A lot of people found the recent elections quite depressing, and not just because of the outcome. For all the arguments on policy, the main parties seemed quite close in a lot of their thinking. One such area was economic growth. Both Labour and Conservatives fought hard to be credible on economic growth, and the feeling generally was that growth is something that everyone wants, on the basis that it creates wealth and jobs. Yet economic growth has been based almost entirely on increasing consumer spend for years now. We’re buying more goods and services, and that is keeping the economy growing. So we must all keep on buying more, or the bubble will burst.
We all need to buy stuff, right? Well, yes, of course, but there are some fundamental problems. Spending and buying more requires us to get more into debt. The average UK household is soon going to be £10,000 in debt (not counting any mortgage). This may not seem too worrying, but all of the conditions that caused the global economic crash in 2008 are still with us, and it seems fairly inevitable that there will be another similar event in the next ten years. In the meantime, economic growth from consuming will not make most of us richer or more able to weather the next economic storm. Incomes haven’t really grown – unless you are already super rich, that is: the wealthiest UK residents have doubled their net worth since the crash in 2008.
If you don’t like the idea of an economic model that is based on buying more things we don’t need with money we haven’t got, without increasing our income or wealth, then I agree. It’s no doubt good for someone, somewhere, but that someone isn’t me. Growth like this only keeps us on a debt-fuelled boom and bust treadmill, or down at the food bank, if things really go badly wrong. This is a terrible situation, of course, but on it’s own it would be unlikely to ‘destroy’ us. I would rightly be accused of hysteria to suggest it. If, however, you accept that there are now only a few short years to reduce global carbon emissions in order to prevent major social upheaval from climate change, you might wish for a new political consensus that puts stability and resilience above the current notion of growth. Because trying to achieve perpetual economic growth through increasing consumption alone will destroy us. No doubt about that.