If you pay attention to random things you hear, you soon become aware of the very uncommon intelligence of the common people. If I ever get around to writing my life story, there will be a chapter on the interesting, sometimes riveting, things I’ve heard come out of the mouths of the common man, even from those with only a rudimentary education. The common folk, deprived of extensive education, nonetheless find their way to the essentials of some complex subjects.
One would think it’s obvious that you can’t keep growing forever. It’s a finite world, as a taxi driver, who never went to UG, said to me this week. You can’t keep on making more cars every year, expanding populations and economies every year, businesses doing more business every year, ad infinitum. To use a noun changed into a verb, as we commonly do these days, the thing plateaus. In this vein, in recent times, we have the international columnist David Jessop relaying a warning from German leader Angela Merkel. In so many words her point was that the present level of social provision offered may not be sustainable; it may be necessary to cut the public sector, its pensions and benefits. Instead of seeing that reality looming, or in fact as already here, many Caribbean nations (I include Guyana) live in hope for continued direct aid from the developed world, as well as continuance of preferential economic arrangements for our products, and, lately, the much disputed bonanza from oil. In all of it, that underlying concept of more every year lives, and it doesn’t seem to sink in, to any of us, that as big as the world may seem it is finite – we can’t keep growing endlessly.
Reduce it to small examples we can grasp: take Auntie Philomena who runs a farm in the Waini. I’m not sure if it’s still operating, but the tradition for her farm of some 30 acres (I’m guessing at the size) is that she would reap more products every year, as her planted area expands, but there, too, once all the acreage is planted, further growth for her farm is not possible. Yes, Auntie Phil (we’re friends) could find a way to employ modern irrigation hardware and high-yield fertilizers to increase production, but even there, eventually, further growth will reach that second ceiling and stick. Notice, also, that the more efficient growth depends on the hardware and the fertilizers themselves being available in more quantities and the supply of those items will also stop growing as mankind uses up the raw materials of which they are made.
Here’s another example: Think of Winston in business at Parika ferrying passengers to Bartica in a speedboat holding 16 passengers. The only way Wins (we’re friends) can make more money with his boat next year is to increase the individual fare, but for the passengers to pay him more they themselves have to be earning more, and if they’re not, then the formula begins to break down.
Although the analogy may seem far-fetched at first, it is exactly the same with the economies of countries. We have been living in a time where the capitalism model of ‘more growth every year’ is seen as the norm (The Berlin kabaka Angela Merkel says, “We continue to want to live beyond our means.”) The entire surge of business in the developed world, beginning with the availability (sometimes) of cheap fuel (oil, coal, gas) has conditioned us to believe that annual economic growth is a given. Indeed, we’re so enamoured of the concept of ‘more’, that the economists cannot bring themselves to refer to financial declines as losses; they use the absurd term ‘negative growth’. As we are now seeing around the globe, the chickens are coming home to roost, as individuals, businesses and entire countries are coming up against the barriers with indices of growth falling left and right. There are limits to growth. We’re already seeing the consequences as populations keep exploding with ever more billions to feed; people are dying of hunger around the world every day. (I saw the statistics for that lately, but forget the actual number; I should have made a note; it was horrendous.)
This ‘more next year’ apparatus, fundamental to capitalism, has been running, albeit with occasional hitches, for decade after decade and billions of people are caught up in its continuation, but the issue of limits went viral in 1972 when three esteemed environmentalists (Donnella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows) released a book, The Limits to Growth, based on computer model research showing that ‘more’ was doomed.
A chilling example is before us right now with the horrific killing of school children in the USA and the continuing resistance from the NRA, backed by President Trump, to banning the sale of these automatic weapons designed for use by soldiers in war. The companies who manufacture these guns are against the ban; they want to sell more weapons every year, not less, and Donald Trump, who gets millions from the NRA, is supporting them. The model must prevail; doesn’t matter who gets killed in the process.
However, the ‘more next year’ formula is starting to hit walls all over the place. From Winston running water taxis to Bartica, or the NRA members wanting to sell guns, limits are becoming the reality. I can’t say if Winston gets it (I haven’t seen him in a while) but I know for sure that the gun crowd in the USA does not. Somebody should hang a banner on the White House fence: “We can’t keep growing forever, Donald.”