The Road Runner’s Appetite
The Road Runner’s Appetite
Political and business leaders know that their defects and blunders will be excused if they turn in a respectable growth performance. The quarterly or annual gains in corporate revenue or GDP are really all that matters. But when and why did these raw metrics come to surpass all other indicators of well-being? Although growth is often seen as integral to any capitalist system of accumulation, its recognition as a society’s only relevant standard of worth is largely a postwar development. For example, four-fifths of U.S. growth has occurred in the last fifty years, some part of it driven by Cold War competition to prove the superiority of a market economy. The consensus mood that developed after 1945—which historians have called “growth liberalism”—presided over an expansionist boom in the industrialized world that did not contract until the 1970s. Subsequent doctrines—the supply-side gospel of the Reagan era, the high-tech evangelism of the 1990s, and the asset ownership creed of the 2000s—were all aimed at reviving and boosting the high growth rates that managers of a consumer society had come to expect. Growthmanship spread abroad, along with the internationalization of production, and soon growth in GDP became the most important yardstick for nations, whether in the advanced or the developing world. Slowing growth rates were a cause for concern, while falling numbers were a sign that something was awry, and that close scrutiny, even intervention, from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund was in the offing. Those who believed or behaved otherwise were not wrong; they were simply treated as dropouts from modernity. So entrenched was this orthodoxy that The Limits to Growth, the momentous 1972 Club of Rome report that concluded that current rates of industrial growth could not be sustained ecologically in the long term, was received among business and policy elites as a genuinely heretical document that had to be publicly pilloried. Subsequent surveys, drawing upon a wider range of experts and a more comprehensive collection of scientific data, amplified the 1972 warning about the ruinous impact of unrestrained growth.
Keywords: carbon dioxide emissions, green policy-making, greenhouse gas emissions, industrial waste, neoliberalism, real estate lobby, smart growth, stimulus package, uranium mining, voter propositions, wartime production programs
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