Growth towards what?

SUBHEAD: The "Growth" paradigm has become an embarrassment. We must hold our leaders accountable for this lie. By Ilagi on 14 November 2011 for the Automatic Earth - ( Image above: Photo of abandoned car park in Ireland by Albert Bridge. From ( Well, the coups have been successful: Greece changed Papa's, and Italy's going to get its Full Monti. If the financial world can't get the votes, it simply chases away chosen leaders and appoints its own guys in their place. Woe the people of Athens and Rome. Who still have no clue, if one can go by the support both non-elected leaders of only-in-name democracies have received at home. Don't say you weren’t warned. Italy sold €3 billion in 5-year bonds at 6.29% today, and that is a victory how again? Italy can't afford to pay almost 5 times as much interest as Holland or Germany do, not for long. The EFSF, according to the Telegraph, even had to buy its own debt in its first ever issue. The fund has denied the report, but who do you believe, them or your lying eyes? Everyone and their pet parrot are by now clamoring for the ECB to step in and buy everything under the sun, but that horse is already dead tired. The ECB itself doesn't want to be lender of last resort, Germany doesn't want it to be, and it also happens to be plain illegal to let it, under EU law and probably under that of some of its members as well. European Council president van Rompuy is said to be working on treaty changes that should make it all possible, but I can guarantee you that one or more member countries will insist on at least a referendum on such issues. And Europe doesn't have the time for that, let alone the gusto. So what to do? It's really very simple. It may lead to economic pain and political chaos, but other than that, it's not that hard at all. Europe needs to grow a pair. It needs to refuse to bail out financial institutions that can no longer stand on their own two feet without bail outs to prop them up. It then needs to demand full discovery of any and all assets in the bank vaults. It can offer temporary support to those banks that remain viable as going concerns once all their paper has been marked to market, insure any and all deposits from citizens and businesses, and subsequently close the doors on those banks that are going concerns no more. Washington and Wall Street will shout fire, murder and brimstone, but you know what? Let them take care of their own for once. The notion that -future- European taxpayer revenue must be put at risk to save Wall Street banks needs to be put out by the curb. It doesn't work, not for the European taxpayer. Both Wall Street and European banks that hold too much American and European private debt, sovereign debt and/or derivatives, need to be purged from the system. Europe can make a start, and if America knows what's good for it, it will follow suit. If not, tough luck. It's high time to come clean, to stop the incessant lying. To stop pretending things are a bit hard right now, but otherwise just fine. They're not. Extend and pretend works only so long. Then it snaps back in your face with a vengeance. That's why the bond markets are so successful in bringing down Italy and Greece. Not because the ECB doesn't step in, since that would only serve to cover up reality for a little bit longer, but because they've both lied for so long about their real predicaments. No, just stop lying. The consequences and challenges will be formidable, but they’ll be that anyway. You can't cover up the debt and the losses forever. And the chances of growing your economies out of the cesspit are zero, if not below. One thing no more lying will achieve is this: it will re-establish confidence in the markets -or what'll be left of them-. And isn't that what you guys always say you want to accomplish? Well, I can assure you, it's the only way to do it: cut the fairy tales. Take a breath of fresh air and get to work. Do something real and rewarding for a change, and for a living. Oh, and one other thing that must stop something urgent: stop talking about economic growth. There ain't none, and we need to wonder hard and loud why we still and always unquestioningly assume and accept that we need it. No, the Greek economy will not grow its way out of its misery. Neither will Italy's, or France's or America's. There's too much debt to grow out of. But perhaps this is hard to fathom without resorting to more philosophical questions. For those of you who've never read or heard Professor Albert Bartlett's work on exponential growth (since that is what we're talking bout), get moving. Bartlett is a physicist. That means he's an actual scientist, and capable of understanding the inevitable endgame of exponential growth. People like Papademos and Monti, as well as just about any political and economic leader on the planet, don't understand the science involved. Either that or they’re willfully blind to it. And there's another layer to the question, one that goes beyond the easy to understand impossibility of endless and eternal growth. That is, when we look around our respective places on the planet, why do we think we need to grow more? Why do we feel we haven't grown enough? And perhaps more quintessential: what is it that we want to grow into? At what point, if we do want more growth, will it be enough for us? Have we even thought about that? We are fed the constant growth story because it is indeed a necessity in our present system. When all money issued carries interest i.e. is issued as debt, you will need to grow your GDP at least as much