists, climate scientists and other charlatans who squander their time studying concepts that have no bearing on labor productivity or the liquidity of credit default swaps.

Premise #4: There is no role whatsoever for scientists to inform the economic policies of a nation.
MVR = 5.256662588
Mr. Goldberg begins his downward spiral with this questionable assertion. Surely he knows that economics is the most significant, accomplished and influential of the various fields of science. It is imperative, therefore, that economic scientists dictate all national and international policies. Let us consign the skills (such as they are) of second-tier scientists (e.g., those who rely on inapplicable principles of physics, chemistry and biology) to the development of marketable gadgets and weaponry. With proper roles assigned for first- and second-tier scientists, we can achieve the most important goal of human society: unbounded growth of gross domestic product.

Premise #5: America desperately needs massive economic growth to pay off our debt, sustain our entitlements, and continue to improve the environment.
MVR = 3.113419845
Unfortunately, with this premise, Mr. Goldberg undermines his formerly formidable argument. It is entirely true that we need economic growth, but it is entirely false that we need “massive economic growth.” Perhaps if he had read my book, Infinity and Beyond: The Magical Triumph of Economics over Physics, Mr. Goldberg would know that America desperately needs infinite economic growth. He comes across as a true Malthusian willing to settle for the massive when the infinite is within reach. With infinite economic growth, we can roll over debts forever and ever and ever. We also need infinite growth (and then some) to cover the entitlements coming to me, Mr. Goldberg and our fellow economic elites. And finally, with the riches of infinite growth in hand, we can put the last nail in the coffin of our pesky environment — we shall no longer require an environment in which to live.

Premise #6: When the proponents of infinite (or at least massive) economic growth victoriously proclaim, “I told you so,” those who question growth shall be annoyed.
MVR = 1.034110990
After beginning to unravel his thesis with the previous 2 premises, Mr. Goldberg dismantles his entire argument with premise #6. We shall not annoy the steady staters; we shall enchant them. They shall be in awe of us, sufficiently stunned by our supernatural capacity to banish all ecological limits. I have no doubt that one day the steady staters shall recognize the folly of questioning infinite economic growth and repent. They shall put aside their dreary doomsaying (along with their “facts” and “evidence”) and join us in the magical triumph of economics over physics.

Dr. Mountebank is the John Q. Beelzebub Professor of Economics at Fantasia University.