OBR gloom, grim forecasts and growth slashed, shouted the headlines this week after Phillip Hammond’s budget speech. The IFS shouts that we are ‘in danger of losing two decades of earnings growth’ and the Labour opposition chancellor, John McDonnell, sets out how his budget plans would ensure much greater economic growth.
Yet today is Black Friday, the day when sales go wild in the pre-Christmas frenzy of impulse buys, discounts and the need to max out those credit cards. We get these messages and they urge us to spend, consume and borrow for the sake of the economy.
The world is transfixed by a worship and false need for economic growth. The Christians have a great word for this, Mammon – you cannot serve God and Mammon. I often think of Mammon as a huge demon that tempts even the best of us to worship him especially as it is so easy to get caught up in exuberance that comes so naturally when we have more income. Very few of us turn down pay rises.
But the Mammon cultists fail to acknowledge the very real dark side of economic growth. Economics has its etymological roots in household management and is the science of managing the supply and consumption of goods and services. Economic growth is the growth in consumption, resource usage and pollution.
So we live in a world which worships Mammon and screams when economic growth isn’t as high as we want it to be. We live in a world that cries out for continued economic growth every year. We live in a world where the economy is driven by consumerism championed by corporations who need to increase profits. We live in a world that suffers from the impacts of Mammon.
It is often said that suggesting that infinite economic growth, for that is what this means, on a finite planet simply is not possible. I go much further and say that it is utterly destructive to try to achieve it.
Economic growth will stop soon. Our economy is ultimately fuelled by resources many of which are at their peak and will start to decline. Many already have. Our economy is limited by the pollution it causes too. It will self suffocate.
We would be better to learn to live without economic growth, indeed to live with economic contraction for that is what we need, certainly in the west. Our economy is already grossly unsustainable for the planet yet we are part of the planet.
To survive we need to start worshipping different gods to Mammon.