In the press, I constantly hear the repetitive mantra of “growth”, with the implicit assumption that growth is a good thing for business and the economy in general. Have we been lulled into this sensibility by the period of rapid population expansion we’ve experienced in the historically-recent past? Certainly markets for almost any good have been expanding with the population, and growth has become synonymous with prosperity in almost any endeavor (except when one is fighting cancer … ;-). Population can’t continue to increase forever, though. When will the concept of growth be reconsidered in mainstream human culture?
Obviously, someday the language, and the context behind it, will change as human civilization approaches natural limits. Few seem to see those limits today, and business and the markets that drive it are far too short-term focused, especially in North America, to consider them. But is there really NO long range planning going on, or does it just appear that way?
Of course, corporations are notoriously secretive, as they consider just about any future-oriented thought to be a source of competitive advantage. Perhaps that is why I see practically no evidence of the kind of long term planning I would expect in the business world. I would not expect long-range government planning to be nearly as secretive, though, and I don’t see much of that, either. I can try to write that off to elected officials not thinking beyond the next election, but there are many with planning responsibility who are not elected. Perhaps they are just too “whipsawed” by the back-and-forth influences of changes of control and influence between the conflicting parties in the U.S., both of which appear to have an intense aversion to any idea the other came up with, even if it might have merit – a powerful “not invented here” ideology motivated by … the next election.
The press have been increasingly motivated by the need for ratings, which has driven sensationalism, opinion-as-news, and apparent strong influence from corporate owners as media consolidation has continued apace. This precludes much reporting on long term issues except when they surface in a potentially sensational way in scientific reports, and, even then, those reports get better coverage if they occur on a slow news day. Historically, I have to wonder if we aren’t in a period of “yellow journalism”, as was decried at the end of the 19th century. (Note that we also declared a quite-possibly unjustified war on Spain in that period, an interesting parallel with the current war on Iraq.)
So what will it take to get business, political, and journalistic entities to pay more attention to long term risks and possibilities, and recognize that the popular concept of growth must change? Your thoughts?