Growth agnostic or fighting it?


Growth as usually used is like a value in it self. Overall it is a main topic in the whole discussion. My question is:
Is beeing agnostic about growth really sufficient? Why not to characterise it as what it is?
The only known process which mirrors today´s growth is cancer. Why agnostic? Why not name it what it is? Most of today growth is cancer growth. Is there any argument not to characterise growth as cancer?

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I tend to agree that one cannot be agnostic to growth. It is at the root cause of our problems and growth that is tied to increased use of finite resources is unsustainable and like cancer will kill its host. Our entire economic system is based on growth fuelled by debt. Our governments project growth forward in order to justify running deficits and project forward their debt to GDP ratio with the expectation that the economy will in essence grow indefinitely. The same holds true for the corporate sector. Fo most companies it is grow or die, and in order to raise money in capital markets, a company has to project growth, otherwise it does not attract any capital and will ultimately not survive.

A new economic system is not simply ushered in through increased investments in renewable energy and sustainable practices in all industrial sectors. At the root cause of the problem and in many cases deemed politically incorrect to address is that the world has already gone significantly past its capacity to sustain our current human population from a resource perspective, never mind to account for additional population growth. Food production that relies on the displacement of all other living things in order to grow a monoculture to feed the population is what leads to the large scale destruction of our environment and jeopardizes the survival of live as we know it.

I think Doughnut Economics should be looking not just at an economic system that strives for sustainability for human kind but abolish the human centric view with which we judge all economic decisions.

Our economic decisions should be guided by preserving and valuing all live not just ours and start putting a price on the preservation of ecosystems that nourish the planet as a whole.

Simple things such as paying farmers to set aside land for reforestation or the creation of wetlands would be a good start. In essence paying farmers to be real stewards of the land. Preserving ecosystems is a societal good that should be paid for by society at large since everyone benefits from it.

In regards to what do to about overpopulation, the Chinese had the right idea with their one child policy. I sincerely believe such a policy is badly needed on a global basis if we want to have a fighting chance of survival past the next century. The argument would be where would growth be coming from in order to pay off the horrendous debts accumulated world wide?

I believe population reduction over the next two generations via a one child policy coupled with robotics and AI that will aid in maintaining living standards with a reduced population while still being able to get the work done is essential.

All the other things to get to a more sustainable economy such as fostering, energy efficiency, dramatic rollout of renewable energy, switching to plant based materials rather than plastic etc are essential and a given and have to be accelerated simultaneously. The green new deal proposed by AOC is not far off the mark on that front. I know that what I am proposing is highly controversial from a personal freedom and for many from a religious perspective. I don’t think the planet or nature really cares very much about our sensitivities being offended, it cares about maintaining proper living spaces for nature to thrive and replenish itself after the already incredible damage we have inflicted on it

Everyone have a happy Easter

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One thing is theories about the role of economic growth, which may be right or may be wrong on the whole (also depending on whether one chooses a short-term or long-term view), and another thing is the data for evaluating a specific situation. In this second respect one should be wary of what is going on, quite generally. Consider for example how China is embellishing its growth data for influencing the financial market (=> and - in comparison - how on principle such theoretical moves can produce concrete catastrophies (=> Concerning my first point, the reliability of growth theories, I think it is preferrable to view the health conditions concerning the economic process on a more secure basis than the belief in growth. In this respect I propose an old article of mine, “Stabilizing the Dynamics in the Global Socio-Economic System: Categorial Clarification for Exhaustive Transparency and Sustainability”, in: European Union Foreign Affairs Journal no. 1-2014, p. 135-163, available at their website: (see especially p. 150-156, and maybe also p. 158-159). Let us generally be precise in our thinking …


Hi Sascha, can you post a link to your article?


Hello Philipp
Thanks for your question. I can only give a link to the journal issue, not the article itself:

Kind regards - Alec


Without growth, if the population is increasing, the opportunity to sustain and increase one’s standard of living as individuals age and accumulates more wealth is limited from a majority standpoint. If you want to have a large group of very poor elderly folks who can’t afford to take care of themselves, then be agnostic about growth. Now, if you have a declining population, growth would not be very important except if the ruling oligarchy is expanding the money supply by printing more and more money which is inflationary over the long term. In this case without growth, prices would rise ever faster as you would have more money chasing fewer goods.

I like to ask questions as well. 1. Is the building of a jet fighter by a private company for the U.S. Military considered as a part of the GDP? And if we were to exclude sales of goods and services to the government as part of the GDP, because they are really an expense to society, what would the GDP in the U.S. really be?

