ASAP Speaker Calls for End of Economic Growth

This week a local population control group, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, brought Brian Czech, President of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) to Charlottesville for a series of meetings and a radio appearance with Coy Barefoot on WINA’s “Charlottesville Right Now”.  WINA has the podcast here.

It is not surprising ASAP would bring CASSE to Charlottesville as one National Population Control organization, Negative Population Growth (NPG) has promoted Steady State Economy in their paper “A No-Growth, Steady-State Economy Must be Our Goal”.  The paper, written by NPG President Donald Mann, argues for a decimation of the population in addition to the elimination of economic growth.

Economic growth is not sustainable.

Since we live in a world of limits, macro economic growth cannot possibly maximize per capita income in a way that would be sustainable. On the contrary, in the long run it would surely greatly diminish or even utterly destroy per capita income, the very thing that, to maximize, is its very raison d’etre.

The only way to maximize per capita income and make it sustainable is to create a steady-state economy by reducing population to a sustainable level. Population size is, without any question, the key variable. (emphasis added -nw)

Mann suggests a national goal of cutting Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 50% and/or reduce the United States population by the same.  He states by lowering immigration and reducing our fertility rates we could stop growing and in fact see a decline in population.  I am surprised his paper does not suggest pulling the plug on anyone on life support lest they take community resources to selfishly support their lives.

Steady State Economics is largely associated with the work of Herman Daly, who literally wrote the book on the subject Steady State Economics (1977).  The concept which applies the perspectives of steady state systems developed in thermodynamics to economic analysis has never garnered significant support in the economic community.  It has however captured a “significant audience” in the environmental movement.

According to a recent summary of Daly’s work written by Thompson Galen in Environmental Encyclopedia:  

Daly offers three large-scale social institutions for the United States to help make a steady-state economy a reality. The first of these is a socially determined limit on the national population, with licenses issued to each person allocating exactly the number of births required to maintain zero population growth (approximately 2.1 births per female). These licenses could be purchased or otherwise transferred between individuals, so that those wanting no children could transfer their licenses to those wishing more than their allotment.

The second institution would stabilize the stock of human artifacts and would maintain the resources needed to maintain and replace this stock at levels which do not exceed the physical limits of the environment. A set of marketable quotas for each resource would be the primary mechanism to attain this goal.

The third institution would be a set of minimum and maximum limits on personal income and a maximum cap on personal wealth. The first two institutions are designed to structure population and economic production within the fundamental thermodynamic limits or “ultimate means.” The third is the extension into human society of the moral boundaries set by the goal of preserving and fostering life—in this case to ensure that all people in the steady-state economy have access to society’s resources.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes, even in these dark days of 400+ point swings in the stock market (and around the globe), the greatest resource any country has is its people.  

It is imperative that the public understand these radical concepts that form the foundation for ASAP’s call for “sustainability”.  Just the concept of the government issuing licenses that permit 2.1 children (that can be traded if you want more children), Daly’s approach gives new meaning to a Transfer of Development Rights program.  The second and third pillar of Daly’s institutional changes for government defile the concept of capitalism and individual determinism. 

Cloaked in the auspices of environmental sustainability and a steady state economy, the “government knows best” cohort of the population is garnering support for new government programs that trample individual liberty in their efforts to control all around them.

Our philosophical rejection of these suggestions is based on our belief that the free enterprise system, with all its faults, has been tantamount to the preservation of our freedoms. 

As American Nobel Laureate Milton Freidman said, “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither.  A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both”.


2 responses

  1. Neil:

    I note your “philosophical” rejection of these suggestions (second last paragraph). I would find a mathematical argument more persuasive.

    I understand growth is attractive, from a personal to a macroeconomic level. But Daly and Czech are simply stating what I think a reasonable person would have to stipulate is obvious–we can’t grow forever, without limits, without catastrophic consequences.

    Conservatives–and, more and more, liberals–frequently look at the growth rates of Social Security payments, Medicare expenditures, U.S. healthcare costs, etc. and cry that such growth is–dare I say it–unsustainable. They use a mathematical argument–dollars–that is not only persuasive but easy to understand.

    Why, my conservative friend, do you find it so uncomfortable or illogical to apply that same argument to the consumption of natural resources? Not only is our planet expected to grow from 6 billion to 9 billion before population levels off, but billions of people (Chinese, Indians, et al.) are seeking to achieve OUR standard of living. In the face of global warming, do you really think we can continue to grow–both in numbers and standard of living–without really bad consequences?

    People like Daly and Czech–and, yes, Jack Marshall and company–have always been vilified for simply looking into the future and clearly explaining where we are heading. You don’t have to agree with their proposed solutions, but you could at least acknowledge that they wield some very frightening statistics and explain how we are going to wiggle out of them.

    Boy, it’s cold in Michigan. Maybe global warming will help.

  2. I think I cannot agree with either extreme on this issue. I think it comes down to how we define growth. I do think it is a mistake to assume that population growth is the same thing as economic growth.

    That said, the most effective means of controlling population so far has been to provide people with more education and a higher quality of life. In impoverished nations this has been the only strategy which really seems to work. I would say that it is possible for us to continue to grow economically and in our standard of living due to technology. It allows us to do more with less. An example might be a Compact Florescent Lightbulb.

    I think the best model for a sustainable economy isn’t thermodynamics (especially since we aren’t a closed system), but rather ecology. In a well functioning ecosystem, “goods and services” are exchanged to the benefit of all. It neither requires draconian measures to work, nor can any one species out of greed consume more than their fair share without natural consequences. If we want a better economic model then I feel we need look no further than our own backyards.

    I will also say that even though some ASAP members can have extreme ideas, that I think sometimes that is exactly what is needed to move the conversation forward. Without a genuine discussion about why we think growing is good in the first place, we can’t ever find a good way to do is successfully and sustainably

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