Attitudes about Growth in Business, Politics, and the Press

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?


3 responses to “Attitudes about Growth in Business, Politics, and the Press

  1. Economic growth does not simply mean producing or consuming more things. I recall that a portion of economic growth is from increased productivity. So, ideally, our level of production/consumption will someday level out, but the quality and capability of the goods will increase due to increased productivity, and that will still be called growth.

  2. I agree, Mark. What the press means when they say “growth” is not usually clear. Listening between the lines to the best of my ability, I’ve heard the term used to mean growth of market share, increased national or global productivity, GDP increase, and geographical or lifestyle change-based market expansion, to name a few. Each has different implications for achieving a sustainable economy in the long term, some of them favorable, and some not so much so. I do believe that productivity will increase as long as we maintain some level of structural stability.

    I believe, too, that eventually our production and consumption will indeed level off. My hope in this blog is that people can raise consciousness and plan ahead so we avoid experiencing any precipitous declines on the way to sustainability due to unplanned-for changes or events.

    I also recognize that I should have been cautious about using the “economic” qualifier, as that can narrow the term to a classical definition (or set of definitions) that distracts or detracts from what I was trying to say. I will edit the text accordingly.

    I’m not sure how the meaning of the term “growth” will change, but hope that the common and more colloquial definitions will favor sustainability as more people become conscious of the need to work towards that goal.

    Thanks very much for your comment.

  3. Pingback: More on How “Growth” is Regarded in U.S. Culture « Tim Prosser’s Futuring Weblog

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