Which things can grow without bounds? Which not?


In discussion about ‘growth’, it is always obvious that unbounded fysical growth in a finite world cannot be possible. What confuses the discussion is that many economic activities don’t need fysical resources, with the result that some stocks and flows of ‘goods’ don’t seem to need fysical resources. What confuses things further is that the unit used for ‘value’ is usually money, which is itself not fysical, but a social construct.

Question 1: which categories of value can grow (nearly) without bound?
social candidates: knowledge, understanding, love, care, community
natural candidates: biodiversity, complexity

Question 2: it seems that these categories of goods are often fragile, easy to destroy? Does that mean that demanding anti-fragility denies the greatest potential of value?

Question 3: is it even possible to objectively quantify the value of these goods? So how can we even know how much is lost when it is lost? Or what is the value of ‘growth’? Does that matter?

Question 3: are there limits anyway? Due to world population, energy use, etc? Does that matter, if they are still very far away?

Question 4: what is the role of ‘money’, as it is the social construct that we use to assign value to most goods. A construct that has no objective basis in fysical reality. And therefor ‘money’ can in principle grow for ever, but may then disconnect from what we perceive as valuable.

Question 5: what does this mean for economics and opportunities for humanity? Can growth be (nearly) ‘sustainable’ if we find a way to value those types of work that can create these goods that can (still) grow (nearly) without bound?

Question 6: does doughnut economics help define these types of questions about growth? Are there answers? Or is quantitative growth just the wrong word in this context?


Some first thoughts and counterquestions.

To start with your final question. I tend to say that quantative growth might be the wrong word in this context. Is it not more about flourishing than about growth anyway. What would be the benefit of finding other values that we want to grow without bound?

Connecting it to your first question. I am not sure if these categories can or should grow without bound.

For example, unlimited growth of biodiversity and complexity may result in stagnation, see this diagram (https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/interactive-diagram/efficiency-vs-effectiveness)
This diagram may partilally answer your 3rd question: yes there are limits. It also connects to Question 2: I think it might not demand anti-fragility but diversity/resilience in order to ensure the endurance of these values.

Also, is it about the accumulation of knowledge that makes us thrive or is it about gaining the knowledge that helps us to thrive. You could argue that developing the knowledge enabling us to drive cars, to some extent made the knowledge of how to ride horse and carriage obsolete and even disappear (there are for sure better examples for this…). I am trying to say that things are changing continuously and that it is important that we enable ourselves to always adapt to and thrive on the changed circumstances. Growing our knowledge in certain fields will be necessary and help, but I am not convinced that the growth of knowledge as an absolute should or can be a value to be pursued.

Again, what would be the benefit of defining other values in terms of unlimited growth?