Is no growth economy an option? Can you limit growth without draconian rule?

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coal-plantPeter Gorrie asks in a recent column in the Toronto Star — “The zero hour is coming”. — if growth is a realistic option for governments to contemplate. In response, Mike Saint, chairman and founder of The Saint Consulting Group, asks: How do you limit growth without totalitarian rule?.

According to author Peter Victor, a senior economist at York University, whom Gorrie quotes extensively in the article, you can limit growth by:

    Stabilizing population by letting immigration offset the forecast natural decline.

    Maintaining current levels of family re-unifications and refugees, but allowing fewer economic immigrants.

    Cutting resource use and waste emissions through taxes, cap-and-trade systems and other measures to reduce consumption of goods and increase emphasis on services.

    Reducing the time each person works and spreading the jobs around.

    Taking increased productivity as leisure time.

If these items sound Draconian, Victor says, we should remember they’re already in use in some form. And if we consume less, he notes, we’ll leave room for growth in poorer parts of the world.

He admits it won’t be easy: “The scope of change required for managing without growth is so great that no democratically elected government could implement the requisite policies without the broad-based consent of the electorate. Even talking about them could make a politician unelectable.”

Again, I ask, how do you limit growth, who makes these decisions?

In my experience, growth is largely driven by growing populations who need more housing, more jobs, more goods and more services and more improvements that will lead to a better lifestyle, i.e. a cure for cancer. If government stops the population from growing, you could slow demand for more things, in theory. But a stable population ages. Who replaces those who retire? Will that not lead to negative growth?

More taxes and limiting how many hours each person can work and discouraging foreign trade and limiting what new technologies will be allowed, will reduce the incentives for entrepreneurs to develop new products, new companies, and new ideas, all of which lead to growth. But what neither Gorrie or Victor explains is who will make these growth decisions. Clearly implied here is that some Victor-approved experts will be empowered to make decisions for everybody else. And not democratically elected experts since they will never be able to implement such decisions.

What Victor and Gorrie seem to be advocating, in the name of slowing economic growth and protecting the environment, is a totalitarian government that will dictate to all: who can work, what they can do, what technologies and businesses will be allowed, and what trading will be permitted. Clearly, if implemented in just one country, like Canada, it will mean closing the borders not only to people and trade but to ideas and communication. How can you tell people they can’t have things that they see people in an adjoining country having?

Welcome to a seventh century police state! Someone send Victor and Gorrie a copy of F.A. Hayek’s “Road to Serdom.”
Central planning of the type advocated by Victor has long since been discredited as anything but a step toward taking away all personal freedom. It is interesting how the idea of central planning is returning under the guise of a way to build a sustainable, environmentally friendly world.
Mike Saint is chairman and founder of The Saint Consulting Group.

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