Economic Shrinkage

Shoppers in Sydney (William West/AFP)

Economic shrinkage


Gerard Oosterman

Gerard Oosterman

Australia is still leading in growth, both economically but also in our body size, melanomas, diabetes and carbon emissions. The only light on the horizon is our waning of consuming.

The Christmas shopping has been the slowest and, in my opinion, the best for years. Are we now going to lead the world in something far more important and world changing? Have the first seeds been sown in this country in coming to believe and realise that mindless consuming is moronic as well as being one of the reasons our grandkids futures might be vanishing rapidly?

For the first time all of our friends decided to forego spending money on presents apart from those for the very young for whom Christmas and presents is still somehow connected to a world of magic and joy. Mind you, I noticed that many children have trouble actually wanting something from Santa that they are not already owning!

We have an annual Christmas party with friends that dates back more than 20 years. The same people meet and at the same friend’s house. A few have dropped off their perch but by and large the main body of friends are still around and stick to the party year in year out. It is a tradition born out of friendships that have lasted decades. Part of it was the giving of cards and gifts. This year for some inexplicable reason we all decided to just cook lovely food but not continue with the giving of cards and presents.

Hopefully, this is groundbreaking and the start of trying to continue without blind obedience to the God of Terminal Materialism and addiction to endless buying of stuff that with ever-increasing speed end up on the kerb-side to be dumped on landfill.

The prediction that electricity prices might triple in the next decade have all sorts of governments worried sick. None of them have come up that if we don’t want to pay more we have to use less. Where is the banning or phasing-out of hot water storage systems, electric kettles, black tiled roofs, and giant TV screens, air-conditioning units that fight to keep solar energy out instead of using it to cool and heat our homes? Where are the planners in designing better energy efficient homes, closer to infrastructures?

At the moment everything is geared to continue with ever increasing our use of energy. The engine of materialism has to be kept oiled even if it is killing us.

Economic frugality is the bane of western capitalism with economies that rely on growth rather than shrinkage, always pretending as if none of us live in a finite world. We hear murmurings of renewable energy, responsible emission targets for the future, but precious little on lowering our energy use, lowering our consumption, lowering the world’s obsession with economic growth. Yet, this seems to be far more logical.

Generally, if you are crook you take it easy. Not, it seems, with an economy though. You ramp it up, give it a couple of fiscal shots and hope it will all pan out. In the meantime the world is getting hotter, but so what; much of it is all a bit temporary anyway.

How capable are western countries in living frugally, or, more importantly, how will the population take to reducing energy consumption, reducing water, reducing our large houses, car size, income, standards of living, reducing spending? To save the world ecology we need to reign in mad economic growth and perhaps, if not voluntary, the ‘economic shrinkage’ will force itself on us, almost as part of a natural selection and survival of the fittest. This might then well be a far worse option.

Large parts of the world already enjoy a reduction in economic growth. These are not poor countries; indeed, the US is still the powerhouse of money and wealth. It is just that those that have created the wealth, the consumer and the majority of the population, are now left in the cold without sharing this wealth. It still is in the hands of the few. Isn’t it strange that millions live now in trailers, are without health insurance and have lost their homes? All because of previous rampant economic growth.

While there are many claiming that they have missed out on the fortunes of ever increasing material wellbeing, there are also many that have more than benefitted from wealth. In blatant terminal material societies such as ours and America, there are indeed many that are floating on a warm sea of obscene wealth.

We can’t hide behind the fact that we, per capita, are the world’s largest polluters.

The times ahead will be most interesting if not very hard for many people. The idea of forever increasing growth and ever increasing profits and wealth might be of the past. Sustainability and environmental concerns will have to override economies that have become obsolete on ‘growth ideology’ and remaining blind to the world’s survival… A far more equitable sharing of the pie to others must come about. Time is running out and no way will the capitalistic methods of the survival of the richest and most cunning solve a world close to a climatic death throe. The cult of individual effort and winner takes all, ought to get much more scrutiny.

In the meantime the world is getting hotter.

Gerard Oosterman is now a word painter and blogger of tens of thousands of very wise and/or whimsical but hopefully amusing words

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One Response to “Economic Shrinkage”

  1. Aadje Says:

    From one brother to another, this is your best work.
    50 yrs ago I use to sit in the economic class and listen to lectures on World growth. Thought to myself “this cannot go on forever”. As you explained in you story Gerard, we may have well reached that point.


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