In any case, what the world really needs is not global trade agreements but a global no-growth agreement. Sensibly, we cannot continue to use up ever more resources when the planet contains only a finite amount. We can substitute new resources for old ones, or use resources more efficiently, but the trend since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution has been a relentless march of ever increasing demands on the Earth.
|Another form of unrestrained growth|
Ending it will, as they say, require a new economic paradigm. We are, under our current economic regime, caught in a growth trap. For the last 250 years or so, advancing technology has made production ever more efficient, allowing for more production with less labour. But less labour means fewer people working and the unemployed cannot buy much. Increase unemployment and the economy slows, tipping into recession or even depression. This is to be avoided at all costs. The inevitable answer is to produce more products, or create new ones, thereby creating jobs. In short, the answer is growth. To end growth, we must escape this trap. We must stop consuming ever larger amounts of stuff.
Various possibilities present themselves. For example, we could work less, accepting lower incomes--buying less stuff, but compensating ourselves with more time for family, community and pleasure.
In his book Alternatives to Growth: Efficiency Shifting, Conrad Schmidt offers the intriguing idea of reducing overall labour efficiency by creating jobs that are more labour-intensive. For example, if teachers average 30 students to a class, reduce class size to 25 or 20, or whatever the optimum teaching size is, and hire more teachers.
We might also make work more interesting at the expense of making it less efficient. When Henry Ford increased efficiency in his factories by setting up assembly lines where each worker installed one part over and over and over again, replacing groups of mechanics that made a whole car, he turned skilled workers into robots. More efficient it certainly was, but much less humane. It is time to put job satisfaction over job efficiency. Ending quantity growth, i.e. GDP growth, does not mean ending quality growth.
In the West, we have long passed the point where we create enough wealth to allow every person a comfortable living. We have to allow the undeveloped world some catch-up, but we are now well-positioned to tame growth.
There are solutions out there. What is not out there is serious political discussion of the issue. Meanwhile we race on toward the plundering of our Earth, sucking it dry of resources and defiling it with our waste. The clock is ticking on global civilization.