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.

Steady Staters, Futbol Fever, and NASCAR Nonsense

I am entirely addicted to watching World Cup soccer. It’s the greatest sporting event on the planet – each match is a high-stakes struggle with international intrigue and unpredictable endings. It’s hard to top the build-up and excitement of a last minute goal that means the difference between going home and moving on to the next round (see the U.S. goal against Slovenia during the group stage). But perhaps the extreme effort from Ghana against the U.S., featuring magnificent runs and fearsome goals, did exactly that. It was amazing to see the Ghana players perform, especially while carrying the hopes of an entire continent on their shoulders (or should I say feet?). Ok, so I’m a fan of the World Cup, but what does that have to do with a steady state economy?

To make the transition to an economy that supports, rather than deteriorates, our one and only home, we need to change some of the things we do. For example, it makes very little sense to continue removing the tops of mountains to extract coal and convert it to electricity and carbon dioxide in a power plant. Surely we can find ways to meet our energy needs that don’t liquidate functioning ecosystems and eons-old geologic structures while simultaneously destabilizing climate.

To have a shot at “changing some of the things we do” requires that we change our individual behaviors. Obviously we can place plenty of blame on the BPs of the corporate world, but corporations are wreaking environmental havoc because individuals, communities, and societies are demanding the products they create. If we can reduce our propensity to consume and use resources more wisely, we will be well on our way to curbing the liquidation of natural capital that comes with economic growth and all its associated consumption.

That’s what living life as a steady stater is about – making choices that meet our needs without compromising the needs of future generations. Steady staters are known for their conservation, thrift and ethics. Some might think that being a steady stater means leading a life of sacrifice and unfulfilled wants, but nothing could be farther from the truth. One’s happiness or satisfaction with life is hardly related to the quantity of material possessions owned, once basic needs for sustenance and convenience have been met. Throughout the world, researchers and citizens are coming to understand and appreciate this fact. It is altogether clear that people don’t need to consume resources wantonly to lead lives of fulfillment – in fact, one of the keys to a life of fulfillment is focusing attention elsewhere (e.g., social connections and relationships).

That brings me back to soccer. It’s known around the world as “the beautiful game.” No, it’s not the overly colorful uniforms and creative haircuts on the players that are the origins of that moniker. It’s the tempo, teamwork, and tactics. But it also has to do with the simplicity of the game: eleven players on a side, 2 goals, one ball, and one very easy to understand rule about not using your hands (following the lead of the referees in this World Cup, let’s forget about the offside rule for the time being). Soccer is a low-throughput game. You don’t need much in the way of materials or energy to play a match. That’s also one of the reasons for its global popularity – anyone can play it anywhere. It’s a steady stater sport!

Now let’s contrast the beautiful game with the number two spectator sport in the U.S. – NASCAR auto racing. This “sport” requires massive expenditures of energy and materials as racers roll around (and around and around and around) the track for 4 or 500 miles, strapped into inefficient, CO2-spewing, tire-trashing cars. Setting aside judgment about the merits of watching cars drive in a circle, mostly in anticipation of a life-threatening and auto-obliterating pileup, there is no doubt that a NASCAR race is a consumptive and wasteful enterprise. Adding insult to injury, every inch of space on the cars and the people driving them is covered by advertisements aimed at increasing consumption!

93 barrels of oil on the shore...

Soccer, NASCAR – what’s the difference? Why make a distinction when they’re both just sports, and there are so many critical problems that we ought to be working to solve? Sports are a big part of many cultures around the world – hence the popularity of the World Cup and the inclusion of sports scores and stories in just about every newspaper. Part of being human is playing games, and doing so may be especially important when we face difficult times. We can all use a little escape from some of the grim realities swirling around us. There are some games, however, that fit within the cultural and economic paradigms of sustainability, and some that don’t. Count me a futbol fan!