a that interest rate to play even. Just as easy to understand as the exponential growth conundrum. Or so you would think. But that doesn't mean that you can always keep issuing enough money to meet your interest payment requirements. Not when a huge part of it is issued as for instance mortgage loans, but very few people buy homes. Not when money is created when banks issue fresh credit to industries, but industries find no market for their products and instead contract. In other words: if we don't grow, we will shrink. And that, we are told, is the very definition of armageddon. But why couldn't we shrink a little and still be comfortable? In theory we could perhaps, but first of all the human mind isn't made for shrinkage, and second the money we create as credit is virtual, and can disappear as fast as it was created, and into the same nothingness. If we would for instance consciously choose to shrink by 5%, we'd run a very real risk that we would cause 50% of the money to vanish. The system based on credit will have the tendency to go down like so many dominoes. It has very little resilience and is thus enormously fragile, something we don't pay attention to when we have growth, and are therefore not prepared for when we no longer do. These days we can find a lot of 2012 growth predictions in the media. Just about every single one contains a revision to the downside. 0.5%, 1%, that's all that's left. And that's not enough to pay the interest. It's always instructive to look at the terminology used in the news. Economic growth will be reported as meager vs healthy, robust vs lagging, weak vs strong. More is always better. A 1% growth number for a modern western economy just doesn't cut it. Even though it's just as much of an exponential growth number as any other. And exponential growth inevitably leads to disaster. Still, the system's proponents seem to think there's such a thing as too little exponentiality. Now, of course I recognize that more philosophical musings such as these are easily discarded. You can't change the system overnight, I hear you say. It worked well for a long time. We are much better off than we were before. Than our parents and grand parents were. That last one is a bit of a stretch. In her lectures, TAE's Nicole "Stoneleigh" Foss puts the highest point of our wealth as a society (EU and US) at 1982 at the latest. As in for instance: what percentage of your income, wealth, went to pay for education, health care, then as opposed to now? It's probably a few years earlier still: mid-70's. When the world started processing Nixon's decision to take the US off the gold standard (which I don't want to discuss here). After that, and we're talking some 35 years ago, more than a generation, the money as debt system really took off. It took a while for the psychopaths among us to realize the possibilities, but it's 2011 now and boy, have they ever realized it. And so have we, of course. Jay Hanson once wrote something like (I paraphrase) : "Democracy only works until voters realize they can vote themselves an ever larger piece of the pie". It's 2011, and Greece and Italy have just put their fate and faith in the hands of non-democratically appointed leaders. Over the past 35 years, they may have gotten a bit richer, but those days are gone, and are the Greeks and Italians today really happier than the preceding generation? But, yes, the system worked for a while, even if not really for a long time. And yes, you can't change the system overnight. I guess what irks me most when I read all the "return to growth" stories, whether they address the US or Greece or any other nation, is that it's such a one-dimensional notion. I never see anyone asking questions about the core issue. And most of all, I never see a politician or economist addressing the question of what would happen to us, and what we should do, if we can not return to growth. Surely we can all agree that political decisions and measures would in all likelihood be very different if we, if even hypothetically, considered a no-growth scenario. For now, it's treated as a doomsday tale, to the extent that anyone gives it any thought at all. And that at a time when I am personally simply not able to see any way at all to get our societies back to what is considered "healthy" economic growth. Certainly not if we all keep lying, and accepting lies, about where we are. Shed daylight on the paperwork and let's look it over. If it all turns out to be relatively benign, all the better. But if it doesn't, at least we’ll know what to prepare for and work on. The fact that 800 pounds a day of funny accounting is used to cover up losses all over the place is probably a good indicator of our reality. Which means we'd better start talking about what to do when growth is no longer a viable option. And get rid of this quasi-religious clinging to it as something some immovable deity handed to us atop a removed mountaintop. Because that's it, in the end, isn't it: the growth religion makes us destroy not only our economies, but the very world we live in. And that is embarrassing, if nothing else. For onr thing, how does that define as growth? It makes us look just about infinitely stupid. Luckily for us, we can do something about it: start thinking about and discussing why we want growth; if we need it, why we want it. Stop your leaders from lying, and stop lying to yourselves. At the very least, you’ll feel less embarrassed. And ask yourself: what do you want to grow into? What's missing? .

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