Is economic growth = human progress?

Economic collapse is inevitable in several countries after this pandemic has flattened out. Because our supply chains are built on just in time inventory. If this lockdown extends for a few more months even partially, it will spell disaster for a significant number of small and medium size businesses. Manufacturing, infrastructure, services and even agriculture will become even more concentrated among a few making inequality even more apparent. Because they are the only one who will have the access to capital to tide over an economic downturn.

Between capital and labour, capital is the one that seems to have say in what happens in our society any more. Labour, the availability and skill of, doesn’t seem to play a major role. Given a chance, the capitalists will convert all production systems, of both goods and services, into automated robotic systems. Because they don’t want to deal with the risk of human variability and errors in the assembly line.

more capital > more machinery and robots > more destruction of environment > lesser years for human species to survive on this planet

“It is inevitable”, a lot of people say “for robots, machines and artificial intelligence to take over most processes”. These aren’t the exact words people use, but you get the gist. Mental illnesses continue to grow because of loneliness, stress on account of the demands of the economic system, and because a lot of people keep staring at some screen or the other: television, laptop, mobile. These are typically ones who don’t engage in labour much, but contribute in the growth and development of capital. On the other hand, the ones who are mostly putting in physical labour to grow our food, to harvest our crops, to build our cities continue to suffer from hunger, malnutrition, poverty. All in all, everyone seems to be losing. Everyone seems to falling into this deep pit we have dug for ourselves.

People who believe in the current forms of human progress state that with continuing progress from a laborious civilization to a automated civilization will free up more of people’s time, make them happier, allow them to explore their inner selves and do what they really want to do. Maybe I have watched too many dystopian movies, but how many of you think this is really a possibility? We know that all sectors of our economy: manufacturing, services, infrastructure, military, agriculture are all heavily dependent now on fossil fuels, heavy machinery, computing power. All these rely on mostly non-renewable sources and don’t care much about the ecological sinks (water, air, soil) their byproducts feed into. All of these are putting extreme pressures on our planet’s carrying capacity of humans. Barely the top 10% of our population gets to enjoy the majority of benefits of the economic system. If all 100% start aspiring to these consumption levels, we are doomed for sure.

So, to answer the question in the title: No, I don’t think the current forms of economic growth can be touted as human progress. Only if we redefine what we value as a species, will we be able to start spending in the right direction : more artisan products, more homemade products, more small farm organic groceries, more khadi, more cottage industries products, impetus to more local economy. Less consumer electronics, less GM cotton, less polyester, less plastic products etc. etc.

Personally, an amazing read on this topic for me is Limits to Growth. I strongly recommend this to anyone who is interested in Sustainability, Systems Thinking or a beautiful future for next generations.

We keep reading so many stories of exploitation of natural resources across the globe: forests, oceans, animals, groundwater, soil, air. But, there are barely any stories or conversations of regeneration or restoration going around. Whereas, these activities are the need of the hour. They are still carried out by only fringe action groups such as NGOs, activists, private trusts etc. There are barely any mainstream actions by government, society or businesses around these. Only 2% of net profit is required by companies to be invested in CSR activities. Is it wrong to expect companies to be socially conscious of all their actions rather than just 2%? Is it wrong to expect that all their profits are being garnered in socially, environmentally just ways?

Compost toilet that we built with materials we found locally. This would have registered much lesser on GDP in the short term but it will enable much more benefit than a conventional toilet in the long run, value which won’t be captured the current way we measure growth. Takes zero cost and very little water to operate.

The realisation should hit us after this pandemic, at least, that we need collective action to get us out of the mess we are in – we all need to reduce consumption levels of non-renewable resources. The fragility of our ecosystems will bring us closer to doomsday.

I don’t know, if after this Covid 19 induced lockdown, more people will move towards more sustainable or regenerative lifestyles. I sincerely doubt it. I don’t want to be pessimistic. But I think a lot of people secretely will think the end of the world is nearing is and employ more destructive practices. Please don’t be that person!

Let’s not hope to return to the same economic system. This is the perfect opportunity to build an economic system based on trust and barter in addition to money instead of just money. Current form of capitalism relies on capital being concentrated in a few hands instead of many.

Grow our own food. Cook your own food. Move to more diverse plant based diets. Consume lesser and lesser refined processed oily food. Make DIY products at home using raw ingredients instead of buying pre packaged stuff all the time – every FMCG product at home has a more natural sustainable environment-friendly plastic-free alternative. Make excess and share them with your neighbours, friends and family. The satisfaction of doing these things with your loved and dear ones is much more than going to the store and buying stuff mindlessly. Giving in to your addiction and convenience is easy. Building trust and making your own produce isn’t. Take the tougher path. Please. For your sake, your family’s sake, your community’s, city’s sake, your nation’ sake. 🙂

A view from the earth house we are building : Diversity is king! neem, guava trees in the foreground. Palm, peepal trees in the background. No-till moong among rice stubble. A long way to go to build food resilience! 🙂

P.S. A lot of what I write is targeted towards my peer groups in school, college, b-school, work i.e. my sphere of influence. If you don’t understand what I have written, please write to me personally and I will try to explain my point of view. And we can have a debate or a conversation about it. 🙂

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Arun Lakshmanan says:

    A timely message – over time, this is what we are moving to, guys. We consume less chemicals, have stopped buying plastics and clothes, carry our bag for grocery, and try to stay away from trash and “keeping up with Jones” – we have decided to choose our Jones more wisely – folks who live with earth and practice sane living. Thanks for the great article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sudhakar says:

      Thanks for doing your best, Arun! 🙂

      Please share our blogs around to raise even more awareness so that we have more environment friendly Joneses 🙂

      Like

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