Just the Facts, Ma’am: Reporting on Economic Growth in a World of Limits

Jun 25th, 2013 | By | Category: Economics and GDP

By Suzanne York, www.howmany.org

Everywhere you turn today there is talk of economic growth.  A growing economy is the gold standard and main policy goal of just about every nation. There is not much talk about growth in sustainable livelihoods or well-being.  Yet a mantra of continued economic growth is what we hear from mainstream news, politicians, and business leaders.

[photo: www.growthbusters.org]

But not all economic growth is good.  And as climate change skews normal weather patterns and as we drill in deeper, more remote, and more environmentally sensitive places, a global economic system predicated on limitless growth is not going to last forever. 

Busting the Myth of Endless Growth

Old habits and entrenched policies are hard to change.  One effort that is attempting to shine a light on the constant pro-growth bias in our world and bring forth alternative ideas is the website Growth Bias Busted.   Its purpose is to expose the boundless economic growth bias of many journalists and promote fair and accurate reporting on the subject. 

Dave Gardner is the creator of Growth Bias Busted and very passionate about overcoming the pervasive pro-growth attitude.  He states it well on the site:

Once upon a time, growth in population, economic throughput and consumption led to increasing prosperity. As we filled up the world, the link between growth and prosperity broke. We’re consuming resources faster than the Earth can replenish them and working ourselves to death in service to an economy that demands more, more, more.

What global society should be promoting is equality, equity, empowerment, and one more “e” – education. 

To give a taste of the website, it has a “wall of shame” for tracking the all-growth, all-the-time media reports, and a “wall of fame” to highlight journalists who are reporting “other schools of thought” who question growth or write on alternatives.  An example of shame is America’s Fastest Growing Cities. An example of fame is Growth is the Enemy of Humankind.

Wait, there are other positions than just promoting economic growth in perpetuity?  There are people who understand that a world of over 7 billion people relying heavily on non-renewable resources cannot sustain growth forever.  Currently, too much of the world lives in poverty and poor people must be raised up out of it.  The challenge is to do so within limits that respect human rights and the environment.

Other Economic Structures

There are actually many alternatives to economic growth that take into consideration both people and the planet.  A steady-state economy, true cost accounting, local economies (transition towns), plenitude economy, and alternatives to GDP are just a few positive concepts in support of rethinking our current unsustainable economic structure.

Another idea is creating a caring economy.  Simply put, this is based on the premise that the real wealth of a nation is not financial but consists of the contributions of people and nature.   This includes the contributions of caregivers to society, which is not counted as part of GDP.  Instead of GDP, social wealth indicators should be established that support well-being and measure true prosperity.

[photo: www.partnershipway.org]

A World Beyond Growth

We are exceeding the earth’s planetary boundaries, but aren’t meeting our social needs.  Our global society has the tools and ability to create a way to live well and within our means and that of the planet.  The problem is we just don’t hear about it from mainstream sources.  Thanks to efforts such as Growth Bias Busted, we can have this conversation and change our direction from endless growth to a better, more viable world.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies.



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