October 10, 2007

One of the Dumbest Things I've Read in Years

I DARESAY George Monbiot, the loathesome and wretched columnist for The Guardian, stands as prima facie evidence of Britain and Europe's continuing slide into irrelevance. Here is a man, given a grand stage on which to deliver his wisdom, and he consistently spouts theories and ideas that make less sense than the utterings of a mad street preacher. His latest gem is a pitiful screed in which he argues -- wait for it -- that Governments ought work to halt economic growth because it could promote climate change and cause an ecological collapse.

This is, of course, a breathtakingly stupid argument. Apparently the ecological destruction wrought under certain economically unfree regimes over the past half-century has slipped Mr Monbiot's mind. Apparently, Mr Monbiot has also not realized economic growth is a catalyst for environmental improvements, as one can see here in the United States and in most places in the developed world. Lastly, Mr Monbiot has apparently forgotten that economic stagnation -- or sharp economic declines -- can lead to unpleasant struggles over land, resources and other property. Struggles, one might add, that often involve trampling underfoot the ecology he so adores.

But let's look at Mr Monbiot's argument in depth, because only that can expose the man's intellectual ineptitude. Mr Monbiot writes:

If you are of a sensitive disposition, I advise you to turn the page now. I am about to break the last of the universal taboos. I hope that the recession now being forecast by some economists materialises.

Actually, I can think of many universal taboos that still remain alive and well, including ---

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-- and especially when you use whipped cream. But I digress. It is generally poor form to root for a downtown in the economy, even if you've got your portfolio entirely short. Most people, who maintain at least some sense of class and decorum, know to keep such thoughts private. Mr Monbiot has never shown much of either.

Mr Monbiot continues:

I recognise that recession causes hardship. Like everyone I am aware that it would cause some people to lose their jobs and homes. I do not dismiss these impacts or the harm they inflict, though I would argue that they are the avoidable results of an economy designed to maximise growth rather than welfare. What I would like you to recognise is something much less discussed: that, beyond a certain point, hardship is also caused by economic growth.

Mr Monbiot, of course, does dismiss these. He does so through not volunteering to be the first one made redundant at The Guardian when the economic downturn he so desires actually comes through. Of course, at the rate things are going in Britain and Europe, he may well get his wish yet. As the American dollar continues to fall and the Asian nations continue to artificially keep their currencies undervalued, a downturn on the other side of the Atlantic can't be ruled out.

Still, the idea that economic growth causes hardship just doesn't make any sense. Economic growth unequivocally improves lives, raises standards of living and creates a better world. After all, the world of today is far better than it was back in 1900, 1950 or even 1980. As such, it stands to reason that with continued growth, the world of 2020, 2050 or 2100 will be better still.

This conclusion, however, has escaped Mr Monbiot completely. He has forgotten that a lot of growth does not result from building factories or polluting rivers, but through entire economic sectors that are based on intellectual and technological advancements. The pursuit of growth has already led to the development of hybrid automobiles; who is to say that super-clean hydrogen cars won't be far behind? What is to say the drive for cheaper energy won't lead to the development of cleaner power plants?

Mr Monbiot continues by decrying what he sees as runaway consumption, not only among the hoi polloi but among the upper classes, who spend an alarming amount of money on expensive frippery and useless knick-knacks and related goods. Why he didn't devote his column to the reasonable argument that reducing consumption is not only clever, but a social good, is beyond me. That itself, aside from being sound, would provide many of the benefits he supposedly hopes to derive through less economic growth.

Yet as Mr Monbiot is rooted in the peculiar world view of Europe -- and its idea that Government, in all its forms, can and must solve every problem under the sun -- it is unsurprising he would look to the State to solve the supposed ills he identifies. It is fortunate, as Mr Monbiot ruefully notes, that the Governments he would like to act will take no action on his ideas. That may be because, unlike Monbiot, these Governments are back on planet Earth.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at October 10, 2007 11:19 PM | TrackBack
Comments

"Still, the idea that economic growth causes
hardship just doesn't make any sense. Economic
growth unequivocally improves lives, raises
standards of living and creates a better
world. After all, the world of today is far
better than it was back in 1900, 1950 or even
1980. As such, it stands to reason that with
continued growth, the world of 2020, 2050 or
2100 will be better still."

While I can appreciate this line of reasoning, it unfortunately comprises a mostly specious argument to support eroding the environment. Numerous studies in psychology and economics have shown that things associated with economic growth (such as consumer choice) usually do not improve things associated with quality of life (such as happiness). Moreover, many studies have shown that convenience and choice often do more harm than good to individual well being. Here are two blog-friendly references to this interesting scientific literature.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easterlin_paradox

http://www.sju.edu/academics/cr/chronicle.htm

Whether links to environmental issues are tenable is debatable. However, mounting evidence would suggest that life today is probably not much better than life in the 1950s...at least in the eight inches between the ears of most individuals.

Posted by: motown musings at October 11, 2007 12:40 PM

I'm not going to deny there are costs associated with economic growth. However, I think it's pretty clear economic growth can and has gone hand-in-hand with an improved environment. Simply put, a growing economy gives people the ability to say they want limits on certain activities that cause excess pollution or have negative environmental effects, because they no longer have to rely on those activities for their daily bread. It's a lot easier to say no to a mining operation when you don't have to rely on the mine to feed your family.

Conversely, we can see the huge environmental damage caused in countries that had suffered under Communism, because the emphasis in those prosperity-starved nations was necessarily on production and not on the environment.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at October 11, 2007 07:46 PM
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