I have recently seen two contradictory approaches on growth. On one hand I recently read most of the book grit, and the general finance attitude of profit and growth that I experience at work.
The podcast presents an almost prophetic tone from Kate Raworth’s, explaining her politics as the politics of the XXI century. A balance between humans and nature that we need to choose, or otherwise react to what nature has to offer with climate change.
Both interviewers (Rory Stewart, Alistair Campbell) challenged her declared position of “growth agnostic”, to uncover that she does not believe that her doughnut politics can be achieved without some degree of economic contraction in advanced economies. They did so to elaborate on the point on how politically unaffordable is to reject growth.
Growth is quite appealing and has permeated through good part of my life. In a period in which energy extraction and resources has not stopped, and human life has exploded, the mindset of growth through work and further extraction is just everywhere. We have the means to extract as much energy as we need to then convert it into as much food or goods as we need and improve our quality of life, so why not?
I remember reading “lean startup” and there is the unquestionable principle of seeking growth. Pivoting and changing but eventually making it from a startup into maturity. Financial companies like growth too to increase their wealth as much as possible so they can generate as much wealth for themselves.
Grit is one of the many self help books that explore growth and the mindset that drives growth. In one of the chapters, on education, it explains that experiments with rats have shown that by exposing them during their teenage years to hard work that yields rewards they are more likely to become hard working when they become adults. An opposite of learned helplessness.
Reading about these rats made me think if it makes sense for rats to be hard working when resources are limited and shared for multiple generations. I suspect that laziness as an adult (being an old fart?) is a necessity for the pack to survive.
Language dictates that childhood and growth go together. Nature has a similar mandate; we can’t be born adults. But at some point we stop growing, at least physically. We change in our minds, but is it accurate to call it growth? or just change?
The contradiction of these two positions seems undecidable: Is it that as a society we need to keep growing forever? In the same way that people still growth mentally, but not physically? Move the target but keep growing? Or is it that thinking on growth after certain point isn’t right? That we need to be as sustainable as possible and think long term to become wise and nimble?
If we chose growth as we choose everyday, then we will have to deal with the consequences of running out of environmental resources. React to what comes and find the growth within the limitations.
If we chose not to growth, then the difficult choices would appear earlier, like forbidding people to have more than N children or reducing consumerism heavily. But it will likely sustain more people over the longer term, in the same way than a non constantly growing parent can be more available to their children and encourage them to do the same.
The dynamics of this choice are not too dissimilar to the trolley problem , except that the switch is the global mindset and politics that take decades to change. I think Kate Raworth is right that this question will be central to the conversation in the next few decades. I predict that the first global crop failure or wet bulb temperature above 35 event will likely make this conversation more mainstream.
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