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A field of study (Economics) based on insane assumptions (e.g., infinite growth on a finite planet is both possible and desirable) is an insane field of study. That this is not instantly obvious to virtually all human beings supports, in my opinion, your idea that the growth drive is innate to the species and unconscious in nature.

We are what we are and nowhere near enough of us are likely to break through our evolutionary blinders soon enough to prevent all of us from experiencing the results of our collective natural behavior.

A pity, that.

Alexander Ač

Thanks Dave, there is nothing much more wiser to add.

People will have the future they deserve. That is, if any in the long-term.



You couldn't make it any more clear Dave. The fact that no one up the pecking order appears to 'get it' is a proof.

Confucius say: Man who go ass backward impale rectum on bamboo."

For that reason alone (let alone the countless other reasons) we are fucked, in tandem with the biosphere.

Sheila Chambers

Why didn't we name our selves homo stupideous?

How can anyone not comprehend that endless growth is not possible?
Every farmer knows there is a limit to how many cattle, sheep,goats etc can graze his field without degrading it.
The tragedy of the commons is that because no one is responsible for the land, all are free to put as many animals on it as possible thus the person with the most animal makes more profit than those who are more sensible.
Governments & most religions push for more babies to increase their power & influence but this leads inevitably to overpopulation & degradation of their environment.
We seem unable to see this until it's way too late to prevent another population collapse but this time it will be world wide, not just one country or territory.
Already methane is leaking from the ocean shelf & the tundra, could this be the proof of the beginning of a unstoppable runaway greenhouse?

Still we continue to argue whether or not there is global warming even as we sit like frogs in a pot of slowly warming water.

Isn't is discouraging to have to write blogs about our stupidity?

Mike Roberts

That seems perfectly clear, Dave. But I wonder if that instinctual drive for growth only comes out in certain circumstances. I'm currently reading Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday. He refers to different types of societies; from memory they are bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states. This variation, up the societal scale, alone may be further evidence of the drive for growth but I note that there still are, or recently were, many primitive societies that have remained essentially unchanged in scale for centuries or millennia. Are they just anomalies, awaiting the conditions to bring the growth imperative to the fore?

Dave Cohen


Yes, my view is that when the means and opportunity for growth to occur, that's what you'll get.

Simpler, more "primitive" societies lacked the means and opportunity (e.g. hunter-gatherers, chiefdoms).

Moreover, there are two conflicting instincts expressed in large, complex human societies:

(1) the urge to grow

(2) the need for stable, hierarchical, authoritarian social structures

Thus many modern societies are organized around (2) and not (1). But (2) usually precludes (1) because socially stable (rigid) arrangements take away the means and opportunity for growth.

However, some societies (e.g., Russia, Saudi Arabia) can accommodate both instinctual drives because they have large natural resource reserves.

And that's what makes China interesting.

China appears to be moving from (2) to (1).

There is a non-trivial cultural component to how basic instincts are manifested, but, importantly, there is no "blank slate" (e.g., human social arrangements are not merely arbitrary). So on the surface, things look messy.

Finally, there is no "(3)". Also, Jared Diamond has influenced my thinking on these issues.

-- Dave


Excellent series, Dave. In many ways it's astonishing america, as currently constituted, has hung together for so long. Here in Uk we're still grappling with decline of our empire while fixating a thousand yard stare on endless upward growth and business as usual. Nature and the countryside are .idealised to such a huge degree we are saved from actually having to face up any consequences of the way we choose to live. Thank you for joining the dots with such clarity.

Mike Roberts

Thanks, Dave, that's interesting, particularly about China. It will be interesting to see how that state develops. If there is time.

Mike Roberts

Here's a dreamer: Tim Jackson: An economic reality check but a great quote about 7 minutes in, talking about the economy, growth and its drivers: "It's a story about us, people, being persuaded to spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about."

Robert Arrington

China is indeed an interesting case. It would seem they are attempting to "balance" (2) and (1) via what I have seen labeled "authoritarian state capitalism", perhaps envisioning a hypothetical synthesis that can be maintained. This tightrope-walk could be fun to watch. Keeping the lid of Pandora's box open only partway may be more challenging than they think.

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