The obvious point I’m making here with those questions is how we define growth can have a really large impact on the overall standard of living for the majority.

We often make the mistake of worrying about limited resources. When it becomes unprofitable to acquire specific resources, humans have come up with alternatives. As an example, the prices of platinum have plummeted in recent years because we developed cheaper alternatives for catalytic converters. It’s just like overfishing. Most overfishing is done by recreational fishermen. Why would a commercial fisherman overfish their stocks. That would make them lose money the following year and you must have a profit to sustain any endeavor. It would be like shooting yourself in the foot and if you are stupid enough to do it, your out of business and rightfully so.


Dear Kat:
Any cell or group of cells that “grow” without control is cancerous.
I fully agree with your statement that our current “offer driven” economy is like the most malignous cancerous cell and tumor (cwnoma=contimuous-growth-noma) that has “grown” without control, by methastasis has expanded to remote previously healthy organs, and is relentessly killing the whole body, as we are watching today.
Only a benign cancerous tumor can be let grow until it starts affecting the adjoining vital organs, and then we should extirpate it if it is possible, and we know how to do it.
All healthy cells and organs of our body are “demand driven” and instead of growing continuously, strive to stay alive with the minimum waste of the resources accesible.
Why our economists don’t take at least a minor in medicine?
After all their business is totally related to the Health of the Social Body.


I think we can all agree on that point. What I´m interested in, is
to distinguish cancerous growth from growth which is within the doughnut. My understanding is that doughnut economics gives us some directions in that respect. Example: Most of the time fashion is propagating buying new clothes, which is cancerous, while repair caffes propagate a kind of growth which fits well into the doughnut. On an every day basis the difference cancerous/non-cancerous growth can guide dayly desisions. On the economic side we still struggle to find tools to measure growth, which fits into the doughnut.


I love the idea behind Doughnut Economics, but, our sick global economy has already broken the “invisible hand” of the free market by chosing to be “offer driven”, despising real demand, and creating “evergrowing” artificial needs of goods and services, that require resources well beyond the capacity of Our Only Planet.
Therefore, the issue is not a simple choice between more or less growth.

The only way out of this GLOBAL MESS, is to CONVERT the very sense of this foolish economy from “offer driven” to “demand driven”.

Nature never allows any depredator to take more than needed.

We are the worst depredator that Nature has known, and we are about to pay the evergrowing bill.


They are political entrepreneurs and free market entrepreneurs. The first relies on taxes for it revenue, the latter relies on producing products that consumers want for their revenue. It think it is fair to categorize political entrepreneurs as cancerous but not all free market ones are cancerous. People who sell other human beings are of course cancerous etc.

The point is generalizations are not always good and sometimes they are. On the issue of growth, th term cancers doesn’t always apply. Growth is often very good in a myriad of situations.


“The point is generalizations are not always good…”
You are perfectly right, the whole discussion comes to the question how to distinguish cancerous growth from usefull growth, the question how we conceptionalize value…
Perhaps read, donut economics is mentioned


Hi Kat

Your question is an interesting one and those who’ve responded make some good points. (Though the idea sports not commercial fishing is responsible for his ver-fishing and that that commercial.fishermen don’t destroy stocks on which they depend Whales, Herring in the North Sea - is just barmy!)

For my part, I’m not sure that the cancer analogy is useful and neither is the using the term ‘agnosticot’ - which implies that doesn’tin know, or in some cases that the question is inherently unknowable or one doesn’t care about it. I say that because:if all economic growth is ‘bad’ then we are accepting that the living standards of tens of millions of people can never be improved. And the inner boundary of the doughnut cannot be reached. Clearly the problem is that whilst some forms of economic growth are bad (cancerous) because they destroy the environment or human health at local or global level, other forms (like growth in green energy technologies/systems aren’t. Although adopting green tech in the wrong way, for instance building wind turbines in sensitive environments or going for large scale, centralised generation rather than a local/individual building approach can be poor in environmental and socio-political terms. The problem is that GDP-type measures count growth in production of arms or fast fashion, unnecessary consumption of all kinds as being identical with growth in healthcare provision, public educational services or recycling/re-use. Not to mention that most right wing economists believe that regulations to protect customers, the environment and human health are just burdens on businesses. I’ll avoid getting into the ‘public bad, private good’ mindset and how public and private organisations raise capital funding or working capital. Hope that helps.