Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Am I Anti-Growth?

I have been accused of being anti-growth in this comment by Dash Brannigan:

‘Do you have something against economic growth? Was it mean to you at school? Did it take the jam out of your dough nut[sic]? Just seems that a lot of your posts are very anti-growth. I’m just beginning to wonder if it’s personal…’

He was commenting on my post regarding free public transport.

Apart from being mildly offensive, it shows a complete lack of understanding about, or refusal to accept my philosophical viewpoint, discussed here in relation to IP enforcement. In case those reading don’t get it, I will set it out here very clearly and even put it in bold.

Economic growth in itself is not a useful consideration when deciding whether to implement laws.

Now that is out of the way, I will tell you what I am. I am pro-environment. I am pro-human rights. You may not believe it, but I am pro-intellectual property rights in general and am going to work in a big law firm for clients who require me to think that way. I am even pro-growth, when it occurs incidentally to the implementation of my policy preferences. Growth is great, but it is not the be all and end all. I am anti-big corporations fucking up my world, so in some respect yes, Dash, it is personal. It should be personal to all of us.

I don’t understand why my post about free public transport was anti-growth in any case. I can tell you, if I didn’t have to pay about $40 per week to get myself to work, there would be some bookshops, cafes, bars and clubs that would see some pretty steep economic growth. This brings us, as always, to the question of WHOSE growth we are discussing. It is undeniable that economic growth in the first instance goes to companies and their shareholders, then slowly filters down to the wage slaves. This graphic is a useful example of how companies get richer whilst making workers poorer. When we are discussing pollution and public transport in general, I have to ask whether having oil companies, petrol station owners, refineries and their shareholders getting rich and yes, providing heaps of economic growth is worth the obvious impacts we are having on our world. Am I the only one who noticed Melbourne had a full week of steaming humidity and hours of monsoonal rainfall the other week? Why do you think that is happening all of a sudden? Not because of economic growth in itself, but because of policies which place such growth at the heart of lawmaking. Australia is not part of the Kyoto Protocol for the simple reason that it will hurt our big mining and transport companies. What do I say to that? Jam your economic growth, pals.

In any case, even when the growth does filter down, most of it has been handed out to those who don’t really need it. To counter any charges of hypocrisy, I’m happy to do the legal work for these corporations; I don’t think that disqualifies me from disagreeing with their activities. However, when we contrast free public transport with paid and privatised public transport, we have to ask – who is getting the benefits of economic growth? Further, we never discuss the impact on our environment when thinking about whether growth is good.

If public transport were free, I believe more people would use it. Each of those people are taking advantage of a benefit given by the government to work more, spend more on more frequent trips into the city, save the cost of running their car. Why is it bad that money is in the pockets of every person, rather than Connex and Shell? Call me anti-growth, I call me pro-a better world. Some companies, like Shell, will make their money anyway and contribute something to economic growth. Some, like Connex, will fade into insignificance. That’s just tough. By charging for public transport, Connex encourages us all to drive to work, shop in the city less and generally make it harder for the people who need it the most to travel around. I am not saying this is the fault of Connex, it is there to make its cash. It is the problem of a failed public policy.

I can understand the argument that eventually, economic growth creates a higher standard of living. However, I also read with interest once a study published by The Economist,  which asserted that economic growth in the US outpaced European growth by about 1% per year in the period of the study. Productivity growth was way ahead of European pace. However, the study also found that Europeans are happier. Just because you work 60 hours a week and have stunning economic growth doesn’t mean you have a higher standard of living, because that all depends on what you define as a standard of living. For me, 40-50 hours a week, time at home, time to play sport etc sure beats working on Sundays. Further, I am quite happy to have one less TV and a few less meals out to do that.

Sure, I’m idealistic, but there are some of us around. If I have to pay more taxes so that everyone can have free public transport, well, to an extent that is fine. I’m happy to pay $5 a billing cycle extra on my electricity bill to source my energy from renewable sources. If any government consultants or others who have a hand in lawmaking or policymaking are reading, don’t forget that there are plenty out there who are just like me.

The world does not revolve around growth for everybody. Growth is fine, as long as it is not there for its own sake. If there is a policy that results in better human rights or environmental protection but creates zero economic growth, or that puts growth back in the hands of the everyman, well, so be it.

I’ll be happier.

4 Comments:

Blogger Dash Brannigan said...

Well I actually meant it as a joke. I thought the tone of it would have come across. Obviously it didn't, going down like a lead balloon it would seem. I didn’t mean for you to find it offensive.

However, if you wish to view my comments with hostility I guess that’s up to you.

8:28 pm  
Blogger Not my real name said...

Ooops. There you go. In any case, it served a useful purpose in getting my point across.

Apologies for not seeing the joke!

Looking forward to your post.

8:35 pm  
Blogger Not my real name said...

I guess it is that old thing about email and writing, it is really hard to get your tone across because of the lack of other signals, like face and tone of voice etc.

No stress.

8:36 pm  
Blogger Dash Brannigan said...

Feel like a bit of a Charlie now don't we? It cool, your probably cute when you get mad. (that was a joke too just to make sure you took it the right way).

8:48 pm  

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